Justice Lodha’s report: Cricket is the ultimate winner

By GovernanceToday
In Issue 5
February 8, 2016
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All good, no bad, nothing ugly

spotfixingThe last few years have been a great time for sports in the country. Many games have got the needed boost and many promising sportspersons seem to be getting their dues – in terms of both support and recognition. And at the beginning of this year, while my team and I were busy scaling up our grassroots football initiative, a most interesting development happened to the country’s biggest sport. Justice RM Lodha had filed his long-awaited report suggesting reforms for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Being a sports enthusiast and a lover of the game that has played a significant role in putting India on the sporting nations’ map, I read the report thoroughly and tried to make sense of each recommendation. Firstly, I appreciate the way Justice Lodha and his team of eminent legal minds have understood Indian cricket to the core and for coming out with an expansive list of sweeping changes regarding how cricket should be run in the country. Seeing the great deal of thought that has gone into the report, one just cannot undermine the gravity of what is in it. Reading through the opinions coming forth, I am actually enjoying the enthusiasm and reactions (appreciation and criticism in equal measure) that the report has created amongst cricket’s stakeholders. At the end of it all, cricket, I believe, will be the ultimate winner – and the fans, viewers, and spectators of cricket the ultimate beneficiaries.

Considering that Justice Lodha wrote a nearly 75,000 words report, just an article will not be enough to discuss each aspect of the same, and do justice to the hard work that has gone in. I will focus on what I believe is the main thrust of it and which for sure will be welcomed by those who want cricket to continue to grow in the country.

Before proceeding, though, I have to point out that the Lodha Commission would not have been needed if the BCCI had itself addressed several fundamental issues of authority and governance. If you have been following cricket, you would agree that almost all cricket stakeholders have been subtly pleading in their own way to streamline the governance issues at the BCCI and to keep a tab on practices that were holding back the ‘inclusive’ growth of cricket.

The judiciary has been watching it for quite some time and I believe the tipping point came when major corruption charges were levelled against several powerful people (I may avoid names as they have been all over in the media) and the committee appointed by the BCCI gave them clean chits after a dodgy investigation. The outrage that followed made it easier for the judiciary to intervene in the working of the BCCI, and then came this report.

It is not that the report is actually saying that everything is wrong about the BCCI; it has, in fact, acknowledged all the right things that the body does. It appreciates the support to smaller centres that received funds to build stadiums; the IPL provided opportunities to many; A-level tours were revived; there was a clampdown on bad actions; and domestic cricket including grassroots development was better than ever before. Interestingly, the report also acknowledges that retired cricketers are now being taken care of.

However, the need to dominate, the nasty power play, and the dissent and disagreements over commercial dealings of large stakes went beyond control and demanded intervention. Therefore, it is the functioning of the BCCI and its state associations that is one of the issues at the heart of the Lodha report. Seen thus, the threat from the report is not to cricket or to the BCCI but to individual ambitions.

One of the most sweeping recommendations of the Lodha report is restricting advertisement breaks during broadcast of tests and ODIs in India to the drinks, lunch and tea intervals. This is one element that will perhaps resonate most with cricket fans. This effectively will mean no ad breaks at the end of overs and fans will able to watch the real activity between change of overs—when was the last time you realised that bowling happens from both ends of the pitch?

The Lodha report is fairly firm and has recommended that “all existing contracts for international test and one-day matches be revised and new ones ensure that only breaks taken by both teams for drinks, lunch and tea will permit the broadcast to be interrupted with advertisements, as is the practice internationally. Also, the entire space of the screen during the broadcast will be dedicated to the display of the game, save for a small sponsor logo or sign.”

Interestingly, the report has underlined how commercialisation has overtaken the enjoyment of cricket – for example, regardless of the fact that a wicket has fallen, a century has been hit, or some other momentous event has taken place, 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’.

Almost all the recommendations in the report seem to have originated from the commission’s belief that viewers of the game should not miss out on the enjoyment and their passion for the game should not be used as a source of income generation for broadcasters. The report says that fans’ viewing experience should not be interrupted in international games. To offset the commercial impact of this recommendation, the committee has exempted the IPL, from which the BCCI makes the bulk of its revenues, hoping that the recommendation does not leave a large financial dent on the BCCI.

Points to watch

Cricket is quite used to controversies. It happened when one-days were introduced. It happened when Duckworth-Lewis was adopted, and it happened when T20 started. However, in the long run, all of these have been learnings that have helped cricket to evolve and become better.

So, with these recommendations, controversy has started again. Some broadcasters have started to cry foul as they think advertisements will not get much eyeballs during the lunch or tea intervals as viewers tune out. The larger problem to be addressed here is the ripple effect that the financial implications may have. For example, we have a substantial cricket infrastructure in the country because the BCCI has been able to fund all that easily. However, if the earning capacities of the BBCI are compromised, their capacity to invest in cricket at the grassroots may come down. Hence, I am hoping that the recommendations are accepted considering both aspects – the interest of the viewers as well as the development of the game at the grassroots.

Also, it is understood that the report has not been submitted to BCCI, but is an official document that has been tabled in front of the Supreme Court, which had appointed this committee.

Whether the BCCI wants to accept or not accept its recommendations is a matter that can only be debated in the Supreme Court. The last I heard was that BCCI had said that their legal committee would study the report and suggest its set of recommendations to the BCCI. Only after that would the board members – all associations and stakeholders – be able to take a call. Until then, let us all enjoy the ongoing developments – wait and watch for cricket to take yet another leap.

The Justice RM Lodha panel on IPL spot fixing has made several path breaking recommendations for cleaning up Indian cricket. Major among these are as follows:

  •  BCCI be brought under RTI Act
  • Betting be legalized
  • One person one post recommended. Also no proxy voting of individuals
  • No BCCI office-bearer can have more than two consecutive terms. No BCCI office-bearer can be Minister or government servant
  • In no case President will hold post for more than 2 years
  • A steering committee recommended to be headed by former Home Secy G K Pillai with Mohinder Amarnath, Diana Eduljee and Anil Kumble
  • Panel recommends separate governing bodies for the IPL and BCCI
  • The committee recommended relegation of Railways, Services and Universities as Associate members. They also lose voting rights

Siddhartha Upadhyay | The writer is the Founder and Secretary General, STAIRS. STAIRS is a New Delhi based NGO which promotes sports among children of economically weaker sections of society and provides training in various sports to such children.