The editor of a prominent newspaper once said famously that his was the second most important job in the country and he had to live with that somewhat pompous remark. Not quite in that league, a few decades ago a cricket skipper, plagued by the scandals of match-fixing and internal squabbles, who lifted the Indian team out of this quagmire, with a series of victories at home and abroad, said somewhat immodestly that being Indian skipper was the second toughest job in the country, and not far behind was being the chairman of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI).
The cricket acronym has been around for some time on the sports pages and important front pages even if an eminent Marxist economist had mixed it up with a Middle Eastern finance company that was involved in scandals. The BCCI’s coming of age along at that time had also something to do with cricket gaining in popularity and raking in money that also coincided with the Gulf boom. The new innovation of the one-day game gained traction as also colour television that spread the game’s popularity into hitherto uncharted territories of this country.
With sharp-eyed promoters like Jagmohan Dalmia in Kolkata, Lalit Modi in Jaipur and N. Srinivasan in Chennai taking over the stewardship of this body, they made cricket a cash cow with wide television coverage, sponsorship and advertisement revenue pouring in, leaving other traditional countries like England, Australia and West Indies far behind. This has also resulted in the chief of the BCCI becoming the most envied (and hated) figure, from Melbourne to Antigua.
After totally eclipsing the International Cricket Committee (ICC), the world governing body of the game so far, the BCCI seemed in such an unassailable position that every move,, every election, every step it takes has assumed the proportions of a national issue, sometimes even more than that.
Along with money and popularity also came the greatest spur, that of political ambitions. So it is not unusual that political leaders began to cast a coveted eye on the many arms of this body like the state associations and the governing councils. Not unsurprisingly, quite a few of the state associations have come to be controlled by politicians or their heirs even if they do not have a clue to what the game is about.
It is thus not surprising that the President of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association (DDCA), Rajat Sharma, a familiar TV face, is facing opposition for eyeing a BCCI post as also the sons of some Union Ministers jockeying for similar positions. It is in this context that the Bengal cricket association chief, Sourav Ganguli's remark that he would take over only if his name was nominated unanimously assumes significance. He is also the youngest chief of the Bengal Association and head of the board’s technical committee and as such could bring a wealth of experience to the game.
Unsurprisingly then, in the thick of the Pulwama attack and the Balakot strike, when the nation was on the edge, the BCCI was seized of the most important issue facing the country; whether to play Pakistan or not, and either way that ran into trouble. The veteran players were divided while the tired players who had been on the field without a break for months in all kinds of weather were pining for some relief. So much so, the ICC threat to take action if India boycotted Pakistan did not make any impact.
While Sourav Ganguly and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh were firm that the match should be called off, two of the legends, Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, wanted India to beat Pakistan as a walkover would mean conceding them two points on a platter, and the present skipper Virat Kohli and manager, Ravi Shastri, always combative and striking menacing postures, were for a change, sweet reasonableness and maintained that they would ‘abide by whatever decision the government takes.’ To thicken the plot, the ICC even refused to discuss a possible boycott and said it was ready to take up the security issue at its Chief Executives Committee (CEC) meeting. This somewhat bureaucratic approach so irked 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 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 during such a mega event, and assured them that security would be an absolute priority and all necessary steps would be taken to ensure this. Though not part of the agenda, security had been ‘minuted’ into this taking BCCI’s insistence and it was also assured that it was evaluating ‘risk assessment’, that has been the norm for all global events.
Things are not simple, and if the BCCI walks out, the biggest loser would be Star India, which has the broadcast rights for the ICC tournaments till 2023 and has already invested close to 1.8 billion dollars. Though busy selling IPL inventory, according to a senior media planner the broadcaster has also signed a few sizeable deals with advertisers for the World Cup. Another expert believes the loser will be the ICC, and not Star as three-fourth of the World Cup viewership comes from India and if it walks out, the broadcaster has the right to say that it will not pay the fee promised. Here is where the acumen of chiefs like Dalmia come in. ‘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 includes a T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy and World Cup). If Star pays 40 per cent for the first, it adds up to 720 dollars million and if 80 per cent of that is ascribed to the World Cup, it means ICC will lose revenue of around half a billion. It just can't afford it.’
Ganguly advocated isolation of Pakistan and said that ‘We should cut off all ties. Why just cricket? India should not play against Pakistan at all.’ Tendulkar, on the other hand, wanted India to play Pakistan with the clincher, ‘India has always come up trumps in the World Cup; and it is time to beat them once again. I would personally hate to give them two points and help them in the tournament. However India always comes first, so whatever my country decides, I will back that decision with all my heart,’ said the Bharat Ratna and Rajya Sabha member.
Meanwhile 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) and Vinod Rai, chief of the CoA, found no logic in spending Rs. 3.1 crore for ASCU’s services for the season. ‘We are paying 10 percent to the Indian ACU of what we are paying them,’ he said pointing to the pay disparity. ‘Why should we not hire our own people?’ The disparity is glaring, as the ICC pays 500 dollars per day to each of their ACSU officers who travel to India and these officers hire more Indian ACU officers, called assistant anti-corruption managers who are paid Rs. 6500 a day. 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 had appointed CoA and has authorised the ACU to hire two officers for the two-month long IPL. This has resulted in a former ACU chief dashing off a long letter about the struggles of the understaffed ACSU in covering the vast number of matches and doubted the BCCI was interested in fighting corruption at all.
As if these complications are not enough, Justice (retired) R. M. Lodha, architect of the 2016 reforms, had taken exception to the CoA venturing into areas beyond its brief and was baffled by the delay in implementing the Supreme Court order passed as far back as July 18, 2016.
He also mentioned of the remaining two CoA members, Vinod Rai and Diana Edulji airing their differences in public while the two others quit soon after the CoA was formed. ‘They have made a spectacle and the Supreme Court has itself observed this and appointed a third member because things were not going smoothly.’
According to Lodha, ‘the problem is they have been told by the Supreme Court and 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.’ The former justice cautioned, ‘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 flowing, 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 sedate 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, from Adam Smith to Curzon, cricket is here to stay. And three cheers for that.
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.