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? 🙂


88 thoughts on “The end game

  1. The IPL sparked debate when it began commercializing the brand value of individual players across the globe so that their value multiplied many times over through auctions.the IPL became a glam celebration of sports and entertainment with even stars from Bollywood donning their thinking plus cricketing caps to buy teams. Who would have believed that this phenomenon called the IPL would shake the Congress Party’s political credibility to the extent that one of its most famous Ministers had to exit? The chargesheet against Modi is the latest scandal to hit the IPL.

  2. I think the basic idea of a cricket league, like the football one was a good one. But given the Indian Polity and psyche, it was bound to go awry!!

  3. Sai: you are wrong. BCCI has no charter or mandate from the govt. Bcci has a tie-up with ICC and currently ICC is the dominant cricket league, hence we see bcci team in action all the time. There is nothing to stop another body coming up similar to ICC, forming affiliates in all the countries and starting their own league. Then that parallel league can also have their own world cups, their own India-Pak series, etc. Nothing in law to stop it from happening. in fact, ICL did have some India-Pak matches iirc. That they failed is another matter. That had to do with business reasons (lack of proper resources) and not because bcci has some govt mandate.

    • Mohan, what you dont understand is that the Government has given a monopoly status to BCCI in running Cricket in India. If it does not perform its duties correctly and does not subject itself to public scrutiny, Government can take away that monopoly status, and BCCI itself may cease to exist. In that sense, it is imperative that BCCI allow itself to public scrutiny for its continuance.

      • Except that the Govt has give no such monopoly status to BCCI. This is what Hegde says: “it should be borne in mind that the State/Union has not chosen the Board to perform these duties nor has
        it legally authorised the Board to carry out these functions under any law
        or agreement.”. “The Board does enjoy a monopoly status in the field of
        cricket but such status is not State conferred or State

        Actually, Hegde did go into the question of whether the duties performed by BCCI is public duty or state function. This is what he says: “In such circumstances when the actions of the Board are not
        actions as an authorised representative of the State, can it be said that the
        Board is discharging State functions? The answer should be no.”

        • Just because the Government has not officially given any recognition does not mean that the de facto monopoly enjoyed by bcci is not legal if it starts to evade all public scrutiny. Let me take that hypothetical case where bcci honchos select their own relatives as the team. Suppose this gets challenged in court. Do you think that Hegde is going to consider all these official recognitions and conclude that bcci was right in doing so? Please. Hegde is going to direct the government to scrap this entire bcci stuff and start its own cricketing body which is going to pull away all resources from bcci. In other words, bcci will cease to exist. So, it means that defacto BCCI is under public scrutiny, even if it is not recorded in paper. Thats the point you are missing. Not everything in the world is recorded on paper. When situation arises, it gets recorded.

          • You may be confident that the Supreme Court, the govt all consider cricket so important that they will all jump in if bcci indulges in such behaviour. On the other hand, it is also possible that the SC will ask the petitioner to go take a hike because BCCI being a private body can do what it pleases. The govt may take a hands-off approach with the knowledge that if bcci goofs up, another body will come up to produce cricket matches.

            In any case, till the kind of nationalization that you are suggesting happens, the fact remains that it is a private body performing private function (as per that SC verdict).

  4. Jazzy, SafHat: Note that Hegde said “it could be said to be akin to public function”. He didn’t say it is public function. He didn’t go deeper into the question of whether or not it is public question, because that was not relevant to the point he was making.

    What does it mean to say it is public function anyway? Is sending a bunch of players to tournaments organized by a private body (ICC) something the govt is expected to do? Where does it say so in the constitution? If the govt is expected to perform that function, then why on earth aren’t they doing it? “Oh this private club has been doing it, so we thought we don’t need to do it” doesn’t wash.

    As for the freebies received by bcci, note that they are not the only ones. Infosys has got more land allotted at below-market rates than all the stadia put together. The entire IT industry has been enjoying tax holiday for last 20 years. Compared to the tens of billions of dollars of tax exempted to these companies, tax exemtion given to bcci is peanuts. Do we say Infosys is performing public function too?

    I don’t think the argument that bcci is a public body (or performs public function) has anything to do with tax exemption, stadium lease, etc. Those are the reasons people dig up when told that it is a private club. But at a fundamental level, people don’t want to believe that it is a private club. They don’t want to accept the fact that their beloved cricketers are actually playing for a puny little club and not “representing the country” as most of us have believed from childhood. So, rather than changing that long-held belief to suit the facts, we try to twist the facts to suit our belief and come up with all these private body-public function nonsense.

    Someone asked, if stadium land is govt property, then why was ICL denied its use? Note that the various state govts have leased those lands to state cricket associations for a long period (usually 99 years). So govt may own that land but as of now they have no right over it because it has been leased. It is like if I have rented out a house, I can’t ask the tenant to accomodate some of my friends even though I own the house. As long as the lease is in force, I have no rights over that property.

    • “If the govt is expected to perform that function, then why on earth aren’t they doing it? “Oh this private club has been doing it, so we thought we don’t need to do it” doesn’t wash.

      => Oh yes, it does. That is what is called “De Facto”. It does wash even legally. Constitution does not spell out everything that is public. Cricket is not the only thing, there are plenty of things like that which existed before the constitution was written, and still continues “De Facto”.

  5. Prem — if BCCI does not own the stadia and only leases them, how can they have legally created hostile environments for the ICL to use the stadia. If the ICL sues them (I thought they did), how can the BCCI defend its actions?

