Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Big Villain In World Cricket


India is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, be it in the terms of economy, development, education, infrastructure or various other areas. The huge population of India is the biggest asset of the nation, one which is slowly rising and giving the concept of development and prosperity, a new home. In the area of sports, India is doing well & improving it's performances and enhancing it's competence. The country has been earning many honours in various sports like Archery, Boxing, Wresting, Shooting, Squash, etc. And any discussion of Indian sports and their achievements is incomplete without the mention of one sport which is an obsession of all Indians- Cricket.

India has done quite well in cricket in the recent years. The World Cup in 1983 was for long, the sole achievement that the cricket Team of India could boast of. Things changed with the arrival of the new millennium and new teams under the captaincy of Sourav Ganguly, M. S. Dhoni and others achieved great heights. This is extremely special for the people of India as cricket holds a very special place in the heart of each and every Indian.

With the rising disposable income of the Indian population and most importantly the Youth, cricket of late, has become a very rewarding sport for the participants. The Indian cricket board- BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has cashed on this Indian population by providing highly priced satellite rights to many sports broadcasters in order to fulfill the high demand for cricket by the people. With the demand increasing, the BCCI has supplied these rights at very “good prices” (business terms!) and made a lot of money. The BCCI is now the richest cricket Board in the world. It also contributes to the majority of the revenue from cricket events in the world. Some opinions have even suggested that the Indian Board contributes as high as 70-80% of the total revenues of World cricket. This is indeed a huge figure and consequently has seen the Indian Board becoming the new financial superpower in World Cricket.   

But this newly achieved financial power has led to a lot of misdeeds by the BCCI. Instead of growing into a just and fair manager of international cricketing affairs, the BCCI has turned into a bully. It interferes in a huge number of decisions taken in the field of cricket by various bodies and associations. The BCCI dictates to most of the people, associations and boards about what should be done and what should not be done. It tries to influence all decisions of cricket's apex body- The ICC (International Cricket Council). Domestically too, the BCCI keeps a very strict control on the players and all people involved in cricket management. Anyone going against them is severely reprimanded and humiliated.

This misconduct has seen the Indian Cricket board become the target of other boards such as the ECB (England & Wales Cricket board) and the CA (Cricket Australia) who on a number of occasions, have raised objections against the practices & actions of this big bully. But so far, they haven't been able to challenge the dominance of the BCCI because of the huge financial power that the Indian board holds.
The BCCI has handled this power badly. On a number of occasions, it has indulged in unfair practices, bullied other boards to accept their mandate, forced television channels and broadcasters to play by the unfair rules profitable only to the BCCI, pressurised and influenced various social organisations and activists barring them from interfering in cricketing activities and disputed every major expert and thinker of world cricket in issues that question their monopoly. They have behaved very badly on a number of occasions by disrupting the smooth and uniform process of cricket administration in the world. Their actions have been considered highly unethical by a number of eminent sports commentators and analysts across the world.
The BCCI's tantrums have been going on for quite some time now but they have really crossed all lines in recent occasions. The BCCI has shamed all Indians with it's bullying and disgraceful treatment of all other senior sports personalities and respectable national sports boards. This was highlighted by the spat between BCCI and Cricket Australia when the Indian board roughed up it's Aussie equal on the Sydney-gate issue. It is true that the issue was ignited by the improper conduct of the Australian National Cricket team, but the tiff was taken much further by the BCCI. On another occasion, the BCCI took on the ECB for not allowing the latter’s players to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

But the biggest matter of debate had been the stand of BCCI on the Decision review System (DRS), a system for minimising the instances of glaring errors made by the umpires during a match. While the rest of the world was in favour of the DRS, the BCCI did not support the system and bullied the ICC to remove the rule of making DRS compulsory for all international cricket matches. The BCCI had also not approved the regulations of the World Anti- Doping Association (WADA) to make the cricketing sport more transparent and reliable. So, despite an approval from almost all other test playing nations, the Anti-Doping regulations could not be implemented.

But the most serious of transgression by the BCCI has been the proposed change in a tournament of the Future Tours Programme (FTP), a schedule of all cricketing matches between nations which is prepared and approved by all international cricketing bodies, years in advance. In September 2013, the BCCI strongly suggested shortening the South African Tour of India, 2013-14 by cutting down on the number of matches to be played between the two nations. Instead, they invited the West Indies Cricket Board to tour India on a 2-match Test series. There were reports that this suggestion was made to ensure that the Great Indian Batsman- Sachin Tendulkar played his landmark 2ooth Test Match (and as per rumours, his last) in the stadium of his hometown- The Wankhede Staduim, Mumbai. However, there was also speculation that the BCCI has thought of shortening the South African Tour actually to punish the South African cricket board (CSA) for not imbibing to it's instructions of not appointing former ICC chief- Haroon Logart as their new CEO. The BCCI and Logart had differences on various cricketing issues (including the DRS and the dominance of BCCI in cricket). Later after the appointment of Logart as CSA CEO, the BCCI also insisted that Haroon Logart apologize for his former views and comments in the public.
How can the BCCI do this? No respectable sporting body can think of interfering in the internal and political affairs of another cricket board, no less when they have to appoint their CEO. But the BCCI, in all it's presumed authority supposedly did not hesitate.

