We may have been wrong all along. Perhaps it is evil that is at the root of all money. The report of the Justice Mudgal commission deals not in philosophy but in the practice of sport. It should have lit a fire under the smug behinds of the BCCI. Yet the governing body didn’t think the Indian Premier League or indeed cricket in India was in any crisis.
Vice-president Rajeev Shukla (and former IPL chairman) said airily, “The good thing that the Supreme Court has done is that the IPL auction was not stopped.” I am not sure he didn’t add a “Phew!” to that. Forget the lies, the betting, bringing the game into disrepute. Forget the fact that the most successful team in the IPL might be thrown out. At least the auction was untouched. How obscene!
It was as if Kafka and Orwell had got together to write a script where a giant insect spouts Newspeak.
The Indian cricket captain lied to the commission. So did the president of the BCCI. That alone is enough to (metaphorically) hang two of the most powerful men in world cricket today. But this is not about Mahendra Singh Dhoni or N. Srinivasan. It is about the pusillanimity of the cricketing fraternity, and the lack of real men in the BCCI who care enough about the game to cleanse it. There seems to be too much at stake—money, power, influence—for rules to be taken seriously.
Dhoni and Srinivasan maintained that Gurunath Meiyappan was merely “an enthusiastic (sic)”, a fiction that was created to save Chennai Super Kings from being scratched when his off-field activities first came to light. The commission’s report has given the lie to that claim. If the IPL follows its own rules, then CSK must be scratched. The much-quoted Rule 11.3 says simply that if any official, team owner or anyone associated with the team tarnishes the image of the league, the franchise can be terminated immediately. Other teams have been kicked out for less. Sometimes you save a son-in-law at the cost of losing a successful cricket team.
Betting is illegal in India; betting on a team you are associated with is immoral too, and strikes at the very essence of a sporting contest. And if you have used insider knowledge for personal gain, you should be condemned to spending eternity batting against Malcolm Marshall and Shoaib Akhtar without a helmet.
The report points to the sense of entitlement among those involved with the IPL. “I did not know betting was illegal in India,” is a juvenile comment from another whose conduct begs to be investigated more deeply. The Rajasthan Royals’ Raj Kundra and his wife may have also bet on matches. The details do not matter. The act of betting alone renders a person unfit to own a team or be an official. The criminal cases may take time, and those named will only be too happy to delay proceedings, but the Mudgal commission has told us where to look and what to look for, and that is its strength.
Where the commission has not been able to directly prove charges, it has recommended that these need further investigation. There is a suggestion that some of our state policemen have been less than enthusiastic in gathering evidence or following through on clues. Then there is the matter of coordination, or lack of it. The Delhi police thinks Dawood Ibrahim is the kingpin behind the betting and fixing, the Mumbai police does not. The commission’s recommendation is unambiguous: “The Delhi police and Mumbai police are working at cross purposes in so far as the link to Dawood Ibrahim is concerned. In such a grave matter of national security pertaining to involvement of a terrorist gang in running illegal hawala operations in the lucrative betting market in cricket, the two top police organisations, one of the political capital and other of the financial capital of India, cannot be permitted to work at cross purposes. It is not surprising that all the accused persons in both the cases are presently out on bail and possibly back in business for the coming IPL season.”
Whose is the most startling statement in the commission’s report? That honour belongs to Sundar Raman, the IPL CEO. “Ownership structures of teams are in general ambiguous,” he confessed; look no further for the fount of corruption. Corruption follows money follows corruption in a vicious circle.
And we haven’t even got to the spot-fixing yet.
The three-man commission appointed by the Supreme Court has merely confirmed what some of us have been banging on about all along. I apologise for quoting myself, but here is what I said in the Wisden India Almanack while suggesting an IPL holiday, a suspension of the tournament for a year or two while the Augean stables are cleansed: “Conflict of interest and lack of context were built into the system. Due diligence was ignored in the matter of television contracts, auctions, and team responsibilities. Rules were made on the fly. It is time to have clear ownership patterns, proper information regarding those in charge of teams and the background of the companies involved in the IPL.”
The future of Indian cricket is, in some ways, in the hands of the Supreme Court. On March 7, it will respond to the Mudgal commission’s recommendations which include independence for investigating agencies, a stand-alone body for the IPL, and dos and don’ts for players and their agents. The BCCI’s initial reaction was to dismiss the report for being “based on assumptions”.
The cricketing fraternity has been saying for a long while that “something needs to be done”, and now that the highest court in the land has entered the picture, there is suddenly hope. The biggest service Justice Mudgal and his colleagues have rendered is to simply reinforce the need for a thorough investigation, to endorse the conviction that something needs to be done. This could be a turning point for the sport in India.
(The author is editor, Wisden India Almanack)