Games people play

The vested interests of politicians and businessmen make sports governing bodies breeding grounds of corruption and nepotism.

Published : Jan 06, 2016 12:30 IST

Arun Jaitley at the launch of 'Delhi Daredevils', the Delhi team for the inaugural Indian Premier League, in New Delhi in 2008. His role in the governing bodies of cricket and hockey has been brought into question.

Arun Jaitley at the launch of 'Delhi Daredevils', the Delhi team for the inaugural Indian Premier League, in New Delhi in 2008. His role in the governing bodies of cricket and hockey has been brought into question.

Amid the political slugfest between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over allegations of corruption against Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), former Hockey India chief and retired police officer K.P.S Gill fired a fresh salvo. In a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, he alleged that Jaitley had used his position as an advisory member of the Hockey India League, a premier club tournament organised by Hockey India, to push for his daughter Sonali Jaitley’s appointment as the legal counsel for the governing body for hockey. The Delhi government has instituted an inquiry by a one-member committee headed by the eminent lawyer Gopal Subramaniam to investigate the financial irregularities in the DDCA during Jaitley’s presidential tenure from 1999 to 2013. Jaitley has filed defamation suits against Kejriwal and five senior AAP leaders. As Jaitley’s role in the two sports bodies is brought into question and several other aspects of the “DDCA scam” come into the picture, the focus is, again, on the nexus between politicians and institutions governing sports in India. The most recent scandals that rocked sports governing bodies, those in connection with the Commonwealth Games of 2010 and the Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket, highlighted this aspect. The DDCA scam also brings into focus the all-pervasive phenomena of patronage and nepotism in institutions governing sports.

It is ironical that politicians who have no intimate understanding of sports exercise direct or indirect control over sports governing bodies in India. For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the president of the Gujarat Cricket Association for more than a decade when he was the Chief Minister of the State. After he became Prime Minister, the BJP’s national president Amit Shah has been holding the reins of the association. Similarly, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar has been the president of the Mumbai Cricket Association for a long time now. Anurag Thakur, the BJP’s youth leader, heads the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. Rajeev Shukla, the Congress leader, has been a senior functionary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for many years and is in charge of the IPL.

Most other sports governing bodies too have politicians at the helm of affairs. Senior BJP leader Vijay Malhotra, who has no connection whatsoever with archery, heads the Indian Archery Association. Congress leader Priyaranjan Das Munshi headed the All India Football Federation for a long time before he was replaced by NCP leader Praful Patel.

It is well known that Vasundhara Raje propelled Lalit Modi to the forefront in the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA). She introduced the Sports Act in the State which gave powers to the 33 districts to elect the governing body of the RCA. This eventually helped Lalit Modi to wrest control of the RCA from the Rungta family which ruled the body for decades (see “Rise and Fall of Lalit Modi”, Frontline , July 10, 2015).

“If not direct control, politicians exercise indirect control over sports bodies. I cannot fathom a single sports body in which one or other politician does not have some sort of power. Our institutions stand in stark contrast to most of the European and North American sports bodies, which are all administered by sportsmen. Why should we be surprised when our sportsmen cannot compete in global platforms?” said a New Delhi-based senior sports commentator.

Chetan Sanghi Committee

One of the foremost recommendations of the Chetan B. Sanghi Committee, constituted by the Delhi government to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations of corruption and financial irregularities in the DDCA, is to rid the body of politicians. The Sanghi report categorically says “…the affairs of DDCA should be primarily managed by cricketers”. The report lists a series of violations and financial irregularities during the presidential tenure of Jaitley, although it does not name him.

Several sports commentators, including retired cricketers such as Bishen Singh Bedi and Kirti Azad, have often suggested that the interest of politicians in sports is mostly because of their popular nature and the high financial stakes they carry and that there is hardly any serious thinking about the development of sports. A political observer based in New Delhi said: “Development of sports has become like railway tenders in the Hindi heartland. Only the favourites win. And the underdog has no place in it.”

