In March 2014, the Supreme Court of India ordered N Srinivasan, then president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, to either resign or face a court order to this effect. History has repeated itself nearly three years later. Having dealt with the BCCI’s resistance for implementing the Justice Lodha committee’s recommendations for the better part of a year, the court removed the current BCCI President Anurag Thakur from office. The Lodha committee was set up by the Supreme Court following the fact-finding inquiry led by former High Court judge Mukul Mudgal into irregularities in the BCCI and the Indian Premier League.
By the standards of Indian sports administrative bodies, the BCCI is wildly successful. It is profitable, does not depend on direct government grants, and thanks to India’s vast population compared to the rest of the cricketing world, has become the most powerful cricket board in the world in the era of widespread cable television availability. The BCCI is constituted as a private society and its officials are drawn from its member associations. These member associations, in turn, are constituted by local member clubs. The BCCI is evidently comprised of factions, and unsurprisingly, these factions span a spectrum of views. As with all associations, sometimes these differences arise as a means of challenging power within the association. At other times, they reveal genuine differences about the future direction of the organisation. This is a matter of hope, not despair.
When the spot-fixing revelations emerged during the 2013 IPL, the BCCI’s instinct seemed to be to conduct a perfunctory internal inquiry designed to exonerate owners and top team officials implicated by the revelations. Aditya Verma, secretary of the Cricket Association of Bihar (one of the BCCI’s members) at the time, took the BCCI to court over this investigation panel. That dispute set in motion the chain of events which led, first, to the removal to Srinivasan and now Thakur as BCCI president.
Questions of legality and motives
In much of the public discussion about the BCCI’s predicament in the court, the perception seems to be that the BCCI is monolithic. It is worth keeping in mind that the court has acted in this matter after being approached by one of the BCCI’s members. Questions about the extent to which it is proper for the court to intervene in the functioning of a private society abound. But in the BCCI’s case, the court has found that it is a de facto monopoly regulating cricket in India. Currently, such is the BCCI’s power, that it can affect the right of any citizen of India to be employed as a cricketer. Given this, it is reasonable to expect that the BCCI should be subject to outside scrutiny.
Whether or not the BCCI should accept the Lodha committee recommendations is not a greatly consequential question. Apart from the fact that it can’t quibble with the Supreme Court beyond a point, thinking about this question invariably leads to legal questions such as the one in the previous paragraph. It also results in squalid questions about motives. Is the BCCI merely trying to delay matters? What are its intentions? These questions will be resolved in due course. But the BCCI itself must confront a more basic existential question.
For most of its history in India, cricket has been administered by the BCCI and has remained an amateur sport. It is only in recent decades that cricket has become a professional occupation and an extremely lucrative business proposition. Is the BCCI equipped to be the regulator of this business in India? Can the BCCI simultaneously regulate the sport in India, and own a commercial franchise league such as the IPL? As regulator, it will have to deal with other potential proprietors. Can it act fairly given that these proprietors will also be the BCCI competitors in its capacity as the owner and operator of the IPL? The Lodha committee does not address this fundamental conflict. In fairness, it was probably not designed to address this problem. For the Lodha panel, this is a question of “governance”. The solution proposed is to separate the governance of the IPL from that of the BCCI without making the IPL itself independent of the BCCI.
The Supreme Court is narrowly concerned with how the BCCI conducts itself as an institution given that it has a monopoly (albeit not a statutory monopoly) over the administration of cricket in India. It is not currently concerned with how cricket is regulated in India. The Lodha committee had to stay true to the task assigned to it and has done so by recommending changes to the constitution and operational rules of the BCCI. But the central problem arises not from the institutional preoccupations of the BCCI, but from the fact that cricket in India is now a lucrative business. How should this business be regulated? This is a question for parliament. Failing this, it is a question for the BCCI. Is the BCCI a regulator or a proprietor? Unless this basic question is resolved, one way or another, other narrower conflicts of interests involving officials and committees will continue to arise and future legal battles are inevitable.