Till now, it was just restricted to the courts and in press conferences. Now, there’s a very real threat that it could spill on to the cricket field with consequences that could affect world cricket as well. Why did BCCI threaten to cancel the India-NZ series? Because they risk losing their financial clout
The tussle between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Indian judiciary could be taking a potentially fatal turn. The BCCI had made no secret of its displeasure with the Lodha reforms, even stating on Monday that it would be forced to choose between the Indian Premier League and the Champions Trophy in 2017, if the reforms were implemented.
It was only after a strong directive from the Supreme Court that the Indian cricket board decided to bite the bullet. But even then, they cherry-picked and implemented only a chosen few recommendations at the Special General Meeting on September 30.
A furious Lodha panel however took strong exception to the Indian cricket body taking two financial decisions at its emergent working committee meeting on September 30. According to the panel, the board had been directed to only take decisions on routine matters till it implemented reforms according to the first timeline given to it. In that regard, the panel moved quickly and sent a letter to banks to stop financial transactions from BCCI accounts to state associations.
BCCI’s last throw of the dice
The BCCI struck back, indirectly. According to newspaper reports quoting unnamed board officials, published on Tuesday, the ongoing India-New Zealand cricket series could be called off. In fact, the entire home season where India are slated to play England, Bangladesh and Australia is under cloud.
The reason was solely the Lodha directive to banks to stop disbursement of BCCI funds. “We have no option other than to call off the India-New Zealand series as our banks have decided to freeze BCCI accounts. We don’t want India to be humiliated in front of the world,” said an unnamed board official to The Indian Express. “How can we function, how can we hold any games now? Who will make the payment? Freezing a bank account is no joke. An international team is here, and there is so much at stake.”
The sole point of contention is the issue of funds. ESPNcricinfo reported on Monday that two specific financial transactions taken by the BCCI’s emergent working committee on September 30 had drawn the Lodha panel’s ire. The first transaction stipulated that all state associations, except the Rajasthan Cricket Association, would get an increment of Rs 10 crore to their existing infrastructure subsidy. The other transaction revolved around the compensation money received by the BCCI for the cancellation of the ill-fated Champions League T20 which was to be distributed among the cricket body’s full members.
The loss of financial muscle
Was it plain posturing from the BCCI? In any case, it may have worked. The Lodha panel immediately put out a clarification that their instructions to the banks only related to financial disbursements to state associations and did not affect “routine expenses” of cricket activities and administrative matters. It also went at length to maintain that there was no question of the cancellation of the India-New Zealand series or any other proposed home series.
But, it is important to understand that this entire set of affairs is only the tip of the iceberg. This is not a matter of two financial transactions by the BCCI. It is far bigger.
It is already accepted that the BCCI calls the shots in world cricket. The reason for that is the huge financial clout it enjoys. A report in LiveMint in 2014 pegged that India accounted for 80% of the game's revenue and 75% of overall viewership. If it is one thing the BCCI have done well, it is how they have monetised the game in India, leading to a huge financial windfall for everyone associated with the game in the country.
Naturally, this financial muscle allowed the Indian cricket body to exert considerable influence on world cricket's affairs. The BCCI used that heft that they had to get their way, whenever any dispute came up. The biggest example is the Umpire Decision Review System where India still remains the only country to steadfastly oppose it, and hence, not use it.
The Lodha panel's directive to banks asking them to freeze BCCI's financial transactions strikes at the very heart of that clout. While a lot of other recommendations revolved around changing the structure of governance, this recent directive is a sign that the Lodha panel is not averse to dropping the bomb on the golden goose of BCCI's might: money.
The Indian cricket body is in disarray and that might have prompted the threat to call off the India-New Zealand series. It has become a battle of the control of finances and BCCI cannot afford to blink. If it loses control of its financial powers, it will lose the muscle and heft which allowed it to wield such a considerable influence on the world stage. In one swift stroke, India would lose all its bargaining power with the International Cricket Council.
It is not likely that the BCCI will cancel the India-New Zealand series. That would be unprecedented and put cricket in disarray. But is likely that it was a veiled message from them, before the hearing with the Supreme Court on October 6, that come what may, they are holding on to their turf.