Hyderabad: In a tell-all book, Neeraj Kumar, the former chief advisor of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) anti-corruption unit, paints a sorry picture of cricket administration in India. Those in charge, he writes, care little about promoting the sport or easing the path for talented cricketers because their interest lies in protecting their “personal fiefdoms”.
The book, A Cop in Cricket, is a riveting read and set to hit the shelves this week. It is an account of Kumar’s three-year tenure as the chief advisor of the BCCI’s Anti Corruption & Security Unit (ACSU) between 2015 and 2018. The 1976 batch Indian Police Service officer, who retired as Delhi police commissioner in 2013, focuses on the not-so-secret dark underbelly of India’s most popular sport.
Kumar reserves his harshest criticism for Vinod Rai, the former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, under whose tenure, the 2G and ‘Coalgate’ scams were unearthed. Rai was the chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA), serving for nearly three years starting on January 30, 2017. The CoA’s mandate was to oversee the administration of the BCCI while the reforms recommended by the Lodha Committee – constituted after the 2013 IPL betting scandal – are implemented.
However, the former cop’s scathing portrayal of Rai shows a man who – like the career administrators before him – was inclined to brush inconvenient truths under the carpet and maintain the status quo. Kumar also takes a jab at Rai’s self-appointed moniker of being the “nation’s conscience keeper“. He writes:
“…the faux conscience keepers and management executives who stepped in ostensibly to set high standards of good governance and rectitude in cricket administration … only left the waters more muddied than before.”
Kumar’s most serious allegation against Rai is that he protected Rahul Johri, who served as the CEO of BCCI, when the latter was accused of sexual harassment in 2018. He speculates that Rai may have done this because “Johri was close to a powerful central minister who took a keen interest in the goings-on at the BCCI. Could this have been the reason Rai was seen to have protected him? We may never know, but these are open questions in my mind.” Kumar does not name the “powerful central minister”.
The author goes as far as to say that Rai and Johri’s partnership was actually that of a “father-son” relationship. And Rai “didn’t wish to hear anything against his prodigal son, however serious the complaint against him”.
The book says that Diana Edulji, a former cricketer and member of the CoA, wanted Johri sacked after the allegations, to which Rai initially agreed. “However, the following day, for inexplicable reasons, [Rai] changed his mind.”
Later, Edulji said in an interview that from the way the independent committee worked, it was “very clear” that Johri would get away. According her, the CoA should not have let Johri continue after the sexual harassment episode. “The findings of one of the member[s] was quite damning and he should have been asked to go even if the other two members had given him a clean chit,” Edulji said.
‘Corruption was a non-issue’
In the book, Kumar says he had high hopes that the CoA, headed by the “self-proclaimed crusader against graft”, would clean up the BCCI. However, just months after the committee had taken over, Kumar says he made a presentation about the “atrocious malpractices that were happening at the lower levels of the sport in the country”. But it “made little impact on Rai”, which led him to conclude that corruption “was a non-issue for the BCCI”.
To bolster his case, Kumar writes about the ACSU’s enquiry into allegations of corruption at the Mahendragarh District Cricket Association in Haryana. The enquiry found that the association’s chief was a brick-kiln owner who was “clueless” about cricket and outsourced his responsibilities to a “local readymade garments shop owner”, who functioned as “coach, selector and administrator”. While he demanded bribes to select players, his associate demanded “sexual favours”. The findings of the enquiry were “emblematic of the malaise that prevails at the grassroots level in Indian cricket”, Kumar says.
But the “worst part”, the former cop says, was that Johri and Rai “took no action” when the report was sent to them. “I often reminded them both about our findings, but every time they feigned complete ignorance of the report. They would say, ‘We don’t recall having seen your report.’ I would send the report again, and the same response would follow whenever I tried to follow up with them,” he writes.
