The wellspring of corruption

Writing in Cricinfo this morning, Harsha Bhogle makes a point that plugs straight into something a cricketer and a friend told me last night.

Why do I play this game?

If the answer is that you want to excel at the one thing that you are good at, that you want to find the limits of your ability, that you relish the challenge of a competition, that you get goose pimples putting on your country’s colours and walking out to the expectations of your countrymen, you will pursue those goals and take whatever reward you get. Invariably it will be handsome.

If the answer is that you want to earn a good living as quickly as you can, that you want to bask in the comforts of the material pleasures that your talent delivers to you, you will take whatever financial inducement comes your way. Inevitably it will be tainted, inevitably the dessert will be laced.

It is our choices that tell us who we are.

But these choices can be influenced; sometimes, and I hope never, young players can be coerced into walking down a specific path. And so it comes down to the air they breathe when their minds are still fragile. It could be the air of excellence that drives a young man to newer heights of achievement. Or it could be the putrid air of greed that could infect him and snuff a career out before it has had time to blossom.

The point is well taken — like any other seed, corruption needs fertile ground in which to spout, to flourish. [While on that, read Tariq Ali] And the saddest part of the ongoing corruption saga is that all conversation is about rooting out the individual plant, never about clearing up the soil itself.

That is the point my cricketer friend made last night, while we were discussing the recent developments. I was arguing for ‘zero tolerance’ in practice, not merely in words. I’ll paraphrase his reply, from my notes:

Great! “Zero tolerance” — sounds wonderful. So let’s look at how you’ve applied this principle in real life, in recent times. The ‘commissioner’ of the most cash-rich cricket tournament in the world has been accused of corruption to the tune of dozens, hundreds of millions. And — nothing. Yesterday he was holidaying in the Bahamas, today he is enjoying life in London, tomorrow he will fly in a private jet bought with money earned from the sweat of cricketers to some other playground of the super rich. The second in command of the BCCI has been publicly accused of deeds ranging from manipulating his own acquiring of a franchise, to fixing auctions, to fixing umpires to favor the interests of his side. And — nothing. He denies it, throws mud at his accuser, remains in his post. The then president of the BCCI has been accused of, even proven to have, undisclosed interests in various franchises; he has been accused of actively working to manipulate the results of franchise auctions. And? He is now the head of the ICC.

This, the cricketer said, is the atmosphere in which the game is played in India today; this is the example we set the young and the upcoming: that corruption comes with benefits, but it does not carry a price tag.

He has a point. In any corporate environment, if there is an accusation of corruption, the first official act is to suspend the concerned person from his post. That is not a proclamation of guilt, but merely a routine part of the investigative process. If I am accused of finagling the books and siphoning money off from the editorial budget, say, and you leave me at my post while my guilt is being probed, I can use that time to hide all traces of my malfeasance. That is why the company’s first act will be to suspend me pending investigation. [Read Kamran Abbasi on why the suspension of Butt, Asif and Amir is right, why that does not conflict with the presumption of innocence that is the right of every human being; this is also why the ridiculous posturing of the likes of Wajid Shamsul Hasan will do more harm than good.]

Yet, in recent times, every single top official in the administration has been accused of corruption to varying degrees — and every single one of them remains in his post [with the exception of the ‘commissioner/suspended’ — and that suspension was not so much the result of a genuine desire to probe the charges, as it was a manifestation of the internal power politics within the board].

This [my friend said] is the example you are setting for the young, impressionable players. They see a bunch of officials who have never sweated it out on the field of play, never put their skills on the line, making untold millions from the sport and getting away with it. And yet you think that they, themselves, will have the moral fibre to resist all opportunities to make a fast buck. That sounds realistic to you?

That is the “putrid air of greed” Harsha is talking about. It is the “putrid air” that Indian [and Pakistani] cricket has breathed from the early nineties on, through successive administrations, each of which has proved to be more corrupt than the last. So I agree with my friend — the real surprise is not that a few are corrupt, but that so many others are not.

There is another way of looking at this issue. Money, not talent, dictates whether we get admission to a school or college of our choice; money, not ability, dictates whether we get a job as a policeman, a jurist, a doctor, an engineer, whatever. So, if I have to bribe my way into a cop’s uniform, why is it surprising if I use that uniform to cloak my own corruption? Surely I didn’t spend all that money to get that post simply so I could uphold law and order? That bribe was an investment; now that I’ve gotten what I wanted, I need to make that investment pay dividends. [Society accepts, or at least does not actively question, this practice — what the hell, a judge, no less, who was accused of large scale corruption was ‘punished’ by being made chief justice of a state high court. This bloke is going to uphold the law?!]

From that point of view, consider this: corruption in cricket begins not at the international, but at the regional, level. It is no secret that state-level selectors take money to pick players for the representative side — so if I, as a player, make that investment, what do you suppose I’m going to do once I make the cut? [A tangential point — it is these same state selectors who in time become members of the national selection committee — which, as far as they are concerned, widens their window of opportunity].