The BCCI have also bore the brunt of criticism on the scheduling of matches of the Indian cricket Team. The Indian cricket team has been playing continuous and non-stop cricket for a long time. The 2011 Cricket World Cup in the Indian sub-continent was followed by the Indian Premier League (within 6 days of the conclusion of the former!), which was followed by overseas tours to West Indies, England, Australia which was then followed by the return tours of the same countries in India, Asia Cup, Champions League T20, Pakistan's tour of India, India's Tour of Sri Lanka, New Zealand's tour of India, 2 more IPLs, 1 more Champions League T20, ICC T20 World Cup, ICC Champions Trophy and others (source: ESPNcricinfo.com). It might feel like I am simply naming all the cricket tournaments that come to my mind but the fact is that all these matches actually took place in a span of approximately 2 years. Each tour contains a number of test matches, One Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20s! With all these matches, one can imagine the amount of stress and pressure that the players are continuously in. As a result, India's leading players and talents have lost their rhythm (For example, compare the bowling strength of the Indian Cricket Team three years ago to now), overwork has led to many injuries and many good players have been inconsistent in their performance (talented players such as Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan, etc. are out of the side and trying to rediscover their swing). Some of India's poor performances like the 0-4 whitewash in Australia were also considered to be so because of the tiredness and fatigue of non-stop cricket being played by the team.

The Indian cricket schedule has been very hectic and tiring for players. The most-accepted reason for this overscheduling by the BCCI is considered to be the huge amounts of money earned in the sports through sponsors, broadcasters and other facilities that the Indian board encashes at supremely high prices, the reason being the obsession of the Indian population with the sport of cricket. However, this has led to a huge problem for the players and their well-being as too much stress and travelling can easily lead to fatigue and exhaustion. Also, too much cricket and matches played in sub-continental conditions or against weak teams and suspicions of dishonesty can reduce public interest in the sport.

The BCCI's problems have not just been administrative but also political. A number of controversies surrounding cricketing events such as the spot-fixing and illegal betting in IPL 6 put the board in a troublesome spot. Further revelations of the alleged links of the bookies with many prominent members of the IPL administrative and governance councils raised many questions over the transparency and trustworthiness of the BCCI when conducting various matters. Ex-IPL Commissioner Lalit modi was probably the biggest messiah and nemesis for BCCI (in context to the time period to which you see his role). Before 2010, he was the board’s messiah, inventing the million dollar league-IPL, establishing huge structures and stable returns of money for the Board and reportedly changing the dynamics of the financial affairs of the BCCI. But after his spat with Indian Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, he was revealed to have conducted a number of mal-practices while engaging in the contracts. Accusations like preparing bid conditions for teams in such a way that they favoured big corporate houses (with whom the BCCI wanted to partner in business), engaging in bid-rigging by disclosing the winning amount of bids to more favourable contenders, conducting affairs in illegal manners, etc. have recently come out. But Lalit Modi's revelations have only led to light being thrown on the general way in which the BCCI operated, taking the role of the big-bully and working only in order to maximise their returns of money. Further news of the Board President (temporarily suspended in August 2013) N. Srinivasan bullying his way back into the BCCI despite Supreme Court rulings prohibiting him from the same (SC rejected the appeal of BCCI against the former’s ruling) have only shown that the administrators can go to any extent to stay in power.

Can the BCCI President be given a clean chit by a probe run by the people of his own organisation (employees who work under him) and doing that without any cooperation with the Mumbai Police, the organisation which had actually started proceedings against the bookies? This looks like a mockery of the justice system even to the eye of people who do not have much knowledge about the law.

There were also reports of the manhandling of the owners of the IPL franchisees in the past by the BCCI. Certain franchises like the Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) were terminated by the BCCI (later revoked) for irregularities in their functioning and allegedly because of their former associations with Lalit Modi. Other franchises rubbed the BCCI off the wrong way and were also given the stick.  Kochi Tuskers Kerela (KTK) were also terminated by the Indian board for supposed financial irregularities but the deeper reason is considered to be the BCCI's dislike for the owners of the franchise (BCCI didn't want the franchise rights to be bagged by the eventual winners). Later, another franchise Sahara Pune Warriors, which was bagged by a very prominent person of India threatened to walk out of various agreements and contracts of IPL because of alleged manhandling by the BCCI.

