It’s a cosy, cosy world

It is insulting to IPL stakeholders that its commissioner is a part-time cricket official whose day job is that of a government minister

In the end, N. Srinivasan will have to not just step aside as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) but also conclude his innings as a cricket administrator. This is the price he has to pay to retain Chennai Super Kings (CSK) as a valid franchise of the Indian Premier League (IPL). “He has a choice,” as a senior BCCI official pointed out this past week, “between saving his franchise and saving his job.”

Should Mr Srinivasan continue to play difficult, the danger of CSK being annulled from the IPL is fairly high. It can be asked how teams can be invented and then killed off just so easily, but the fact is IPL authorities have a crazy history in this regard. Two teams (Kochi and Pune) have been knocked out because they didn’t meet financial commitments.
If a tough line was taken with them, there is little reason to offer CSK leniency. That a member of its senior management has been implicated in betting should be enough to abolish the franchise altogether. It would be entirely in keeping with Mr Srinivasan’s “take-no-prisoners” approach.
It is likely Mr Srinivasan retains enough clout and knows enough secrets to save the franchise. A three-member committee has been appointed to look into the CSK scandal. It comprises two retired judges from Chennai, Mr Srinivasan’s backyard, and Sanjay Jagdale, who has resigned as BCCI secretary and refuses to be part of the committee. This committee should be reconstituted with a broad-based and perceptibly independent membership. It will have to tackle three questions:
w Did Gurunath Meiyappan act alone in placing bets, trading insider information and possibly triggering spot-fixing episodes?
w Was the rest of the CSK management aware or suspicious of Meiyappan’s “private practice” and did it not resort to due diligence and show negligence?
w Did others in the CSK management actively collude with Meiyappan?
The implications of all three can be very different. While the evidence needs to be collated and the conviction, so to speak, needs to be pronounced, an idea of what punishment may lie ahead is becoming clear. This runs the gamut from a year’s ban on CSK — in case of wider collusion, extending beyond Meiyappan — to docking CSK a certain number of points before the start of IPL 2014 to cash fines to reducing CSK’s purse ahead of the coming players’ auction.
The longer Mr Srinivasan stays in the BCCI president’s office, the more he can lobby for mitigation. His aim has been to brazen out the current crisis, wait for media attention to switch to something else and ensure the inquiry and the punishment for CSK is sorted out by September, when his term finishes. That timeline is now in jeopardy.
Will Mr Srinivasan’s departure sort out things? Frankly, if he has managed to survive the public hostility and media onslaught so long it is because several of his rivals in BCCI politics have as much to hide and are vulnerable.
That Mr Srinivasan, as a board official, was allowed to let India Cements — a company he controls, owns a substantial stake in and runs on a day-to-day basis — bid for an IPL franchise was completely bizarre as far back as 2008. Yet, legal justification was provided to back his claim. The then BCCI overlord, Sharad Pawar, and IPL chief, Lalit Modi, supported Mr Srinivasan. As such, when these voices accuse him of conflict of interest today, it needs to be asked why they were singing a different tune five years ago.
The cosy cronyism of the IPL began to disintegrate in 2010, following the acrimonious expansion of the League with two new franchisees. It was obvious the process was being rigged to benefit bidders seen as close to Mr Pawar and his party colleague, Praful Patel. That attempt was nixed but led to a larger controversy that also embroiled Shashi Tharoor, then junior minister in the ministry of external affairs. Later, it saw Mr Modi being exiled from a tournament he fathered. It also caused the Srinivasan and Pawar camps to part ways.
It is pointless looking for heroes and angels in this cast. Everybody has a skeleton tucked away somewhere.
The media has had a Disneyland run in the past few days. Rumour, accusation, speculation, indignation, occasionally fact: all of these have been served up. The nexus between cricket administration and politics has been referred to again. A reality check is called for. First, Indian politicians are not the only ones to acquire roles as sports administrators and it is not as if every politician with such a responsibility is automatically a crook. John Major was chairman of the Surrey Cricket Club in 2000-01, when he had ceased to be Prime Minister but was still a member of Parliament.
Second, Mr Major’s designation was an honorary one, with minimal executive tasks. Indian politicians have a more intense engagement with sports bodies and don’t transfer duties to professional managers. This is understandable in those sports federations that have limited budgets. With the BCCI and more so the IPL, which is such a wealthy sports-related business, this is unpardonable.
Take the post of IPL commissioner. Like the chief executive of the English Premier League and the commissioner of Major League Baseball in the United States, the IPL commissioner should be a well-paid professional, preferably with a background in media and marketing and an interest in cricket, empowered to negotiate broadcast and endorsement deals, punish errant teams and so on. It is downright insulting to stakeholders of the IPL that its commissioner is a part-time cricket official whose day job is that of a government minister.
Third, national political parties are not obsessed with BCCI politics and are not running campaigns for or against Mr Srinivasan. He, even the cricket economy as a whole, is small fry and affects no votes in parliamentary elections. Indeed, other than Mr Pawar, Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi, most of the politicians involved in cricket administration are B-listers.
Given the logistical maze that any business or economic activity — even rebuilding a house — requires in India, politicians can be a help. The spanking new Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and the impressive Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi are legacies Mr Pawar and Mr Jaitley can be proud of. Yet, given their stature, does it really become those in the uppermost echelons of public life to be part of the non-stop BCCI-IPL rigmarole? Haven’t they outgrown it? Don’t they have bigger fish to fry?

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