Cricket’s Tug Of War
- BCCI is resisting the Lodha panel’s rules. The outcome of its special meeting confirmed this.
- The panel repeatedly told off the Board, even taking action that led to freezing of its accounts
- A miffed SC is mulling appointing administrators to run BCCI till it is reformed completely
The wrangle between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Lodha committee is reminiscent of the suppressed animosity that characterised the Bodyline series. In the latest round, the BCCI is close to being made to pay a penalty for virtually taking on the Supreme Court over the issue of internal reforms. That possibility emerged this week after the BCCI stuck to its stand of defying the Lodha Committee recommendations while the court insisted that all of them be implemented in full.
As the case—it emanates from a PIL in the 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal—dragged on, the BCCI hardened its stand over suggestions by the Lodha panel, appointed by the SC to draw a blueprint for the overhaul of the world’s richest (at Rs 7,847 crore) cricket body. After the BCCI expressed its inability to implement a new constitution—drafted by the committee—in toto and other measures, the court discussed appointing one or more administrators to run the Board until it is reformed. This was debated on October 6 by a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur when the BCCI’s senior counsel refused to give a categorical undertaking, as sought by the apex court, that by October 7 all the Lodha Committee recommendations would be implemented in toto.
At this point, it’s anybody’s guess what the standoff will bring. It could include appointing administrators—possibly former Indian cricketers of repute or former judges—or giving one last opportunity to the BCCI to redeem itself. If its office-bearers are superseded by a court order, it would be the first such INStance in the Board’s 87-year history. These possibilities could be deduced from the mood of the three-member bench, headed by Thakur. Instead of merely replacing retired justice F.M.I. Kalifulla in the two-member bench that delivered the July 18 judgement, Thakur appointed Ajay Manikrao Khanwilkar and Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud.
The acrimony was evident from the October 6 hearing. “What do you want?” Thakur pointedly asked BCCI counsel Kapil Sibal and Arvind P. Datar. “Either we pass orders tomorrow or you give us a statement that you will abide unconditionally by the recommendations of the Lodha Committee.” The BCCI counsel didn’t commit themselves, thus opening up the possibility of a punitive order. Former India player Kirti Azad, an intervenor in the case, feels the BCCI is facing the inevitable. “The Board administrators’ arrogance has grown by leaps and bounds and has brought them to the ground,” says Azad. “The BCCI is behaving like a spoiled brat whose toy is taken away,” he fumes.
“Most state units are unsure how they’ll be able to host games in this season. They need to decide if they can do that, with or without money.”
Anurag Thakur, BCCI president
The Board’s argument is that it is not an entity on its own, and it only represents the state associations. It argues that it is up to those individual bodies to accept or reject the wide-ranging reforms. According to the existing BCCI constitution, an amendment needs three-fourth votes of the 31-member general body to be effective. At the BCCI special general meeting held to ‘consider’ the Lodha panel recommendations, officials rejected the new memorandum of association and some other recommendations. The main objection pertains to the ‘one state, one vote’ rule. The restriction on the tenure of office- bearers (for a maximum of nine years each with the BCCI and its affiliates) is a big grouse. The compulsory retirement age of 70 for office-bearers and bar on ministers and government servants also rankles many. And the BCCI doesn’t want to be within the purview of the RTI Act.
If the ‘maximum nine years’ tenure rule is applied, almost all present office-bearers of the BCCI/affiliates will be either gone forever or will need to take two cooling-off periods of three years each. The BCCI has been harping on this point, saying that there would be no experienced hands left to guide such a crucial administrative body. In recent weeks, the BCCI’s stand has not only hardened, but they have also taken decisions pertaining to 2016-17, something that the Lodha Committee had barred until its recommendations were complied with.
The real drama started on September 30—the first of the multiple deadlines the SC-appointed committee penned—when the BCCI convened its SGM to ‘consider’ the recommendations. Yet, quite suddenly, it was adjourned till the next day for want of ‘proper authorisation letters’ from the representatives of the state associations. That was not all. Apparently, even before the meeting, scheduled for 11 am, was adjourned, a notice for a ‘special’ working committee meeting was sent out at 8.58 am. Eyebrows were raised as this notice came straight from the BCCI president Anurag Thakur and not secretary Ajay Shirke. Most surprisingly, the Board decided to double the match fees of Team India’s cricketers and, more contentiously, to dole out Rs 25 crore each to all BCCI affiliates.
After the Lodha Committee got the wind of this move, it dashed off an e-mail to the BCCI, with copies to its banks, stating that the move was void, as the Board was yet to adopt a fund distribution policy as recommended by it. The panel also asked state associations not to use the money. The banks froze the BCCI accounts, perhaps on their own, for a couple of hours on October 4, enabling the Board to complain dramatically that the ongoing India-New Zealand Test series couldn’t proceed further for want of funds. This forced former chief justice R.M. Lodha to expressly deny giving any such instructions to banks. They were also asked to defreeze the accounts.
“We have directed the BCCI to not disburse funds to state bodies. Day-to-day affairs, routine expenditure, matches, games should go on.”
R.M. Lodha, Former chief justice of India
Meanwhile, the adjourned SGM took place on October 1, rejected the new constitution, but accepted the new apex council, albeit with ‘certain modifications’. It adopted some other recommendations, like that of including a representative of the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the apex council as well as the IPL governing council. The general body also decided to give voting rights to the BCCI’s associate members, not adhering to the Lodha Committee’s rules but to the ICC guidelines, which say that three associate/affiliate members are equivalent to one vote.
Cricket associations of the Northeast immediately rejected the BCCI decision—they want full membership—and said they would wait for a SC ruling. “So, we are not accepting that,” N. Bhattacharjee, secretary of the Meghalaya Cricket Association and a member of the BCCI’s New Area Development Committee, told Outlook. “After the Supreme Court hearing, we will decide our further course of action. So we will wait till then. And we know that the SC will not agree,” says Bhattacharjee, who is also the co-convenor of the Northeast Cricket Development Committee covering the Northeast states. Whichever way the Supreme Court rules now, the BCCI seems to be sharpening its own version of Douglas Jardine’s leg theory.