The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has always considered itself above the law of the land. Its projection as a ‘non-profit charitable trust’ has already been exposed since the start of the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008 and its sister tournament, the Champions League. The sports ministry stripped the BCCI of its status of a national sports federation since it refused to comply with government norms. Now, customs duty exemption on the import of goods by the cricket body or bodies certified by it has been withdrawn. All state governments have already ruled that the IPL isn’t eligible for entertainment tax exemption (unlike other cricket matches held on Indian soil) as the annual Twenty20 tournament is nothing but a commercial venture. So much for being a ‘charitable trust’.
Now coming hot on the heels of the disgrace brought upon the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) and by implication the BCCI by the International Cricket Council (ICC) comes a ruling by the Kerala High Court that could finally make the powerbrokers of the BCCI accountable to the public. Or at least that is what cricket lovers not only in India but around the world are hoping for.
The CAB not meeting the ICC deadlines for renovation of the Eden Gardens for the prestigious India-England clash in this month’s World Cup has exposed one of the world’s wealthiest sporting associations and made the BCCI — the engine that drives world cricket’s finances — an international object of derision. And this fiasco comes in the wake of last year’s Commonwealth Games scandal.
The Kerala court order — subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court — has for the first time ruled in a corruption case concerning the Kerala Cricket Association that sports officials who are part of a private body but who also perform what can be considered a ‘public function’ are now liable to be tried under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which applies only to public servants. No longer can the BCCI hide behind the fig leaf of being a private organisation and therefore unaccountable to the public.
The BCCI, though, has long since insulated itself from public scrutiny and accountability by packing its ranks with politicians from every conceivable party in the country. These worthies put aside their political differences when it comes to clinging on to power in the most high-profile sports association in the country. It has also some notable legal brains in its ranks, including senior BJP leader and BCCI vice-president Arun Jaitley and Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president.
The power the BCCI wields due to its massive financial clout has made it arrogant not only in its dealings with the ICC and other member-nations but also in the shameful treatment meted out to the vast number of cricket fans in the country. Indian cricket lovers can only look on in envy at the spectator comforts enjoyed by their counterparts in England, South Africa and Australia where the customer is king. Here he is simply taken for granted, subjected to all manner of indignities, the BCCI smug in its knowledge that it has this vast captive audience who will suffer humiliation and discomfort just for the joy of seeing his heroes in the flesh.
The renovations being undertaken at various venues across the country in preparation for the World Cup will mainly be in the area of the media and corporate sections. The average cricket fan, who is behind cricket’s riches in India, is left in the lurch, made to sit on concrete slabs in uncovered stands with third-rate food at five-star rates and toilets unfit for human use. In most other cricket-playing nations, going to a match is a family outing with a picnic-like carnival atmosphere. In our sporting cauldrons, it’s more like a seething mass of humanity with families scared off by the suffocating security outside and the primitive conditions inside.
There is an ordeal of a different kind for those who prefer to watch on television from the comfort of their homes. When it comes to obtrusive advertisements filling up the screen during the passage of play and the commercial breaks between overs and wickets, the Indian TV executive is the world’s greatest innovator. The TV channels will tell you it is all down to the BCCI’s insatiable greed. The massive telecast fees they have to cough up means the channels have to scramble to make a profit. And all that makes the Indian TV viewer the world’s most frustrated.
It was Lalit Modi who came to epitomise the arrogant Indian cricket official, strutting around like a mini-Caesar, flaunting his power and wealth with tasteless glee. But the BCCI dumped the self-styled IPL commissioner at the end of the tournament’s third season last summer, raising hopes that it was ready to clean out its stables.
Instead, the in-your-face style of Modi has been replaced by the stealth bomber tactics of his bête noire, N Srinivasan, the BCCI’s secretary and president-elect who wears a bewildering array of hats. Srinivasan is the managing director of India Cements that also owns the Chennai Super Kings IPL franchise. The other franchise owners are now beginning to tire of Srinivasan pulling the strings behind the scenes and a revolt is brewing following allegations of rigging after last month’s IPL auctions.
Modi was accused of having vested interests in the IPL; Srinivasan is no different. The IPL in any case is the Pandora’s box from which one scandal after another is bound to tumble out over time. With the BCCI, it appears, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Gulu Ezekiel is a sports writer and author of Cricket and Beyond (Ocean Books). The views expressed by the author are personal