I was in India for two weeks in January on a personal visit. Just ahead of my trip, I received an email asking if I would appear before the Justice Mudgal committee.
I was reluctant, primarily because I had nothing to offer on Gurunath Meiyappan, the Chennai Super Kings or Raj Kundra, or anyone connected to the Rajasthan Royals. My understanding was that the Supreme Court’s brief to the panel was primarily to investigate allegations against Meiyappan et al, specifically in the context of events occurring around the 2013 IPL. As I hadn’t even lived in India since the first part of 2012, I wasn’t sure what they’d want from me.
I was then told that the panel had leeway to examine events beyond its terms of reference, and they specifically wanted to ask about an investigative story done by Sports Illustrated India at the time I was Editor-in-Chief. I agreed for two reasons: a) Even we cynical cricket journalists (or former cricket reporters) were hoping that a Supreme Court-appointed panel could actually make a difference – and call into question the way cricket was conducted in India; and b) I wanted to shield the young woman reporter who had spent six months from the end of 2010 to early 2011 working on the story.
As I told the committee, she had spent time undercover with some rather shady operators — bookies, “kingpins”, property dealers and businessmen who didn’t think twice about doing something illegal, smalltime politicians, player managers, agents and the criminals who arranged things like cellphones with modified sim cards that tapped into a parallel underground cellphone system — these were available, by a word of mouth reference, in Delhi’s Paharganj market. We believed that if she appeared before the panel, it would make her an easy target.
To those of you unfamiliar with the SI India story of nearly three years ago, here’s a quick summary. It began when one of our reporters, in the course of chasing a routine story, was introduced to someone who was allegedly a smalltime bookie, with ties to a kingpin. In a talkative mood, he spoke about how they had certain top cricketers on speed dial and how they were “involved” in spot-fixing. When she seemed disbelieving, he took out his cellphone and played a recorded conversation back to her. The voice on the tape was remarkably similar to that of a top player, and the number he had matched that of the player’s cellphone at the time.
That began an investigation that spanned over six months, time spent embedded with undercover policemen and several startling conversations that indicated Indian cricket was anything but clean. The story itself was about patterns, links to people who owed allegiance to criminal mastermind Dawood Ibrahim, too many coincidences and the easy access that people who had nothing to do with the game had to players, including several top India cricketers, and the need to control, or at least monitor that access.
While turning the recordings over to the ICC’s Anti Corruption and Security Unit, we noted that the recordings needed further investigation, and while we didn’t have the financial or human resources to do that, we hoped the ICC or BCCI did. We have to assume the ACSU pursued leads, the BCCI didn’t ask for the recordings.
The ACSU does get information from several sources, players, journalists, officials etc. They reportedly even have several players on an unofficial watchlist. However, they find it difficult to push forward because of a lack of evidence that will stand up in court. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that a Supreme Court-appointed committee seems to think there is enough “evidence”.
Everyone knows that Indian cricket needs to be cleaned up. But it can’t be done on the basis of allegations, unless they’ve received hard evidence, allegations by a committee of this magnitude could be even more damaging.
I’d also like to clarify something that was printed on page 64 or 65 of the second report, in what appears to be a reference to me. There was no question of being “terrified”; I was worried on behalf of a former colleague, because she’s a young woman who frequently travels alone around the country. Yes, I was reluctant to name any player – actually, I refused point blank – because I said I “refuse to speculate”. One last clarification: The second report inferred I had stated that the money laundered through bookies’ activity was being used to fund terror.
What was actually said was that given that bookies’ provide a cut of their ill-gotten gains to kingpins who, in turn provide a cut to that finally goes to Dawood or entities controlled by him, and given that Dawood Ibrahim is wanted by India for directly and indirectly funding terror, you would assume there would be more interest from the authorities and the government to stop illegal activities around cricket in India.
And perhaps there is. And this committee is a start of a process.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated, India