‘Whole and sole authority’
While the CoA was initially a four-member team, historian Ramachandra Guha and banker Vikram Limaye stepped down less than six months into their tenure. Kumar says Guha resigned “a disillusioned person, as the CoA chief ignored most of his ideas”.
Soon, “Vinod Rai gradually became the whole and sole authority calling the shots. No efforts were made to get the two vacancies in the committee filled. A bureaucrat is typically not trained to garner consensus from a diverse set of self-opinionated persons for his day-to-day decision-making”, writes Kumar.
Even the views of the last remaining member, Diana Edulji, were “quietly ignored” if they ran contrary to the writ of the Rai-Johri duo.
In another pot-shot at Rai, Kumar observes that though the former IAS officer had called himself a nightwatchman when he joined as the CoA chief, he “did not leave the pitch” even after turning 70 – in violation of the Lodha committee’s recommendation.
Rai’s own book about his time at the BCCI was titled Not Just a Nightwatchman: My Innings at the BCCI. In its review, The Tribune noted this contradiction: despite describing himself as “a ‘temporary nightwatchman’ in the BCCI… this book shows him as a prime batsman trying to bat on a pitch doctored by the disqualified officials or their henchmen”.
The former CAG wrote that his experience at the BCCI left him aghast because the officials were “unreliable, incompetent, dishonest, manipulative”. However, Kumar claims that Rai was not above these failings himself.
‘Despite the administrators’
Kumar concludes that cricket thrives in India despite the cricket administrators. The majority of administrators are “in the business of cricket only for the power and pelf it brings them”, he says. “They have unabashedly carved out personal fiefdoms in their respective areas of influence. They are there primarily for the lucre that is theirs for the asking.”
Every state association receives “crores of rupees” annually as their share of the total revenue earned by the Board, the bulk of it from the IPL. “This huge corpus meant for the promotion of cricket at the grassroots level is diverted and misappropriated by state association officials, who adopt every conceivable modus operandi of malfeasance to do so,” writes Kumar. But the top BCCI office-bearers “generally never ask for the utilization details or certificates for these funds” from the office bearers of state associations because the former needs the latter’s vote and support in the next elections.
The Wire has written to Vinod Rai with a request to respond to Neeraj Kumar’s allegations. The story will be updated if and when he responds.
Author Neeraj Kumar writes that while instances of high-profile corruption like spot-fixing have become rare, the BCCI and the cricket boards that function under it are plagued by much bigger problems. These include cricket board officials seeking bribes and “sexual favours” to further a player’s career to sham coaching centres that co-opted IPL franchises to defraud aspiring cricketers. These revelations might shock a casual cricket fan but will not surprise anyone who harboured hopes of playing the sport professionally.
Recently, India’s cricket establishment has once again come under a harsh spotlight after a sting operation by Zee Television forced the resignation of the BCCI’s chief selector, Chetan Sharma, just 40 days after he took charge. He is said to have raised serious questions about how cricket is administered in the country in the sting and spoken about “ego clashes” between some players and also with BCCI officials. He can be seen saying that some cricketers take “injections to fake fitness”. He purportedly said, “They are big superstars. Do they really face shortage of doctors? They can have them come to their house after making a phone call and he will give them an injection.”
The BCCI is the world’s richest sport governing body, with an estimated net worth of more than Rs 23,000 crore at the end of the 2021-22 financial year. Its revenues have soared exponentially since the IPL began. But the Board is perennially plagued by allegations of corruption and fund misappropriation. Politicians have been prominent among those jostling for control of various state cricket boards apart from the BCCI. Former cricketer, Roger Binny was chosen as its President in October last year. Jay Shah – who happens to be the Union home minister Amit Shah’s son – is the current BCCI Secretary. In the past, politicians Sharad Pawar, Madhavrao Scindia and Anurag Thakur have headed the BCCI.
(The book, A Cop in Cricket by Neeraj Kumar, is published by Juggernaut and is scheduled for release on February 21, 2023.)