Why Three Retired Judges Could Be the BCCI’s Worst Nightmare

WON'T YOU SAY A PRAYER FOR ME: File picture of BCCI President N Srinivasan at a temple  in Chennai. PTI Photo.

WON’T YOU SAY A PRAYER FOR ME: File picture of BCCI President N Srinivasan at a temple in Chennai. PTI Photo.

“I thought the FBI only happened in the movies”, a Brazilian football fan posted as news broke last week of midnight raids and the arrests of almost the entire upper echelons of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

We are all Brazilian; we live in daily expectation of the caped crusader who will come along and sweep our world clean. Yet, two years and 18 days after we learnt that there is more than one reason for a bowler to dry his palms on a white towel, the Indian cricket tragic continues to dream of the avenging angel who will clean the game of the chronically corrupt.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha and former SC judges Ashok Bhan and Raju Varadarajulu Raveendran, whose combined age is 207 years, make for an unlikely deus ex machina — but their work as a commission mandated to examine the workings of the Board of Control for Cricket In India and recommend solutions could  be more far-reaching than the night of the long knives we long for.

If their lordships focussed on corruption, they would faced the problem of plenty: The immediate past president of the BCCI is entangled in a web of conflicting interests, the incumbent has the dubious distinction of having had an FIR filed against him for misappropriation of funds belonging to the very body he now heads, and the head of the Indian Premier League has presided over match fixing issues in two separate editions of the league. Where could any fact-finding mission possibly start? And to what end?

The commission appears to have decided to let the Augean stables remain uncleansed, opting to cut instead to the complex heart of the issue.

For the better part of three months, the judges have traveled to Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and other cricketing centers, and met with or spoken to an array of former and present players, administrators, coaches, support staff and journalists, among others.

These interactions have been based on an 82-item questionnaire that provides the clearest indicator of the commission’s direction. The six-section questionnaire probes the BCCI’s structure, organisation and relationships with its affiliated units and with the global governing body; the source of its authority to run cricket in the country; the structure of its various offices and committees and the nature and conduct of election to its several posts; the transparency or lack thereof of the BCCI’s deals with construction and service companies, broadcasters, advertisers etc and other commercial partners; the way it accounts for its income and expenses and what if any transparency is built into the system; its relationships with the players and the need for an association representing the latter’s interests; and the question of serial conflicts of interests.

Not one of the 82 queries seeks information about any particular act of corruption — a seeming abdication of responsibility that is the hidden strength of this exercise. Corruption and misgovernment is so rife that the judges could spend the rest of their natural lives without inflicting a visible scratch on the surface. Instead, the commission’s intent is to moot a constitutional overhaul that will end the opacity shrouding the BCCI’s functioning, and put in place an alternate structure founded on the principles of transparency and accountability.

About time, too. India’s first representative tour (to England in 1912)  was sponsored by the Maharaja of Patiala, who was also captain and de facto team selector. The BCCI was born, 16 years later, of that amateur ethos.

103 years on, cricket has become a major industry. The simple constitution framed in December 1928 and held together over the years by a patchwork quilt of self-serving amendments is inadequate to cope with the big money and rapacious interests that now control the sport.

The  Lodha Commission appears to be guided by a fundamental premise: that if cricket in India is to be cleaned up, rooting around in the muck of the past is not the best use of its time. Instead, the commission seems bent on acquiring information on systemic flaws in the existing structure, which in turn will inform the framing of a revised constitution that is better suited to the era of cricket as big business.

Public sentiment — and hyperventilating chat-shows — would infinitely prefer a FIFA-style purge within the BCCI, and wish for the coming together of a Superman, Batman and Spiderman to cry havoc on the entrenched hierarchy. What we have instead are three soberly-clad, soft-spoken judges on a less headline-hungry, more visionary, mission. That may not be such a bad thing after all.

Prem Panicker is a journalist and editor of The Peepli Project.


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