THE Supreme Court, in a ruling on January 30, set a benchmark for cricket administration in India. It put the 89-year-old, cash-rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) under a four-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India Vinod Rai. The other members of the team are the finance expert Vikram Limaye, the historian Ramachandra Guha and the cricketer Diana Edulji. The team will run the organisation until the Lodha Committee’s recommendations are implemented and fresh elections are held.
What started as an investigation into a spot-fixing and betting scandal in the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) spiralled into a full-fledged probe into the BCCI’s affairs. Even as BCCI bosses resisted it, the probe gained force and ultimately ended in an embarrassing situation for the cricket body.
The three-member Lodha Committee comprising former Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha and Supreme Court judges Ashok Bhan and R.V. Ravindran was formed in January 2015 and entrusted with the job of suggesting reforms in cricket administration. The idea was to cleanse the BCCI as charges of corruption and financial misdeeds had cropped up. The panel found itself saddled with an onerous task.
Cricket’s popularity in India, sadly, had not created an error-free administration module. “There never was any doubt that the BCCI was far better than the other sports bodies in India, but it failed to keep pace with the times in terms of transparency,” said former BCCI president I.S. Bindra.
Bindra was part of a team that set high standards in cricket administration when India conducted the 1987 World Cup under the stewardship of the then BCCI president, S. Sriraman. The veteran cricket administrator was pained to see the disintegration of the BCCI because of “one man’s obsession”. He was referring to former BCCI president N. Srinivasan, whose obstinacy in clinging on to the post even as demands for his stepping down gained momentum, brought about an upheaval in Indian cricket. The BCCI was built brick by brick by cricket-loving politicians such as N.K.P. Salve, Madhavrao Scindia, S.K. Wankhede, Sharad Pawar and administrators such as Sriraman, M.A. Chidambaram and M. Chinnaswamy. The duo of Bindra and Jagmohan Dalmiya worked hard to make the BCCI a financially self-reliant sports body, the only one in India.
A model once
The structure of cricket administration became a model for others to follow. The game’s itinerary was never interrupted and the process of identifying and grooming talent was supported by a team of veteran cricketers. The BCCI grew into one of the richest sports bodies in the world following the launch of the IPL. However, this also brought a lot of trouble to the cricket body as corruption crept in and damaged the reputation of the game.
When Aditya Verma, an unknown cricket lover from Bihar, came knocking at the doors of the judiciary to challenge the mighty Srinivasan, little did he realise that the fight would culminate in a path-breaking judgment. Verma was appalled at the manner in which the game was run. He especially took exception to players from his State being denied an opportunity to participate in tournaments conducted by the BCCI. The bifurcation of Bihar took cricket away to Jharkhand, and his campaign to seek recognition for the Cricket Association of Bihar (CAB) started a battle which he ultimately won when Srinivasan was removed as BCCI president. It also led to the formation of the Lodha Committee.
Verma fought relentlessly to expose a system that had come to be known as a cosy club. The impression that the BCCI was an opaque body was confirmed once the Lodha panel started work on its assignment to suggest reforms to the cricket body. It was flooded with complaints about the functioning of most of the State associations, where cricket administration had become a family affair.
“What stopped the BCCI from accepting the Lodha panel’s recommendations?” asked Bindra. Many believe it was sheer arrogance. The BCCI was warned by the Supreme Court to reform itself. Former Chief Justice T.S. Thakur observed: “BCCI thinks it is a law unto itself. We know how to get our orders implemented. BCCI thinks it is the lord. You better fall in line or we will make you fall in line.” The BCCI blundered in not responding positively to the Chief Justice’s observations.
What hurt the BCCI most was its rigid attitude towards the judiciary. “It was an unwise move,” said Bindra on the BCCI’s continued defiance of the judiciary. A veteran cricket official admitted that the BCCI had lost face in the spot-fixing scandals that plagued the IPL. “The BCCI ought to have understood the situation, and accepting the Lodha reforms would have been a positive step. I had suggested that the top brass of the BCCI try and meet the Lodha panel and explain some of the issues that could hamper the smooth functioning of the cricket body. But my efforts did not get the approval of those in power,” the official said.
The BCCI had its task cut out once the Lodha panel’s recommendations were accepted in toto by the Supreme Court. Former India all-rounder and Member of Parliament Kirti Azad wrote in a column: “For years, the BCCI had positioned itself as a spoilt brat, with the full support of rootless and irresponsible politicians backed by scheming lawyers, and they had long started believing that they were above the law of the country. Certain lawyer-politicians were egging them on to take on the highest court of the land, but thankfully, their bravado has been cryptically—and tragically for them—cut short.”
Azad was one of the most vocal voices demanding change in the cricket administration. He highlighted the example of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), which had to be handed over to Justice (retd) Mukul Mudgal so that it could be administered properly. “The DDCA is the most corrupt sports body in the country,” Azad has maintained. Associations like the DDCA dented the image of the BCCI and it was just a matter of time before the parent cricket body suffered a huge loss of reputation. When the Supreme Court removed Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke from their posts as president and secretary respectively, the message was loud and clear: Transparency and accountability were the key to good cricket governance.
Not that Srinivasan and Anurag Thakur were incapable of good administration. Both can claim credit for some positive steps taken for the welfare of cricketers and also for having introduced a stream of measures that helped improve the game. But both fell victim to ill-advised moves, especially Anurag Thakur, who was arguably the most cricketer-friendly administrator in recent times. It was unfortunate that all his good work was nullified in one stroke since he continued to defy the judiciary.
Bishan Singh Bedi, former India captain, said on the day of the judgment: “This is a very important decision for Indian cricket and for all sportspersons. This is not a happy moment as we should not have been in this situation in the first place. A few people had made cricket their own property. The decision was much needed and we are indebted to the Supreme Court for taking the bold step. Cleaning up [the BCCI] will be possible now.”
For all its efficiency in building a cash-rich sports body, the BCCI has learnt some hard lessons at the hands of the judiciary. As Bedi pointed out: “Reforms in Indian cricket administration should have been put in place 50 years ago. The Supreme Court did not jump in on its own but it brought about some sanity and honesty in cricket administration. Therefore, the Justice Lodha panel was important.”
The reforms bode well for Indian cricket. The BCCI, always averse to criticism, was forced to fall in line as the CoA took charge. In a body where politicians of different parties coexist comfortably, cricketers had little say until the Lodha panel came to push their case. Such is the impact of the Supreme Court ruling that more and more players are now looking at the possibility of joining the administration. They have found the voice and strength to expose self-promoting officials in various associations where they had little role to play otherwise. “But for the Hon. Supreme Court, we would have continued to languish and suffer silently at the hands of the officials,” said a former international cricketer who is leading a revolt in his State against the existing set of administrators.
The BCCI challenged the Supreme Court ruling but its review petition was dismissed. The message was clear. Reforms were unstoppable and the BCCI had no choice but to fall in line. As the cricket world watched, the BCCI was taken over by the CoA. The fight that Aditya Verma had begun by challenging Srinivasan had reached an end. Victory for the game in the shape of the Lodha Committee reforms is the way forward.