BCCI must introspect

THE recent judgment by Justice K. P. Sivasubramanium of the Madras High Court that the decision by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to cancel the tender process for the award of telecast rights to all matches played in India under the ownership of the BCCI for a period of four years from October 2004 was "unjust, illegal and the result of bias against Zee Telefilms" must come as a wake-up call for the governing body of cricket in India

THE recent judgment by Justice K. P. Sivasubramanium of the Madras High Court that the decision by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to cancel the tender process for the award of telecast rights to all matches played in India under the ownership of the BCCI for a period of four years from October 2004 was "unjust, illegal and the result of bias against Zee Telefilms" must come as a wake-up call for the governing body of cricket in India. The Madras High Court order — which was the consequence of Zee Telefilms' writ petition under Article 226 challenging the BCCI's decision in September 2004 to cancel the tender process in which it had emerged the highest bidder with $ 308 million — is important in that the petitioner had alleged that the then Board president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, also the then chairman of the marketing committee, had tainted the sanctity of the tender process by his actions and that the petitioner was seeking remedy under the rubric of public law.

Zee Telefilms had approached the Madras High Court under Article 226 after a five-member bench of the Supreme Court dismissed its writ that claimed the cancellation of the contract had amounted to a violation of its fundamental rights. Though the apex court had ruled that the BCCI could not be said to fall under the ambit of the `State' under Article 12, it is important to note that the court had, in its judgement, stated that the Board "does discharge some duties such as the selection of an Indian cricket team, controlling the activities of the players and others involved in the game of cricket. These activities can be said to be akin to public duties or State functions".

The High Court's strictures against the functioning of the BCCI and its former president are not only an eye-opener for the Board but also for the cricket lovers in the country who are directly responsible for the commercial clout of the BCCI in the world today in that they have created a huge consumer market for television channels — satellite and terrestrial — which, along with corporate sponsorship, is said to have enabled the BCCI to earn for world cricket nearly 80 per cent of its revenues. "The conduct of the president of such a big institution should be above board and he cannot act in a clandestine or unethical manner. The manner in which Mr. Dalmiya had operated does not inspire confidence or reflect sufficient transparency or ethics," the High Court has said.

A Supreme Court order earlier this year had also given a severe reprimand to Dalmiya and the BCCI. Staying the appointment of Dalmiya as the `patron-in-chief' of the BCCI and asking the Board to complete its stalled AGM of September 29, 2004, the Court had stated thus: "It is wholly undesirable that a body in charge of controlling the sport of cricket should involve in litigations completely losing sight of the objectives of the society. It is furthermore unfortunate that a room for suspicion has been created that all its dealings are not fair. The Board has been accused of shady dealings and double standards."

The BCCI should realise that with the reconstitution of cricket as a multi-million dollar global industry, it has been under the scanner during the last few years as it has never been in its 75-year-old history. In the context of the High Court order, it should do some introspection about its existence as a non-profit making autonomous body under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act and its work ethic in an age when it thrives on public money.

The honorariums in the BCCI must be buried once and for all, and it should hire professionals to manage its finances, to select venues, to prepare pitches, to develop the sport at the grassroots and to raise the standards of excellence in first-class cricket. The days of the BCCI being an organisation without a modern office, without a website and without publishing its annual balance sheet is over, it should realise.

Calling for the tenders for television rights in August 2004, a mere two months before the matches that fell under its purview began, is no great advertisement for professionalism and this has resulted in massive losses to the BCCI and all its affiliate state associations. The BCCI has to emulate the professionalism of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which, in December 2004, finalised its television partner for four years from May 2006. Other national governing bodies of cricket that are less affluent than the BCCI, such as Cricket Australia and the United Cricket Board of South Africa, also have professional administrative models and work ethic in most aspects, specifically in the award of television rights.

Perhaps, the BCCI should concentrate more now on getting simple things right rather than focussing on ambitious long-term plans such as starting its own television channel, a proposal that was moved at a recent BCCI working committee.