Nepotism and patronage have become common phenomena in Indian sports. For instance, the charges against the DDCA are mostly of financial irregularities and favouritism. The Serious Fraud Investigation Office found 62 instances of financial irregularities in the transactions of the DDCA between 2006 and 2012. Most of these relate to misappropriation of funds, non-payment of taxes, proxy voting, improper conduct of tendering route, membership, ticketing, and so on. The Sanghi Committee report says that Rs.57 crore paid for the construction of the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi is completely unaccounted for and went to companies that got the contracts without competitive bidding.

Same office AND e-mail ids

Several of these charges clearly suggest that a few commercial entities benefited the most because of the patronage they received from high-ranking officials of the DDCA. “An amount of Rs.1.55 crore was loaned by the DDCA to three different companies, Vidhan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., Shri Ram Tradecom Pvt. Ltd., and Maple Infra Reality Pvt. Ltd. A charitable company cannot give a loan for commercial purposes, but when confronted, Sh. S.P. Bansal, president of the DDCA, stated that these were an investment to earn interest…. Substantial payments were made to nine companies which, on investigation, turned out to have the same registered office, same e-mail IDs as well as common directors…. Unauthorised and unapproved payments were made to professionals, including accountants, consultants and advocates. Payments have been made without authorisation and often to persons and companies who have not even provided the services claimed. These duplicate payments amount to several crores,” the Sanghi Committee report says. The charges against Jaitley are with regard to corrupt practices that rely on a strong patron-client relationship.

As the size and budgets of cricket bodies have grown, so has money laundering too. The commercialisation of sports in recent times has raised the potential of such corruption significantly. The stakeholders in sports administration—mostly politicians and big businessmen —are competing with one another to corner most of the benefits of this system.

“Big businessmen are trying to change the rules of corruption in sports. Earlier they relied upon politicians’ patronage to get contracts. In turn, politicians were happy with the kickbacks and other benefits that they received from the contractors as long as power remained with them. The IPL scandal was the first shift towards a new model of corruption. Lalit Modi, an ambitious businessman, did not depend on the government’s funds or the BCCI. He generated massive capital from the open market—from television rights, advertisements, brand endorsements, private industries, digital platforms, etc.—to mount an unprecedented show like the IPL. The BCCI did not have to spend anything and yet reaped huge profits. Lalit Modi started to believe that he did not have to depend on the bureaucratic hassles of a democratically elected body anymore,” said the sports commentator.

IPL and big business

The IPL scandal was a watershed in the history of Indian sports. Lalit Modi challenged the establishment fiercely. He took commercialisation to a whole new level. He used all the resources at his disposal to generate as much profit as possible. This disrupted the status quo of cricket administration. And all this came at the cost of the game itself. “The IPL is an action-packed show. We are not pitching IPL against cricket; we are pitching it against prime time (7 p.m. to 11 p.m.) of general entertainment channels…it’s an evening out. A Bollywood movie is three hours. This is a three-hour function. A lot of good food and catering and popcorn and ice cream for the kids,” Lalit Modi had said in an interview to Outlook Business .

Vidya Subramanian, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, in her article “Cricket Lite: IPL as a sporting-entertainment complex”, published in Economic & Political Weekly, says: “The IPL then is a version of cricket which is an industry and a platform on which ride several other interests and stakeholders. Software engineers who can design better analytical software, film stars who seek publicity, players looking for better pay packets, businesses looking for better advertising opportunities, and television channels trying to improve their ratings—are all stakeholders in the game. The sport itself is no longer the centre of the event of the match.”

Despite all the failures of the system, politicians are still obligated by the democratic structure of sports associations. But big businessmen are not bound by any such checks and balances. As a result, the scale of corruption in privately funded tournaments like the IPL is high. The success of tournaments like the IPL has inspired similar tournaments in hockey and football. In all these tournaments, the friction between big businesses and sports authorities has only escalated. The erstwhile patron-client relationship in which the well-oiled sports machinery functioned is slowly breaking apart.

This got reflected most clearly in the way the IPL scandal was drawn out. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor was first targeted by Lalit Modi, which eventually led to his own downfall as skeletons came tumbling out. He was later expelled by a BCCI committee of which Arun Jaitley was an integral part. Clearly, the lobbies operating in sports are dominated by two groups now—politicians who forget their mutual differences when it comes to controlling sports and its profits and big businessmen who are no longer happy playing second fiddle to politicians. Caught in between is the sport itself.

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