Not so long ago, a popular joke was doing the rounds in various Chartered Accountant circles.
If you owe a bank Rs. 10,000, a goonda “recovery agent” will pay you a visit;
If you owe a bank Rs. 1,00,000, the bank manager will send you a legal notice;
And so on, the chain of escalation continued with corresponding increase in debt, – the joke length was usually based on the background of the listener and the time – until the final punchline of the joke was revealed:
If you owe a bank Rs. 10,000 crore, the Chairman of the Bank and the Finance Minister will come to your house, give you an extra credit line of Rs. 20,000 crores, and tell you “Here, please don’t fail again. We need you to do well!”.
Even though the joke is a bit dated, one does not need to be royally challenged to understand its underlying essence. Clearly, the consequences for encountering failure are not the same at different levels.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) calling itself a non-profit organization is probably the finest example of an oxymoron out there. While nobody contests its humble origins, or the labours of love of several indefatigable officials, calling the behemoth as a non-profit would be akin to seriously believing that several leaders make only a dollar a year. It is true that the BCCI does not depend on the government to make its revenue; but a cursory glance at the 2012 broadcasting deal figures quoting an eye popping 750 million USD for 6 years shows how awash it is with cash. We’re only scratching the surface here – we’re not even talking about the billion dollar figures quoted for IPL (which we’ll talk about shortly).
It must also be remembered that it wasn’t always this hunky dory. India was famously denied complimentary passes for the 1983 World Cup final. Considering the circumstances and the power wielded by England and Australia during the time, shifting the 1987 World Cup to Asia was quite a coup organized by a slighted N K P Salve. The 1987 World cup was a resounding success, and more importantly, it was embraced wholeheartedly by local sponsors. As the later-to-be editor of Wisden, Scyld Berry, had foretold in 1982, the game would pivot towards the East, the region with the largest market. By the time Jagmohan Dalmiya oversaw the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent, the tide had turned irrevocably in-sync with the market forces. Around the same time, Mark Mascarenhas’ World Tel were making India’s Sachin Tendulkar, the sport’s first multi-millionaire.
Ever since then, BCCI has been synonymous with India’s position in the World of cricket. It has often behaved, like its predecessors, in accordance with its ambitions of furthering global domination and hegemony: flexing its muscles around Mike Denness; swatting around the ambush marketing issue in ICC tournaments; crushing the ICL; threats of cancelling a tour over Monkey-gate; being pedantic with the DRS; playing hardball with Haroon Lorgat; and championing the cause of the Big three wanting a bigger piece of the revenue pie.
It also comes as no surprise that the BCCI has been in the news for the wrong reasons since the inception of the IPL. For one, it brought even more money into the game and only very few wielded the power and influence that came with it. The formulation of the world’s biggest cricketing party quickly turned it into an us-versus-them debate. The BCCI did hold the biggest purse, but what particularly grated was the sight of the world’s top cricketers making a beeline to play in front of adoring crowds for domestic cricket. It had the makings of a class struggle. Old money versus the nouveau riche. Understated elegance versus garish gaucheness.
Ever since then, the IPL has represented everything wrong about the game of cricket. Too many injuries? Misplaced priorities? Mickey-mouse non-cricket? Too much money and attention? Corruption and malfeasance? Blame it all on the IPL.
It is also worth remembering what brought the BCCI into this present perilious position: The spot fixing controversy and allegations of conflict of interest against N. Srinivasan. N. Srinivasan, who couldn’t be dislodged by powerful men – cutting across party lines – such as Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi, Sharad Pawar, Rajiv Shukla, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Anurag Thakur and Farooq Abdullah, no less. It took sustained pressure and alleged betting and insider trading of information committed by a close relative to fell the defiant president. He even resorted to semantics to save his seat. Some would consider the two year suspension tantamount to being let-off with a light sentence. The dirty linen washed in public was not pretty; for a long time, the ongoing proceedings were a damning indictment of greed, avarice and turpitude.
