Photo Credit: Chandan Khanna / AFP
They promised and they delivered. And how.
The Justice Lodha panel’s recommendations released on Monday make for extraordinary reading. Page after page, line after line, the committee has deliberated on each and every misgiving in the affairs of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Apart from a cursory couple of paragraphs in which the board has been praised for its organisational capabilities, the report is a withering indictment of the state of affairs within the world’s richest cricket body.
The panel came into existence on January 22 last year because of an order from a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Thakur and Kalifulla. The committee, headed by former Chief Justice RM Lodha, was assigned with three tasks: deciding the quantum of punishment for the tainted Indian Premier League franchises Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, recommending administrative reforms and deciding the fate of the tainted former Indian Premier League Chief Operating Officer Sundar Raman. While the Lodha panel called for the suspension of the franchises in July, it finally submitted its report on the other two responsibilities entrusted to it.
Its recommendations on reforms within the BCCI were the most anticipated. Coming in at over 150 pages (with all the annexures), the Lodha report is divided into ten chapters, each dealing with a particular aspect of the game’s administration. At the outset is a short introduction where the panel notes the emotional hold the game has over its fans in the country, the various problems existent in the BCCI and the methodology through which the panel arrived at its recommendations.
An interesting point in the introduction chapter deals with the various reform principles instituted by Shashank Manohar after he assumed the BCCI Presidency in October. While the Lodha panel said that these were a step “in the right direction”, it unequivocally also stated they were not “comprehensive and substantive”. It mentioned in the next paragraph that “the need of the hour was not cosmetic but fundamental change”. Quite clearly, it did not think much of Manohar’s much-hyped attempt at cleaning up Indian cricket’s power corridors.
(The full report can be read here)
One State, One Member, One Unit
In other words, the strange case of one Indian state (Maharashtra) possessing three separate associations (with each association possessing separate voting rights to boot), while some other states such as Bihar and Chhattisgarh having none.
The BCCI consists of 30 Full Members, some of whom do not field teams, while others do not represent any territory. Twenty states and one Union Territory are included, while ten states and six Union Territories remain either excluded or disenfranchised. In addition, officially there are Associate and Affiliate Members as well as so-called Future Members.
In its place, the panel recommended that the principle of one state, one unit and one vote should be followed where each state should have one vote as “the prevalent view was that the State is a fair unit of representation on the BCCI”. For those complaining that it was an injudicious suggestion that would lead to chaos in the domestic cricket structure, the Lodha panel was also quick to add that its recommendation only extended to voting rights – disbursement of BCCI funds and participation of associations within domestic tournaments could continue similarly as earlier.
Decentralisation of the BCCI
Quite damning is the Lodha panel’s view on governance within the cricket body
With an individual-centric constitution and old power centres that have remained relatively unaltered for years, the BCCI seems to have strayed from its path. It has found it difficult to control and manage the Indian Premier League, and its most successful venture threatens its existence in its present form. There seems to be no collective interest in the game being promoted, and cricket stands without a custodian for its protection and propagation in the cricket-crazy nation.
The concentration of all powers within one office, that of the President, is an anathema, as the Lodha panel rightly pointed out. The recommendation that this be changed is bound to raise eyebrows within the BCCI – all the powers instituted within the President are to be distributed across a newly-constituted governing body called the Apex Council. But what is even more revolutionary is the recommendations for the composition of this Apex Council. Apart from the president, vice-president and other such office-bearers, the panel has recommended that the Council must also consist of one female Councillor, one representative of a newly-constituted players association and also from the office of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India.
Tearing up the ladder
If the panel has its way, this is how the BCCI’s governing structure would look.
The first point that stands out from this graphic is the division of cricketing and non-cricketing responsibilities: the committee is clear that the non-cricketing day-to-day management of the board should be left to a set of professionals headed by Chief Executive Officer, who would be responsible to the Apex Council.
