A month ago, as I made my way to the Supreme Court of India to cover a set of proceedings in what is now infamously known as the “IPL (Indian Premier League) betting and spot-fixing case”, it was a surreal experience. I wondered what a journalist, transitioning between sport and political journalism, was doing in a court. But there I was, reporting on a case which virtually was about the integrity of the sport we collectively love, watch and write about. The fact that the Supreme Court intervened in a case the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chose to brush under the good old carpet, makes you wonder if this organisation, as powerful as it is often projected to be, is capable of reforming itself, once in a while to safeguard the very sport it governs.
A cabal which threatens to destroy the sport
Organisational malaise is nothing new to the BCCI. Unfortunately, it revels in it. Over the years, the past two decades or so, its constituents – the state associations, feudal as their outlook may be, have not just emerged as alternate sources of power for power hungry politicians and businessmen alike, but have succeeded in keeping them relevant. Come the IPL, the corporates too have joined this groovy train of sorts. Together, they’ve succeeded in putting together a coalition of sorts, a cabal if you like, which virtually threatens to destroy the sport bit by bit, part by part, or worse, as a whole.The status of the BCCI has often been debated, both judicially and in public circles, whether it is a private body or a quasi-public unit, which according to a court ruling, discharges public duties. As an organisation, it is essentially supposed to run the sport to the best of its abilities — a strong emphasis on development at the grassroots level, along with a degree of professionalism at the top. While in the last few years, certainly since the turn of the century, there has been some progress with the former ( grassroots development), the latter (management) has been far from impressive. Corruption scandals and other controversies, ranging from conflict of interest, to impropriety and disciplinary issues have been annual or recently speaking, monthly events, yet the Board with its ostrich-like approach to these very compliance issues, has chosen to overlook them and bat on, regardless. In short, they prefer cover-ups to clean-ups.
BCCI believes it is a ministry unto itself
The disappointment with the BCCI has always been that it has never believed in the basic tenets of governance – transparency and accountability. Think of it as a ministry unto itself, with several bureaucracies and obscure laws that govern them. The Board’s constitution, a secretive document, has been often amended to help maintain the status quo, than alter it. Unlike a corporate structure, which most sporting bodies across the world adopt, the BCCI has no CEO (Chief Executive Officer), no shareholders who could ask questions of the company’s functioning and certainly no body, which resembles the board of directors. Until four years ago, the richest cricket body in the world, did not have a fully-functioning website. Today, it still doesn’t have something it promised almost a decade ago, when Sharad Pawar became the BCCI President – a Chief Executive Officer.
Interestingly, a sub-committee of the BCCI, IPL is as professional as it could get – run by an event management company, overseen by a Governing Council, which has a good blend ofadministrators and former cricketers. But this, unfortunately is a post-modern facade it chooses to mask its very feudal structures.
The President is all-powerful and the organisation is almost like a secretive society. While it mostly seeks to pander to its powerful stakeholders, the various sponsors that fill its coffers periodically, it ignores its most important ones – the fans. The stadiums, which mostly belong to the various state units that make up the BCCI, are state-of-the-art and spectacularly designed, they are also the most spectator-unfriendly in the world. Each state association which is given a certain amount annually, a share of the money pie of sorts, is supposed to trickle it down at the grassroots level. Yet, there are associations in the country which have not spent the money, or some have with strong political affiliations (the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association for example), have chosen to allegedly siphon it off for other non-cricketing purposes. While it is unfortunate that the BCCI has willingly or unwillingly chosen to overlook these grave omissions, it’s something that has been perfected over the years to keep errant associations in the good books, with the ultimate quest for political power.
Is the BCCI capable of institutional reform?
To keep it short, no. Not at least when cricket isn’t at the heart of the cause, and power, disappointingly is. There have been several suggestions that the Board should come under the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI), but they’ve been met with fierce opposition from its (BCCI) members, who unsurprisingly also are ministers in the current government. A government takeover of the board is equally unwarranted, given the shocking state of sports administration in the country, and the track record of the various sporting bodies under the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.
The BCCI, in its bid to cleanse itself and by extension, the sport it proudly governs, must look within and put in place a system of checks and balances. Transgressions must be nipped in the bud straightaway, and penalties must be introduced for errant associations and officials. Every state association must be asked to put up its accounts on its website, and only if they comply with these norms, must they be given their annual funds. If an association doesn’t spend the money it gets from the BCCI, it should be pulled up for these glaring omissions. These are not measures beyond the realms of the Board. At the end of the day, if an entire organisation can be mobilised to protect its President, surely, it could do better in terms of policing its own units. Does it have the will to do so? Not by past precedents.
Indian cricket, today, is at a crossroads of sorts. Its phenomenal progress on the field, the many glorious victories we’ve come to see off-late have been matched by utter incompetence and apathy from its officials. For the fan, the powerplay doesn’t exactly matter. But at the end of it all, he deserves better.