Spotlight

Price of greed

Print edition : August 07, 2015

Rajasthan Royals' co-owner Raj Kundra (right) and Chennai Super Kings' Gurunath Meiyappan, who have been banned for life from cricket. Photo: PTI

Justice R.M. Lodha, who headed the committee that decided the quantum of punishment for those held guilty in the IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal by the Supreme Court-appointed committee, headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal, which investigated it. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Justice Mukul Mudgal, who headed the committee that investigated the scandal. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

SOMETIMES the doctor prescribes exactly what the patient wished for. Two years before the current cyclical season of the cricket circus, the first Indian Premier League (IPL), comes to a close, a committee that had to decide on the quantum of punishment for wrongdoing on the part of owners of two teams, has recommended that India Cements Limited (ICL; owners of Chennai Super Kings) and Jaipur IPL Cricket Limited (JICL; owners of Rajasthan Royals) be suspended. The period: two years. The committee also imposed life bans on the Super Kings’ principal, Gurunath Meiyappan, and the Royals’ Raj Kundra.

Contrast this with the response to what seemed a rather innocuous crime of deflating footballs at the professional National Football League (NFL) in the United States: The NFL fined a team $1 million and docked them their 2016 and 2017 fourth-round picks five days after the release of an inquiry report, which found it “more probable than not” that two team personnel were involved in a scheme to deflate footballs before the American Football Conference Championship game, Boston.com reported on May 19. In 2006, the football club Juventus was relegated to the Italian second division as punishment after it was implicated in the country’s match-fixing scandal. Many more teams have faced similar fates.

In India, cricket is a religion, but action against wrongdoers is sporadic or non-existent. The present “punishment” is intended to be more than a wake-up call, but might not amount to much. After all, people, including fans of the game, elected to the Lok Sabha a cricket captain who had been held guilty of match-fixing. Besides, the silence of some of the most revered names in Indian cricket seems to indicate that the gravy train is as much on track as ever.

Of the top cricket stars, Rahul Dravid was the first to react. The India A Coach said: “There is a blot on cricket’s image when such issues arise. But the verdict is a way forward.” On July 14, just half an hour after the final One Day International between India and Zimbabwe began, the Justice R.M. Lodha committee suspended for life Gurunath Meiyappan, and Raj Kundra from any cricketing-related activity of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

“Once it is accepted that cricket is bigger than individuals or [a] body of individuals then financial loss that may be caused to few players or franchisees may not be of significant consideration while taking disciplinary action or for imposition of punishment for wrongdoing,” Justice Lodha said. “The BCCI which is managing the game of cricket in the country has to give an important place to the disciplinary role (this role is being discharged by this committee in the present matter as mandated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court) so that purity of game remains a central element,” he added.

The committee, comprising retired Supreme Court judges Ashok Bhan and R.V. Raveendran besides R.M. Lodha, a former Chief Justice of India, had examined in detail Meiyappan and Kundra and the franchises they were part of for their involvement in the IPL 2013 betting/corruption scandal. Its brief was to decide the quantum of punishment on the basis of the BCCI’s rules. The committee proposed to impose sanctions on ICL and JICL and suspended both for a period of two years. Apart from the life bans on Kundra and Meiyappan, the committee declared them ineligible to participate in cricket for five years.

Charges and defence

On Meiyappan, principally three issues arose for the consideration of the committee: (1) Whether operational rules and code of conduct are inapplicable in the facts and circumstances of the case and the disciplinary action can be taken only under the Anti Corruption Code (2) If the answer to issue No. 1 is in the negative, whether applying the more drastic rule is against Article 14 of the Constitution of India and the principles of equality (3) Having regard to the misconduct found against Meiyappan, what should the punishment be.

Raj Kundra’s defence was on the following lines: (i) He has been accused or found guilty of misconduct under BCCI Rules/Regulations/Code for the first time; (ii) The only charge of misconduct against him is of betting and there was not even an allegation of match-fixing or influencing the outcome of the game; (iii) The alleged offence is an individual action and not in any manner concerned with his status as the co-owner of a team; (iv) He has cooperated at all the stages of the investigation into the matter and he willingly appeared before the probe committee (headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal) and also before the investigation team; (v) The first report of the probe committee dated February 9, 2014, recorded the fact that the Delhi Police informed it (probe committee) that Kundra was placing bets of petty values in the region of Rs.1 lakh with his friends and that as per the Delhi Police, he, being a U.K. citizen, believed betting to be legal in India; (vi) In the final report dated November 1, 2014, the probe committee recorded that the “known punter” with whom Kundra allegedly placed bets was his friend; and (vii) Kundra is a person of relatively young age, being still in his late thirties. At the time of alleged betting, he was in his mid-thirties.

On ICL, the contention that there was no finding of any misconduct or wrongdoing and that the Supreme Court had not recorded the finding of “failure to ensure” against it did not hold up. The defence submitted that “failure to ensure” could not be an absolute responsibility and ought to be seen whether the offences alleged against Meiyappan had been committed with the support or acquiescence of the franchisee. Counsel submitted that the Anti Corruption Code had no application and that the franchisee was amenable to action under the operational rules only. There was no finding of any direct involvement of ICL in the betting activities of Meiyappan nor was there any finding of ICL in any manner aiding or indirectly being complicit in the betting activities of Meiyappan. Further, counsel said, Meiyappan had not indulged in betting while discharging his duties as a team official or while he was under the control of ICL.