The committee has also called for cricketing responsibilities to only be handled by ex-cricketers:
…the pure cricketing matters (selection, coaching and performance evaluation) deserve to be left exclusively to the ex-players who have the greater domain knowledge, except for umpiring which should similarly be handled exclusively by umpires
The standard of women’s cricket and the differently-abled in the country also came under censure – the panel commented unfavourably on the deplorable manner in which women’s cricket is conducted in the country, comparing it negatively to neighbours Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Hence, the recommendation for having different committees related to Women’s Cricket, Women’s Selection and the differently-abled.
Cleaning up the IPL
Continuing on its tone, the committee was scathing in its remarks on the governance of the Indian Premier League, Indian cricket’s biggest cash cow.
However, the governance of the IPL has left much to be desired, run as it is by a Committee of twelve which denies any role to the franchisee companies who are responsible for fostering competition and making revenue. Once again, there is no independent voice, with ten of the members representing the Full Members and two being former cricketers hand-picked by the Board.
In a very welcome move, the panel suggested reconstituting the IPL Governing Council, with representatives from the franchises, the players’ association and the CAG office.
Not just that, the policy of having Indian players turn out for IPL franchises just days after playing international commitments was largely criticised with the panel recommending that the BCCI should ensure at least a 15-day gap between the IPL and the national cricketing calendar.
Putting the players in the spotlight
In many ways, this recommendation is considered to be the biggest highlight – never before have players been given as much importance when it comes to their participation in cricket administration.
While almost all Test playing nations have a Players’ Association, there seems to have been reluctance on the part of the BCCI to initiate such a move, ostensibly due to the apprehension of unionisation
The Lodha panel did not just stop at recommending the creation of Players’ Association, it went further and even suggested that a Steering Committee comprising of past players like GK Pillai, Mohinder Amarnath, Anil Kumble and Diana Edulji be established to start the process.
The other key point in this chapter was the registration of player agents. As the panel pointed out, there exist grave concerns about the nature and conduct of those who act as agents of players and one possible solution to overcome this would be to ensure registration of all player agents.
Conflict of interest
If there has been one buzzword about the BCCI since 2013, it is “conflict of interest”. But as the chapter in the Lodha report makes it abundantly clear, despite the reams and reams of coverage devoted to it, “conflict of interest” often remains a vague, misunderstood concept.
In our interactions with various stakeholders, it became apparent that the understanding of the concept of Conflict of Interest by a Player or Official is very different from that of a legal professional who is attuned to conflict mechanisms and their avoidance on a daily basis. Several cricketers of impeccable repute were surprised when queried about what were obviously potential conflict situations, needing to be convinced that no wrongdoing was necessary for a conflict to exist. The Committee had to point out to them that the very holding of a position which could be abused to undermine the integrity of the game renders the occupant vulnerable to such a charge.
Conflict of interest is a dicey term and as the report points out, in many cases, wrongdoing is not necessary for a conflict to exist, even the holding of a particular position which could lead to a potential conflict of interest needs to be avoided. With regards to this, the panel has laid out a detailed explanation of what exactly constitutes conflict of interest by illustrating various scenarios in the annexure.
One such illustration is provided below:
Direct or Indirect Interest: When the BCCI, a Member, the IPL or a Franchisee enter into contractual arrangements with entities in which the individual concerned or his/her relative, partner or close associate has an interest. This is to include cases where family members, partners or close associates are in positions that may, or may not be seen to compromise an individual’s participation, performance and discharge of roles.
Illustration 1: A is an Office Bearer of the BCCI when it enters into a broadcast contract with a company where A’s son B is employed. A is hit by Direct Conflict of Interest.
Illustration 2: C is a Member of the IPL Governing Council. The IPL enters into a contract with a new franchisee, the Managing Director of which is C’s partner in an independent commercial venture. C is hit by Indirect Conflict of Interest.
Illustration 3: D is the Office Bearer of a State Association. D’s wife E has shares in an IPL Franchisee which enters into a stadium contract with the State Association. D is hit by Indirect Conflict of Interest.
Illustration 4: F is President of the BCCI. His son-in-law is a Team Official of a Franchisee. F is hit by Conflict of Interest.
Illustration 5: G is an employee of the BCCI. His wife runs a catering agency that is engaged by the BCCI. G is hit by Conflict of Interest.
