Beyond cricket’s canons: money talks while fairness goes out the window
Once looked upon as a model of efficient administration, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) now stands exposed as an out-of-control behemoth.
The IPL spot-fixing scandal, and the alleged involvement of the BCCI president’s son-in-law in it, has put the cricket body and its claims to being an honestly run organisation squarely under the spotlight.
One of the richest sports bodies in the world, the Board has always made and implemented its own rules for the governance of cricket. Despite the raging controversy over the BCCI’s role in the rot that has set in and the allegations that it participates in it willingly, some would still maintain that it remains the country’s best-governed sports body.
“There is transparency in the way we conduct ourselves, the accounts are properly maintained, taxes paid on time and the functioning is essentially democratic. It has never failed to hold elections on time,” said one cricket administrator, but was unwilling to be named. Any discussion on the BCCI inevitably turns to the man who runs it, president N. Srinivasan, whose son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is now under arrest for his alleged involvement in the scandal that threatens to consume Indian cricket.
To Mr. Srinivasan’s acolytes, such as the cricket administrator, he is a “tough man but also reasonable”, who did not mind that some of his decisions were opposed; he was receptive to new ideas, and wanted to help cricketers. The one-time payment — made to retired Test cricketers and first class cricketers who have played more than 75 matches — out of IPL profits, was his idea.
But to insider critics, he is an “autocrat” with “strong likes and dislikes.” And many see the one-time payment and pension scheme (a monthly payment to all retired first class cricketers) as schemes to buy silence from cricketers.
Barring Bishan Singh Bedi, not one former cricketer has stuck his neck out with a critical remark about the Board. It has been pointed out that icons past and present have been contracted to sing paeans. The cricketing fraternity has been silent about the IPL scandal.
“Everyone has been gagged, from officials to players,” lamented one cricketer, pointing out the silence is not new. “Not one former player spoke in support of Mohinder Amarnath when he was sacked as selector for not toeing the president’s line.”
And, not one former player spoke up about the Board chief's conflict of interest involving Chennai Super Kings, or against having national selector K. Srikkanth as CSK brand ambassador, or rewarding L. Sivaramakrishnan, a former Test player of no great stature — and an India Cements employee — with a spot in the ICC cricket committee.
Amarnath himself reacts with dignity. “It’s not that I paid the price for standing up to wrongdoings. But I did feel let down by the cricket fraternity and the BCCI as a whole.”
He seems to echo what most players believe in their hearts today. In order to survive in the Board, one has to be a ‘yes’ man, and one can always do well by striking some compromises — this seems to be the prevailing sentiment.
Insider talks is that Board officials are ‘spineless,’ and cannot criticise any decision of the president. This is quite a change from the time when administrators like M.A. Chidambaram, N.K.P. Salve, S. Sriraman and Raj Singh Dungarpur welcomed criticism.
In more recent times, Shashank Manohar was seen as an efficient president who could take strong measures because he had no personal agenda. He was known to deal firmly with the stars in the team, and players took extra care to be on their best behaviour. The Board has boasted of a traditionally strong and successful system in place to conduct the game. Matches are conducted with punctuality.
But the flow of money, in many cases out of sync with the performance, has had a negative impact. Many officials say this is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Board officials take pride in highlighting their work. “The Board gives its players a secure future. We put our funds to good use. Cricket generates employment at various levels. Money is not the reason for corruption in cricket,” says one senior official, pointing out that nothing can be done if individual players get greedy, and succumb to their avarice.
But critics point out that the BCCI’s lax policies have had a role to play. For instance, every year, the Board gives affiliated State units Rs 23 crore each, from the profits it makes out of selling television rights. But strangely, it has no system in place to monitor how this largesse is utilised.
The elephant in the room of course is the source of the money flowing into BCCI coffers. Said one former international player: “You’ve to see how that money is generated. What’s the source of that investment? It comes from these IPL franchisees.”
Whether these team owners are purely driven by the love of the game is a question that needs to be asked, said the player, describing the entire system as flawed. “It is outrageous to say that so much money is good for the game,” he said.