The Indian Premier League has come to symbolise the corruption that has overwhelmed Indian cricket, and those who stand exposed include cricket administrators, players and IPL team owners. By VIJAY LOKAPALLY
INDIAN cricket is in turmoil. Cricket, cricketers and the game’s administrators have become the butt of ridicule. The spot-fixing scandal facing the Indian Premier League (IPL) is playing out like a soap opera with a daily dose of intrigue and shame. The list of the corrupt is on the rise. It was never so ugly, so insidious. The linking of the game with the underworld, with its roots in Dubai, has left it tainted. Nowhere has cricket faced such a crisis with players and administrators coming under the scanner.
The IPL bubble, which had assumed monstrous proportions, was waiting to burst. The focus on glamour and glitz has now taken its toll. For long considered a league that created a dubious arena of entertainment, packaged with film stars and celebrities from other fields, the IPL threatened to spiral out of control. And it did, to an extent where cricket became secondary and the players proved mere pawns in the big game that some dodgy people associated with the league had conjured up. It was hardly surprising when the police summoned, in addition to some cricketers, a horde of others connected with the IPL, such as Raj Kundra, one of the owners of the tainted Rajasthan Royals team.
The crisis deepened with Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar announcing that Kundra had admitted to placing bets to the tune of Rs.1 crore over three IPL seasons on matches involving the Royals. With Kundra’s business partner Umesh Goenka recording his statement under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (which makes it admissible as evidence in court) that he had placed bets on behalf of co-owner Shilpa Shetty on one match brings the Royals under further suspicion.
As per the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) guidelines, any act of players, officials or team owners that brings the competition or game to disrepute is liable to attract scratching of the IPL team for up to five years. The Board was quick to call a meeting on June 10 to debate Kundra’s role and the Royals’ future. One wonders why Chennai Super Kings (CSK) has been spared despite dubious acts of its “Team Principal” Gurunath Meiyappan, who is now out on bail.
Indeed, it is for the police to establish Meiyappan’s link with the betting world, but cricket certainly does not need people such as these who have brought disrepute to the game. The controversy surrounding Chennai Super Kings, Rajasthan Royals and the fact that three teams, Deccan Chargers, Kochi Tuskers and Pune Warriors, have pulled out of the IPL testify to the declining reputation of the tournament. Former cricketers had warned that so much money in the game could harm cricket’s interest. The developments in IPL 6 proved them right.
The tentacles of corruption spread in all directions and reached the doors of the BCCI. The Board came under fire from all quarters but, unsurprisingly, the artful cricket officials managed to thwart the aggression mounted by the media. For the first time, the Board president faced the ignominy of coming under tremendous pressure to resign from his post, but then N. Srinivasan held the whip hand and reduced his opponents to paper tigers. “I will not resign” was his refrain, and he did not step down.
“A sham,” thundered former Board president I.S. Bindra as the emergency working committee meeting of the BCCI accepted Srinivasan’s offer to “step aside” until the investigation in the spot-fixing scam reached a conclusion. This was unprecedented and illegal. Bindra was emphatic: “There is no provision in the BCCI constitution to have a second president.” On the eve of the meeting, held in Chennai, three Board officials, Arun Jaitley, Anurag Thakur and Rajeev Shukla, all politicians, claimed majority support and promised action against Srinivasan. They were only taking the public for a ride. The trio did not even attend the meeting in Chennai and chose to join the proceedings through videoconferencing from Delhi.
Member of Parliament and former Test cricketer Kirti Azad summed up the farce well. “The videoconferencing charade [at the working committee meeting] was planned well in advance. Niranjan Shah and Jagmohan Dalmiya had been sounded out. It was clear that Srinivasan would not accept Shah’s candidature since he would be deemed as a west zone prop. Dalmiya was considered to be a safe bet. It is another matter that the BCCI has no provision for an interim president, and the meeting, in the absence of a notice of 72 hours, was unconstitutional.”
Azad reiterated a demand that the Board had managed to suppress all these years—to make it accountable and its functioning transparent. “In a note dated 14/12/2011 submitted by the Union Ministry of Sports before the Central Information Commission, the government wanted the BCCI to be a public authority and come under the RTI [Right to Information] Act. Given the sheer mockery of the Board meeting in Chennai, it is high time the Union government, through an ordinance, took over BCCI affairs and safeguarded the money that is unsafe in the hands of a few selfish individuals. The Prime Minister owes an answer to the country. His statement that ‘politics and sports should not get mixed up’ needs to be demonstrated on the ground,” Azad said.
Former Board secretary Jaywant Lele made a pertinent point. “I fail to understand how one person [Dalmiya] became the president when the first one [Srinivasan] had not resigned. This is a sham. The decision to appoint an interim president can be taken only by the annual general meeting [AGM]. Given the circumstances, a special general meeting [SGM] should have been summoned by Srinivasan and only then the interim replacement should have been picked. This meeting was not legal,” Lele asserted.
Lele went on: “You are either present [at the meeting] or you are not. What is this videoconferencing? I have never seen such a thing in my 40 years of association with the Board. Srinivasan doesn’t deserve to be the Board president. The working committee has no authority to make these appointments. It can be challenged legally.”
The observations of the veteran Board officials cast a doubt over the Board’s claims that it worked towards improving the game. “It is a private club where 31 members promote themselves,” said Azad. The constitution of the Board and its expenditure pattern remain out of bounds for the public. “Accountability is only on paper. The Board has been run by one man, Srinivasan, and it is obvious from the meek manner in which the other officials have responded to the crisis,” noted Lele.
