What’s good for the game, is the bottom line

BCCI Secretary Anurag Thakur along with IPL Governing Council Chairman Rajeev Shukla at the IPL Governing Council meeting in Mumbai.-PTI

The IPL might lose money, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure that it gains some credibility. By attempting to rescue the teams, keep the players happy and satisfy a handful of individuals, the BCCI might lose both money and credibility, writes Suresh Menon.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India long ago stumbled upon the key to governance. When in trouble, delegate. By buying six weeks, it has postponed what it is not good at — doing the right thing — and can focus on what it is best at — compromises, deal-making, twisting its own rules.

When the IPL Governing Council’s five-man committee works out the next move, it is possible that life will go on as before. That would be a pity. It would mean cricket in India has ignored yet another opportunity to set its house in order.

Raj Kundra, now playing victim, and Gurunath Meiyappan, owner-turned-enthusiast-turned-owner, have done their damage, and are now out of the game forever. Not that it matters in the slightest, either to these gentlemen or to the game they brought into disrepute. Their teams, Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings have been suspended for two years each.

The BCCI, true to form, instead of attempting to restore repute to the sport, is busy, in its own words, exploring “all the possible measures to be adopted, with an objective to protect the interests of all the stakeholders involved.” The stakeholders include the two teams suspended, so there’s a nice circular argument for you.

Since January 22, when the Supreme Court pulled up the individuals and teams, the BCCI itself has not officially condemned either of the individuals or franchises or the inactivity of the latter which led to the mess the IPL is in now. How could it, when its own inactivity through two years led to this?

In a funny way, Indian cricket might owe former President N. Srinivasan a debt of gratitude. He wanted to be remembered as the best man in the job, and now, perversely, might get his wish. Thanks to his intransigence and insistence on protecting Meiyappan, his son-in-law, the Supreme Court was brought into the picture. A traditionally opaque BCCI might now be forced to become more transparent and accountable if the Lodha Commission rules thus while fulfilling the next portion of its remit.

But that’s in the future; meanwhile there is the IPL and the five-man committee which will decide what happens between now and the ninth edition next year.

The decision ought to be simple: first terminate Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, and then plan the rest. For the much-quoted rule 11.3 states: “BCCI-IPL may terminate this Agreement with immediate effect by written notice if: the Franchise, any Franchisee Group Company and/or any owner acts in any way which has a material adverse effect upon the reputation or standing of the League, BCCI-IPL, the Franchisee, the Team (or any other team in the League) and/or the game of cricket.”

Ravi Shastri may have argued for the players (who pay a heavy price although they are not involved in the shenanigans of their owners) at the Governing Council meeting, but that is an emotional side-issue and anyway there are ways of getting around that.

It is necessary to terminate the teams for two very good reasons. One, it sends out a message: the game, as Justice Lodha himself pointed out, is greater than the individual. More importantly, it will co-opt the “stakeholders” as an important part of the Anti-Corruption unit.

It is not as if at least some of the “stakeholders” were unaware of what Kundra and Meiyappan were doing. If they chose to keep quiet because it was none of their business, or didn’t want to rock the boat or were simply indifferent to it, then in some ways they were complicit too. In any case, by not setting up investigations of their own, they certainly were.

Writing in the Economic Times, the industrialist, Harsh Goenka, said that a team owner “had confessed to me that he was sure two of his players were throwing games, and another told me in one game he was sure the umpire was compromised.” Did the owners take their suspicions to the Governing Council?

By terminating the teams, the BCCI will be telling the “stakeholders”: you have a responsibility to ensure a clean game too. This means the sponsors, the franchisees, the TV rights holders are all brought into the equation. They have the clout to put the pressure on anyone they suspect is up to no good.

The BCCI has a hierarchy of needs: at the top of the pyramid is the seat of those already in seats, or self-preservation. Below that comes the need to satisfy television. Then the other sponsors. At the bottom is the integrity of the game itself. The paying public and the players come just above.

At the first sign of trouble, therefore, the rush is on to ensure that the positions are not disturbed, money is not lost. If everything else is in place, then comes the discussion on the game’s integrity.

The IPL Governing Council chairman, Rajeev Shukla, making a virtue of necessity by saying that it accepts the Lodha Commission report is laughable — he has to accept it, there is no choice. What will be interesting is watching the move of the Cricket Advisory Committee (Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly). Its recommendations are not binding, but it will tell us something about its role.

To be fair to the IPL, there is time and so no need to rush into a decision without examining all the ramifications. But its track record has not been inspiring.

There is no call to keep the seat warm, so to speak, while CSK and RR serve out their suspension.

If two other teams are brought in their place, the game will go on. Court cases might have to be dealt with, but the bottom line should be: what’s good for the game. Not what’s good for a few.

The IPL might lose money, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure that it gains some credibility. By attempting to rescue the teams, keep the players happy and satisfy a handful of individuals, the BCCI might lose both money and credibility.