Understanding the Context

It is difficult to put a finger on India’s obsession with cricket. Brought to the subcontinent by its colonial rulers, cricket is now uncontestably a religion for many fans. As with any religion, its gods — the cricketers — generally attract the most attention from its followers. However, the riches of the Indian Premier League and the uptake of the sport beyond Commonwealth countries in the last decade has called for a closer examination of cricket’s administration in India. 

As the ‘trustees’ of cricket in India, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is an unconventional sports institution. Founded in 1928 as a society under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, the BCCI predates the Republic of India by around 2 decades. It is defined as a private entity, and is not a National Sports Federation (NSF) that is officially recognised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India. Yet, it conducts public functions similar to other NSFs. For many decades, the BCCI’s autonomy allowed a certain degree of insularity to their decision-making. Last month, they finally yielded to demands of coming under the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), one of the “biggest achievements” of sports Minister Kiren Rijiju’s short tenure. The BCCI’s inclusion under the Right to Information Act could be the death knell for its behind-closed-doors functioning. Should the Board continue to maintain a principled distance from the government, even if it comes at the cost of lesser accountability? Is it time that we treated all sports equally, with every national sportsperson liable to the same regulations?

BCCI Scams Lodha Committee
The BCCI is currently under the administration of the CoA and has been so since early 2017. However, the term of the current CoA is set to end on October 23, after protracted negotiations with state associations on the scheduling of elections to the top brass of the Board.

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“Cricket’s dominance in India is largely due to the manner in which the BCCI has governed the sport. Other NSFs, governed through the Ministry of Sport, have not been able to achieve the same level of success as the BCCI due to poor administration and a lack of financial muscle power.”

— Sreeradh Radhakrishnan

“The guiding motives of a government entity are different from a private one. The Board’s focus can shift to the development of the game in a manner that benefits players and fans alike. Internationally, the BCCI’s considerable power in the ICC means that a fan-first ethos will spur the game’s growth worldwide.”

— Dhruv Raman

Written by Sreeradh Radhakrishnan

When it was established in 1928 as an entity independent of government control, the BCCI became ineligible to receive state funding like other National Sports Federations. The BCCI and the teams that represent India in cricket are not even allowed to use official insignia of India (such as the tricolour) for commercial purposes. Such policies have defined the relationship between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Indian government. By and large, the BCCI has abided with government regulations in the interest of furthering its free functioning in the pursuit of improving cricket all-round. 

Strangled by the CoA

The autonomy that the BCCI was used to enjoying has seen some serious ramifications since 2016, when the Committee of Administrators (CoA) was set to implement the recommendations of the Lodha Committee. Despite deriving its legitimacy from an SC-appointed committee, the CoA lacked any administrators with expertise in men’s cricket. It was also halved in size less than 6 months after Vikram Limaye was chosen to head the National Stock Exchange (NSE), while Guha quit citing issues with the CoA’s functioning. 

The foremost concern of the CoA was to hold fresh elections for the top posts of the BCCI.  However, Rai and Edulji, the remaining 2 members of the CoA, have spent more time engaging in public spats than on achieving these objectives. Edulji has accused Rai of not considering her dissent on many issues, most notably on the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri’s sexual harassment allegations and the appointment of a panel to select a new coach for the men’s team. 

Furthermore, the CoA has failed to implement key recommendations such as the “one state, one vote” formula and fixing limits on the tenures of elected officials. With many of the key recommendations being ignored, there are serious question marks on the efficacy of a government-enabled and elected panel to handle such a massive responsibility in world sport. 

Results, Results, Results

The relationship between state associations and the BCCI has been tenuous; state officials have complained about the centralization of decision-making by the CoA. This has led to officials expressing their displeasure about the CoA’s intention to reduce revenue-sharing agreements with state associations, which severely restricts the ability of states to improve their infrastructure and to invest in player development. The quality of the Ranji Trophy has already started sliding dangerously, with poor pitch preparation leading to many matches ending in less than 3 days. How confident can we be if this is the quality of first-class competitions in the world’s number one ranked test nation? 

There was also opposition from state associations against the BCCI coming under the ambit of NADA, as it had followed its own WADA-compliant doping policies until recently. The BCCI claimed that NADA officials were not sufficiently qualified and took a long time to present testing results. While this means that cricket can now officially be considered for becoming an Olympic sport, it also means that the BCCI will have minimal control over doping tests, despite having ‘better’ resources than the government in conducting tests and meeting international standards. 

READ ALSO: The Rise of the BCCI as India’s Sports Behemoth

The past two years have also seen both the men’s and women’s teams fail to win any ICC tournaments, despite numerous good performances leading up to major events. The coaching units in both teams have come under fire after Anil Kumble and Ramesh Powar both left their respective teams after having public fallouts with senior players in their teams. Even here, the CoA was unable to serve as an effective mediator, raising questions about how the fracas might have been handled maturely had there been more cricket experts on the panel. 

The Men’s team’s search for a new coach was eventually left to players who have coached or played for India more than two decades ago, with the likes of Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad and Shantha Rangaswamy being appointed to the search committee. The CoA eventually approved Ravi Shastri’s re-appointment as the head coach of the men’s team, which is a questionable decision, considering his 5-year tenure as coach or team director saw the team fail to win any ICC tournament. Again, we see a government-appointed CoA struggle to ensure that team performances remain unaffected by fundamental shifts in the autonomy and functioning of the BCCI.

Why Should Fans Care?

The CoA’s involvement in the BCCI also points to the general nature of sports administration by the government. Cricket’s dominance in India is largely due to the manner in which the BCCI has governed the sport. Other NSFs, governed through the Ministry of Sport, have not been able to achieve the same level of success as the BCCI due to poor administration and a lack of financial muscle power. 

Organizations such as the IOA and AIFF are prime examples of the nexus that plagues the public administration of sport, such as a corrupt bureaucracy. On the other hand, private organizations such as Pro Kabaddi and Olympic Gold Quest have achieved far more success in a much shorter time-frame without having to reach into taxpayers’ pockets. 

Perhaps, the government could have handled its relationship with the BCCI better with respect to the Lodha committee’s recommendations. The CoA was a panel that was in disarray right from its inception. It has never been able to keep its own house in order. Had there been more cricket experts on the committee, the BCCI’s situation may have been assessed better and a mutually beneficial deal could have been agreed upon more expeditiously. Since so many of the issues pertaining to the BCCI centred around the IPL, it would have been more appropriate to limit the extent of the government’s involvement to matters pertaining to the IPL. 

Overall, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has a certain structure that is efficient at producing results on and off the pitch. Yet, the all-pervasive Indian government is trying to fix a system that was never completely broken, to begin with. Even though elections have been scheduled for the end of October, there is no certainty that it will signal the end of the government’s intervention in the internal affairs of the BCCI. Cricket fans and sports enthusiasts in the country must be wary of the permanent damage that might come at the hands of stripping the autonomy that has enabled the BCCI to consistently improve cricket over almost a century.

Written by Dhruv Raman

The BCCI is unlike any other Indian organization. It is a private entity that represents an Indian sport globally. Through this endeavour, it has become the leading institution in its sport. In the process, it has generated huge amounts of interest from a large number of people across the world. Along with eyeballs, it also generates a hefty sum of money — almost Rs 1400 crores as of its last-published Annual Report (2016). 

This “special” position the BCCI finds itself in is the source of many problems in the cricketing world.

Opacity and Shady Business 

The richest sporting board in India has been involved in corruption and hidden it. The IPL match-fixing and betting scandals involving Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings in 2014 are fresh in the memory of Indian cricket fans. While it is hard to fault the BCCI for actions of private bodies, it can be criticized for the aftermath of dealing with fraudulence. The Board appointed a panel which actually cleared the accused — Raj Kundra and India Cements — of the charges. This was overruled by the Bombay High Court and another panel appointed by the Supreme Court found them guilty. The BCCI has openly disregarded its accountability to the Lodha-committee appointed Committee of Administrators; some Board members were even confused about the BCCI’s functioning post-CoA. Upon insistence, the BCCI yielded that it would be ‘partially accountable’ under the Right to Information Act, stamping that they would not publicize details about matters such as team selection. The BCCI knows that you are curious about its decision-making. Yet, it does not want you to see the side on which the coin landed.  

