It’s déjà vu for Indian cricket officials. As they pore over every word and phrase of the Justice RM Lodha committee’s elaborate report that aims to overhaul the cricket Board’s administration and bring in transparency, at least some of them could feel a tinge of regret.
While the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed panel seem to have finally persuaded the BCCI to acknowledge that with big power comes big responsibility, the influential cricket body could so easily have escaped this plight by adhering to the CBI report in 2000.
The report said: “BCCI is in control of huge amounts of public funds without any concomitant rules, regulations/laws that govern the manner in which public funds are to be utilised. There is no accountability of any office-bearer of the BCCI similar to the one imposed on public servants when dealing with public funds… It would be the elementary duty of anybody purporting to be the apex regulatory body of a sport, to keep a close watch on the performance of the team, and to thoroughly investigate into the slightest gossip, leave alone suspicion, of any malpractice... The BCCI, however, did not care to even investigate allegations which were bound to have been within their knowledge…”
These words have been taken from the concluding portion of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) probe report on cricket match-fixing in 2000.
The Lodha panel’s opening remarks suggest just how much the richest cricket body in the world has resisted change, and how easily it could have put in place mechanisms that would have prevented the 2013 Indian Premier League spot-fixing scandal and the conflict of interest situations that preceded and followed it.
The Lodha committee report, released on Monday, starts thus: “Cricket is a national sport that connects the people of India in a unique way. The BCCI which administers the game in the nation, however, continues to be mired in one controversy after another. These include serious inaction regarding betting and match-fixing, frequent amendments to the rules to enable persons in power to perpetuate their control and promote their financial interests, permitting or enabling its office-bearers, employees and players to do acts which clearly give rise to conflicts of interest which have no resolution mechanism, lack of transparency and accountability, failure to provide effective grievance redressal mechanisms and a general apathy towards wrongdoing. In addition, although the BCCI discharges public functions, its working is perceived as a closed door and back-room affair, not accountable to those who are affected by its decisions nor to those who matter most – the cricket fans. At stake therefore are the faith, love and passion for the game of hundreds of millions of people.”
In 2000, the CBI said that its findings were not actionable. But the recommendations of the three former Supreme Court judges, tasked by the Apex court in January last year to amend the BCCI statutes to usher in reform, will be an entirely different story.
The Lodha panel touches almost every aspect of BCCI’s governance, drawing from the inputs provided by more than 130 people it interviewed and the cricket reform reports of other countries it studied. As the BCCI allows its state associations to study the implications, the key areas are ‘one state, one vote’, ‘one man, one post’, barring ministers and government servants from holding office and the suggestion to appoint a CEO with at least five years experience and a proven track record with a Rs 100 crore company.
The lucrative business of cricket that attracted dubious elements led to the match-fixing scandal in 2000. Ironically, it is the Indian Premier League, the Board’s robust response to a rebel T20 league and a global game-changer, which triggered developments that have led to the current situation.
The controversial tweaking of rules in 2008 to allow N Srinivasan (then secretary and later the president) to own the Chennai IPL team, his son-in-law and team official, Gurunath Meiyappan’s arrest in the wake of the 2013 spot-fixing scandal, and the top official’s refusal to step down and let the law and internal action take its course forced the Supreme Court’s hand.
The BCCI’s initial defiance after the Lodha panel banned Meiyappan and Rajasthan Royals co-owner Raj Kundra for life from cricket too caused irreparable damage to the best run sports body in India.
The BCCI is not alone in facing the reform music, but indications are that it will be the most defiant. Former Board president AC Muthiah said: “It’s a good proposal, but naturally the state associations are aggrieved, and they will try and oppose it.”
Both Australia and South Africa have, in recent years, faced the reform wave with committees recommending a more compact board, more democracy, equitable distribution of power and professional management structure. “We’ve been trying to do this for a number of years since I’ve been on the board. I think this is our fourth attempt,” Cricket Australia chief Wally Edwards said after the Crawford and Carter Governance Review in 2011. Cricket South Africa’s CEO was sacked after an inquiry in 2012.
The rest of the world is watching the BCCI with bated breath and wondering which way the sporting body will go. It’s far too important for the health of the global game.