The Board of Control for Cricket in India has long used its financial muscle and political clout to remain above public scrutiny. It has elbowed out regulatory oversight in crucial areas, including media licensing rights, procurement and maintenance of sporting infrastructure, sources of revenue, and anti-doping policies. That the BCCI has become an entity unto itself is manifest in the aftermath of the spot-fixing and betting controversy that plagued the Indian Premier League this year. The Board’s attempts to investigate the scandal were merely pro forma and the courts have predictably taken a dim view of this. What is staggering about the ‘probe panel’ instituted by the BCCI is that its mandate ran parallel to that of enforcement agencies. Two former High Court judges were appointed to the panel to legitimise the exercise but no information exists in the public domain about the manner of their selection. Money power and political patronage stand in the way of rudimentary accountability but opening up the Board’s activities to public scrutiny just might set the clock back. That is why the Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee’s efforts to ensure the BCCI comes within the purview of the Right to Information Act needs to be backed to the hilt.
The Committee — set up to draft the Sports Development Bill, 2013 — has struck the right balance between preserving the Board’s functional autonomy and ensuring transparency in its administrative agency. The BCCI’s records on issues like selection criteria, fitness details of players, and their individual terms of contract will not, according to the draft law, be subject to the RTI Act. This proposal to render the Board accountable is not new: it had gained currency even in 2011, when the first version, now junked, of the National Sports Development Bill was mooted. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports sought to recognise the BCCI as a “National Sporting Federation” and consequently, as a “public authority” under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. The BCCI sought refuge in a 2005 Supreme Court decision — which had ruled that it was neither managed by nor affiliated to the State — to claim it did not function in a public capacity. The government can be sure to expect similar legal challenges from the Board this time too. The Sports Ministry must stand its ground and accept the Mudgal Committee’s recommendations. There is nothing “private” about Indian cricket — not in the revenue it rakes, or in the loyalty it commands or in its role as a sport that brings the nation together. The Board that administers the game and fields a team that represents India must open itself to the public for whom it is played.