Question of ethics, not judicial overreach, in Cricket

Question of ethics, not judicial overreach, in Cricket

The Indian cricket is at a crossroads, thanks to the Supreme Court of India. On last Monday, the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India TS Thakur (who retired the next day) and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, approved the Lodha Committee’s (Justice R M Lodha also happens to be a former Chief Justice of the country) view of the BCCI’s office bearers and directed the removal of the Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke from office with immediate effect.

The court has ordered that other office bearers of the BCCI and state associations who did not meet the eligibility criteria set by the Lodha Committee shall “cease to hold office” immediately. An office bearer, the Court has decided, should be a citizen of India, should not be 70 years or older, should not be a government servant or minister, should not hold office in another sports organisation, should not have held office with the BCCI or state association for more than nine years, should not be insolvent or of unsound mind, and should not have a criminal record.

Under these criteria, neither Anurag Thakur nor Ajay Shrike is disqualified, but the Court has punished them for not ensuring that the state associations have agreed to implement Lodha Committee’s recommendations. And, this despite the fact that the sacked BCCI president had pointed out that he did not have power, under BCCI constitution, to force the state cricket boards to fall in line. It is really surprising that the Court did not agree to Thakur’s plea, which, in my considered view, was quite reasonable.

It may be noted that the Supreme Court came to the scene when  some litigants, many of them from dubious backgrounds,  went to the apex court to look into the alleged allegations of corruption in the  highly lucrative IPL T20-over matches) every year under the BCCI’s supervision.  Accordingly, the Lodha Committee was appointed by the Court to look into the matter and offer curative suggestions.

There can be no two opinions among all those who love Indian cricket on the stipulation that there has to be transparency and accountability on the part of those who run or manage the game in the country. Since this body happens to be BCCI, its officials must be bound by the principles of transparency and accountability, even though the BCCI is a private body, registered under Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. And if these principles are going to be enforced as per the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha Committee, then there is the added bonus of the judicial sanctity behind them.

However, the problem arises if in the name of transparency and accountability, the recommendations of the Lodha Committee are too overweening. In fact, these are so over-reaching in their implications that instead of reforming and cleaning the game of evil influences, the game is going to be debilitated in the process. Unfortunately, the Apex Court has now sanctioned the onset of this decaying process.

Notwithstanding the “ills” that the BCCI is associated with, the fact remains that it is this BCCI that has made India the super power of the world cricket. It is under this BCCI that Indian cricketers are among the highest paid in the world today; gone are those days in the last century when the BCCI could not afford to keep the players in decent hotels while travelling, not to talk of paying them decent remunerations. It is under this BCCI that cricket is among very few games in the country that brings the country honour and victories. India is currently the number one side in Tests, number two in T20 and third in One Day Internationals. But the Lodha Committee’s recommendations are so frightening that the greats in the game like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev have expressed serious concerns.

One can understand when the Lodha Committee debars ministers from occupying the posts in the management of cricket. One can understand when it talks of the involvement of the Controller Auditor General (CAG) representatives in the auditing of the accounts of the world’s richest cricket body. One can understand when it debars top officials for having a third consecutive term.

However, one does not understand when the Lodha Committee wants to limit the revenue of the BCCI by creating obstacles in the process of advertisements (and sponsors) and their terms of engagement. One cannot understand when it equates the cricket associations in Mumbai or Delhi with the ones in Tripura, Sikkim or Uttarakhand, where there is not even a single suitable cricket field.  One cannot understand how under the plea of controlling the role of the government of the day, the Lodha Committee relegates Railways (a team that has often performed well in the annual Ranji Trophy, the country’s topmost domestic competition) to be an Associate member. And one cannot understand how the Lodha Committee reached the conclusion that for a large country like India, three national selectors are enough instead of the present five. All these questions, in my considered view, have nothing much to do with the probity and accountability of the BCCI, the purpose for which the panel was essentially set up for.

With due respect to the Lodha Committee, it must be said that in the name of controlling politicians (in the management of the cricket), it is wrongly trying to take politics away from the cricket as a sport. Politics in sports is not necessarily same as politicians in sports. As regards politics and sports, their relationship is interminable. Sports have always been instruments of politics, be it at local or regional or national or international level. Sports in this case become synonymous with the honour or policy of a town or the province or the country. This explains why India and Pakistan are not playing cricket. This explains why upset over Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, many Western countries have warned that their teams will stay away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, to be held in 11 Russian cities. This also explains why during the Cold War, the USA-led Block had boycotted the Moscow Olympics (1980) and the then Soviet Union-led group had boycotted Los Angeles Olympics (1984).

A corollary of the phenomenon of sports being instruments of politics also explains how and why world class stadiums or other sports infrastructures have come about with the State-support. Without the generous grants from the government of the day, Delhi, for instance, would not have been able to host the Asian Games in 1982 and Commonwealth Games in 2010. The same is the case all over the world. The consequent corruption is a different story.

Thus, politics is and shall remain an integral part of sports, whether we like it or not. However, the trend of “politicians in sports” is neither inevitable nor desirable. Unlike that of a collective entity like the State, the interference in sports-affairs of a politician as an individual is aimed at personal gains. Sport provides the politician a stage for public visibility, attention, and awareness. When a politician appears at, say, a cricket or football match, it shows that he or she shares a common passion for the wider public. After all, publicity is the oxygen for a successful politician. Having power to control the sports heroes and being seen with them, works towards the creation of legitimacy, likeability, and credibility for a politician. And if the politician is so inclined, he or she can make a lot of money for himself or herself, given the huge cash the modern sports bodies possess.

Of course, I do not know of any Indian politician as cricket administrator who has made money through the game, be it Sharad Pawar, or Narendra Modi or late Madhavrao Scindia. As my friend Veturi Srivatsa, a veteran sports editor rightly says, “As politicians go, N K P Salve, Madhavrao Scindia and Sharad Pawar had done great work as board presidents and Sheshrao Wankhede was solely responsible for the Wankhede Stadium coming up. Civil servants like Ghulam Ahmed ( he was in a different class altogether) and Inderjit Singh Bindra were exceptional, the former refused to become the board president and the latter along with Salve and Jagmohan  Dalmiya was responsible for India hosting three World Cups.”

Be that as it may, there is also an ethical question that is involved here – whether such sweeping changes in rules should have been made by a former Chief Justice and enforced by an acting Chief Justice?

I am not entering here the debate over the judicial over-reach or activism (snatching the law-making powers that legitimately belong to the legislature in a democracy); but the matter here is one of ethics. The Honourable Supreme Court could have set up a committee consisting of the respected cricket legends, commentators and professional administrators of the game both in the country and from abroad, for suggesting reforms. But the very fact that the task was entrusted to no lesser a person than a former Chief Justice, it was inevitable that the Supreme Court would respect his recommendations even if these happen to be too presumptuous. And that is exactly what has happened, sadly though.

Prakash Nanda

by Prakash Nanda

prakashnanda@udayindia.in

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