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IPL or Scapegoat Modi?

April 24, 2010 04:27 IST

The Board of Control for Cricket in India is projecting itself as the good mother with an errant Modi child. Nothing could be further from the truth.The advantage of a story breaking out much before the time due for the fortnightly column is that it provides time for reflection, and synthesis. Collating all the pieces together, this is what emerges.

First, neither the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) nor Lalit Modi is the creator of the Indian Premier League (IPL) concept. Both have been credited with this innovation, and some have even called Modi a genius in this regard. By doing so, analysts and commentators are missing out on a critical element in this seedy and sorry saga. The IPL concept was introduced in India by the Indian Cricket League (ICL). ICL contracted players, Packer-style, and the T20 league was on. Somewhat later, BCCI woke up and muscled its way into the concept, and ICL was muscled out. ICL was promoted by Zee Sports, so the question arises as to why did they just roll over when BCCI said boo? Because BCCI was exercising its monopoly power as the sole promoter of cricket in India.

BCCI said, quite simply, that a player who played in ICL would not be eligible for playing for the national cricket team. The often holier-than-thou but equally monopolistic ICC backed BCCI and supported the decision that any player playing for the "rogue" league would not be eligible to play for national teams. And where were our much-vaunted politicians who are so eager to clean up the Modi, nay BCCI mess? In full support, lined up behind BCCI, with 17 of the 23-odd cricket associations in India headed by their multi-faceted tribe. These office-bearers belong to all the parties and my guess is that the "ownership" of these district cricket associations, and BCCI, is distributed as the seats in the Lok Sabha, i.e. the Congress/UPA and the BJP/NDA have the largest ownership of cricket in India.

Why, one might ask, are the Indian politicians so bothered about promoting cricket in India when they, by their own admission, are overburdened with work and especially work that is in the service of the nation? Because BCCI was, until last year, treated like an NGO by the Indian government, i.e. its earnings were not taxed, because, like the Ministry of Defence, the work that BCCI did was paramount to national interests. This meant that all income of BCCI, as long as it was ploughed back into the development of cricket, was not taxable. In 2000, in a landmark judgment, the court ruled in the case of Rahul Mehra et al vs the Union of India, BCCI and DDCA, that BCCI was accountable to the citizens of India regardless of the "pioneering" ways in which it served the cause of India. This suit also contained this nugget of information: in at least some years preceding 2000, DDCA received more revenue from the sale of old liquor bottles on its premises than it spent on coaching facilities! There is a partial happy ending to this horror story: last year, the Government of India ruled (give credit where it is due to the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance and some upright politicians) that BCCI was no longer eligible for tax-free status.

In the meantime, BCCI has become the world's fattest cricketing body, and in the wake of the IPL scam, the pertinent question is: what should the Government of India do to make the right the several wrongs of the past? That is not possible. But something can be done for the future of Indian cricket, for the future of justice and fair play, for the future of institutions in India. The solution is as straightforward as it is transparent. It is to denationalise BCCI, yes, denationalise. At present, it has all the monopoly advantages of being a government body without any responsibility or accountability. There is also precedence for such a policy elsewhere in the world, especially in soccer. Teams are publicly listed companies and the people are the shareholders. Let us see how many politicians want to get into the rough and tumble of competitive markets, as opposed to the hiding behind the veil of serving the cause of the nation via a monopoly.

The IPL crisis should be viewed as a Modi-given opportunity for cleaning up the stables. At present, BCCI is behaving like a good mother disciplining an errant child. As late as now, Modi wanted to reveal the names and details of ownership of the teams. Where was Modi for the last three years? As late as now, BCCI wanted to study the legal implications of making the ownership public before making it public. The point of view of both the mother and child is laughable, but here the mother is clearly much more in the wrong. This fact should not go unnoticed.

Also, a final plea as a cricket fan. How come no one has really protested about the absolutely shoddy nature of the "new" Ferozshah Kotla stadium. No matter whether you view the cricket from the cheapest or the most expensive seats, the stadium is an embarrassment. Couldn't some of the "in the name of promoting cricket" money have gone into building a stadium that is representative of the Capital city of the new India? Does it not matter that there is only one scoreboard at the Kotla grounds and that half the stadium cannot see it? Something about the oh-so cricket loving corporate sponsors: you cannot see the scoreboard (remember there is only one) from their cushy seats. Does it not matter that no attempt is made to create an environment where one can go to enjoy the experience of watching cricket, even the IPL? Has any member of BCCI, or for that matter the Lok Sabha, seen a worse stadium in the world, let alone in India? Why has this gone on for so long without question or accountability? A legitimate question: Where has all the revenue from selling old liquor bottles gone?

Surjit S Bhalla in New Delhi
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