The Court reigns Supreme

Wed 04 Jan 2017

On January 2, in an order that surprised no one except perhaps the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Supreme Court set the record and the status of Indian cricket’s governing body straight. Widely expected yet unprecedented, the court took the BCCI and its top leadership to task, removing the president, Anurag Thakur, and the secretary, Ajay Shirke, from their respective positions. Accepting the Justice Lodha Committee’s concerns set out in the earlier status reports, the court reaffirmed its July 18, 2016 verdict, signalling the end of cricket administration as we have known it.

Price of non-compliance

Effective immediately, any BCCI and State associations’ official must be eligible as per the Lodha Committee’s eligibility criteria. The senior-most eligible vice-president will be the interim president of the BCCI, and the joint secretary will be the interim secretary for the next two weeks. The court also appointed two senior advocates to propose names for a committee of administrators that will essentially govern cricket and simultaneously ensure implementation of the Lodha Committee recommendations. In what is expected to be the final order on this matter, on January 19 the Supreme Court will release the names of the committee of administrators, and the transition to the court-appointed administration era will officially commence.

For the BCCI, the conclusion to what has been a series of unfortunate events laced with ill-advised moves and baffling periods of silence could not have been more hard-hitting. Eligible officials must provide a declaration that they will be in compliance with the Lodha Committee’s directives. For Mr. Thakur, things have become rather uncomfortable. In its order, the court declared the leadership of Mr. Thakur (and Mr. Shirke) ineffectual basis his stated inability to force the State associations to comply with the court’s orders. The court also implied that Mr. Thakur could face contempt charges for obstructing the implementation of the court’s orders, and — most troubling of all — it has recommended pursuing a perjury charge for lying under oath and allegedly falsifying the BCCI’s minutes from August 22 in which an account of Mr. Thakur’s version of his interaction with the International Cricket Council is documented. However, with both Mr. Thakur and Mr. Shirke seemingly having accepted their ouster, a more likely outcome is the court requiring a written or oral apology from Mr. Thakur and putting an end to this once and for all.

The BCCI and its State associations will probably rue the day the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal began in 2013, but in all honesty, there have been so many opportunities for them to stem the rot that it is difficult to pinpoint how it all went so wrong. Increasingly, the BCCI has become isolated and waged a battle that has seemed strategically unsound. There was a major disconnect between how far the Board really believed the court would go and the ground reality. What may also have escaped the BCCI’s notice is the changing perception of governance in sport and not just in India. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has seen an invasive overhaul recently, and in India, the Sports Ministry’s vocal chastising of the Indian Olympic Association’s controversial appointments is a case in point.

So used to being left to its own devices, the BCCI may have lost perspective and context. A little flexibility and the appearance of genuine reform would have gone a very long way. Perceived arrogance and insularity aside, the Board has done what it is tasked to do unlike any other sports federation in the world, let alone India — develop and promote the sport itself. Its biggest achievement in many ways is its biggest downfall — success, clout and profitability. The IPL is in serious limbo, and there’s no telling if there’s been an adverse impact on the media rights value.

The road from here

At some point there could be serious questions asked of this latest order. By replacing the Board with an unelected and subjectively appointed committee, optically what would have changed is the nature of appointment and the appointing authority. An interim committee tasked solely with the implementation of the court’s verdict and to oversee a transparent and fair election would have been ideal, and perhaps that is what will actually happen.

There remain some unanswered questions, and now it appears that we may never know whose names were mentioned in the sealed envelope submitted by the Justice Mudgal Committee in its report on the spot-fixing scandal that triggered this entire stand-off. And despite the BCCI seemingly having accepted the verdict, there is a growing buzz that some State associations may yet file appeals now that Justice T.S. Thakur would have retired as Chief Justice of India. So, there may be some twists along the way, but in a legacy judgment, Justice Thakur has brought reform to cricket in a way that few ever could have envisioned. An overhaul of this nature has never been attempted before, at least not successfully. This could turn out to be a template for sports governance globally, or just the opposite; it’s far too soon to know.

The Supreme Court and the Lodha Committee’s work here, as the saying goes, is done. But the real challenges and work towards ensuring not just a successful governance regimen but an equally successful on- and off-pitch tenure for the new leadership has just begun.

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


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