The IPL is the Gerico, the million-dollar missile of the BCCI aimed at collecting the maximum revenues of the board through various commercial channels. It is the cash-pumper (read cash cow) through which the BCCI generates the majority of it's surplus cash revenue, which later helps to collar other cricketing Boards. When the issue of club vs. country rose, it was mandated that players can't leave their country to play for clubs who offer them more cash. So, the English cricketers and Australian cricketers mostly kept out of the IPL since their boards did not allow them to participate in the Indian league. In the Champions League T20, it was argued that all countries participating in the contest should have equal representation, with equal teams from each league being given a chance of winning the crown. But so far, the BCCI has only allowed only 1 team from West Indies, 1 from New Zealand, 1 team from Sri Lanka, 2 teams from Australia, 2 from England and 2 from South Africa (1 from Pakistan only recently was added) to participate while allowing as many as 4 Indian teams to take part in the contest! (in 2012) Furthermore, only India and South Africa have had the chance to hold the CLT20 competition in their country with India hosting the majority of the tournaments. This is grossly unfair on all sporting grounds. All countries should have gotten equal hosting chances. All countries should have sent equal number of teams in the competition. The logic behind the current arrangement is obviously financial. Since the most of the viewers of cricket matches come from India and the maximum revenue is generated by matches in India, the Indian teams and grounds have been favoured for the event.

Very recently, various questions have been raised on the identity of the Indian Cricket board- Just what is the BCCI? Is it a private body with interests only to promote the sport of cricket in India (and thus escape tax obligations and hide from the ambit of the RTI!) or a national association that represents India on a global scale in one of the most admired & important Indian Sports? How can the BCCI continue to represent India on a global scale and claim not to be a public body but a private organisation?

It is a very interesting - Is BCCI just a Private Body of people who suddenly one day thought of starting a business and making money, through starting a sport event like cricket in India? Conceptually, they are a private body of administrators who aim to make money. Where is the welfare of cricket in that?

The new Indian Sports Bill, to be introduced in the Indian parliament (it was introduced in the Parliament in 2011 but was sent back for modifications) has proposed to make all sporting associations who operate on a national scale as National Sports federations (NSFs) with statutory guidelines on the appointment of officers and administrators, their functioning, their conduct of affairs, etc. The BCCI has vehemently opposed this, by counter-jecting that such legislations will end it’s autonomy and also foil it's flourishing operations. Justice Mukul Mudgal, who headed the committee constituted to draft the Sports Development Bill 2013, said that, "BCCI should be a public body of national level to continue representing India in cricket. Any cricket board, national public body should be under the scope of RTI."  Logically, any cricket board entrusted with the job of selecting the national team should be a public, national body.

In its written statement submitted to the Central Information Commission (CIC), the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports maintained on December 14, 2011, "that the BCCI was on a par with other national sports federations and had been availing itself of various government benefits, such as customs duty and income tax exemptions." Describing this as indirect funding of the BCCI, the government asked the CIC to treat the Board as an entity financed substantially by the government, and therefore, qualifying as a “public authority” under the RTI Act. The Central government pointed out that all civic and security services were provided by the Central or State governments concerned for organising BCCI’s sporting events. The hidden costs of expenditure on security, visa clearances, and so on were borne by the Centre and the State governments concerned, the BCCI was performing functions akin to state functions and also performing public duties by selecting national teams and representing India in international events.

The BCCI maintains that it is a private body. It denies to come under the Right to Information Act (RTI), and also declines to be answerable either to the public or to the government. Still, it is framing rules for regulation of cricket in the country nationally, without any authority. According to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Lucknow Bench by social activist Nutan Thakur and IPS officer Amitabh Thakur, "The BCCI cannot send names of its players for getting national awards like Arjuna Award, Dronacharya Award etc, because according to the Central government's directives, only government recognised sports federations can send the nominations." The BCCI doesn't consider itself to be one of the 51 NSFs in India and thus is ineligible to send recommendations to the Sports Ministry for felicitating it's cricketers for national awards, as per the guidelines of the Sports ministry. However, the BCCI’s recommendations were entertained by the Sports Ministry ( maybe because it is just ahead of the election year and the Govt took a populist measure to appeal to the all cricket fans!)

