The end game

The funniest story I read during my two-day immersive meeting in Delhi was the one where Lalit Modi scolded BCCI honchos about ‘conflict of interest’, ‘transparency’ et al.

Not for the first time, I find myself thinking Modi will make a lousy chess player: his moves are way too transparent. For reasons too apparent to merit repeated iteration, he outed the Sunanda Pushkar stake in the Kochi franchise. And when he found that he had unwittingly gone way out on a limb, attempted to paper it over with the self-serving suggestion that details of all other franchises be outed as well [even as, do note, he repeatedly insisted that all those details were already in the public domain]. Shashank Manohar’s response reminding him of the confidentiality clause was then twisted around to create the appearance that it was the BCCI boss who was responsible for all the secrecy in the first place.

Duh, dude: the problem was that you breached the confidentiality clause in the first place [a clause you insisted on incorporating into the official paperwork, because you didn’t need details of your involvement with various franchises being made public]. The solution to that is not breaching the same clause in nine other instances, no?

If that attempt to come up smelling of roses was amusing, this story I read in the ToI is among the saddest in recent times: Archers from interior Gujarat were reduced to taking loans at exorbitant interest rates, or even selling off property, to be able to participate in the national competition.

The national archery association has for 31 years and counting been headed by BJP leader VK Malhotra [who is also senior vice president of the Indian Olympic Association and an executive board member of the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee]. The only substantive comment Malhotra has made in recent times was the suggestion that Amitabh Bachchan should be made brand ambassador of the Games.

Between a private league in which politicians, businessmen, movie stars and an ensemble cast of shady characters are inextricably enmeshed, and national sports federations run as private monopolies by two-bit politicians lies space for bitter comment on the state of sport in this country.

Consider this: in the 2009-2010 budget, the government allocated Rs 3073 crore for the sports ministry, in addition to Rs 3472 crore specifically for the Commonwealth Games. A year later, in the latest budget, the sports ministry was allocated Rs 3,565 crore. The CWG got a further Rs 2069 crore, in addition to Rs 378 crore for “preparing teams”. The Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Authority of India got a further Rs 1175 crore.

To further underline how public money is doled out with casual generosity, the finance minister last year “took note of” the problem of drugs in sport, and allocated Rs 16.75 crore for anti-doping activities including the setting up of a National Dope Test Lab, a National Anti-Doping Agency, and for funding India’s participation in the activities of the World Anti-Doping Agency. This year, the finance minister “took serious note” of the same problem, and allocated a further Rs 11.50 crore for the NDTL, Rs 3 crore for the NADA, and Rs 50 lakh for WADA activities.

Since we are in public catharsis mode just now, will the Opposition “disrupt proceedings” demanding to know where all this money is going? Will the government, which has just fielded two of its most senior members to “head” the “probe” into the IPL, bother to “launch an inquiry”?

We know the answer to that one [hopefully, a more appropriate answer will emerge as this PIL moves through the courts]. Moving back to the cricket, do you get the feeling we are increasingly drowning in insignificant detail — much of it fed to the media by investigative agencies that have been given the finance ministry’s nod to keep leaking stuff?

It is time, as Sambit Bal said in this typically well-argued piece, to step back and look at the big picture. It is not about getting worked up over Rajasthan Royals ‘murky origins’ or the KKR smoke and mirrors show that has Shah Rukh and Jai Mehta fronting it, while in reality owning very little of the actual stake, or why Praful Patel sent Shashi Tharoor an email the contents of which he was ‘unaware of’, or what authority Poorna Patel has to divert Air India aircraft to her own use, how come Supriya Sule went from ‘nobody in my family has any financial stake in IPL’ to ‘my husband inherited a financial stake’…

Typically, when something like this breaks, we tend to get excited about each fresh revelation. Sambit’s eminently valid argument is that the starting point is to recognize that Lalit Modi was merely the facilitator, the deus ex machina of widespread, systematic corruption. And that therefore, the solution does not begin and end with Lalit Modi’s ouster [which will happen, despite the commissioner’s best efforts to delay the inevitable through frivolous court cases — I mean, if the convenor of the IPL cannot convene a meeting, what can he do?].