The JIPL’s contentions were similar: that there was no direct finding, evidence or factual assertion which even remotely sought to implicate JIPL or any of its officers or management; that the punishment, if any, had to be proportionate to the offence (or deemed offence, as may be inferred in this matter); that there was no act or omission by the franchisee which would have an adverse impact on reputation; the franchisee had done whatever it was required to do by the BCCI in respect of the regulations; and that the franchisee was not aware that Kundra was responsible for such an infraction of the regulations. They also included a plea that the players contracted would lose, and that JIPL had not benefited from Kundra’s betting.

Justice Lodha did not mince words: “The fact that Mr Meiyappan was an integral part of CSK [Chennai Super Kings] and most people saw him as the face of the team, he ought not to have indulged in betting practices.” On Kundra, he said: “Betting is a crime punishable in India and it is corrupt practice against BCCI constitution. It is difficult to accept that as a U.K. citizen, he did not know that betting was against the law in India.”

The crime of ICL was that it did not take any action against Meiyappan. Dismissing the attempts of the defence to portray that the team franchisee had nothing to do with the individuals, Justice Lodha made it clear that “the argument that these acts were personal and the franchisee cannot be responsible cannot be accepted”.

Soon after the punishment was pronounced, in a brief statement BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya said the BCCI was “committed to honour and respect judicial decisions and it would give its observations after the entire report is read and a collective decision is taken”. The Dalmiya-led BCCI will now be forced to embark on a drive to clean up the administration and remove from it elements that can be clearly viewed as conflict of interest. That drive began formally with a perfunctory meeting to decide the future course of action.

Accepting wrongdoing

To start with, the BCCI needs to consider if its registration under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act should stay. The Act, which “extends to the whole of the State of Tamil Nadu”, is meant for “any society which has for its object the promotion of education, may be literature, science, religion, charity, social reform, art, crafts, cottage industries, athletics, sports (including indoor games) recreation, public health, social service, cultural activities, the diffusion of useful knowledge or such other object with respect to which the State Legislature has power to make laws for the State, which may be prescribed, may be registered under this Act” (Chapter 2, 3(1)).

It is highly unlikely that the basic issues relating to the governance of cricket in India will come into the BCCI’s focus when firefighting and window dressing have been the norm in its history. Despite the presence of powerful politicians cutting across party lines in the BCCI for many decades, there has been no attempt to bring transparency in the functioning of the body.

The first step in solving a problem is the realisation that there is one. Going by the permanent mute settings of those involved in cricket in India, any solution appears a long way off. Even those pronounced guilty have contested it. For instance, Kundra responded on Twitter by saying, “Many inaccuracies.... Have requested for a copy of the judgment. Obviously very shocked and disappointed....” Obviously, the affected parties might consider the possibility of an appeal in the Supreme Court.

“I think the verdict is extremely balanced. Well-considered and it’s a very, very detailed order going into every nuance of the rules, the operational rules, and a very detailed analysis,” Justice Mukul Mudgal, who led the committee appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the 2013 IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal, told The Indian Express.

Attempts to reach former BCCI chief and present Chairmam of the International Cricket Council N. Srinivasan, on his mobile phone, proved futile. But many serving or retired players this correspondent had spoken to over a period of time since the IPL controversy broke adore Srinivasan.

“Take it from me, no cricketer will talk against him,” said a former Ranji-level cricketer. Listing the benefits that a cricketer currently enjoys, he said a player who had played 25 or more games at the Ranji level was entitled to a minimum of Rs.10,000 pension a month and it went up to Rs.25,000.

He had taken care of the ground staff, the administration staff and the grounds. Besides, Srinivasan, during the several years he was BCCI president, spoke to former Test and one-day cricketers on the needs in their States and responded with projects and proposals. Very clearly, in Indian cricket, there are two eras: Before Srinivasan and After Srinivasan, they say.

In the Srinivasan administration, there was no democratic functioning, though. He never let his son-in-law, Meiyappan, near most of his work.

He wanted his daughter Rupa to take care of the IPL team, CSK, one person with knowledge of the developments, said.

But Rupa was not keen on participating in the player auctions, and Srinivasan wanted one of his trusted lieutenants to help out. That person, who is still a part of the cricket administration in the State, brought in Meiyappan. Srinivasan did not object. That proved to be his undoing.

IPL-9

The immediate question is what happens to the next edition of the IPL? If CSK and RR cannot play what happens? Franchisees have been terminated before but the game has gone on. Deccan Chargers had to change its name and ownership (IPL purely went by the book) and Kochi Tuskers was thrown out citing lack of transparency in ownership. Pune Warriors pulled out after its bank guarantee was encashed. Even Kings XI Punjab was in trouble, but survived. But CSK is a different kind of team. It has been a contender for the title in every single IPL so far and has won it twice. The RR has won it once, and was the most important team during Lalit Modi’s reign as IPL Commissioner.

Right now, with CSK and RR out, there are only six teams. There is huge money riding on the IPL, and sponsors, including the broadcaster, will not be happy with a reduced number of games. Is there a chance of inviting guest teams from abroad, to fill the two slots? In this case, there is the danger of a non-Indian team in the final.

The other possibility is that of the BCCI running the two teams for two years, or creating two new teams for two years. It has to be remembered that the teams themselves have not been suspended; it is just the present owners who cannot run a team for the next two years.

These questions will be the most important when the IPL governing body meets soon after the BCCI’s meeting.

There is also the question of legalising betting in cricket. If one can legally bet on race horses in many parts of India, why not on cricket? It is legal in Australia and England, and there is a very active grey market gambling ( satta) on cricket in India. There is a view that this will contribute to the tax earning and also take out the whole grey market.

In a country where most people sit glued to the television during every cricket match, finding convincing answers to these questions is, to put it mildly, a very difficult exercise. The situation calls for the best brains in the country, both in cricket and in management, to come together in the interest of the game of cricket.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×