Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 17:00:35

Politics-Business Nexus In Cricket

Updated: December 13, 2014 4:40 am

As I write this, the Supreme Court of India is hearing an important case relating to the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) and its ‘suspended” president N Srinivasan, who also happens to be the chairman of newly created International cricket Council (ICC) that governs the world Cricket. Srinivasan has been barred by the Supreme Court from carrying out his duties as BCCI President due to ongoing investigations into the match-fixing allegations relating to the 2013 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL)—the shorter 20-over format of the game played among privately owned outfits in India, each of whom is allowed to auction leading players from all over the world.

But then, for Srinivasan, who is one of India’s richest and influential businessmen as well, court-cases have never been dampeners. Both as a businessman and sports administrator, he has been ruthlessly singular in pursuing his interests. That is how, despite the Supreme Court ban on him functioning as the BCCI President, he managed to have his way in getting the coveted post of chairman of the global body of the cricket. In other words, he may not have the legal power to manage the Indian cricket, but he has all the power in the world to control the global cricket. Even in India, he may not be in charge, but his loyal supporters rule supreme. So much so that they have repeatedly postponed the general body meeting of the BCCI to elect a new president, the idea being that if cleared of charges by the Supreme Court, Srinivasan will be re-elected for another three-year term. In fact, it is under Srinivasan as the president in 2012 that the BCCI amended the previous practice of having presidents from the five zones of India on a rotational basis. Under the change brought about by Srinivasan, a president does not have to be a member of a particular zone if it is the term of this zone to have the president. Srinivasan hails from the South Zone; but it is just a formality that he will be reelected, if allowed by the Supreme Court, for the post from the East Zone, whose term this time it is to have a President. No wonder why the   Australian Daily Telegraph once dubbed Srinivasan “cricket’s most destructive figure” and noted that “India may be the world’s largest democracy but BCCI rules with a golden fist, rejecting any notion of good governance and free speech.”

Whether the Supreme Court eventually goes beyond its “strong observations” to allow Srinivasan remaining at the helm of affairs of the Indian cricket depends on the legalities of the controversy surrounding the role of his son-in-law as a match fixer for his IPL-team Chennai Super Kings. But for me, what is more important is the principles and transparency in running the world’s richest and most powerful cricket body, the BCCI. Srinivasan simply does not care for rules and conventions. In fact, ever since he became active in BCCI politics after the eclipse of the Kolkata strongman Jagmohan Dalmia in 2005, rules and conventions have been changed to suit his personal and business interests. Some examples will illustrate the point.

Earlier BCCI rules that proscribed any conflicts of interests between the Indian cricket and the business of the office-holders were amended to allow Srinivasan’s company – India Cements Ltd.-to own the Chennai Super Kings outfit. This amendment also suited others in the BCCI, at least the then wonder boy whose brainchild the IPL was, Lalit Modi. That now Modi and Srinivasan are the bitterest enemies is a different matter. Let us see some of Srinivasan’s other audacities. K Srikkanth, not long ago the chief selector of the Indian cricket, was simultaneously his employee as the brand ambassador/consultant for the Chennai Super Kings. Indian cricket captain M S Dhoni is also his employee in the sense that he is the captain of the Chennai Super Kings and a vice president of the India Cements Ltd. No wonder why during the last tour to Australia by the Indian Cricket team, when majority of the national selectors wanted Dhoni to be dropped as a Captain for his repeated failures as a leader in test matches, Srinivasan overruled not only the decision but also sacked the legendary cricketer Mohinder Amarnath as the selector as he had convinced majority of his colleagues to look for a new captain!

Srinivasan’s arrogance and “I-do-not- care” attitude were also evident when he imposed a very unfair decision over other IPL franchises last year. It may be noted that when in 2009 the Government of India urged the postponement of the IPL itinerary by citing the security factors (because most of the Police and Security personnel were busy in ensuring free and fair general elections that year), the BCCI shifted the IPL matches to South Africa. But this time, when the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said, stupidly in my opinion, that she could not ensure safety of Sri Lankan players playing in Chennai, Srinivasan went one step further by declaring that matches would be held in Chennai sans Sri Lankan players!

