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Board must be exposed

I have been following the BCCI's arrogant and abrasive responses to the sports ministry's suggestion that it register as a national sports federation. Kirti Azad writes. Kirti says

cricket Updated: Jun 25, 2012 01:10 IST
Kirti Azad

I have been following the BCCI's arrogant and abrasive responses to the sports ministry's suggestion that it register as a national sports federation. Here comes a veiled threat; if you force us to become an NSF, it will sound the death knell of BCCI, and by extension, cricket in India.

Let's examine both these premises. There is no denying that once the BCCI registers itself as an NSF, its dominance and vice-like grip over all cricketing affairs will loosen. I also expect that a lot of skeletons will tumble out of BCCI's closet. It is also possible the bureaucracy will try and seize control of the apparatus, and we could see the sons of influential people, with little talent, trying to muscle their way into various teams. On the flipside, the BCCI has left the government with no options.

Too arroganthttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/6/25_06_12-pg-17a.jpg

No government can be oblivious to the aspirations of the common people, be it sport or any other activity. And BCCI, due to its big-brother attitude, has started feeling that the government is an avoidable hassle and should be kept at an arm's length. It has been emboldened because its office-bearers, many of whom are part of the entrenched political structure at the Centre and in the states, have started dictating terms in cabinet meetings, and given the fractious nature of today's polity, the bonhomie of various leaders is something to really envy, even if it is misplaced. Cricket is religion in India. Since Kapil Dev's team won the World Cup in 1983, money started coming in through TV rights. But cricket used to be much bigger than the mandarins running it. Now, things are different.

What promotion?
Just look at the IPL. Is this what 'promotion of cricket' should be? We keep hearing that a lot of talent has been unearthed through great performances. Please name them. A few players have made outlandish sums of fortune, and little else.

Some 40-year-old cricketers from around the world have started gathering for a three-month picnic and what we now have is a huge tamasha. The source of funding, and how much money is being paid underhand, is unclear. How the money is being routed through tax havens, who are the actual owners, have the grounds and the cricketing apparatus been handed over to them? Who will decide all this? The BCCI president himself owns a franchise, so what transparency can one expect from IPL/BCCI? The IPL chairman, a union minister, is always keen to be seen with celebrities and seems less interested in social work or work related to Parliament. Otherwise, he is busy flying from one venue to another. Who pays for all this jetting around? If the money belongs to IPL, it is unethical since a minister is bowing to an independent body and is then duty bound to represent its case with the government. If it is government money, it is worse.

No excuses
The lords of sports in India, including the mandarins at the uber-rich cricket board, can no longer hide from public scrutiny arguing that they work for private associations and are not public servants. The Supreme Court has ruled that officials of the BCCI can be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) as they could be considered public servants for specific purposes. This judgment could lead to a flurry of litigations related to management of sports bodies.

The application of the PCA also means the Central Bureau of Investigation can be called in to investigate. On a number of occasions, BCCI has argued that courts should not interfere in its affairs as it is a private society. With this verdict, that position might become untenable as far as charges of misappropriation of money are concerned.

Argument rejected
In an important judgment a few years ago, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Kerala Cricket Association challenging a Kerala High Court verdict allowing its prosecution under the PCA. The KCA president, TR Balakrishnan, and secretary, TC Mathew, had argued before the high court that it was not a public body and hence its officials could not be booked.

In October 2010, the Kerala High Court relied on an earlier Supreme Court judgment to rule that under certain circumstances they could be considered public servants. They were facing allegations they misappropriated funds received by the body for cricket promotion. Both were booked under the PCA.

I am certain once this cloak of secrecy is lifted, exemplified by a robust RTI mechanism, practically all state associations that thrive on liberal BCCI grants of R25-30 crores annually, will have to vouch for all expenditure.

Now, if there are no recommendations for Arjuna awards, the government is to be blamed! I think it is high time the BCCI's bluff is called. Which leaves me to ask aloud — can we not have a parallel body (NSF for cricket, created under a statute) and the government seek affiliation from the ICC? We will face hurdles, but it will still be worth trying. If in the bargain, we can have professional sportsmen running the game, it would be in line with the dream of the founders of BCCI. I am sure once we see the government's resolve to clear this muck, BCCI's well-oiled machinary will come crashing down. I intend to raise this in Parliament.

The writer was a member of the 1983 World Cup-winning team.