July 25, 2020
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Board Game Battles

BCCI officials fight tooth and nail against transparency, this time over IPL rights auction

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Board Game Battles
Less To Cheer
The centre of many scandals, the IPL must be transparent
Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari
Board Game Battles

A new cold war between the mandarins of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has set in. The warring parties inv­o­l­ved are the Board’s office-­bea­rers and the professionals working for it. The control of the world’s wealthiest cricket body is, of course, at the crux of it. The office-bearers, alr­eady facing uncertainty in cricket adm­inistration due to the actions of the Supreme Court and the Lodha Comm­ittee’s recommendations, are feeling jittery about the prospect of losing their clout to the qualified professionals hired by the Board.

The friction in their relationship has been simmering for some time. The BCCI officials, who could be disqualified from contesting the next elections to their posts if the SC upholds the Lodha panel-­recommended new constitution, are worried that these professionals might soon become more powerful and start dictating terms to those who are elected.

The first written evidence of this escalating showdown has come in the form of a report by the IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla-headed special committee that was constituted recently to identify how many of the Supreme Court-approved reforms could not be implemented in the BCCI. The report, accessed by Outlook, says that in its first meeting, BCCI treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry listed six points of objection. One of them was the “balance of jurisdiction between office-bearers and professional personnel”. In its second meeting, the committee tweaked the point to be more specific: “Functions, powers, duties and obligations set out for the office-bearers and professional personnel to be reviewed”. The revision magnifies their discomfiture with the presence of the professional employees.

Interestingly, this aversion to ‘professional personnel’ came to the fore after consultancy firm Deloitte submitted two voluminous handbooks to the BCCI, as part of its ‘Project Trans­for­mation—Phase I and II’, to convert the Board’s age-old ad hoc functioning into a professional outfit. More significantly, the commissioned reports, titled ‘Core Principles & Policies for Adminis­tration’ and the ‘Operating Process Manual’, recommend giving unprecedented power to the Board’s ‘professional’ employees, particularly the CEO.

The BCCI, often perceived a cosy private club that claims to be a national sports federation, has historically been averse to professionals. In 2005, then BCCI president Sharad Pawar commissioned Tata Consultancy Services to give a report on how to professionalise the body’s working and paid it around Rs 60 lakh for the job. The net gain: zilch. The report was dumped. It had recommended, among other things, app­ointing a CEO. Eventually, the first-ever CEO in BCCI’s 87-year existence was appointed in April 2016, after the heat generated by the Lodha recommendations became too hot to handle.

The real issue is that BCCI office-bearers are feeling insecure due to the presence of professional employees.

Recently, another evide­nce of the current BCCI officials’ opposition to the ideas of these professionals came when they chucked their strong, written recommendation to e-auction the five-year media rights and title rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Outlook has a copy of the detailed note submitted to the off­ice-bearers bef­ore the tenders were floated for the 2018-22 period. Instead, Board officials opted for physical/manual tender proc­ess, allegedly supported by the Supreme Court-appointed Comm­ittee of Admini­strators. It is estimated that the media rights could fetch BCCI over Rs 25,000 crore in the five-year per­iod. However, the Board’s office-bearers feel an e-auction would yield around Rs 500 crore less. The logic behind this reasoning? No one knows.

Soon after the BCCI advertised the tender, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy on July 11 filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, seeking directions for the BCCI to e-auction the media rights to bring in transparency. A bench comprising Chief Justice of India-designate Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar asked the BCCI to file its reply in two weeks and fixed the hearing for August 22. As per the BCCI timeline, bids have to be submitted on August 28, when the winner is expected to be announced. The BCCI had in October last year called off the media rights tender at the last mom­ent over a Lodha Committee stipulation, and rescheduled it; now, there is a serious, lurking danger of this process being delayed further due to the court case.

The real issue, however, is the insecurity BCCI office-bearers feel from the presence of professional employees. The much-vaunted reforms of BCCI have been inordinately delayed and if the IPL rights issue snowballs into a major controversy, there could be another setback. Incidentally, at the BCCI’s special general meeting, at which the Rajeev Shukla Committee report was tabled on July 26, all its professionals, including those representing the hired legal firm Ceril Amarchand Mangaldas, were asked to leave the room. Officially, BCCI said that they were ousted because of a Sup­reme Court order that said that only ‘elected office-bearers’ could attend. The truth could be different.

The Board professionals’ confidential note on ‘BCCI-IPL Commercial Rights’ points to “a lot of issues” that cropped up while awarding the IPL media rights in 2008—and the resultant litigation that is still going on in the Supreme Court—and refers to “murmurs about back channel conversations happening with potential bidders” when the Team India sponsorship rights were allotted. It reminds all that even the Lodha Committee report has termed as “wanting” the methods the BCCI had adopted in the past. “We now have a great opportunity to adopt the most fair and transparent processes using technology. A non-discriminatory method will need to be adopted for distribution of these media rights in the larger national/public interest. With the BCCI administrative managers involved in various discussions at the Asian (Asian Cricket Council) as well as at global level (Int­ernational Cricket Council), with a limited set of broadcasters, any remote chance of a quid pro quo should be eliminated procedurally,” it strongly recommends.

The note also suggested in detail the bidding process to be adopted. Bidders would first submit eligibility documents, followed by granting of unique passwords to eligible parties for bidding online.

It was also recommended to appoint a professional firm to manage the e-auct­ion. But BCCI office-bearers rejected that too, saying Deloitte and law firm Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, which it has hired, are capable enough to handle the physical auction. The confidential note further suggested that the bids be invited in four categories—Indian subco­n­­­tinent TV rights; Indian subcontinent digital rights; ‘rest of the world’ media rights (five territory sets) and any combination of rights from the above mentioned seven rights (global) for e-auc­­tion. But the BCCI rejected the fou­­­­rth package and advertised only the first three.

A source who knows how BCCI works said that the Board would have surely gained through e-auction. “Both traditional secret bidding and e-auction or e-tender have advantages and disadvantages. But the world is not crazy to adopt e-tendering systems. There would be no loss resulting out of e-auction if it’s properly conducted by a specialist professional firm. International businesses use e-auction for tendering processes worth millions of dollars, then why the sale of IPL media rights has to be different?” he asks. “These are vested interests, particularly of some individuals, in retaining the traditional bidding process and then they try to justify that under e-auction a loss can happen. BCCI office-bearers are supreme and they don’t want professionals’ independent advice,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the 11th edition of IPL next year will see the return of the once-disciplined Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals franchises. If the professionals working with the BCCI have their say, one can look forward to a glitch-free conduct of the IPL 2018 onw­ards. Before that, everyone will keep guessing, at least till August 22, whether the Supreme Court will direct the BCCI to conduct an e-auction or not. It is, after all, a fight between a new transparency and age-old opacity.

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