The more serious an ailment, the stronger the medicine prescribed; going deep into what ails Indian cricket, the Supreme Court appointed Lodha committee has prescribed very strong medicine indeed. Submitted to the apex court, its report has made a slew of far-reaching recommendations to revamp the functioning of the tiol cricket governing body BCCI and State cricket associations. But it seeks to go far beyond the Shashank Manohar-led dispensation’s attempts at window dressing in the me of cleaning up Indian cricket. The Lodha panel is looking at the larger picture of changing by a number of the existing inequitable power structure within the BCCI. The most hard-hitting proposal to rescue cricket bodies from the clutches of politicians is the one recommending a nine-member apex council to replace the 14-member BCCI working committee — with ministers or government servants barred from holding the top five posts of president, vice-president, secretary, joint secretary and treasurer. Apart from prescribing an age limit of 70 years, the panel wants office-bearers to have three-year terms only. They can contest for a maximum three terms; after each term, there should a mandatory cooling off period so that no office-bearer holds office consecutively in a row. As for State associations, the Lodha panel has mooted that these should also be brought under the scrutiny and audit of the BCCI. The ‘One State, One Vote’ suggestion to ensure equitable voting pattern is highly significant — if each State is restricted to just one vote, it will put an end to the system which gives a State like Maharashtra four of the 30 votes in the BCCI general body, while the six NE States have none.
With the Supreme Court identifying ‘conflict of interest’ as the biggest problem fouling up cricket magement in the country, the Lodha panel has proposed several measures to resolve commercial interests, while bringing about separation of responsibilities. It wants the BCCI and IPL magements to maintain a proper distance. In general, the panel has suggested that cricket functions be separated from administrative functions, and a degree of professiolism be introduced in both. Thus a set-up like a CEO assisted by magers can handle ‘non-cricketing’ matters including day-to-day magement, technical aspects, tours and tourments. As for ‘cricketing’ matters, committees made up of former players with first-class and intertiol cricketing experience should be dealing with coaching, performance evaluation, selection and umpiring. In this context, the Lodha panel’s focus to ensure that players be given independence and not treated like lowly employees by cricket officials, is something to cheer about. It has recommended setting up a players’ association with membership for all intertiol and most first-class men and women retired cricketers. The proposed association will be fincially supported by the BCCI; it will have guaranteed seats in the BCCI’s top-tier governing council so that players get representation in all BCCI decisions; the association will help the players to bargain collectively so as to secure the best commercial terms for themselves. However, the Lodha panel has taken a tough stand against players indulging in match-fixing or spot-fixing, recommending that such misdemeanours be made crimil offences. As for betting, the report suggests that it should be legalised for licensed betting houses — while outlawing players, team and match officials and cricket administrators from indulging in betting.
It is certain that cricket administrators, habituated to the structure of patroge they had created over decades for their own benefit, will find the Lodha panel’s recommendations a bitter medicine to swallow. What is likely to really stick in their gullet is the explosive proposal that Parliament should make a law to bring BCCI within the purview of the RTI Act. The matter is sub-judice as the BCCI is fighting the case in the Madras High Court, arguing that it is not a public body. With heavyweight politicians like Sharad Pawar and Farooq Abdullah in the past opposing the application of RTI Act, it remains to be seen whether our lawmakers come together to ensure transparency and accountability in BCCI’s workings, which is after all, the richest cricket administration body in the world. Some other suggestions of the Lodha panel like appointing a retired Supreme Court judge as ombudsman to deal with complaints about cricketing matters and allowing the Comptroller and Auditor General to have a nominee in the BCCI governing council also needs to be welcomed. The panel has been mandated by the apex court in the land ‘to restore the pristine glory of the game of cricket which 1.28 billion of the country is passiote for’, in the words of Justice RM Lodha. If cricket administration in the country is to be made clean and progressive for players and lovers of the game, a zero tolerance approach to corruption and power brokering as espoused by the Lodha panel is the need of the hour. The decision is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.