The BCCI should realize that it cannot take on the government for long, no matter how powerful a body it may be. For cricket to survive you need grounds and maidans and most of these are owned by the government, state or centre. Further, the IPL is market-driven and is played as evening cricket consuming lot of power supplied by state electricity boards under the state government. In these days of terrorism where a 24 X 7 security blanket is a must, you need the government's support at every step. Reconciliation with the government while maintaining independence in its operations would be the best option for the BCCI.

But do the Indian people realise the immorality of the BCCI's actions? Do they really feel that the BCCI is right to behave in the way it is behaving or do they think that the Indian Board should be righted?

When India wins Tournaments and matches, the Indian cricket fans sit back and relax. Nobody wants to face the issues creeping in Indian cricket- the mismanagement, the corruption, the greed. (courtesy IPL, fixing, etc.) Everybody is happy only to see that the Team wins matches. The fans don't want Indian Cricket to lose. If you add that with the general perception of the majority of people that power, freedom and authority comes with MONEY, you will have many people who justify the actions of the BCCI on the international scale (most people in a country with huge poverty believe that money can give them everything in life).

In some earlier instances when BCCI flexed its muscles in issues such as "Symonds-gate" and in England, some cricket "intellectuals" justified it by saying that cricket had been dominated traditionally by boards such as England & CA, and since now the BCCI was in power, it could do the same. This arguement reeks of double standards and hypocrisy as the BCCI had earlier opposed the domination of ECB and CA in international cricket, and now it is functioning in the very same way that it earlier opposed.

India is a rising power in Sports. With the newly achieved power, there also come certain responsibilities. As the dominant Board, the BCCI must look to support ethical and fair practices in all matters and functions and should help promote cricket in more parts of the world. If the Indian cricket chooses to follow the example of the English or Australian Cricket boards, it will be a sad path for somebody who had staunchly opposed the hegemony & authority that the English & Aussies initially enjoyed. Going down the same path as the English, and very recently the Aussies travelled must be avoided. In any place, sector or time, any dominant entity which doesn't exercise it's power rightly is met with staunch opposition and endless attacks from others.

Also, the performance and functioning of the Team is a reflection of the management of affairs on a macro level. If the sports administrators do not focus on bettering the sports and focus only on making money or holding to their power, the Team and consequently the Indian fans will suffer. The overall improvement and development of the sport of Cricket depends only on the proper and fair functioning of the bodies, and having fair laws monitored by the International Cricket Council. 

The Indians do realise that the BCCI is doing wrong things and they should be corrected. People understand that it is wrong for any person in power to unethically dominate others. They understand that with power, comes responsibility. Philosophically, power is nothing but a gift of the people who appreciate and admire your work. If you do not work well, the power is taken from you. 

Indian Batting legend Rahul Dravid recently made a comment about the reason for the success of cricket in India- "There are so many fans and so many people who care deeply about this game and it is because of these fans that we are who we are as cricketers. Administrators are there because of the fans and the cricketers to run this game, so credibility of a game, or a board, or even a government for that matter, is important irrespective of what you do." 

The general perception is that the administration of cricket should be cleaned and be accounted for, but there is also some hesitation because majority of the sports in India today are not well managed and administered. That hesitation must be overcome in order to continue on the path to further sporting and cricketing excellence. The legislations should be framed in a way to allow sufficient autonomy for the NSFs as well as necessary accountability in their operations.

The BCCI isn't above the sport of cricket or the authority of the ICC, which the Indian body has looked to influence on a number of occasions. It is not right to let the Indian Board have it's way in all affairs. Ideologically, a sport is not about winning only. It is about playing honestly, with dignity, poise & grace and promoting the sport and it's spirit. The consideration of money must not even be important or significant in any sporting event or activity. 

The BCCI vs. CSA situation has been really embarrassing for the entire country (It's like Indian Government goofing up in some matter of international importance). The BCCI has really crossed all boundaries (it had already done that earlier but now it's official) and this is an unwise position for the Board to be in. They are right, an apology must be issued- but by the BCCI for publicly and shamelessly interfering in the internal matters of a fellow Board, holding the entire FTP and other cricket Boards hostage with it's Big-Brotherly policies and misleading the people who put their faith and support in them. On the national level, the BCCI must accept that they are a public, national body and are therefore under the ambit of RTI and the Government. It is the only way BCCI can manage to retain it's position and authority as the Board of Control of Cricket in India. Immense lobbying and influences may save the Board in the short run but in the long run, there is no other way except maintaining it's public image and brand (read. Dravid's message). It is also important because the people of India care a lot for the sport and want it to be a reflection of the ideal form of daily life- that it be clean, transparent and fairly competitive. It will not be a very good situation if due to the administrators’ misbehaviour, the Indian fans suffer. Hopefully, that time will not come!

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