The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Monday faced the kind of music before the Supreme Court of India that seemed unfathomable not so long ago. In >accepting the majority of the recommendations of the Justice Lodha Committee , the court took a stand that went far beyond the expected rap on the knuckles which the cricket administration has grown accustomed to. It took the BCCI to task in a ruling that at times was laced with sarcasm, but for the most part was blunt and resolute. What we are left with now is a blueprint for the transparent, accountable, and ethical governance of sports in India. In an unprecedented set of recommendations made by the Lodha Committee, and now mostly accepted by the court, the entire fabric of sports governance has been radicalised to the extent that if implemented, there are very few, if any, sports federations globally that will have the threshold of accountability that is now required of a notoriously non-compliant BCCI.
Broad sweep of changes The Supreme Court accepted the committee’s recommendation of a tenure and age limit for Board and State association members. The tenure limit is a maximum of three terms of three years each, to be served non-consecutively, and with a mandatory cooling-off period after each term. The age limit has been capped at 70, which will immediately impact many of cricket’s administration stalwarts, including the gentleman under whose presidency this all began, N. Srinivasan. The National Sports Development Code, 2011 is the precedent used by the court. It accepted the bitterly opposed ‘one State, one vote’ recommendation, while allowing States that have multiple associations, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, to have an annual rotation policy between the in-State associations for the purpose of being considered full members with voting rights. Geographically undefined associations such as the Railways will also no longer be full members. The category of association members has been limited to two: full members and associate members.
The court accepted the exclusion of ministers and active bureaucrats from holding positions in State associations or the Board. It also accepted the restructuring of the BCCI’s management committee replacing it with a nine-member apex committee that includes two players’ representatives, and a member from the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, a recommendation that was fiercely opposed by the BCCI. The number of vice-presidents in the Board has been reduced from five to one. The IPL Governing Council too will be revamped, and additional BCCI committees are to be scrapped. The president’s power has been curtailed, with voting rights curbed. Duality of roles has been eliminated, with a member of a State association no longer allowed to concurrently hold a position with the Board.
A players’ association, paid for by the Board, is to be set up, and could now play a crucial role in helping establish leverage for past and present cricketers, including women cricketers.
The recommendation to professionalise cricket has been accepted, and the BCCI, which had already appointed a CEO earlier, will also be required to appoint additional vertical heads for specific roles. Also accepted is the recommendation to have three special officers: an ombudsman, an electoral officer, and an ethics officer. Incidentally, the Board had already implemented some of the recommendations.
A rational approach The recommendations were manifold, and the notable exceptions made by the court are prudent. By giving Parliament a role in determining whether or not the Board should come within the folds of RTI, and also in deciding whether to legalise sports betting or not, the court showed its willingness to defer on certain potentially far-reaching measures. It also took the right decision in not curtailing the Board’s ability to monetise and earn revenue. This measure, more than any other, showcases the court’s rational approach to the development of sports. Had the recommendation of curbing advertising been accepted, the commercialisation and professionalising of sports in India would have taken a major hit, and the fact that the court didn’t interfere despite the stigma of greed attached to cricket and the Indian Premier League (IPL) is more than just a positive. It shows an understanding of how commercial contracts and sponsorship/advertising avenues in sports are a necessary vertical. In the absence of such an understanding, public policy would routinely suppress the viability and sustainability of developing sports, and that would be debilitating.
Another interesting exception was the unwillingness of the court to accept the recommendation to have franchise representation within the IPL Governing Council, based on the conflict of interest concerns raised by the BCCI. The committee has been asked to review and decide on this.
It is a ruling that has thrown down the gauntlet with authority, and the Board will have some serious thinking to do. It has been given six months to implement all the changes, and practically, this could well be beyond the powers of the BCCI. Further, each step will be overseen by the Lodha Committee, and if there’s one thing we know, it is that there will be no leeway or sympathy coming the Board’s way in this uphill battle. We may not have seen the last of the Board’s manoeuvres or leverage yet, but for now the BCCI and the IPL seem inevitably headed towards radical change. Ironically, it’s the eventual outcome of the Board’s chronic resistance to change itself.
Desh Gaurav Sekhri is a sports attorney, and the author of Not Out! The Incredible Story of the Indian Premier League