The Business Standard in its editorial on 7 October (‘Not Just Cricket’) wrote: “It is certainly unusual for the judiciary to dictate how a trust, that too one that does not involve taxpayers' money, should be run. It has been argued that intervention is warranted since the BCCI also oversees the Indian team. But, globally, the nature of modern sports as a business – in which national tournaments are just one element of a dynamic industry – is very different.
In Indian cricket, too, things are changing rapidly. Unlike in the past, when national teams constituted the sole buyer of talent, now owners compete in a free market for sporting talent. Earlier, this domestic talent came to the market via state associations affiliated to the BCCI. However, the IPL altered this dynamic and is becoming the key money spinner for the BCCI. So the argument that the BCCI can be instructed because it uses the ‘India’ name is becoming weak.”
This slanted logic expressed in the editorial represents the key argument of the apologists of the BCCI who have been resisting the Supreme Court-mandated radical reforms. They seek to define the existence of the BCCI in terms of the privately-owned IPL teams rather than the national cricket team, in order to escape the dragnet of any legal accountability.
They are partly right. The major chunk of the BCCI’s earnings comes from the IPL (and the Champions’ League T20), not from domestic matches (Ranji Trophy and the like), not even from international matches (bilateral or multi-lateral).
The key question, therefore, is: should there be two separate bodies – one that treats cricket as a business (as the Business Standard editorial approvingly suggests) and deals with private franchises with the avowed goal to maximise profit and another that is assigned the serious task of an all-India exercise to nurture talent for preparing a strong national cricket team, without an overpowering profit motive.
The apologists of the BCCI would not agree to such a segregation, because that would strike at the root of an unholy nexus – the nexus between big sport, big money and big politics.
After all, cricket is the biggest sport of India, even though it is not our national sport. No wonder, this sport has attracted big money. The current top players like MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli are already rupee billionaires, thanks to cricket. All other national cricket players are multi-millionaires. (Contrast this with most of our national hockey players and also contrast this with the state of the West Indies cricket players, who got a pittance from the West Indies Cricket Board, but went on to win the World T20, in both the men’s and women’s categories).
The BCCI obviously is the richest cricket board in the world. Last year, it broke the Rs 5,000 crore barrier. In the year 2014-'15, the BCCI’s net worth was a staggering Rs 5,437 crore. This has come about because of the massive earning from media rights over the years. It has been a win-win situation for both. Big media which got the telecast rights raked in huge advertising revenue, given the popularity of the sport. And the BCCI’s coffers kept swelling year after year because of the competitive bids.
When the big sport attracted big money, big politicians could not be left behind. It was a mutually beneficial companionship. The sport needed a plethora of sanctions and permissions from the state to spread the ‘business’, and the politicians came handy there. Politicians, instead of extending support to the cricket administrators, chose to become administrators themselves. It mattered little to them that a big sport like cricket needed full-time administrators to do justice to the position and they, as ministers or even as MPs, had already had their hands full.
But these politicians wanted to milk the glamour and wealth of the cricket body. What helped them was that the BCCI was a patently opaque body; the auditors, appointed and paid for by the BCCI itself, usually did the job of endorsing incomes and expenses worth hundreds of crores of rupees. So the politician-administrators had a good opportunity to ladle out big patronage to their cronies. They chose to wear two hats - one of a minister/MP and another of a cricket administrator (they had the clout to ensure that the office of profit clause did not apply to them). They appointed their henchmen, at fat salaries, to do the dirty work.
Look at the phalanx of big politicians, across political divide, in the history of cricketing administration. Consider the current party in power, the BJP. Its 'big three' had been associated with cricket administration at one point of time or another. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief of Gujarat Cricket Association for several years till he resigned on becoming the prime minister; BJP president Amit Shah became the president of the Gujarat Cricket Association after Modi’s elevation as PM and the finance minister Arun Jaitley's name has been synonymous with the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) which he lorded over for 13 long years.
The UPA regime did not have such an illustrious galaxy of cricket administrators (the Congress president or even the two finance ministers – Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram – did not have any direct link with cricket administration at the national or state level), but still, the UPA had its share of politician-cricket administrator. Sharad Pawar, a minister in the UPA cabinet, was the former BCCI president, and Congress MP Rajeev Shukla became the IPL chairman. Lalu Prasad Yadav and Farooq Abdullah, who were part of the UPA government, were also the president of their respective state cricket bodies - the Bihar Cricket Association and Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. Jyotiraditya Scindia, another UPA minister, is the head of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA).
This formidable group scuttled the pioneering Sports Bill piloted by Ajay Maken, the then sports minister, in 2011. The Bill had sought to bring all the sport bodies including the BCCI under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, an Act which had been promulgated by the UPA government itself in 2005. But the ministers with close ties with the BCCI did not allow the Bill to fructify.
If the UPA did not succeed in bringing transparency to a cash-rich body like the BCCI, then it would be well-nigh impossible to imagine that the NDA would take the radical step. After all, the top leaders of the NDA have a symbiotic relationship with the BCCI and they would go out of the way to protect and defend the vested interests in the apex cricket body.
When the nexus between big sport and big politics is so deeply entrenched, it is only the apex court which can stem the rot by forcing the BCCI to become fully professional and transparent. If the court thinks that a mere sledgehammer would not do and that a bulldozer must be pressed into service to pull down the deeply-flawed structure, and erect a new one in its place, then so be it. India’s cricket lovers will be grateful for the expulsion of the freeloaders from the cricket administration.