Rise of Money Power and Decline of Gentleman’s Game


BCCI-Money-powerTOO much water has flowed down the Yamuna between the night in April 2008, the first night in Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket, and the news of spot-fixing and betting scandal that surfaced in 2013 with Delhi Police arresting three Rajasthan Royals players—S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan— during a midnight raid in Mumbai.

Much has happened since then. The all-powerful N. Srinivasan got himself reelected as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), though for a brief period, until the Supreme Court intervened. But he had, in the meanwhile, managed to become chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) with his push-pull strategy

In fact, Srinivasan was even hoping against hope to seek reelection as BCCI chief but the apex court verdict changed it all, barring him from doing so due to conflict of interest. Indeed, it is a big blow for the Tamil Nadu businessman, who also owns the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the IPL. But the mastermind of the reforms to the ICC, who is known for his fighting qualities in business as well as cricket, may not give up that easily.

his business life, had made his name by orchestrating hostile takeovers of rival companies in the cement game. And cricket was simply another game for the person who, as the undisputed king of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association for the last 14 years, had been in the BCCI saddle since 2011. He is already contemplating to sell his CSK stakes in order to contest the board elections. He may win or lose, but it will in no way affect the BCCI fortunes or its growing financial clout—BCCI earns around 70 per cent of the ICC revenue—and the sport’s mandarins in India know fully well that without its contribution, world cricket might fade.

Take, for example, the cash-rich IPL with cricketers from all Test-playing nations—sans Pakistan—involved with it. A brainchild of the now-in-exile Lalit Modi, the league flourished even triggering franchisees versus countries debate. Players skipped their country assignments and preferred to commit themselves more to the franchisees because of money. Young cricketers, just in their teens or barely out of it, learnt to hit sixes and pay dirt before getting their stance or techniques right. As a result, the ODIs are pushed into the background with Test cricket, thought not thrown out of the window completely, is left to its ‘devotees’ to relish and follow. At the end of the day, it all boils down to money.

Thanks to its revenue generating abilities in recent years, playing India is always considered a payday for all member-nations as it helps them sustain their local competitions. The BCCI, too, used this monetary stick-and-carrot policy with a loud and clear message to the individual boards: Toe our line or face withdrawal of ODIs and T20 World Cups. The approach seems to have yielded desired results.

After all, the BCCI has gotten itself in a position where it feels it does not need the support of  any of the smaller boards. It has broken away from the traditional sub-continental bond with Sri Lanka and Pakistan that had helped the Indian board gain the ascendancy it enjoys today. Yet the BCCI is clever to have both Cricket Australia (CA) and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the two important players, on its side. It helped stifle the few dissenting voices, including from South Africa.

S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were involved in the spot fixing in Indian Premier League

Calling the shots all the way, the ICC introduced reforms with the tacit support of CA and ECB. The reforms had its first victim in the FTP (Future Tours Programmes) that gave smaller Test-playing countries a decent agenda. It got scratched and left the ‘Big Three’ teams with untrammeled powers under which they can play a never-ending Australia-England- India triangular Test series with impunity. The immunity the three enjoy virtually allows complete control over everything, from protecting the income, markets and ICC’s media rights buyers to conducting all ICC tournaments in the ‘Big Three’ nations.

Understandably, the ICC passed the resolutions giving the BCCI, CA and the ECB a greater proportion of the bounty. Accordingly, the full members have gained greater financial recognition on the contribution they have made to the game, particularly in terms of finance. But the real motivation for the ‘Big Three’ from the new funding distribution model is, as cricket revenues grow, they progressively can claim higher share of the money.

Obviously, the growing money power in Indian cricket is recognized by one and all, particularly with BCCI overlooking the shoulders of most cricket playing nations. From its point of view, the theory of “land belonging to the tiller” may sound logical, but smacks of autocracy and arrogance. But it is detrimental to the sport in more ways than one. I also fear the time is not far when BCCI will be taking decisions at its whims and fancies with no one to question it.

Time was when cricket in India was owned and run by the princely states. No doubt, India has come a long way from when playing a side game for an MCC
team was considered the greatest honour for an Indian prince. The success story of India and its cricket should be admired even by their rivals. But, intoxicated with power, BCCI is taking on the world without realizing the repercussions.

But it must remember that power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best. When you mix power with money, it makes a heady
cocktail. That is precisely what has happened in cricket, especially in IPL. But we have heard about match-fixing incidents even before, as early as in the 1990s. Sharjah, the off-shore cricketing venue in the UAE, became infamous when India cricketer Manoj Prabhakar first spilled the beans by saying that he was offered money to underperform in matches.

The BCCI appointed Justice Y.V. Chandrachud to inquire into the issue but nothing came of the probe except a few suggestions that he had made in his report. However, when the then sports minister, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, entrusted the job to the CBI in 2000, its inquiry found substance in those allegations and indicted former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, who confessed to have accepted money from bookies to throw matches, along with a couple of other cricketers.  Interestingly, Azharuddin had categorically denied match-fixing in cricket when he deposed before Justice Chandrachud.

But the game’s biggest fixing scandal was exposed in 2000 when South Africa captain Hansie Cronje admitted he had accepted money to throw matches. Soon players from other countries, including Pakistan’s Salim Malik, were implicated. Since then there have been sporadic allegations of fixing, including the latest phenomenon of spot-fixing. Again in 2010, the scandal surfaced when three leading Pakistan players were questioned by the Scotland Yard and the ICC suspended them over spot-fixing.

N Srinivasan, former BCCI President was also named in the IPL 2013 spot fixing saga

The privately-funded Indian Cricket League (ICL), launched in 2007, was allegedly the potential breeding ground and responsible for the current ills in IPL. Though ICL met its own death soon after the commencement of IPL in 2008, the spot-fixing had continued with time in spite of the ICC’s anti-corruption unit keeping a strict vigil.

But for the Delhi Police, which unearthed scandals first in 2013 and then the Mumbai Police that exposed the betting links after they arrested Srinivasan’s sonin- law Gurunath Meiyappan and Bollywood actor Vindu Dara Singh, spot-fixings would have continued unabated.

Finding merit and substance in the Justice Mukul Mudgal panel’s report, Justices TS Thakur and FMI Kalifullah, pronounced their verdict last week. In their judgment, the bench told Srinivasan that he cannot contest the next round of board’s elections besides scrapping the controversial constitutional amendment that allowed the BCCI official to have commercial interests in the IPL and the Champions League T20.

By the same stroke, the bench also found both Meiyappan and Rajasthan Royals’ co-owner Raj Kundra guilty of betting and manipulating matches. While appointing an independent three-man committee, led by former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, the bench empowered it to look into the aspects of the
BCCI constitution which were deemed as “problematic” along with deciding on the punishment to Gurunath, Kundra, Royals and Super Kings. The committee has been given six months to conclude its proceedings.

The influx of money generated by IPL and the unbridled expansion of cricket in the country seem to have brought with it problems that often accompany bonuses. Unfortunately, the BCCI in its business enterprise has pursued a one-point agenda of accumulating wealth—and wealth alone— forgetting the fact that the sport is not a means to gain profit for the  game’s administrators. The leaders of the sport, while seeking more money and power, will do well to remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “If means are vitiated, the ends are bound to be vitiated.” The Mahatma had said these words in a different context and for a different reason. But they are apt even in BCCI’s case.

The writer is a veteran sports journalist