Even without the border tensions, even without the global tours by world leaders, the plate of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) has been full. It has always been full for a long time and each crisis seems to add a bit more, adding to the karma. It was thus not surprising that when BCCI decided against India playing Pakistan in the coming World Cup, after the Pulwama terror attack, that decision ran into predictable trouble. The veteran players were divided, the overworked players were diplomatic and left it to the government to decide to boycott or not. The International Cricket Council (ICC) threatened to take action in the event of India boycotting their opening match against Pakistan in England in June.
Former captain Sourav Ganguly and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh were firm that the June 16 match should be called off though they did not clarify what would happen if Pakistan made it to the semi-final. On the other hand, two of the legends, Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, want India to beat Pakistan as a walkover would mean giving away two points on a platter to the arch-rivals. The current skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, always combative and used to striking menacing poses were sweet reasonableness. They maintained that they will ‘abide by whatever decision the government takes.’
Meanwhile at a recent meeting the ICC even refused to discuss the issue of the possible boycott and said it was a ready to take up the security issue at its Chief Executives Committee (CEC) meeting. This bureaucratic approach so tired the Committee of Administrators (CoA) running the game in the country that it dashed off a letter to urge it to boycott countries from where ‘terror emanates’, without mentioning any names. The CEC and ICC said they would be taking up the letter that the BCCI’s Chief Executive Officer Rahul Johri had written on the subject at its next meeting.
The ICC had assured the BCCI that it would ‘uplift the security based on advice of the relevant agencies’ to address India’s concerns in response to Johri’s letter about the threat perception to their players during such a mega event. It’s CEO David Richardson and the ECB executive Tom Harrison had assured them that security would be an absolute priority and all necessary steps would be taken to ensure this. Though security was not part of the agenda it had been ‘minuted’ into this taking BCCI’s insistence. It was also told that it was evaluating ‘risk assessment’, as has been the norm for all global events.
If the ICC rejects India's request, the only option for the country would be to voluntarily walk out of the World Cup, but such walking out would have consequences, it would mean a huge financial penalty for the BCCI. The CoA has said that it will take a call closer to the day of the tournament. If the BCCI walks out, the biggest loser would be the broadcaster, Star India, which has the broadcast rights for the ICC tournaments till 2023 and has shelled out close to 1.8 billion dollars. Though it is busy selling IPL inventory, a senior media planner says that the broadcaster has already signed a few sizable deals with advertisers for the World Cup.
However, another sport expert believes the loser will be the ICC, and not Star as almost three-fourth of the viewership for the World Cup comes from India and if it walks out the broadcaster has the right to say that it will not pay the kind of fee it has promised.
He went on, ‘Star has paid close to 1.8 billion dollars for the rights and there is typically a 40:60 split of the rights money for two cycles (each cycle includes a T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy and World Cup). If Star pays 40 per cent for the first cycle, it adds up to 720 million dollars and if 80 percent of that is ascribed to the World Cup, it means ICC will lose revenue of around half a billion dollars. It just can't afford it.’
The ICC shares the broadcast revenue with all teams and if Star backs out, the team will also lose close to 50 million dollars. ‘In fact, I see ICC pushing Pakistan to the wall as it will be too much revenue loss for it if India and Star walk out,’ the expert said.
For Ganguly the issue went beyond the World Cup and he advocated isolation of Pakistan. ‘We should cut off all ties with Pakistan. Why just cricket? India should not play against Pakistan at all.’ Tendulkar, on the other hand, wanted India to play. ‘India has always come up trumps against Pakistan in the World Cup; Time to beat them once again. I would personally hate to give them two points and help them in the tournament. Having said that, for me India always comes first, so whatever my country decides, I will back that decision with all my heart,’ the Bharat Ratna and Rajya Sabha member said.
Gavaskar struck a slightly different note when he advocated that playing Pakistan was important. ‘Who gains from not playing Pakistan? India would lose two points and in turn gift two to Pakistan. It can become tricky in the ultimate qualification race. India is a strong team and can beat Pakistan. It has never lost in the six World Cup meetings and I can’t see a different result.’
Though not quite unrelated, the BCCI has decided to discontinue the services of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Security Unit (ACSU) for the coming Indian Premier League and would set up its own anti-corruption unit (ACU). Vinod Rai, chief of the CoA, found no logic in spending Rs. 3.1 crore to the ICC for ASCU’s services for the IPL season. ‘We are paying 10 percent to the Indian ACU of what we are paying them,’ he said pointing out the pay disparity. ‘Why should we not hire our own people?’
The ICC pays 500 dollars per day to each of their ACSU officer who travels to India and these officers hire more Indian ACU officers, called assistant anti-corruption managers, who are paid Rs. 6500 a day, he pointed out. Their prime objective is to keep unwanted elements away from the hotel lobbies and in the players match area of the stadia. The Supreme Court appointed CoA has authorised the BCCI’s ACU to hire two officers for the two-month long IPL. The former ACU chief had dashed off a long letter about the struggles of the understaffed ACSU in covering the vast number of matches and doubted the BCC was interested in fighting corruption at all.
To add a new twist, Justice (retired) R. M. Lodha, the architect of cricket reforms in 2016, had taken exception to the CoA venturing into areas beyond its brief. He said he was baffled by the delay in implementing the Supreme Court order that was passed as far back as July 18, 2016.
He mentioned of the old story of the two CoA members, Vinod rai and Diana Edulji airing their differences in public platforms. ‘They have made a spectacle of themselves with their public squabbles. The Supreme Court has itself observed this and appointed a third member (Lieutenant General Ravi Thodge) because things were not going smoothly.’
On the three office-bearers of the board not relinquishing their posts despite registration of the new constitution, Lodha observed, ‘The problem is they have been told by the Supreme Court. Their term had come to an end much before, and under the new constitution, they have no place in the administration. Maybe some issues are pending and allowing these office-bearers to continue. There is no apex body in place to oversee the governance of the BCCI. The ad hoc system is still continuing. They are taking shelter behind the Supreme Court order.’
Lodha was also critical of the CoA taking over the role of the government by demanding the ouster of Pakistan from the ICC and suggesting India boycott its World Cup match against its neighbour.
‘It is a political call, not the domain of the CoA. It is my firm view that sports bodies should not take political calls. It is the job of the government to decide if we should play against a particular nation or not. The CoA is trying to be more pious than the Pope.’
The former justice warned the game could be headed for trouble. ‘It is fortunate that the game has not been impacted by whatever is happening in the cricket administration. But the day is not far when a lack of good governance may have a harmful impact on the game.’
With so many busybodies dabbling, with so much cash flow into this game, the glorious game, that was once the preserve of Maharajas and colonials basking in the tropical sun, has become the stomping ground for all sorts of retired bureaucrats, judicial officers and accountants. And with cricket itself having undergone so many transformations, from the tests to the one day variety to the twenty-twenty show, and with the game spreading to the smart cities and small towns across the country, there is so much scope for it to spread its influence. Of all the colonial relics, from Shakespeare to Macaulay, to Adam Smith and Curzon, cricket is here to stay. And three cheers for that.