Jolt to the Board
Cricket became secondary as the Board grappled with the negative image it had acquired owing to the spot-fixing scandal. This is one tournament that never impressed veteran cricket official Sanjay Jagdale, who had served the game as a player, selector and administrator. He took the bold step of resigning from the post of Board’s secretary and refused to return to the Board in spite of Srinivasan’s and Dalmiya’s pleas. Along with Jagdale, the Board also lost the services of Ajay Shirke, who quit as treasurer.
Jagdale’s resignation was a huge jolt to the Board’s image of being a united sports body. “I am hurt by the developments. This is not the cricket I had known and loved. I am not the one who can be pressured by anyone and it is my conscious decision that I will not like to associate with the current set-up,” said Jagdale. He was considered one of the most honest cricket officials and was known to work tirelessly for the benefit of the game. He was always available to cricketers in their hour of distress.
The Board, which was known for excellent administration, came under criticism for the manner in which it handled the issue of Srinivasan’s refusal to resign. There was little merit in Srinivasan’s argument that he had nothing to do with the alleged betting and fixing scandal that his son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, had found himself in. “Propriety demanded that he resign,” said Jyotiraditya Scindia, president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA). Incidentally, the MPCA alone stood up to Srinivasan. Jagdale represented the association in the Board.
TIM May’s resignation
In a related development, Tim May, chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, resigned from the ICC Cricket Committee. It was a development that reflected the sorry state of affairs of the game. May became a victim of the bullying tactics of the Board which recommended L. Sivaramakrishnan, former Test bowler, who played just nine Test matches, to the committee. Sivaramakrishnan, a television commentator, is seen as lacking the stature to figure in the Cricket Committee. But then he had the right credentials for the job as an employee of The India Cements, which is partly owned by Srinivasan.
Interestingly, the Board officials remained silent even as Srinivasan made all the decisions. His favourites were appointed to key positions and the distribution of largesse kept everyone’s mouth shut. “I am amazed at how the entire Board danced to his tune,” said Azad, the most vocal critic of the Board and its policies.
Club of friends
Srinivasan owns the IPL team CSK, and the conflict of interest issue was brushed aside every time his critics in the media brought it up. He managed to win overwhelming support and it was indeed a pity that the opposition was near non-existent on the Board. “It is like a club of friends,” said former Test opener Chetan Chauhan.
May’s resignation highlighted the brazen functioning of the Board. The Australian cricketer was considered a potential threat to the BCCI, which had steadfastly opposed the Decision Review System (DRS) which had found favour with most other Test-playing nations. May had failed to convince the Board to accept the DRS.
In a statement, May said, “More and more we see allegations of corruption and malpractice on and off the field dominating headlines. As stakeholders in the game, we look to leadership from the ICC [International Cricket Council] to address these and other issues. A vital ingredient of any organisation is the ability of its leaders to set the moral and principled example to others, and to police its organisation from top to bottom to ensure adherence to those principles. Yet, cricket increasingly seems to be pushing aside the principles of transparency, accountability, independence, and upholding the best interests of the global game, in favour of a system that appears to operate through threats, intimidation and back-room deals.”
Gag on Dhoni
Nothing demonstrated the Board’s authoritarian style of functioning more glaringly than the gag that was imposed on Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the press conference before the team’s departure to England for the Champions Trophy matches. He was asked for his views on the spot-fixing scandal (he is the CSK captain, too) but all Dhoni did was to sit like a statute and wear a disdainful smile. But then he was only following the instructions of the Board, which is not known to accept healthy criticism. Dhoni’s disrespect for the media is well known, but the smirk on his face only went to show his contempt for the media, too. Even as the Board tried to come to terms with the criticisms surrounding the appointment of an interim president, Indian cricket was shaken by Dhoni’s association with Arun Pandey, a nondescript cricketer from Uttar Pradesh. The conflict of interest involved his alleged stakes in Rhiti Sports, a sports management company, which handles Dhoni and three other India team members, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha.
Azad was caustic: “Obviously, the documents that have come out indicate that it has been a conflict of interest as far as Dhoni’s involvement with Rhiti Sports is concerned. I don’t mind if an ex-cricketer acts as an agent to make a living. But when I see Ojha being relegated to the position of a second-choice left-arm spinner and Ravindra Jadeja being valued at $2 million after being banned for trying to cut underhand deals in the IPL, I guess something is wrong.”
Chetan Chauhan was appalled at the developments. He noted it was ethically not proper for Dhoni to have stakes in the company since it managed him. “Ethically this is not correct. It seems to be trickling down from the president. The Board officials need to take some harsh decisions and make clear what business players and officials can float on their own.” The Board, however, promised to treat the matter seriously and make accreditation of players’ agents compulsory.
Dalmiya, the interim president, lost little time in detailing his plans to the media, essentially targeting the IPL. He suggested introducing cell phone jammers and discontinuing the practice of having cheer girls, after-match parties and the four strategic time-out sessions of two and a half minutes each. Not that such measures will ensure the curing of Indian cricket of all the ills, but Dalmiya will surely have to convince the official broadcaster to agree to eliminating the time-out sessions: these slots are exploited for advertisement, the most crucial revenue-generating tool on television.
Cricket has hogged the limelight for all the wrong reasons—the spot-fixing scam and conflicts of interest involving the Board president and Dhoni’s part in Rhiti Sports. Even as investigations continued into the spot-fixing scandal, questions were raised about the origin of the investments in Rhiti.
Indian cricket is headed for dark days, not to speak of the Board, which has lost much of its credibility as an administrator.
Accountability, integrity and transparency have become the biggest casualties of the Srinivasan raj.