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Rein in the BCCI

What is an undemocratic institution doing representing the Republic of India?

The Shashi Tharoor vs. Lalit Modi fracas raises several questions on the turpitude, excesses and indiscretions rampant in the governance of an organization claiming to represent India to the outside world. Mr. Tharoor ultimately paid the price, and rightly so, for errors in judgment; however, the disproportionate pressure exerted by some sections of India’s news media on the government was both distasteful and inappropriate.

Insofar as Mr. Modi and the BCCI are concerned, the Tehelka exposé presents a grim picture of the muddled madness that is the business of cricket in India.  Commercial successes and unquestioned adoration of the game and its stars have essentially given the BCCI a carte blanche in how the organization conducts its affairs, even as it “represents” India on the world stage of cricket, which it largely dominates.  Greater transparency and accountability are, of course, important and must be demanded, but cannot be realistically expected in the absence of structural reform.

It is here that the fundamental questions of the role and composition of the BCCI need to be answered.  Structurally, the BCCI is incorporated as a private charitable society under the Tamil Nadu Registered Societies Act, 1975, but for almost all other intents and purposes, makes representation on behalf of the Government of India.  It uses government-owned stadiums (for which it pays a very nominal amount) and receives tax concessions as a charitable society promoting cricket in the country.  Powerful politicians such as Madhavrao Scindia and Sharad Pawar have held the position of President, BCCI, during their tenure as union cabinet ministers.  Operating as a charitable society, the BCCI is not required to disclose its balance sheet to the public.

The ambiguity, convenient as it may be for some,  must end — either the BCCI is government-owned and operated, or it is a private organization sanctioned to oversee cricket affairs in the country.  If it is a government-owned entity, it must fall under the ambit of the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG).

If it is a private organization like Cricket Australia (CA), or the English Cricket Board (ECB), and charged with overseeing cricket affairs in the country, then structural reform is necessary to remove any ambiguity — politicians holding public office have no business heading the organization.  Both CA and ECB are incorporated as companies limited by guarantee. If this ambiguity is to be removed, the BCCI must be restructured along similar lines, as provided for by the Companies Act, 1956 (Table C, Schedule 1).  Regardless of whether it is a government-owned entity or a private corporation, its books must be open for public scrutiny.

Additionally, what is a “charitable organization” doing running a $2.4 billion (2009) private cricket league? There is a conflict of interest between being a organization charged with governing India’s cricket affairs and running a multi-billion dollar competition of private clubs. Simply put, this cannot go on.  The IPL, if it is to continue, must be spun-off and incorporated like other sports leagues around the world.  Its private clubs can then enjoy the benefits of private enterprise as well as assume all its risks, including the prospect of bankruptcy. The IPL then would function as an association — much like the NFL or NHL in the U.S. — where each franchisee operates as an independent business unit, but functions under shared revenue generated from broadcasting, merchandising, ad sales, etc.

In 2006, the BCCI announced that it would constitute a Constitutional Reforms Committee to examine the structure and functioning of the BCCI. Was this ever operationalized? Where is the committee’s manifest? Were any reports published? What were its recommendations?  These questions can only be answered if Indian cricket fans and news media put them across to the BCCI and more importantly, to the government.  In the absence of this, the BCCI will continue to operate a plutocratic shadow-organization in the good name of the Republic of India and the IPL will continue to remain the Commonwealth’s largest annual sleaze-fest, again as a representative of India’s citizenry.

Now, will those media persons who feigned mock outrage at Shashi Tharoor, demand accountability from the BCCI and the Government of India?

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Pakistan's IPL omission

The mockery should have been avoided.

When the dust settles and the highly charged oratory duels subside, perhaps there will be space for better considered analysis on the recently concluded auction of the third installment of the Indian Premier League (IPL).  Pakistan, whose 11 cricketers led the shortlist for the third IPL auction — the most representation from any one nation — failed to obtain contracts from IPL franchises.

Arguments that the decision not to select Pakistani cricketers was based purely on business and on franchises’ unwillingness to dispense with additional money for Pakistani players’ security are simply disingenuous.  Cricketers from other nations — Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa — receive the kind of security cover in India that can only be upgraded if the players are escorted in armored personnel carriers.  It is laughable that this theory finds credence.

But cricket is an interesting sport.  Unlike several other sports, international cricket — where cricketers represent their country and are contracted to a board that is at least quasi-governmental — is still more popular than league cricket.  In this respect, IPL’s cricketers are mostly selected based on their current status as international cricketers representing their country, their past status as international cricketers or their potential as future international cricketers.

As representatives of a quasi-governmental  board it is also appropriate that these international cricketers be subject to the diktats of the governments they represent.  South African cricket bore the force of government diktat when some countries refused to tour South Africa in the years of apartheid — likewise today, Zimbabwe is ostracized by some boards as an extension of their governments’ foreign policies towards the African country.

Therefore, if following the 26/11 attacks, it was the Indian government’s diktat not to commit to ties with the quasi-governmental Pakistan Cricket Board (whose chairman is still a direct appointee of the President of Pakistan and chief patron of the PCB — Asif Ali Zardari) this is also fair and consistent with India’s intention to not engage with Pakistan.

That being the case, why were Pakistani cricketers placed on the auction in the first place?  If the decision of the quasi-governmental BCCI was to maintain a suspension of ties with the PCB, then how did its subsidiary — the IPL — seemingly overrule this decision?

They say “with great power comes great responsibility”.  Yesterday’s abomination was concoction of a cricket board drunk with power, and a government  that thinks puerile jabs are to way to go when it is unable to force issues on the international political scene.

You don’t want Pakistan to play in India? Fine. You don’t want their cricketers to participate in the IPL? Fine. But this mockery could have been avoided. What was the Indian government trying to prove to Pakistan yesterday? What purpose did it serve? Why the pettiness?

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