I’m not merely theorizing, here, that corruption exists at that level and that corruption, defying the laws of physics, then trickles up: have we forgotten this already? Some of the most senior players of the national team accused the selection committee of their home state of widespread corruption. What was the outcome? A politician who is also head of the state selection committee flat out said there was no such thing. The long-time head of that state association, arguably the most mismanaged in Indian cricket, “assured” that the “complaints would be considered” [ironically, this gent, who has been in his post for aeons,  is one of three members of the disciplinary committee that will hear charges of corruption against Lalit Modi].

Accusations surface, noise is made, nothing further is ever done — and in time, we forget. Change venue, rinse, repeat, and there you have the story of India’s dysfunctional cricket administration. Seriously — what fools are we, that we expect honesty and integrity to flourish in this soil?

24 thoughts on “The wellspring of corruption

  1. Pingback: And the rest is silence « Smoke Signals

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  3. As many have noted, corruption is rampant in any aspect of life in India – not just cricket administration. Our corrupt systems are a reflection of us – a reflection of our individual & collective values. How do we clean our act up?

    1. Start by taking responsibility – lets accept that corruption is in our blood, in our culture. It’s not enough to just blame the system/government – the everyone-but-me attitude won’t do. Directly or indirectly, we have contributed to the rise of this culture of corruption and it’s every single Indian’s job to correct this

    2. Refuse to be part of any corrupt practice – Say to yourself – “No matter what others do, I refuse to participate in any corrupt practice.” If a traffic cop stops you and issues you a ticket for a valid reason – pay the damn ticket – refuse to bribe him. If a government official asks for bribe to get your work done, don’t indulge him. Use every legal means available to you – use RTI Act, group together with other ppl facing the same issue & protest it, sit on a dharna. It might cause discomfort/hassles, but don’t let it stop u.

    3. Strengthen and support NGOs/organizations/individuals who are fighting corruption. for eg. the Gandhian Anna Hazare who’s campaign forced Maharashtra to pass RTI act for Maharashtra. Provide whatever support you can – donate money, participate in their demonstrations, etc.

    Bottom line is – if you want a clean society, be part of the solution. If you’re “too busy” or “don’t have time” or “don’t want the hassle” of getting involved in this, then you deserve this corrupt society and system that you live in.

  4. “…what fools are we, that we expect honesty and integrity to flourish in this soil?..” how many times I said this to myself while writing my diary at the end of the day…??!!! Sad..!

  5. Nice article, Prem.

    I empathize with your sense of hope and helplessness from expecting fair policies and their implementation from our leaders. And it is a mirage.

    Cricket is but a kaleidoscope of society. (Is this a correct metaphor, I don’t know.) The warts and bumps are more magnified, but it only reflects what is happening elsewhere. The thing is, it is very difficult to define, or more accurately predict, merit. Although nobody would argue they would want a system other than merit, you could different metrics to define merit. You could use social standing as merit as easily as GPA as one. Hell, we could even fix our high school diplomas now with a high grade, for a fee. And our leaders (politicians) have excelled in this trade of redefining merit all the time for a long time. So, I don’t have an answer to the problems you pose, but only hope that someday there will be a better system with more honorable people deciding to take leadership positions. One can hope, I hope.


  6. Nowadays, watching cricket is like watching the WWF fights…. you know its fake and staged, but you watch it anyways….

  7. It proves that ” democracy and vote counts are not the best ways to govern” a game admin body or even a state or a country. An old saying ” one gets what one deserves ” and as a society we’re getting what we deserve.

  8. prem, where does the player’s accountability comes in? we can’t change the system that we exist in a finger snap…its like citizen of a state loathing about the corruption that exists at the top and takes solace by stating that corruption is the product of the system and ends up falling prey to the corruption..Mike Atherton is his latest column blames the system for aamir’s misadventures and advocates for lesser punishment..wouldn’t this set a wrong precedent?
    where does that leave shakib hasan’s of the world who inspite of coming from corrupt system decide to raise their voice aganist corruption..
    your thoughts?

    • Oh I don’t agree with Atherton about lesser punishment — a point I made in my post yesterday. At a larger level, I don’t make the argument that there is no individual responsibility. Of course there is — I mean, if the head of Satyam proved to be corrupt, it doesn’t mean I have a license to be corrupt at Yahoo. If I bend the rules I deserve all the punishment coming my way.

      My only point is, if you are serious about eradicating this entirely, then the solutions are not contained in crimes and punishment, but in a systemic clean up.

  9. Prem, I have said this before in this forum. Systematic, all-prevailing corruption in every nook and corner of society has its basis in the *culture*. I can historically rationalize its source and presense. So many historians have already done that, but to the vilification/neglect of a large number of people who thinks that “Past is Gold” and that “Indian culture is great”. Just because a few people wrote Kamasutra or invented Zero or wrote Two Epics doesnt quite mean that the moral fabric of the society was the best/is the best/will be the best. The starting point is for all of India to accept the truth. Mind you, cultures can change, and have changed.