The Lodha report highlights the glaring lack of transparency within the BCCI. After first recommending three new positions of authority (namely, the Ombudsman, the Ethics Officer and the Electoral Officer), the panel pulls out various such examples to illustrate this transparency gap. In one paragraph, the report is scathing on the point of commentators at BCCI-organised games contractually obligated to not criticise the BCCI or the selection process.
Objective commentary ought to be permitted about everything connected to the match, allowing the commentators to express themselves freely and objectively.
For cricket fans who have become accustomed to advertisements of all shapes and sizes interrupting cricket coverage, the next portion makes for happy reading.
Regardless of the wicket that has fallen, century having been hit or other momentous event, full liberty is granted to maximise the broadcaster’s income by cutting away to a commercial, thereby robbing sport of its most attractive attribute – emotion.
The chapter ends by recommending that the Indian cricket body be more transparent in dealings by putting up records of all important information on its official websites and calls on the Indian legislature to seriously consider bringing the BCCI under the purview of the Right to Information Act.
Legalise betting, penalise match-fixing
With the Supreme Court investigation precipitated by the 2013 Indian Premier League spot-fixing scandal, it was only fitting that the Lodha panel would make its thoughts known on the prickly issues of betting and match-fixing. While the report makes clear that the issue of betting could be dealt by providing a legal framework, it draws a suitably hard line on match-fixing and spot-fixing, describing it as interfering with the “integrity of the game” and attempting to change the course of a match by some players to only benefit a few.
While laying down its own recommendations for dealing with the two evils, a particularly heartening aspect of the report was that it recognised the need to spread more awareness about malpractices within the game’s younger exponents.
Financial insecurity, short professional career and huge disparity in the contract money paid to different classes of players are some of the factors which tempt players towards malpractices. While reputed or glamorous players, particularly those with international exposure have huge incomes, the position of other national players, let alone fringe players, is not very rosy. Equally disturbing is the trend of young players suddenly exposed to riches by way of IPL not being suitably guided on responsible conduct, with the result that in order to maintain their extravagant lifestyles, they are lured into misadventures in the form of betting and match/spot-fixing. Attention should be bestowed by BCCI to give education about ethics and financial management to youngsters and to secure the post-cricket life of all players.
The nature of the BCCI’s existence
Finally, in a hard-hitting blow, the report criticises the nature of the existence of the BCCI’s various state associations, pointing out that the majority of its members are located under the Societies Registration Act of 1860 while some state associations are registered under the provisions of the Companies Act, leading to no uniformity in their structure and functioning.
What follows is a large list of some of the problems that have resulted as a consequence of this and most of these are easily identifiable to the average cricket fan. At one juncture, the report points out the flawed system of ticket allocation in the country:
Tickets to games are also distributed as largesse among members, as entitlement, thereby shrinking their availability to the public at large
Then, comes a damning indictment of another major malpractice within the BCCI, proxy voting:
…coteries are promoted and candidates elected on the basis of several signed proxy votes given, very often with the name of the proxy left blank to be filled in later. This has given rise to unscrupulous practices that have even been brought to the attention of the courts.
The ordeal that every Indian cricket fan goes through when they decide to attend a match does not go unnoticed either:
The stadia (even new ones) do not provide basic facilities to the public, nor offer food and water at a reasonable price or of an acceptable quality. More importantly, the lack of hygienic toilets and access to the differently-abled discourage many patrons.
The solution, if the Lodha panel is to be believed, is simple – the state associations must pull up their game and ensure that there is uniformity in their functioning and professionalism in their management.
But will the state associations bite the bullet and actually change? Unlikely.
Though the report ends on a slightly positive note, calling cricket the “one unifying factor in India”, this is bound to be just the start of a very long road. Technically, of course, this entire report is not legally binding on the BCCI. Not as yet anyway, until the Supreme Court looks over it and provides its verdict. Considering though that the Lodha committee was appointed by the same Supreme Court, it would be safe to assume that the judiciary will probably call on the BCCI to implement a majority of the recommendations, if not all of them.
What will be the BCCI’s response? One can only speculate but going by the BCCI’s past history of bitterly holding on to its turf, it is bound to be a long, protracted battle.