“Change” it is famously said is all that is constant in the world. And yet the world hates change, no matter, it is only change that has brought progress for mankind… Benjamin Franklin put it more pithily when he said “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
These are not lines of an acclaimed book. Rather, it is the first few lines of the final Supreme Court verdict on the R M Lodha committee recommendations pronounced by Justices T S Thakur and Justice F M I Kalifullah on 18 July 2016. Clearly, it is an order like no other and will fundamentally transform Indian cricket administration for all times to come.
In the 88 years, since the formation of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) in 1928, there has never been a more radical shake-up. Every administrator of repute has stayed in the system for more than nine years and some have sought re-election more than once. Almost everyone has held dual offices and some have even presided over their state associations for more than two decades. Most importantly, every major decision for almost eight decades was taken by the working committee, the all-powerful arm of the Board. Now none of this will be possible. The working committee will no longer exist and will soon be replaced by an Apex Council. No administrator will be able to seek re-election to a top executive post without a ‘cooling off’ period and a cap on total years in power to nine signals the end of the road for whoever the person may be.
While these judgments transform the BCCI, the one decision which has saved cricket in India is that the Supreme Court has left the advertisement clause to the BCCI. The Lodha Commission’s recommendation for less adverts between overs would have harmed revenues directly. The BCCI’s revenues stood to fall by a whopping 70 percent. This would have impacted the games’ finances at every level, including the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise. And India’s position as the nerve centre of international cricket would have been in peril. This, no doubt, was the most contentious of the committee’s declarations. The Supreme Court indeed saw reason and left the final decision to the BCCI.
Except this one huge relief, however, everything else has gone against the BCCI’s wishes. The next six months will be the most difficult ever in its history as it implements the committee’s recommendations; a process that will be overseen by Justice Lodha and his team comprising Justice Ravindran and Justice Ashok Bhan.
However, a detailed analysis of the court’s order shows that there are serious challenges and ambiguities in it. For instance, as an exception to the ‘one state, one vote’ formula it has allowed the existence of three associations in Maharashtra – Maharashtra Cricket Association, Vidarbha Cricket Association, and Mumbai Cricket Association – and suggested that they should take turns at voting and follow a rotation policy, but it isn’t clear how long each association will have at the helm as voting member. For example, if the rotation is annual it will mean no official from any of these three western Indian associations can hold an Executive position in the BCCI, which is for a period of three years.
Another concern I have with the order relates to the Northeast. In theory, the ‘one state, one vote’ formula sounds very good and is in accordance with the democratic principles of good governance. However, it is also a fact that the Northeast has no tradition of playing cricket. This might well mean that these votes are misused or bought over by more established administrators and associations and there is a concern it will result in newer acts of corruption. To have a combined Ranji Trophy team and yet have six votes among the states of the Northeast is not the ideal solution.
Despite these ambiguities, most of the recommendations will help bring in accountability and transparency to cricket administration in the country. The inclusion of a representative from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) representative in the BCCI apex council, for instance, will mean direct scrutiny of the two biggest television deals in the offing – the IPL broadcast deal and the telecast rights for Indian cricket. Also, because these recommendations are also applicable to state associations, it will mean the days of no auditing of the accounts and spending money at the whims and fancies of office bearers will finally be a thing of the past. Already, officials of the Goa Cricket Association are behind bars for acts of corruption and financial irregularities. Importantly, the fact that no one can be in office for more than nine years in total. It will mean fresh faces will come into the system and there will be a churn every few years.
The recommendation that bars ministers or civil servants from holding BCCI positions is also quite significant. There will never be a situation like that of Sharad Pawar, who was BCCI President and Union Agriculture minister at the same time, or N Srinivasan, who was at one time the President of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, President of the BCCI, Chairman of the International Cricket Council and IPL team owner!
Anurag Thakur, the current President of BCCI, will have to choose between being a minister or continuing in cricket administration if Prime Minister Narendra Modi ever decides to induct him in the Cabinet. For now he will have to give up on the Presidency of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association as holding dual offices has been disallowed by the Supreme Court. Also, there can never arise a situation that arose during the 2007 Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) election when Prasun Mukherjee, a civil servant and a serving police commissioner, was pitched against Jagmohan Dalmiya for the Presidency.
Reading the fine print of the judgment it can be summed up in four separate heads: first, professionals and cricketers will, in larger numbers, be seen in charge of Indian cricket administration. This will be aided with the setting up of a players association, which has been backed by the Supreme Court. Efforts to start a players association have hitherto proved a non-starter in India and it will be interesting to see how the BCCI goes about this task. Second, the decision to include at least one woman in the apex council – something not done this far – is a positive development for the game. With women cricketers being awarded central contracts by the BCCI in a momentous decision in October 2015, the presence of a woman representative in the apex council augurs well for women’s cricket in India. Third, this verdict will soon make its way to other sports and in that sense is indeed a game changer for Indian Olympic sports as well; professionalisation is only a matter of time. With the age and tenure clause ratified by the apex court the national sports bill will receive a fillip. And when the judgement does spread to other sports a boxing-like situation – where there is no national federation of the sport for over a year due to in-fighting – can be avoided in the future.
Finally, the Supreme Court has suggested, and rightly so, that the legalisation of betting is something the Parliament should decide on while also giving indications that it is in favour of bringing the BCCI under Right to Information (RTI). While issues of team selection will have to be excluded from the purview of RTI, it must be remembered that the national sports bill does recommend that the BCCI, like all other sports federations, should be brought under RTI.
In their judgement Justices Thakur and Kalifullah wrote:
The truth is that resistance to change stems partly from people getting used to status quo and partly because any change is perceived to affect their vested interest in terms of loss of ego, status, power or resources… No wonder, therefore, that the portents of change which the recommendations made by the Committee appointed by this Court symbolizes are encountering stiff resistance from several quarters…
All of the resistance has now been quashed. Indian cricket is set to change forever.
~ Boria Majumdar is the author of the much acclaimed Twenty-Two Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket. He is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire and Adjunct Professor, School of Journalism, Australian and Indigenous Studies, Faculty of Arts at Monash University.