  10. It starts with us, as apatheic the administration or powers that may be to the actual state of things in any field it pays some heed to sustained public voice if only for vote banks politics and to show they are doing something.
    Case in point, recent Meter Jam movement in Mumbai against Rickshaws and Taxis, looking at the publicity and people support the activity got there were some favorable noises made by powers that matter. Whether it realizes in concrete action will be a function of if people sustain their interest in the cause.
    Similarly if enough noise is created against the current state of cricket in India and their is enough sustained public support to it, something good might still come out.

  11. thecricketcouch :
    So, then, on whose shoulders does the responsibility fall on, to ensure it does not rot Indian cricket out? If the BCCI and other regional boards are as corrupt, inept and uninterested in the greater good of the game, who is gonna do it? The government? Citizenry? I don’t have the answers. Do you?

    I have the same question. Do you have the answer Prem? Who can do anything to clean up this rot? Can we do anything to save the game we love or loved so much?

    thecricketcouch :
    That is a pretty bleak picture you have painted but which, by the sounds of it, seems to be true. As some wise person once said, in desh, the ones with the talent make it not because of the system but in spite of it. *gulp*
    A lot of people including you have identified the potential problems and the current malaise that will cause it. So, then, on whose shoulders does the responsibility fall on, to ensure it does not rot Indian cricket out? If the BCCI and other regional boards are as corrupt, inept and uninterested in the greater good of the game, who is gonna do it? The government? Citizenry? I don’t have the answers. Do you?

  12. Brilliantly argued. I recall Shah Rukh Khan’s recent tweet: We are good at only playing games.. not in sport. I also recall a line in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes where Watson says: “Mediocrity never rises above itself… it takes talent to recognize genius.” These two statements explain Indian sport…. nay Indian ethos. The selectors getting to their posts, their choice of players based on the cash held out etc is symptomatic. For, where have we even once heard of the right person getting to the job in India? Including our choice of PM! We have any number of interventions in the form of caste, quota, religion, creed etc. intervening in this matter. And if one does sidestep all these and make it, why would that person ever dream of being honest?

  13. Absolutely right… the problem and the culture of corruption starts from the top and surrounds us not only in cricket but in all aspects of life, from public to private life.

    Expecting sporting icons to be role models and above reproach while voting in corrupt politicians every election is hypocritical on our part!

    • Not to mention indulging in petty acts of corruption every single hour of every single day, while expecting moral probity from everyone else.

      • Even as I type, Nitishbabu is calling an all-party meet to discuss over chai and snacks about the cops being held hostage.How absymal are we at making decisions and how much public money is now going to change hands?

        Another great post. Your break seems to have done you a world of good, this is like SRT’s second wind.

  14. Prem,
    That is a pretty bleak picture you have painted but which, by the sounds of it, seems to be true. As some wise person once said, in desh, the ones with the talent make it not because of the system but in spite of it. *gulp*

    A lot of people including you have identified the potential problems and the current malaise that will cause it. So, then, on whose shoulders does the responsibility fall on, to ensure it does not rot Indian cricket out? If the BCCI and other regional boards are as corrupt, inept and uninterested in the greater good of the game, who is gonna do it? The government? Citizenry? I don’t have the answers. Do you?

    • How about we start with us — the fans of the game who have more vested in it than the administrators?

      Officials get away with this crap because we don’t hold them accountable. The ideal starting point for me is a mass movement of fans, that makes an issue of these things, takes to the streets if need be, and makes such a public fuss that it will give sponsors pause for thought. Hit officialdom in its pocket, and it will sit up and take notice.

      Else, we will be caught in this vicious circle: The administration is corrupt. The administration must change. The only ones who can change the administration is the administration itself. The ones with the most stake in keeping the status quo going is the administrators. Ergo, in the existing situation and absent external pressure, there can never be change.

      • For starters, can we stop watching cricket on television? Let the popularity of the sport take a hit. For things to be cleaned up, we have to dirty our hands. We can do that by simply switching to a non-cricket channel on television.

      • Prem,

        As you very well might know, I find some parallels between this situation and the steroids issue in Baseball. MLB, for the longest time, turned a blind eye to it as the homeruns hit by juiced up batters was bringing the fans back to the game. The problem really got out of hand as every tom, dick and harry with links to some shady medic was hitting the cover off the ball, and the statistics, which is central to baseball (as is to cricket) stopped being very relevant. The MLB players assn was obstinate when it came to enforcing drug testing and MLB wasn’t motivated to do it either. It started with some lawmakers pushing for the drug regulations and that snowballed in to current situation where few players are basically banished from the game as pariahs. However, an interesting off-shoot of this is a line of fans who grew up with (and eventually became immune to) the steroid allegations, did not care about it as much – as long as they got value for their money in terms of on-field production. Perhaps, this could be where cricket might head to. A generation of fans that grew up with their cricket stars constantly under the cloud of some fixing allegations, but don’t really care, as long as the games are fun, and they get value for their money in terms of on-field drama. [Think about it.. Matches turning on a dime, ’cause there is a fix on. Oh the suspense. You never know who is gonna win]. (I am just playing lawyer for Satan).

    • Government will clean up BCCI? When the same folks are part of both Government/opposition and BCCI. I don’t see any light at the end of this tunnel.

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