A Cricketing Utopia May Finally be Attainable in India

Using classics like CLR James’ s Beyond a Boundary, wading through the governing practices of other international sporting bodies, and speaking to dozens of officials, players and scribes, the Lodha Committee recommends sweeping reforms in the BCCI

Chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on Reforms in Cricket, Justice (retd.) R M Lodha addressing a press conference after tabling the committee's report in New Delhi on January 4. Credit: PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla

Chairman of the Supreme Court Committee on Reforms in Cricket, Justice (retd.) R M Lodha addressing a press conference after tabling the committee’s report in New Delhi on January 4. Credit: PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla

Thomas More, the English lawyer, social philosopher, author and statesman, produced his most famous work, Utopia, exactly half a millennium ago in 1516.

This week, as 2015 gave way to 2016, Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha tabled in the Supreme Court a report that bears his name and seeks to set right the cricketing world.

The original Utopia was based on the word coined for a fictional Island in the Atlantic Ocean. There really is no evidence of More ever having been acquainted with a game like cricket, but what he envisaged in his book was a fictional society – where there were no lawyers, because the laws were so simple; where everything was transparent, as all social gatherings were in public view (no closed room meetings); where there was no private property, only communal ownership; where men and women were equal and everyone treated alike.

By that yardstick, the recommendations of the the Lodha Committee Report, if implemented, will be nothing short of a ‘Cricketing Utopia’ in India.

The main report, which runs into just over 80 pages, begins most appositely with a chapter called “Getting of the Mark” and says at the outset, “At stake … are the faith, love and passion for the game of hundreds of millions of people.”

And then under a sub-head “The task at hand”, the report adds,

“The Supreme Court has left us in no doubt about its grave concern about the place at which Indian cricket finds itself today. The “cloud over the working of the BCCI” has left followers of the game “worried and deeply suspicious about what goes on in the name of the game” says the Court, before indicating the way forward for a sport that is not only a passion but a great unifying force, by adopting a “zero tolerance approach”, which can alone satisfy the cry for cleansing. It cannot also go unnoticed that while re-emphasising that BCCI discharges public functions, the Court has referred to the tacit concurrence and support of the Central and State Governments in activities which create a monopoly over cricket.”

The report is exhaustive in its reach, containing in it the various aspects of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, its functions, its officials, and its relationship with state associations, players and others involved in the sport. The report also touches upon the issues of transparency and conflict of interest.

Importantly, the report draws upon cricketing books like CLR James’s classic Beyond a Boundary, A Corner of a Foreign Field by Ramachandra Guha, James Astill’s The Great Tamasha and Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy by Ed Hawkins, as well as recommendations from the Mudgal committee. It also includes a comparative study of the governing practices of other sporting bodies and interviews conducted with as many as 74 people, including prominent administrators, cricketers and journalists.

Major recommendations – Who gets out hit-wicket, who gets bowled

The Lodha Committee has recommended sweeping reforms, which if implemented, will bring about a radical change in the Board. The learned judge clearly does not want politicians and bureaucrats in sport; he wants sports officials to retire at 70; he wants every state to have just one vote; each office bearer’s term of three years should be followed by a cooling-off period; an official who once becomes a BCCI president cannot contest for any other post; no one can simultaneously office bearer positions in BCCI and State Association; the selection committee should only have Test players and that too only three, as opposed to five currently.

Here are some of the big reform suggestions, and the likely outcome, if they are accepted.

  • Age limit of 70 years: No person can be an office-bearer in the BCCI or a state association after attaining the age of 70.

—> Bowled: Mumbai Cricket Association President Sharad Pawar is over 75; former BCCI President and current Tamil Nadu Cricket Association chief N Srinivasan is 71. Officials like Niranjan Shah of Saurashtra, Punjab’s MP Pandove and IS Bindra are also past the age limit.

  • One State One Vote: One state association gets only one vote in the BCCI, and all others will be associate members.

—> Bowled: Maharashtra has three votes – Maharashtra, Mumbai and Vidarbha; Gujarat has three votes – Gujarat, Saurashtra and Baroda. Under this recommendation, only one body per state gets voting rights, with the others relegated to associate status.

Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Telangana will get voting rights as independent states. The National Cricket Club (NCC), where the late Jagmohan Dalmiya wielded power, and which is a body with no cricketing activity, loses its vote.

  • Cooling off period after three years: The maximum allowed will be three terms of three years for office-bearers, with a cooling off period after each term.

—> Bowled: Current Secretary Anurag Thakur cannot immediately contest for the BCCI president’s post after completion of his current role.

  • No post after president: The maximum allowed is two terms of three years for a BCCI president. Importantly, after being elected president once, the official cannot contest for any other post.

