Ramachandra Guha's message needs to be read correctly

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As Guha’s letter and the widespread response to it shows, Kumble’s integrity (or that of Gavaskar, Dravid or anybody else) is irrelevant. It is not these players who are the issue. It is the BCCI which is the issue.

Ramachandra Guha's resignation from the court-appointed Committee of Administrators should come as a blow to the BCCI's culture of adhocism. | The Hindu

“Over the past few days I have had a chance to discuss conflict of interest with colleagues, journalists, players and business professionals. I have learned a lot about it. It seems to me that a conflict of interest exists in most professions and it is important how it is addressed. When a conflict of interest exists, it should be declared in the public domain and systems put in place to ensure that nobody can exploit this. Disclosures of my interest in Tenvic and its businesses have been formally communicated to the bodies concerned.”

The author of these lines, as the discerning reader will have guessed, is Anil Kumble. In 2011, he wrote an open letter to the ‘Cricket Enthusiast’ to address concerns about conflict-of-interest. At the time, Kumble held positions at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), the Karnataka State Cricket Association, the Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL franchise and his own company Tenvic which, going by his own paragraph-long description in the letter, is involved in developing players (but does not represent these players commercially).

Six years on, the BCCI has been hauled to court, lost, and had the Lodha Committee’s binding recommendations imposed upon it. Ramachandra Guha was appointed as one of the members of the oversight panel (referred to as the Committee of Administrators or CoA) by the Supreme Court of India. This committee’s duty was to enforce the Lodha recommendations and supervise the reformation of the BCCI. This week, Mr. Guha resigned as a member of his committee and explained why.

To be fair to the CoA, it has had a moderating influence on the BCCI and managed to curb some of the worst, most amateur instincts of the Board. For instance, last month, the CoA had to patiently explain to some members of the BCCI why a section of them could not take the ICC to court without first clearing it with the BCCI as a whole. The obvious irritation of some members of the Board with the CoA suggests that it has been doing its job.

But what is its job, really? Narrowly, its job is to enforce the recommendations of the Lodha committee. The BCCI’s systems were designed in an earlier era in which cricket and its administration was an amateur pursuit undertaken by cricket-loving businessmen, often at great expense to themselves. For at least a generation now, this has not been the case. The BCCI is a huge money-spinning behemoth which, by its own admission, generates huge surpluses. In other words, the BCCI’s income is so high that it is unable to find places to spend it! Given this new reality, and especially given the BCCI’s foray into commercial business via the IPL, the BCCI’s old amateur systems were in urgent need of reform.

Perhaps that is only part of the story. There is a recurring motif in the arguments which surround the BCCI. These arguments are ostensibly about autonomy. There seems to be a widely-backed school of thought which says that it should be left to superstars to manage things, and that institutionally, the well-meaning personal integrity of these superstars should be relied upon — Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Dilip Vengsarkar and others can surely be relied upon to manage mutually conflicting roles without playing favorites. This is a throwback to the great man theory of history.

The Lodha recommendations, which the CoA is to enforce, are perhaps best seen as an attempt to bring about a cultural shift in the BCCI. A shift from the amateur adhocism in which few questions were asked and few rules were enforced consistently, to a professional modern organisation with clearly-stated rules, procedures and contracts, and, most crucially, a reputation which inspires confidence that these rules, procedures, and contracts will be consistently enforced and adhered to.

The reception to Mr. Guha’s letter in the press suggests that this spirit of amateur adhocism prevails among many sports writers as well. Mr. Guha’s purpose is not to point the finger at Rahul Dravid or Sunil Gavaskar or MS Dhoni. Mr. Guha’s point is not that any of these individuals is involved in malpractice. Indeed, his point, it seems to me, is that it's irrelevant whether or not any of these superstars is a gentleman or otherwise. The problem he has identified is that the BCCI treats these superstar individuals one way, and the journeyman another way.

Now, you could argue that of course Rahul Dravid is not equal to the journeyman player. And no, he’s probably not. But the rules must apply to both equally. If Dravid and the journeyman both apply to be the head coach of the NCA, then on merit, Dravid probably should get the job. But be it Dravid or a player who played 20 times for his Ranji side and 30 years in local league cricket, the rules and procedures which define the protocol of the selection must be the same, and they must be consistently enforced.

Currently, the superstar culture and the absence of serious rules also gives Board officials enormous discretion. This may make individual officials seem powerful, but it also means that the Board as an institution is weak.

If the BCCI wishes to allow coaches who are employed by the NCA or even age-group national or State teams to work with the IPL, then they should set up a proper set of rules governing how these contracts are to be drawn up. For that matter, the BCCI ought to consider how players who have annual India contracts sign contracts for the IPL. This has caused problems in the past in terms of fitness and injury. In the 2011 IPL, more than one player carried injuries to the detriment of their performances for India in the international series which followed that year’s IPL.

The existence of clear rules, procedures and contracts and consistent adherence to these will curb the patronage of individual Board officials. Currently, the superstar culture and the absence of serious rules also gives Board officials enormous discretion. This may make individual officials seem powerful, but it also means that the Board as an institution is weak.

In his letter from six years ago, Anil Kumble sought to defend himself against the suggestions that his many simultaneous duties left open the possibility of him serving conflicting interests. At the time, this was seen as an affront to Kumble’s integrity. As Guha’s letter and the widespread response to it shows, Kumble’s integrity (or that of Gavaskar, Dravid or anybody else) is irrelevant. It is not these players who are the issue. It is the BCCI which is the issue.

The BCCI seems allergic to creating any rules which it may have to enforce against some of its biggest superstars and which may curb the apparently endless plastic discretionary powers of the individual officials who run the Board at any given point (this also explains why the BCCI offices are so fervently sought after by politicians). This is a cultural problem for the BCCI. If the Supreme Court wishes to see both the letter and the spirit of the Lodha recommendations enforced, perhaps the solution is to create a body with more powers and a wider remit than the CoA. The danger of Mr. Guha’s resignation is that it will undermine the CoA. This would be exactly the wrong conclusion.

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