While hearing the news of the Supreme Court’s removal of Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke from their posts as president and secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) respectively, one can’t help but wander back to the Indian Premier League tournament of 2013.
That season was rocked by match-fixing and illegal betting allegations that were levelled against a host of players and team owners. As things tend to do more and more these days, the matter ended up before the Supreme Court. After about a year of trial, a two-judge Supreme Court bench found the continuance of N Srinivasan as BCCI president ‘nauseating’ in light of the many conflicts of interest he was alleged to have had at the time. But the honourable judges didn’t stop there.
To resolve the troublesome ‘conflict of interest’ conundrum, the bench then proceeded to appoint Sunil Gavaskar as the interim president of the BCCI for overseeing IPL matters. The irony of this selection would not be lost on cricket aficionados; Sunny (his nickname) was one of India’s finest in whites for sure, but an outsider to the BCCI’s power structure he certainly was not.
In fact, when this order was passed, he was a contracted employee of the board – a role he comfortably returned to once the IPL 2014 season was over. While one does admire Gavaskar for his bravery in facing the Holdings and Marshalls of the cricketing world, staring down Sharad Pawar and Srinivasan while knowing that they will be signing your pay checks a couple of months down the line is quite a different matter.
Let us recall at this point, also, the slightly more recent incident involving the judiciary and cricket – the shifting out of IPL matches from Maharashtra to reduce the wastage of water in the state. As any farmer in the interiors of Marathwada would tell you, even after both the Pune and Mumbai IPL teams moved to venues in other states, this problem did not get solved.
But let’s return to the order pronounced this last Monday (2 January). Both Thakur and Shirke – officials elected as per the BCCI rulebook – have been deposed because of non-compliance to particular recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee. The task of choosing the next leadership brass of the BCCI has been given to eminent lawyers Gopal Subramaniam and Anil Divan (Fali Nariman was picked alongside Subramaniam initially, but he excused himself to avoid a possible conflict of interest).
At this point, a cricket fan would feel compelled to ask, really?! No doubt the BCCI is not an institution without blemish, but what crime of crimes has it committed to be dragged through the mud in this manner?
Among all the various sports bodies which exist in India today, there isn’t a single one which has come close to achieving the sort of success – both on and off the field – as the BCCI has. Not only does it wield immense power internationally, but it also manages what is, by far, the most complex cricketing structure of any major cricketing nation. And, of course, there is also the small matter of India currently being the number-one ranked Test-playing nation in the world.
Surely, the people running the BCCI had done something right. A watchful cricket fan might also be compelled to ask another question; is the remedy here worse than the disease? Are the recommendations of the Lodha committee such holy gospel that non-compliance to a few of them would mean throwing the baby out with the bath water?
Going through some of the more contested recommendations of the Lodha panel, it is not hard to see where the BCCI’s reservations are coming from.
One of the suggestions of the Lodha committee is to bar politicians and bureaucrats from holding official posts in the board; a crowd-pleaser, no doubt, except that, realistically speaking, the involvement of the influential is critical to the success of any sport the world over. As non-socialist as it may sound, the adoring masses cannot organise an event as large-scale and complex as the Cricket World Cup that the BCCI organised so efficiently in 2011. Also worth noting is the fact that no such limitation has been recommended for lawyers and retired judges in holding BCCI posts.
Another recommendation has been the imposition of an age limit of 70 years for any administrator. This is also ironical given that the SC’s initial pick Fali Nariman is all of 87.
Even more perplexing are the suggestions for ‘One State, One Vote’ and unnecessary restrictions placed on the constitution of the selection panel. While no evidence exists for why the latter would lead to better selection, the former displays a lack of understanding of how sports leagues work the world over.
‘One State, One Vote’ would mean that states like Maharashtra and Gujarat – which have multiple cricket associations – would get just one representative in the BCCI. Not only does this diktat look like it’s trying to solve a problem which doesn’t exist – perhaps even infusing greater politics into an already-complex situation, it flies in the face of how sports is managed globally.
Take the case of the English Premier League. London contributes five teams to the league this season. One doubts whether we would ever see a situation where the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham would be told to share one representative between them at Premiere League meetings.
There is also a larger matter to be considered here – the growing trend of court orders and judgements seeming to delve more and more into areas which would be best kept away from judicial (dare I say) activism.
The nation saw the first glimpse of this phenomenon during the 2G and coal scam trials, but looked the other way as it seemed necessary at the time when an unquestionably corrupt regime was ruling India. But such instances have continued unabated even with a change of guard at the centre; in fact, they have become even more frequent and glaring now.
Over the past few years, we have seen courts overturn constitutional amendments passed by both Houses of Parliament, instruct the centre to overlook the federal structure while handling droughts and even give a perplexing order stating that political parties cannot ask for votes based on religion. At least in the third instance, one can be fairly sure that a court order was not the missing piece that would solve the jigsaw puzzle that is communal politics in India.
This turn of events is even more perplexing when you consider that, as of August last year, there was a backlog of around three crore cases pending in various courts in India. Given that there is such an accumulation of what amounts to delays in justice, one would assume the courts would have stayed away from, say, getting involved in running a sport. And that too, one that was doing quite well on its own.
Praful Shankar is a political enthusiast and tweets at @shankarpraful.
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