It is ironic that in this season of hope when a 13-Test schedule at home should have focused all attention on emerging cricketing talent and team building, the spotlight has unambiguously shifted to board rooms and court rooms. The new date that is eagerly looked forward to for settling the future of the BCCI and Indian cricket is October 6 when the Supreme Court would decide whether to supersede the present set of office-bearers as requested by the Lodha Committee.
Paradoxically, the board which is attempting to build a second line of cricketers for India is itself in danger of being derailed from having a succession plan for its office-bearers. The cooling off period, as recommended by the Lodha Committee, could lead to a situation where any lessons learnt by the office-bearers from their initial term of three years would be instantly lost when they ‘cooled off’, thereby extending a `lame duck’ administrative situation to near perpetuity.
The avoidable confusion over the Lodha Committee 'freezing' of BCCI accounts and the consequent threats of cancellation of the ongoing India - New Zealand series is perhaps an indication of the confusion that is in store for Indian cricket, in the near future at least.
Earlier this month the BCCI went ahead with its Emergent Working Committee meeting much to the displeasure of the Lodha Committee. One of the decisions taken at the meeting was to disburse the STAR India settlement of Rs 1603 crores. Around Rs 25 crore was to be paid to each affiliated association.
This disbursement, the Lodha committee held, was “not routine, and in any case, not emergent.” It told the BCCI, with copies sent to YES Bank and Bank of Maharashtra - BCCI’s bankers, that they “are hereby directed not to take any steps towards financial disbursement of the amounts as resolved / approved after the direction dated 31.8.2016.”
The BCCI held that it was therefore left with no option but to call off the New Zealand tour even as the team and cricket followers were rejoicing India’s rise to world number one status in Tests.
Mumbai’s Times of India quoted a BCCI official as saying: “How can we play the Test against New Zealand when we won’t have the money to pay their board? ...The match cannot go ahead.”
The BCCI’s contention was that State associations depended on it for organising the matches.
“Seven associations have communicated their inability to host games in the home season while nine of them have inquired about the matter. If things are the way they are, the series could be called off by evening,” Chennai newspaper The Hindu quoted another official as saying.
Meanwhile the Lodha Committee is reported to have clarified that it did not ask the BCCI accounts to be frozen but only to stop two specific payments from the BCCI to State associations. It added that payments for other routine matters, like organising cricket matches, can continue as before.
But with some state associations claiming that they needed the BCCI disbursal amounts even to conduct matches, there is an impasse in the offing.
Perhaps the Lodha committee could have allowed the payments to be made and then gone in for a super audit of the BCCI’s finances by some internationally reputed audit firms operating within India.
It is nobody’s argument that the BCCI is flawless and that its administration runs a tight ship. But the fact is that it is one of the most successful and financially viable sporting organisations in the world. Its annual profits mirror that of a blue-chip company and the seemingly effortless ease and speed with which BCCI created a multi-crore super successful brand like the IPL is unmatched in any sport anywhere in the world.
Additionally, the Indian team’s success in the T20 format has spilled over to Tests and ODI cricket.
Thus if Lodha Committee could help retain the edge that made BCCI successful on and off the field and at the same time put in place checks and balances to protect it from venal elements it would be doing a yeoman service to the game.
But the frustration is its attention to micro-management which in the long run will destroy decision-making ability of the board honchos. Why, for instance, should the committee insist on 15-day gap between tournaments? Or number of personnel in the selection committee or the criteria for identifying selectors? These are administrative matters.
On the other hand if the committee worked on broad guidelines that would keep the corrupt and sleazy elements from the board and at the same time infuse transparency and affix responsibility on BCCI and its state affiliate units it would make it an even more efficient organisation.
But for that both parties must step back and take a dispassionate view at the recommendations. Is it too late for this? Hopefully not.