Understandably, this quickly unravelled to a mandate for reforms within the BCCI. The Lodha panel shot a questionnaire to understand the workings of the BCCI and recommended a top-to-bottom shakeup; the most contentious of the suggested reforms were resolving conflicts of interest, limiting tenures and by limiting TV advertisements.
Make no mistake, the BCCI has been a proxy tool for political power, as seen by the men who occupy the corridors of power. Hence, it followed that the incumbents would resort to the familiar tricks of their other guise. Resolving visible conflicts of interest using a minion is right up the alley of our political class. However, one thing that is virtually unheard of is limiting one’s tenure. In a land where politicians have seized the moment to make a throne out of a foothold, abdicating the seat of authority would amount to being out of power and influence. Considering that most have trampled over other aspirants and burned many bridges to get to where they are, it is easy to see why they cling on to power; after all, the seat and what it entails is far more valuable than the person who inhabits it. The moves made by both parties, the BCCI and the Supreme Court, have been in accordance with the thrust-and-parry of a fascinating fencing match between two opponents well-versed with each other’s moves.
When the Lodha panel came up with its recommendations on Jan 4 2016, a full one year later, we’re still seeing it play out in full force. The BCCI took its own sweet time to acknowledge and respond to the report, forcing the Apex court to set a deadline. The BCCI responded with a measured radio silence and questioning-the-fundamentals approach before tabling its set of reservations against the report. The Court took exception to BCCI’s views and duly slammed the board’s process of disbursing payments in the manner of medieval feudal tributes.
The back-and-forth went on for a while before the Supreme Court accepted a majority of the recommendations, and appointed the nemetic Lodha panel to oversee the implementation. There were some scalps along the way, with elections being postponed and some administrators resigning from their posts, which led to allegations of the BCCI approaching the ICC for help. They also missed the first few deadlines and cherry picked from the recommendations, to which the Apex court limited financial freedom. Ouch. They hit them where it hurt.
The BCCI responded in an unprecedented manner that only they could conjure – by asking England to bear expenses for the recent tour, daring the Supreme Court with a bluff designed to cause global embarrassment. To their credit, the Supreme Court did not blink, and held the BCCI accountable in its vice-grip, threatening to run the organization by itself.
As the impasse approached the end-game, the BCCI might have banked on factor of too-big-to-fail weighing in its favour. The BCCI, having earned 1.63 billion from the previous IPL broadcast rights (due to expire in 2017), very well knew that it has to be seen as playing by the book and setting its house in order, so that it can maximize the commercial potential (Read: moolah). Right now, the fact that the imminent IPL media rights bidding process had been indefinitely postponed due to unforeseen circumstances has chipped away at its lofty perch. The veterans that BCCI are, they wouldn’t want to undermine the financial position – the very life-force of their power – that they have worked so hard to fortify all these years, by giving it away easily at this juncture – hence the dragging of feet; that they raised serious concerns about the Lodha Panel’s restrictions on TV ads showed that they know where the meat of the matter is.
The BCCI may have hoped for some sympathy and a lenient ruling, by playing a what-will-players-and-millions-of-fans-do card by the time push comes to shove. Conventional wisdom tells us that more often than not, when the stakes are high for a builder running afoul of civic violations, it is some unfortunate soul who suffers token demolitions, before the too-many-people-will-suffer-having-put-their-hard-earned-savings is played, with the builder going scot-free in the larger interest of people. In this case, the top brass of the BCCI would be the fall guys so that it can still maintain the systemic status quo, while agreeing to small-scale, cosmetic changes. No doubt, the BCCI is trying to wing it by hoping for a case of “too big to fail”. But by clamping down on BCCI president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke, the Supreme court seems not to have fallen for the BCCI’s old ruse. Will it get its hands further dirty to clean up the system? All this remains to be seen as we await the Apex court’s actions with bated breath.
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