This was the most unfair decision. Just imagine how Srinivasan’s own Chennai Super Kings had the undoubted advantages of playing other teams weakened by the absence of Sri Lankan players. After all, IPL teams of Delhi, Pune and Hyderabad had Sri Lankans as captains, not to speak of other key Sri Lankan players in other teams. And these world famous Sri Lankan cricketers were hired at a very high price by their respective franchises. But none in BCCI, or for that matter in the IPL, had the guts to challenge Srinivasan’s diktat.

If one goes little deeper, it becomes clear why Srinivasan wants to remain entrenched in Indian cricket as a super decision-maker. Cricket promotes Srivasan’s business like nothing else. Cricket, India’s most popular game, provides the much needed glamour and brand promotion to the business empire of its administrators. It may be noted here that before Srinivasan became a powerful cricket administrator, his India Cements Limited was incurring heavy losses. But cricket offered an opportunity to bolster the company through the reflected glow of IPL. Srinivasan admitted as much in a 2008 conference call with a group of analysts. “It is not a sudden, impulsive act,” he said of India Cements’ entrance into IPL with the Chennai franchise. “This was a very clear, cold analytical position with a view to solely building our brand more extensively and deeply throughout the important market that we have, which is Tamil Nadu. Now what we have come up with is a very innovative method of improving our brand without spending anywhere near the money my competitors have spent.”

In other words, his IPL franchise is important for his cement company. No wonder why the players who play for his franchise have dominated the Indian Cricket team. That is why national selectors must have to surrender before him. And that is why, come what it may, Mahinder Singh Dhoni will remain the captain of the Indian Cricket as long as Srinivasan remains the supreme boss.

It is said that since Srinivasan has got the required majority with him in the BCCI, nothing can be done. But then, who are these other important officials within the BCCI? A majority of them happens to be India’s topmost politicians, proving once again, if there was any need to prove at all, the nexus between business and politics in India. Not long ago, a serving central minister of India, Sharad Pawar, was not only the BCCI President but also ICC President. In fact, under Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, there were three other ministers, apart from Pawar, who were active cricket administrators – Rajiv Shukla(he still remains a key official in the BCCI), Jyotiraditya Scindia (President of Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association) and Lalu Yadav (President of Bihar Cricket Association). The BJP, the country’s ruling party at present, has also heavyweights who have been powerful cricket administrators. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, until recently the chief of the Delhi cricket (but for his ministerial responsibilities, he would have become the BCCI president), was all along a great friend and supporter of Srinivasan, as he was a party to almost all the BCCI decisions in the past three years. BJP Member of Parliament Anurag Thakur is a key official of the BCCI. Another cricketer-turned MP Kirti Azad is a member of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). What is more important, until recently, none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed the Gujarat Cricket Association; after his resignation the post has gone to his confidante Amit Shah, the President of the BJP.

But then, this phenomenon of politicians running the Indian cricket is seen in other sports as well, be it football or archery or hockey or tennis. Politicians join the federations under the pretext that they can get things done. But once a politician tastes the spoils of the office of a sports federation, it is very difficult to dislodge him from his perch. And that, perhaps, is the reason why India’s overall record as a sporting nation is not that encouraging. If my memory serves right, during Manmohan Singh’s first term, the then sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had proposed a new national sports policy whose principal feature was that Indian sports should be free of politics and politicians. Predictably it did not work out, with politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, joining hands to oppose the move.

The moral of the story is thus clear—the future of Indian cricket, or for that matter any other sport, is not secure as long there are administrators like Srinivasan. But then, the likes of Srinivasan cannot ­be removed as long as they have the direct and indirect support of the Indian politicians. This business-politics nexus is, thus, the real bane of Indian sports.

By Prakash Nanda

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