“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Like the king in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, BCCI chief N Srinivasan was solemn, earnest and clueless when the current spot-fixing scam first came to light.
At last Sunday’s meeting of the Board, in Chennai, he said the BCCI was a sports body, not an investigating agency to have detected the allegedly nefarious activities of the three Rajasthan cricketers now in police custody.
There was truth in this statement. Greed is difficult to determine until discovered. Spot-fixing is even more insidious, because the transaction can be kept between two individuals.
But in the days since the scam broke, there have been some amazing twists and turns to the story, including the BCCI president’s son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, being arrested in Mumbai for alleged dealings with bookies.
Given the nature and extent of the crisis, cricket lovers would have liked Srinivasan and league chairman Rajiv Shukla to be more assertive, spelling out a speedy — perhaps drastic — remedial course of action from the very start.
Now, the best recourse for Srinivasan is to own moral responsibility and step down. Even if there is no legal evidence yet that he is diabolically involved. Be-cause the question remains: Why couldn’t the BCCI have prevented the rot?
While eradicating betting is impossible, forethought and increased vigilance — rather than smug self-congratulation at the financial success of the league — could perhaps have made it far more difficult for fixers to infiltrate.
Examine the warning signs:
* Cheating scams unearthed periodically since 2000 established betting as most rampant in the subcontinent.
* The 2010 spot-fixing case against Pakistani players Salman Butt, Moha-mmed Asif and Mohammed Aamer prov-ed that serious sums of money were available for spot-fixing — and proved the limitations of the ICC’s Anti-Corrup-tion and Security Unit in detecting it.
* Last year, a sting operation by a TV channel caught players discussing ways to spot-fix.
This last incident should have set alarm bells ringing. But the BCCI responded by doling out bans of varying terms rather than instituting a hard inquiry, using the police if necessary.
Increased use of the ACSU was never going to be enough. The BCCI should have deployed its own intelligence in domestic cricket, since the sting operation suggested that the malaise ran deep.
As investigations now show, some bookies or their conduits are former first-class cricketers, using their proximity to prey on vulnerable or greedy players in the domestic T20 league.
So where does this league go from here? It’s a wonderful sports property providing livelihood to several players, showcasing young talent and providing entertainment to fans. But the tournament’s brand value has taken a beating and the BCCI has suffered a massive loss of credibility. A clear roadmap of how to purge the system may only emerge after investigations are completed, but some measures need not wait.
A more detailed mentoring system using iconic players like Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble has become imperative. Also, enhanced scrutiny of all registered players, coaches, support staff and umpires eligible for the T20 league.
But the best example has to come from the top. The BCCI chief needs to clear conflict-of-interest charges. The league’s governing council needs to be reconstituted to include an ombudsman and two independent directors/ members. The league’s commissioner must be occupied full-time in working for robust administration rather than cavorting with the rich and the famous.
The shareholdings and accounts of franchises must be placed in the public domain to stymie suspicions of wheeling and dealing.
The extent of the scam is not fully known yet. Maybe it is not as widespread as imagined; maybe it is far worse. What fans and the public want — and deserve — at this stage is reassurance that strong action is being taken to protect the sanctity of the sport.
If the BCCI cannot be in the forefront of this effort, it has no reason to exist.
(Ayaz Memon is a sports writer and former newspaper editor)