    Also, for inferior or non-existent in-stadia facilities (like the toilets, seating and sunshades), shouldn’t the govt be blamed for it? We have always been at the BCCI’s throat saying that they could have diverted some funds towards development of these facilities.
    If I lease an apartment, shouldn’t the owner be responsible for all fixes and additions to it? Using the same analogy, why should the BCCI be responsible for providing these to the spectators (not that, their track record in this has been anything good)?

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  7. Prem, I have a feeling this is only to put NCP on the defense and kick BJP. But what is interesting is the new angle that has came up (sorry read it breaking news) in the media today about alleged phone tapping by the Government.
    The problem for Congress is it cannot pull the chord too tight till NCP breaks away which could result in government losing a confidence motion. It will be a very tight balancing act Manmohan, Pranab and Sonia have to do in the next couple of weeks.

  8. Unless the general public boycott the matches on the grounds and more importantly on TV, there might be nothing significant that will come out of this, apart from the oppty to settle personal scores.
    The only two times when the bcci acted a bit decisively was in the aftermath of the match fixing scandal and the 07 WC, both times when they sensed public anger.
    Prem- thanks for the insight and updates.

  9. How many times have we (Indians, and Indians-that-can’t-mentally-get-out-of-India-after-20-yrs-living-outside like me) gotten collectively excited about revelations of corruption and collusion at the highest levels. Not just IPL, or fodder scam or Bofors or Tehelka (do we even keep count?). The IPL money business is but a tip of the systemic corruption in the psyche of us Indians. Don’t you think? All that happens is for us middle class moral police to bitch about people like LKM on websites or talk shows. Every single day, India gives me more reasons to grieve than get excited about. Here in the US (and I’m not suggesting India should ape US policies… just copy some morals – we do everything else!), politicians and business don’t exactly cover themselves in moral glory all the time. But at least when something like this surfaces, their lives are destroyed. Ask Ken Lay (literally so), Bernie Ebbers or more appropriately Marc Dreier… How long before LKM comes back as a BCCI official (lets take bets… 6 mos, 2 yrs?)

  10. ‘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.”‘

    that, if repeated often enough, would be as tautological as that oft-repeated phrase*: “There is the MRF blimp”

    ‘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?’

    next time, consider going for a 1-day trip wonly 😉

    – s.b.

    * – i confess i might have paraphrased it

  11. Actually Muthiah field a case in the madras HC right after srinivasan won the bid for CSK franchise. at the time BCCI constit. forbade office bearers from such commercial activities.
    however, the BCCI subs. amended its constitution in srinivasan favour and so HC also ruled in his favour. having srikkanth as the brand ambassador of CSK as well as chairman of selectors is IMOH the worst of these COI. media raised these issues repeatedly, but LKM imperiously swept all under the carpet.

  12. That IPL is a private body and is therefore being undeservedly subject to public scrutiny is one of the silliest arguments I have heard in a long while. BCCI has a charter from the government which makes it the sole official representative of cricket in India. For example, no other private entity can form an organization tomm, select a cricket team and get it to play with other national cricket teams. Essentially, the government has given a monopoly status to BCCI which gives the public every right to scrutinize the dealings of the body and its affiliates.

    Think of it this way, why is it that the ICL, a genuinely private body, failed so pathetically while IPL has seen enormous success?

  13. What is laughable and makes this witch hunt more apparent is there is suggestion by IT that the matches are fixed. Though there could be lets say money in spot fixing and specific events that are easy to fix but fixing the result is so much more difiicult given the number of variables and players involved. Just my views. Great blog by the way.

  14. THough there is apparent conflict of interest in the case of Srinivasan. I think the whole thing was done above board and its not merely the existence of conflict of interest that really matters but to see whether he abused the position to favour advantage his team in either results or benefits. This conflict was apparent two years back and I didn’t see muttiah or anyone raise a hue and cry back then, unlike modi who has deliberately hidden his associatio nwith teams with or without malicious intent.
    Second the bcci is a private body like pointed out in various comments if they are using facilities at discount, exempt from taxes its a call the government takes not unlike giving sops for industry. I think instead of the whole thing coming under the scanner one should look specifically if sops were given for a consideration first rather than just damning all sops as evil.

  15. Hi Prem, i might be running the risk of focussing on the small matter again and not focussing on the big picture. But i beg a question.

    Pataudi, being a member of the governing council has now come out with a hue and cry about how IPL has been run till now. He himself has accepted that the governing council must be held responsible for overlloking these issues in the blinding success of IPL.

    But isnt it a bit out of place that Saif and Kareena were trying to get a team for themselves till a few days back and failed and suddenly now the Senior Pataudi is developing an opinion about all this..?

    • Awsum point Renjith…and what the hell was Pataudi doing all along? Everybody has a shady angle in this scandal…the tiny fishes like Pataudi, Gavaskar, Shastri to a relatively small fish like ST & SP, to a shark like Sharad Pawar. Way too much vested intersts & money at stake for a powerful elite of the country!


  16. Harsha makes a valid point on having an independent investigating body…let them figure out the mess rather than have the Congress use this as a tool to beat up it’s political adversaries. But in reality, public interest in this thing will die down within 10 days of the IPL finals……the culprits will go back to being bedfellows in their cozy club… until,the results of the investigation (selectively) are brought back once again into the public consciousness at an opportune moment before an election.

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