—> Hit wicket: Shashank Manohar, after the current term, his second, will have completed six years at the helm and hence cannot return to the BCCI.

  • Simultaneous BCCI and state positions not allowed: A person cannot simultaneously be an office-bearer of the BCCI and a state association.

—> Hit Wicket: Many officials will be affected by this. Some officials like BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur (also the president of Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association), BCCI Joint Secretary Amitabh Chaudhary (also president of the Jharkhand State Cricket Association), BCCI Treasurer Aniruddh Chaudhary (also Secretary, Haryana Cricket Association) will have to give up one of their positions.

  • Three instead of five selectors: The selection committee will comprise three former Test cricketers.

—> Affected: Central Zone selector Gagan Khoda will have to go, as he has played only two ODIs and no Test matches. Vikram Rathore (6 Tests, 7 ODIs), Saba Karim (1 Test, 34 ODIs), MSK Prasad (6 Tests and 17 ODIs) and Sandeep Patil (29 Tests and 45 ODIs) are the other four selectors. One of them have to go to reduce the panel to three.

  • Legalise Betting: Legalise betting but ban match- and spot- fixing

—> Foreign betting companies will enter the country. Betting will be legal for all, except cricketers, officials and administrators. Match- and spot-fixing be made criminal offences.

The fate of the report

The report has met with a lot of praise, understandably so – the BCCI has long drawn dislike from fans and analysts alike.

As much as everyone may want the committee’s recommendations to be implemented, the jury is still out on whether this will indeed happen or if it will simply end up being just another ‘committee report’.

While the report has been read and dissected, the BCCI and the larger cricketing world await the Supreme Court’s diktat on its future. Suspense is rife over the status of the report – is it merely a recommendation or is it binding?

Murmurs in BCCI circles suggest the report is being seen as non-binding. The BCCI will certainly not want to accept most of the recommendations.

But the Board had earlier wasted little time in accepting the Lodha panel’s decision to hand out two-year suspensions to IPL teams Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, and bans to former Super Kings official Gurunath Meiyappan and Royal’s co-owner Raj Kundra, on charges of spot-fixing. Meiyappan’s indictment had also cost his father-in-law, former ICC Chairman N Srinivasan, his position as the BCCI President.

Having previously accepted the panel’s decision, which also had far-reaching implications, one wonders what the BCCI’s stance will be now.

Shashank Manohar, the current Board president, is known to be keen to ‘clean up’ the body. But will he be able to ensure the implementation of such sweeping changes?

End of the ‘closed club’?

The BCCI has been a “closed club” for decades. Its operations have been talked about only through whispers – I have heard of officials being paid a Rs.10,000 daily allowance, above the cost of travel and stay and a $500 daily allowance with similar perks while abroad.

The BCCI has a set of complicated rules for voting – Maharashtra and Gujarat have three ‘legal’ cricketing bodies each, and two other states have two each. Some other states have one ‘official’ body and one ‘rebel’ body that are not recognised by the BCCI. Many state bodies have their own rules, and not all are consistent – some like Delhi allow proxy voting, where clubs can sign away their votes on a piece of paper, which is then produced on the day of the election. There are even accusations of clubs existing only on paper, with no playing grounds or teams – so, who is funding these clubs?

Members must also satisfy a set of stringent rules before becoming eligible to stand for BCCI elections. With the same set of officials playing ‘musical chairs’, few new administrators can join this closed club.

Will the BCCI mandarins let go of their power so easily, as the Lodha Committee recommends? Will the BCCI finally be able to open its doors to welcome reform?

Utopia at long last?

Seldom has a report on any sport in India been so exhaustive and thorough. One would be tempted to suggest that this could be the basis for a ‘new constitution’ for the BCCI. In fact, if you were to substitute the word cricket for any other sport, it could hold for a new constitution for that sporting body too.

Many mandarins of Indian cricket would have cringed at the committee’s recommendations. With sweeping reforms at its core, the likes of Sharad Pawar, Rajiv Shukla, Anurag Thakur and many other politicians and bureaucrats involved in the sport, would have to be shown the door if the Lodha report is implemented.

The report is exhaustive in its reach, encompassing everything related to the BCCI and its functions. In particular, conflict of interest finds detailed mention with numerous examples; no names are named but the references are clear to those in the sport.

Yet, despite its sweeping reform recommendations, the committee says, “We had to ensure autonomy of the BCCI was not affected. Ailments needed cure, but needed to ensure good bacteria in the body wasn’t lost.”

It would have been ever so easy to suggest that the government takes over the BCCI and its affairs, but the Lodha Committee understands that professionals must run sports; thus, one of its most important recommendations is that politicians and bureaucrats must stay away from cricket.

Ah, is that not Utopia? And is it really possibly anywhere except in dreams?