Club Confidential

Ajay Shirke Photo: V. Ganesan   | Photo Credit: V_GANESAN

Alleged financial wrongdoings. Massive cost overruns in stadium construction. Factions at loggerheads, often involving personages on the same side of the political spectrum. An elaborate system of proxy voting that ensures that the powers that be remain the powers that be. Non-submission or disclosure of annual balance sheets and alleged tax defaults. The controversial goings-on in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) have spilled over into the public domain in recent weeks in the course of the escalating political war between former DDCA president and present Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The DDCA, however, is only a microcosm of the “secret society” that is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), its inner workings mirroring all that is wrong with the mother ship.

It wasn’t like this one wintry afternoon in December 1928 when the board came into being at the quaint Roshanara Club, located amidst the bustling Clock Tower in north Delhi. For years and decades, cricket administration was helmed by people with nothing more than an abiding interest in the game. “There were times when we had to spend money from our own pocket. The BCCI office was run from the homes of the officials,” says Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, the board’s chief administrative officer, whose involvement with cricket administration dates back to organising local Mumbai tournaments in the late 1970s. The stakes rose as the game grew with television audiences, multi-million marketing deals and the advent of instant cricket epitomised by the Indian Premier League (IPL). Today, the BCCI functions from a plush building in Mumbai. With Rs.1,200 crore in its coffers, it is the richest sports body in India. It was the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal that invited judicial scrutiny, and public interest at large, into what ostensibly is a private body registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. The Supreme Court formed a three-member panel headed by former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha to inquire into and recommend improvements in the BCCI’s functioning; the committee is scheduled to submit its report on January 4.

The secret society

The Lodha Committee has confronted the BCCI with 82 questions on various issues such as conflict of interest, the board’s structure, the rules and by-laws amended over the years, the basis for each of the various committees and selection of members to these committees, and the framework for commercial engagements, contracts and services.

The board’s list of problems begins with its labyrinthine structure. From the six-member organisation it was in the year of its formation, it has grown into a consortium of 30 units that in turn elect the BCCI officials. Twenty-seven of these units field teams in the Ranji Trophy, the premier first-class competition. The National Cricket Club, Cricket Club of India and All India Universities have voting rights but not a team to boast of. The BCCI has stoutly defended their continuance as voting members thus far. “How can you remove founder-members just because they don’t field a team?” asks a long-time board official.

The board, which gives an annual subsidy to each affiliated unit playing the Ranji Trophy, has also not been able to explain the reasons for not extending the same facility to the Services and Railways; it also does not pick national selectors from Services and Railways. The Lodha Committee has a case here to debate with the BCCI. The board, in a bid to pre-empt the committee recommendations, has moved to introduce a series of steps to streamline its administration and bring in transparency under its new president, Shashank Manohar. Its constitution can now be accessed online. On October 18, the board appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to verify utilisation of funds provided to the State associations. On November 9, it appointed an ombudsman, Justice A.P. Shah (retd.).

Yet, bigger problems lie in the hinterland. The constitutions of the BCCI’s various affiliated units differ, and in some cases aren’t available for public scrutiny despite the board making it mandatory. Among other contentious issues the Lodha Committee has been looking into is the arbitrariness in player selection and financial irregularities bedevilling most associations. As it is, State associations of Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad, Delhi, Assam, Kerala, Goa, Jharkhand and Baroda, among others, are all facing investigations on various issues.

Clockwork precision

Despite the organisational muddle, one area the BCCI is near-unimpeachable is in its schedule. While many a sports body has failed to organise its national championship annually, the Ranji Trophy has never skipped its annual date since the first edition in 1934. The participation of 27 teams in two divisions — Elite and Plate — also imbues it a pan-India presence. Even non-premier events such as women’s and age-group tournaments follow a set pattern. “We have the best structure for junior cricket in the world,” claims Mr. Shetty.

Most of the money BCCI generates from broadcast rights is pumped back into the game — 70 per cent of its revenue is disbursed equally among its full members, effectively meaning each of its affiliates walks away with at least Rs.23 crore annually. “The BCCI takes pride in sharing its revenue with the players (13 per cent with international cricketers and an equal share with domestic players). A domestic player gets about Rs.20,000 per playing day,” says veteran cricket administrator M.P. Pandove, the Punjab Cricket Association secretary.

Lure of the lucre

What, then, went wrong? Niranjan Shah, a member of its disciplinary committee, feels the need for court intervention would not have arisen had N. Srinivasan stepped down as BCCI president when Chennai Super Kings, the IPL team owned by his family-run company, came under the betting/spot-fixing cloud. “All this mess has more or less happened only because of one man’s stubbornness,” he says.

“It is predominantly a perception issue. The BCCI isn’t an opaque organisation; had it been the case, the organisation wouldn’t have grown so much,” says Ajay Shirke, IPL Governing Council member.

More than anything, however, the problems have a lot to do with the infusion of huge money into the game. The late Jagmohan Dalmiya, along with I.S. Bindra, both former presidents of the BCCI, was the man instrumental in bringing money into cricket. “The BCCI was a self-reliant body when MAC (M.A. Chidambaram) was its president. [Mr.] Dalmiya and [Mr.] Bindra exploited the telecast aspect to bring in funds,” says Mr. Pandove. Cricketainment in the form of the IPL became a force multiplier, and stakes rose as the cash-rich body only got richer. “IPL brought money and some problems too,” concedes Mr. Shetty.

Contrast its current pink of financial health with the situation in 1983 when India won the World Cup in England. N.K.P. Salve, the then BCCI president, announced Rs.1 lakh for each player, only to realise that the organisation did not have the requisite money. A fund-raising event featuring Lata Mangeshkar was organised in Delhi to this end. “Those were times when cricket was not commercial and money was not the reason for people to be attracted to the game,” is how Mr. Dalmiya once reacted to the changes in the BCCI. Times have changed, for better — and for worse.

(With inputs from Amol Karhadkar.)



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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 4:11:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/Club-Confidential/article13975571.ece

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