As a passionate cricket lover, I travelled thousands of kilometres with my son, nephew and their friends to watch ‘India’ play and win at one of the World Cup Finals. We bought and carried the National Flag all the way from Delhi. The kids also carried paints and tricolour stickers, with which they decorated their faces, to exhibit support, all the while screaming at top of their voices in support of team ‘India.’ After winning, we celebrated each triumph with zeal and enthusiasm that surpassed the festivities which followed my election victories. After all ‘India’ had won the World Cup. This entire exercise was repeated at every match we were able to watch.
This passion, support and exuberance for ‘Team India’ that is evident throughout the country is because it is a team representing ‘India’.
However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and its control freak honchos, tells the Sports Ministry, the courts and the Central Information Commission otherwise. Repeatedly, they insist that the Indian cricket team, in international tournaments or elsewhere, does not represent India as a country but serves a company known as the BCCI, controlled by a tight group of not more than a few hundred people. They also want us to believe that Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi and others did not play for India but a company working behind a mysterious veil of secrecy.
In this company, outstanding contributors to the game, cricketers turned administrators like Dilip Vengsarkar and Bedi have to contest against trained politicians and union ministers who perhaps would not have even played at their school or college level, only to lose and be humiliated.
But where is the need to convert a national sports federation into a group of commercial companies? Or have its team and players legally stated as not representing ‘India’ but the commercial company? The simple reason is that the office-bearers of BCCI, even as defined by Justice Lodha Committee and the apex court, do not want to call themselves ‘Public Functionaries’. They want to work under the veil of a commercial company, where a deliberate act of ‘corruption’ as defined under the Prevention of Corruption Act, can easily be covered as a compoundable accounting error and an erring officer can get away with a ‘thousand-rupee penalty’ instead of a ‘seven-year imprisonment.’
Cricket, like any other sport, has become a highly specialised and scientific game. It requires top class expert administrators, managers, coaches and others. This is a full time job and active politicians and bureaucrats are most ill-equipped for such purposes. And it is one of the better managed sports in the country. But the reason is not the BCCI – it is that the other sporting bodies are worse off. If we look at the resources of the BCCI and compare it with other global cricketing bodies or other global sporting bodies, we can discern the lack of deliverance and professionalism in BCCI.
The BCCI wants to escape from the Right to Information, Age and Tenure norms. They are fearful of giving more powers to the players. This is exactly what I as a sports minister wanted through the Sports Bill. Among other things, this is also what Justice Lodha Committee has directed.
What would these reforms mean? It would mean that no office-bearer can have two consecutive terms. The total tenure of an office-bearer is restricted. This will help prevent vested interest to develop and get entrenched. The revenue collected by BCCI or state associations is public money because it is mainly through gate collection or telecast/sponsorship rights for telecasting to the followers of this game. Should spending of this money not be subjected to the RTI? Ministers and bureaucrats, once Lodha Committee recommendations are implemented, would cease to be the office-bearers of BCCI. This would pave way for the domain experts of the game, professional sports managers and former players to come up.
The reason why the Sports Bill could not see light of the day during my tenure was because of stiff opposition from the honchos of BCCI, drawn from senior positions in all political parties. They were opposed to more powers for the players, age and tenure norms and most importantly against the transparency in BCCI. The Board, using their top lawyers, will again oppose Justice Lodha Committee recommendations tooth and nail.
Interestingly, in this case, the views of a top minister of the present-day ruling party (who is also a top lawyer) were supported in the Apex Court by a top minister of UPA (who is also a top lawyer). There’s an Omerta Code here, so the battle is not going to be easy. But the question is do we need to reform the game we love so much? Or do we let the politicians control this game and its resources shrouded in mystery under the garb of a private company? Or more importantly, when we cheer ‘Team India’ is it a team of a private company owned by politicians, known as BCCI?
The author is former Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports