Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Supreme Court brings Indian cricket into the 21st century

Suresh Menon in The Hindu


The world’s most successful secret society has been given a lesson in transparency and that is cause for celebration.

No tears need be wasted on the panjandrums who have been running the Board of Control for Cricket in India and its State associations like personal fiefdoms.

The Supreme Court finally reeled in the long rope it had given the BCCI, and so tripped up its senior officials. If there was contrition among the officials, these remained unexpressed. Yesterday’s powerhouses will be tomorrow’s forgotten men, their frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command erased forever.

Inevitably, some good men will be thrown out with the bad, and there will be much churning as the old order makes way for the new. The saner elements of the board will wonder if it had to come to this, when, with greater maturity and common sense, the BCCI might have emerged with some dignity.

For the BCCI brought about its own downfall, aided by nothing more than its hubris and cavalier disregard for the laws of the land. You cannot ignore a Supreme Court judgement, as the BCCI did, and hope that nothing will change. It wasn’t just arrogance, it was foolishness of the highest order.

Would past presidents like Chinnaswamy and Sriraman, Gaekwad and Bindra, Dungarpur and Dalmiya have allowed things to come to this pass? It is convenient to believe they wouldn’t. But there is false memory at play here, a harking back to a golden era that never existed. Ghulam Ahmed, former off spinner and board vice-president, put it succinctly, “There are no values in the board.”

The Anurag Thakurs and Ajay Shirkes are paying the price for the culture that men like those mentioned had brought into the BCCI. These men ran the best sports body in the country, and somehow believed that they had a divine right to do so. Players kowtowed to them, politicians and businessmen chased them, and they clung on to power with a touching desperation.

The current dispensation extended that culture and refined it. They, like their predecessors, failed to understand the connection between actions and consequences.

At any time in the BCCI’s eight-decade history, the Supreme Court could have stepped in and ruled as it did now. Accountability and transparency were never in the BCCI’s handbook for officials, but public scrutiny was not as intense as it is now, and in some cases the good that an official did outweighed the bad, and all was forgiven.

Brinkmanship — a tactic much favoured by the BCCI to bring other cricket boards and indeed the International Cricket Council to its knees — is not a strategy guaranteed to impress the Supreme Court. That the highest court gave the BCCI more than six months to comply with its order when it could have acted even as deadlines were ignored is a testimony to its benevolence.

But how did a three-time Member of Parliament, which is what Anurag Thakur is, and sundry other luminaries, misjudge the seriousness of the situation? Was this a proxy war fought on behalf of his political masters by Thakur, or was the board, recognising the inevitable, preparing for a scorched earth response? The first will have to remain in the realm of speculation till a lead actor in the drama spills the beans. We shall soon know about the second.

The BCCI’s death wish has been one of the features of the whole saga. Thakur came in as the bright, young face of the board. There was an energy about him which makes his fall a disappointment. At 42 he was the man who replaced the old guard. Yet, within weeks, the cozy club he had tried to break up when N. Sinivasan was in charge, quickly reshaped itself into a new cozy club.

His fall is a cautionary tale for those who set out to change the system but is absorbed by it. The Supreme Court’s ruling will also impact other sports which have been resisting change like the BCCI. And that is good news for Indian sport.
The domestic season has been unaffected by the BCCI’s problems. This has been the case traditionally, and is one of the true blessings of Indian cricket. There are enough dedicated officials to ensure that the show goes on.

A generational change has been forced upon the BCCI, which is otherwise happy to continue with sons and nephews (never daughters and nieces) and other relatives keeping everything in the family.

Now State associations will have to change their registrations where necessary, holding general body meetings in order to advance this. Legal procedures need to be followed. There is a temptation to believe that cricketers make the best administrators. This is a common fallacy. There are cricketers who have made excellent administrators, but being able to play the square cut is no guarantee of managerial skills. The names of corrupt cricketer-officials are well known.

There is a long road ahead, mostly uncharted. But a start has been made. The new system may not be perfect, but it is better than the old one. Accountability ensures that.

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