So, what are the guiding motives of the BCCI? 

Like any private organization, making profits is crucial for the BCCI’s survival and prosperity. A profit model can certainly produce quality cricket that would be beneficial for the fans. However, at the end of the day, without public scrutiny, the board comprises of individuals who can advance their own interests. It gives them an opportunity to take calls based on these interests. For instance, the BCCI is the only cricketing board that is arguing against the inclusion of cricket in the Olympic games. Is this decision keeping the interest of the game in mind? The cricket fan in me doesn’t think so. 

READ ALSO: The Rise of the BCCI as India’s Sports Behemoth

Making the Board a National Sports Federation will help cure some of these diseases. First, it will enforce transparent administration. This will partially solve the plague of corruption. Of course, the primary mechanism of this cure will be the RTI. If the BCCI comes under the RTI, we will have answers to many important questions: what are the shareholding patterns in the BCCI? Do IPL franchises or sports management companies have a say in team selection? 

Becoming an NSF will also hold BCCI officials accountable for their actions in the workplace. Even the SC-appointed CoA has also not been able to agree on such issues. In 2018, BCCI official Rahul Johri was accused of sexual harassment. Eventually, the charges were dropped. Edulji, a member of the CoA, disagreed with this move and said that it was taken without her assent. The key here is not that the CoA is inefficient, but that entire decision-making processes happen behind closed doors. This will certainly change. 

Of course, this transparency will function differently for the BCCI in comparison with other government entities. Monetary monopoly notwithstanding, few entities have millions of citizens watching closely from the sidelines and scrutinizing every move. You and I know that when people can watch us play, we are much more conscious of how we make our moves. 

The guiding motives of a government entity are different from a private one. The Board’s focus can focus on the development of the game in a manner that benefits players and fans alike. An example of this is broadcasting: the Lodha committee suggested that the BCCI should increase its discretion over the time taken up by advertisements between overs for the benefit of viewers. Given no paucity of funds, a public entity is likely to prioritise its viewers over the broadcasters. Internationally, the BCCI’s considerable power in the ICC means that a fan-first ethos will spur the game’s growth worldwide. 

Is it All Worth It?

The bigger, more conceptual concern, is whether it makes sense to convert a successful private organization into a public entity. In terms of promoting the sport and delivering results, most will agree that the BCCI has been a successful institution. While India started off as just another cricketing nation, the BCCI has catalysed its worldwide supremacy. So why change things now? 

The answer is twofold. First, the growth of the BCCI cannot be seen solely as organizational success. A large part of the BCCI’s success story lies in India’s performance as a cricket team, fuelled by the dedication of fans’ hard-earned money and enterprising individuals’ revolutionary ideas. When Team India does well, more children play on our streets; through schools and academies, many private players invest in these children to produce better cricketers. This investment is repaid by fans who buy tickets and merchandise in support of the team, and so the cycle continues. One could argue that the growth of cricket in India would have been inevitable either way. 

Second, the impetus to reconstitute it as a public entity is felt greater today, in light of judicial inspections and the BCCI’s decisions at the international level. If their opposition to equitably distributing funds amongst cricket boards and voting against cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics is anything to go by, sports fans ought to worry about the growing behemoth that the BCCI is. 

So, will it all be sunshine and rainbows if the BCCI became another NSF? Probably not. There are fair concerns about inefficiency in public controlled entities, but not a lot will not change in its functioning. While the BCCI has not explicitly received funds from the government, it still receives tax concessions and subsidized rates for procuring land. As an NSF, the process of fund transfer, like other things, will become more straightforward and transparent.

Will this inefficiency worsen with such a change? Remember that the BCCI should be looked at as a special case. Arguably, inefficiency in public entities is a result of the lack of motivation of the people involved in their everyday functioning. This motivation is a result of, or at least impacted by, insufficient funds and a lack of expectations. This will be different for our cricket board. The remunerations paid to its officials and the demands of millions of fans will naturally synthesize greater efficiency. The writing is on the wall: India’s cricket board is a growing giant. Its path needs to be carefully planned so it doesn’t trample the others below them.

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