The problem runs much deeper, and therefore the solution needs to be more far-reaching, too. Equally, the question that needs answering is, who will find that solution, and implement it?

The governing council? Here’s Sambit:

In the best case, the IPL has been a cosy club. In the worst, it is collusion of self-interest. Srinivasan owns a franchise; Gavaskar and Shastri also have commentary contracts with BCCI and the IPL, apart from being influential columnists in newspapers; the chairman of the national selection committee is a brand ambassador for a franchise. And this is merely what is publicly known. Whispers abound about proxy ownerships, offshore deals, relatives and friends. Even more than will, does the governing council have the credibility?

Mansur Ali Khan’s epiphany is welcome — but it comes way too late.

The entire controversy has raised questions over the lack of monitoring by the BCCI and the IPL’s governing council, which also includes Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. It’s a point Pataudi conceded too. “The IPL governing council should have been aware, they felt things were okay,” he said on NDTV. “It has been a failure … we should have been aware of what was happening. The fact that we didn’t question anything is because we were carried away with how well everything was going.”

Asked why he did not act, Pataudi said: “I saw the crowds, the IPL was very popular … the dirt that has been attached to it is sad… but as long as the product was good, I was happy. But we should have been more aware and more understanding. So if you say this governing council should be sacked, I’d say it’s a valid question.”

It was not, as Pataudi suggests, a question of merely being blinded by the aura of success — various members of the governing council had their hands in the cookie jar, in one form or the other, including the likes of Ravi Shastri and Sunny Gavaskar who were brought in to lend an air of cricketing legitimacy to what was conceived as a money-minting/laundering exercise. The council didn’t question not because it was carried away, but because the individual roles of its component parts were less than legit.

[‘Devotional diarrhoea, Sharda Ugra calls the glorification of all things Lalit Modi and the IPL, and the fount of that diarrhoea are the two former cricketers. It has reached such heights that during the first semi-final, when at one point the cameras focussed on Modi cozying up to Mukesh Ambani, Sunny Gavaskar who was then in the box was torn between the knee-jerk need to laud, and the equally pressing need not to be seen as gushing too much about someone in the crosshairs of a government probe. So, with blinding insight, he went: “That is Lalit Modi.” What, without your caption we would have assumed it was Mahatma Gandhi?].

Hence Harsha’s point, that the clean up needs to be outsourced.

I would think an independent regulatory body made up of people of integrity, who understand the law, the game and the sensitivity of the people is mandatory. Luckily we have many of those in our public life. Deepak Parekh, who was part of the Satyam rescue operation, Soli Sorabjee, Fali Nariman, Narayana Murthy, Ratan Tata, if he could spare the time, and even Anil Kumble. These people would have access to everything in the BCCI and the IPL, would suggest procedures to be followed for all financial activity, and have the power to demand compliance.

Thereafter they, or a smaller version of this advisory entity, could remain in the form of an ombudsman (my dictionary definition: “a non-governmental complaint investigator; somebody, especially a man, responsible for investigating and resolving complaints from consumers or other members of the public against a company, institution, or other organisation”). We could dispense with the “especially a man” part of the definition, but not the essence of what it states; that the public that makes a sport profitable should have the right to ask relevant questions and get answers. It might be painful but great brands take the trouble to be clean.

But the starting point has to be a thorough clean-up of the IPL’s franchises and their respective holding patterns. The IPL has the potential to be legitimately listed among the biggest leagues in professional sport — but to aspire to that stature, it first needs to be clean, and to be seen to be clean.

If the ongoing probe accomplishes that objective, all the heartburn will be worth it. If, however, this ‘probe’ remains a political exercise designed to pay Lalit Modi back for bringing down a member of the government, shut the BJP up and put the NCP on a very tight leash — which is certainly how it is shaping at this moment in time — then we will, instead of a clean-up, have merely papered over the fault lines, and postponed the inevitable, devastating, quake.

PS: Most amused to see the comment count on my previous post, which merely mentioned that I was going to Delhi. At first glance, I was going, wow, 61 of you had something to say about a 2-day trip? 🙂