Reeling under the blows landed by the Justice Lodha report, the Governing Council (GC) of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has given itself a six-week window to salvage the league. This has been pilloried as further evidence of prevarication by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in setting its house in order. The cynicism is understandable, but in the present circumstances might be somewhat unfair.
There are grave organisational, financial, legal and human-resource implications to be considered in protecting the IPL’s basic format, interest of broadcasters, sponsors, players, franchises and their fans et al. Knee-jerk decisions or a lynch-mob mentality could be nihilistic. Yet how much better it would have been if the ‘working group’ announced on Monday had incorporated an independent member or two.
That would have been a big step towards restoration of public trust in the BCCI. While some have argued that the Justice Lodha report is an example of judicial overreach, what it has done is settled irrevocably that Indian cricket is not the property of a private society, as the BCCI has always claimed. The report highlighted the ‘paramountcy’ of the game, the interest of players and sentiments of fans as the most important factors.
Incidentally, this has been upheld even in football, where the notoriety in Fifa, the sport’s apex body, has come into public gaze recently. What Transparency International (TI), which had been asked to look into the shenanigans in football, had to say would be instructive to the BCCI.
“Fifa has been shown the red card many times, yet it has failed to reform. It is a flawed democracy far removed from the fans that support the game. Corruption in sport is not a game…” The measures proposed by TI include integrity tests for individuals and external audits of all funds received by Fifa. Harsh as this seems, it may not be ill-founded in the BCCI’s case too, considering all that has happened in the past few years.
But now that the second part of Justice Lodha’s report, expected to focus on reforms needed in Indian cricket administration, has been delayed by about five months, I venture to suggest that the BCCI use this period to set the ball rolling in that direction voluntarily.
Here are some steps that could help bridge the public trust deficit: First, the BCCI must come under the Right to Information Act (RTI). While retaining autonomy is desirable, it seems inexplicable that the BCCI would refuse to subscribe to the Act. Its finances are in the public domain. So why obscure public scrutiny? A clear exception should be selection committee meetings because subjective factors come into play here. Players are not always chosen only on statistics, but potential, attitude, aptitude and other parameters. Opening this to the public would lead to chaos.
Second, recast the BCCI management: The biggest complaint against the BCCI is that it operates like a New Age freemasonry accountable only to itself. Ironically, as everybody now knows through the tell-tale tweets put out by outcast Lalit Modi, the BCCI brass is more often than not at odds with each other. For all that, the BCCI manages to sustain its ‘cosy club’ syndrome with aplomb as the composition of several committees forged by the new dispensation, even while the IPL scam was being investigated by the Supreme Court, reveals. For instance, out of 29 affiliates (the 30th, Rajasthan Cricket Association, is currently suspended), the museum committee has 18 members.
If that seems quirky, the marketing committee reaches bizarre proportions with a full house of 29 members. With 13 members, it might seem that the IPL Governing Council marks a return to sanity. But among those listed is ‘All Office Bearers of the BCCI’ (nine in number), effectively raising the total to 21. The fact is that the BCCI, once run by patrons and lovers of the sport, has become a motley body of vested interests willing to fight or sleep with each other for power and pelf, not necessarily to the game’s benefit.
The stakes are sky-high today and the situation demands a professionally managed board with a CEO in charge of day-to-day affairs reporting to the managing committee. In consonance with best practices in the corporate world, one (or two) independent directors of high public esteem should also be included. This becomes even more relevant in the context of the IPL where threats and pitfalls to probity constantly lurk as has been conclusively proved. The Governing Council as it exists has been shown to be wholly ineffective in clean governance.
Third, have a commissioner and two independent directors to assist three/four members nominated by the BCCI. The GC should also include a former cricketer (technical director), an ombudsman (interface with sponsors, players, fans, media for grievances) and a representative of the franchisees who otherwise have little say in how the league is run. Last, but not the least, a players association in Indian cricket is sorely needed. The establishment has actively dissuaded the revival of the now-defunct association. And because Indian cricket has been such a sumptuous gravy train, sadly even the most renowned players have come to heel without a murmur.
The BCCI throws mega bucks at some marquee names to be commentators and puts some others on high-sounding advisory panels in an effort to get credibility for itself. But this still leaves players, particularly at the lower end of the pyramid, exposed to the shenanigans of the administration. Apart from enhancing personal glory and/or bank balance, iconic players must wake up to the crisis, lend their minds and might for the betterment of the fraternity and Indian cricket. About time.
Ayaz Memon is a commentator and columnist. The writer tweets as @cricketwallah
The views expressed are personal