How to fend off bouncers

Mon 20 Feb 2017

It has been just a couple of weeks since the Supreme Court appointed the four-member Committee of Administrators (CoA) to oversee the overhaul of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and some significant developments have already taken place. Having been set a four-week window to observe and initially calibrate the roadmap for the wholesale adoption of the Lodha Committee’s far-reaching recommendations, the newly anointed CoA has been busy, having just concluded its third meeting on February 17.

The mandate for the CoA is clear, but its implementation will be complicated. It needs to achieve the following: oversee the adoption and implementation of the Lodha Committee directives by the BCCI and the State associations, ascertain and consolidate Indian cricket’s standing in and leverage with the International Cricket Council (ICC), make major decisions related to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and BCCI’s sponsorships, and above all else, introduce a governance structure that serves as a sustainable benchmark for how Indian cricket is to be governed.

A tough task ahead

Viewed as a potential blueprint for all sports across India and perhaps a precedent for sports bodies across the world, the challenges that the CoA faces are sizeable. In a span of just a few months, the CoA is expected to accomplish many things. The stated objective of the Supreme Court, the Lodha Committee, and the CoA is to restore the game of cricket to its fans, a laudable intent. The CoA has already begun its work of removing the remnants of the earlier regime. It ordered the closing of the recently opened New Delhi office of the BCCI and relieved the resources of those who had been employed there by the erstwhile administration. It also sent its representative to the critically important ICC meeting where a proposal to overturn the revenue structure was passed by the ICC in a manner that is sure to be adverse to Indian cricket, a loss in revenue estimated to be in the vicinity of Rs. 3,000 crore over the next six years. What appears to be an opportunistic move against the BCCI has been exacerbated by the nascence of the CoA. The CoA is also likely to face a deluge of queries and complaints from the various State associations who are unsure of, or unwilling to accept, the reforms. When time is of essence, such roadblocks during the implementation phase can be more than just annoying.

And then there is the woolly mammoth in the room — the IPL — from where all this began. The IPL has been the ignored stepchild since the last season, a victim of the complex interplay that resulted in the BCCI’s metamorphosis. It’s no secret that cricket purists have no love lost for the IPL. But it’s also no secret that the IPL is a major revenue source for the Board and the game-changing differentiator for Indian cricket on the world stage. There are indications that the CoA will mostly maintain the status quo for the IPL this season, given the paucity of time, and the many pending issues that need to be resolved. But 2018 will be the watershed year for the IPL, as its new media rights agreement could set the bar for high-value broadcast deals in global sports. Equally significant will be the return of the two controversial suspended franchises — the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals. It will also be the year that indicates whether or not the IPL teams have been able to generate and retain value, and whether an expansion to more franchises is in the offing.

In charge at a tricky time

Revenue will be the key component that will determine Indian cricket’s leverage and infrastructure. The two most pertinent decisions will therefore be regarding the IPL’s media rights and possible expansion, and the ICC’s revised structure taking away a major chunk of the BCCI’s revenues. The CoA has taken over at a very tricky time for Indian cricket, and although it will have had little to do with the pushback from the ICC, it will nonetheless be judged for it by observers. A status quo in the IPL too is a short-term, albeit necessary, move that will need to be revisited, as many of the governance shortfalls have stemmed from it. All of this while aiming to streamline the IPL’s growth and retain value is a tough ask. Already the CoA faces an immediate roadblock as it seeks to modify the IPL’s Governing Council in line with the Lodha Committee directive that requires a players’ association representative. The association has not even been formed yet, so even for the IPL implementing the Lodha Committee recommendations this season may prove to be logistically impossible.

The CoA will need to speed up on the varied challenges from all fronts: the State associations, the ICC, the potential sponsors, and erstwhile officials. One can expect delays from the associations, resistance from within the BCCI, unfamiliarity with dealing in negotiations with the ICC and investors in the IPL, and logistical and structural issues with a blanket implementation of the Lodha Committee directives. If the ultimate goal of ensuring that the Lodha Committee recommendations are uniformly adopted remains unfulfilled or only partially fulfilled, then the scepticism over the judicial takeover will likely get louder. However, the Indian team performing extremely well throughout this period of off-field strife has meant that at least optically the BCCI’s overhaul has not had any short-term ill-effects on the performance of the team.

For now, a dichotomy between power play moves and restoring cricket to the fans in an undiluted form is the immediate takeaway. But that doesn’t mean the CoA can’t or won’t be successful, and the constituents of the CoA have the ideal credentials to give structure to the Lodha Committee’s vision. Give it time; there’s a lot of cricket left to be played yet.

Desh Gaurav Sekhri is a sports attorney and author of ‘Not Out! The incredible story of the Indian Premier League’


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