Three months removed from the historic Supreme Court of India verdict on the governance of cricket and the future of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), things will likely come to a contentious conclusion on October 17. In what is expected to be a conclusive order, the court will likely opine on the binding nature of the Justice R.M. Lodha committee’s directives on the BCCI, and set into motion a transition in cricket administration that is unprecedented in the sports ecosystem, not just in India but anywhere in the world.
It all began in 2013
The origins of this dispute trace back to 2013, when spot-fixing, illegal betting, and eventually conflict of interest events were unearthed in the Indian Premier League, leading to a systematic investigation, inquiry, and eventually an order by the Supreme court. Building on the findings of the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Mukul Mudgal committee on the unsavoury aspects of cricket administration, the Justice Lodha committee in its report to the Supreme Court recommended the complete overhaul of cricket, in the interest of preserving India’s favourite pastime for the Indian cricket fan. The Justice Lodha committee recommendations, altering the BCCI’s fundamental structure along with a cleansing of the State cricket associations, were resisted by the Board and State associations. The Supreme Court accepted a majority of the committee’s recommendations in its landmark verdict on July 18, 2016. The court appointed the Justice Lodha committee to enforce the directives, transitioning the committee from an advisory and investigative capacity to an enforcement and implementation role.
The committee set its first major deadline for implementation of its directives for September 30. The BCCI, however, sought respite from many of the directives, and enlisted the help of retired Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju to assess and advise on the Supreme Court verdict. In his report to the BCCI, Justice Katju recommended that it file a review petition before a full bench of the Supreme Court, and further suggested that the committee and the court had acted in a manner that implied judicial overreach. The Board submitted a review petition, but due to some error in the submission, it is not being processed.
Meanwhile, the Lodha committee continued to communicate with the authorised BCCI officials, with mixed results. Losing patience with the perceived lack of communication and intent by the BCCI, the committee clamped down on the implementation requirements, and in early September, it stepped up the offensive. The tipping point came when the BCCI conducted its Annual General Meeting on September 21. Having been given permission by the committee to conduct its AGM on normal matters not extending to major decisions for 2016-17, the BCCI went ahead with major decisions including one most irksome to the committee, announcing five selectors, some with no Test match experience, for the national teams in violation of the norms given by the committee.
Even more concerning to the committee, there seemed to be no real intent by the BCCI to meet the deadline. In fact, puzzlingly, the Board set a date of September 30 for a Special General Body Meeting to discuss the Lodha committee’s recommendations. The committee therefore submitted a status report before the Supreme Court on September 28, which detailed what all had transpired from the July 18 verdict till date, and it recommended a radical overhaul, including the removal of top BCCI officials to be replaced by an administrative committee to oversee the Board. The court admonished the Board, and set October 6 for the next hearing, by which the Board was required to respond to the committee’s status report.
Waiting for October 17
The situation escalated quickly thereafter. After postponing the SGM to October 1 due to a technicality, the Board accepted only some of the committee’s recommendations, rejecting the remaining ones including the age and tenure restrictions as well as the ‘one State, one vote’ requirement for State associations. Now the committee took things a step further. On October 4, the committee sent a notice to two banks where the BCCI had accounts, directing them to freeze certain transactions made to State associations. The banks interpreted this to mean a complete freeze on the accounts, and informed the BCCI accordingly. The Board took this public, announcing that the clampdown meant that the ongoing series between India and New Zealand might need to be cancelled, a charge that the Lodha committee immediately refuted, clarifying that cricket matters were part of usual business and exempt.
On October 6, the court reprimanded the BCCI for not accepting all the recommendations, and demanded an undertaking from the Board by October 7 stating that it would accept all the recommendations, which the Board did not provide. The court passed an interim order granting the BCCI until October 17 to provide the undertaking. It further put a freeze on the disbursement or use of funds to those State associations which had not implemented the committee’s recommendations in total. It also, in a potentially problematic situation for the BCCI president, demanded a personal affidavit setting out the nature of his communication with the International Cricket Council regarding the committee’s recommendations. The background to the affidavit requirement was an alleged request by the BCCI to ask the ICC to write to it about there being governmental interference as a violation of the ICC’s regulations which could lead to BCCI’s de-recognition. Should there be any gap between such an affidavit and any other substantive account of what actually happened, there is a risk of the BCCI president perjuring himself. Interestingly, the BCCI had earlier said that the committee’s recommendation of having a CAG representative on the apex committee and the IPL governing council would be considered government interference, but in the October 1 SGM, had accepted the recommendation.
This has every appearance of being a conflict that isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. And while the court appears to have the intent to enforce the committee’s recommendations, the BCCI might seek other options, including perhaps the support of a sports legislation that could address overlapping issues and be less restrictive. We know for certain that cricket in India has changed for good. What we don’t know is if it has changed for the better.
DeshGaurav Sekhri is a sports attorney and is the author of ‘Not Out! The incredible story of the Indian Premier League’. Views are personal.