There appears to be just one last chapter left to be written in the epic reformation of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) by the Supreme Court. On December 15, the BCCI was in the firing line for its lack of compliance with the court’s July 18 verdict. With a biting assessment of its willingness to reform itself or lack thereof, and in light of the third status report submitted by the court-appointed committee headed by retired Justice R.M. Lodha (Lodha Committee), the BCCI seems to have been backed into a corner from which there seems to be no coming back.
Over the past few months, the Board appears to have made a series of head-scratching decisions, and has had a casually diffident approach to what has appeared to even the most casual and objective observers to be a threat to its very existence. This culminated in the most disturbing revelation yet, and perhaps one that will be the most adverse to the BCCI’s interests and viability. The affidavit submitted by the BCCI president, Anurag Thakur, to the court in its last hearing, documenting his version of the events that transpired between him and the International Cricket Council (ICC) with regard to the BCCI seeking a letter from the ICC that would refute certain recommendations made by the Lodha Committee, is for all intents and purposes factually incorrect, and could be the final reversal that seals the Board’s fate. The court had recently sought an explanation from the ICC chairman, Shashank Manohar, as to what had transpired between the ICC and the BCCI and the response, it appears, is in stark contrast to what Mr. Thakur submitted.
The issue the affidavit dealt with was the allegation that the BCCI had sought a letter from the ICC advising it that the Lodha Committee’s suggestion of nominating a member of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to the apex committee of the BCCI would constitute government interference and be in breach of the ICC regulations, leading potentially to the BCCI’s de-recognition. With what appears to be a case of inaccurate statements under oath, the BCCI president may now be the subject of perjury and contempt proceedings, and the court communicated this to the Board’s counsel. The court also sought an apology from the president if he were to have any chance of avoiding the perjury and contempt charges. This is where things have become extremely tricky for the Board.
The Lodha Committee had submitted its third status report on November 14, following another period during which the Committee and the Board did not see eye to eye, with the latter not expediting the reforms directed by the court. With the December 3 deadline for the BCCI to implement the committee’s recommendations not going according to plan, the committee had in its status report recommended removing all the ineligible members of the Board and replacing them with an observer, former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, who would work in tandem with the BCCI’s CEO. The Board strongly objected to his candidacy during the hearing, citing conflict of interest issues pertaining to certain directorships held by the proposed nominee. The court then asked the BCCI to provide a list of names that could be considered for a panel of observers, seemingly to replace the Board and helm major decision-making. The Board has been given a week to revert with proposed names.
In a battle that will eventually sway on public opinion and leverage, the most recent reversals have given the court and the committee significant and potentially overwhelming leverage in determining the course of cricket administration going forward. At the same time, by being inclusive and taking its time over the final outcome, and giving the BCCI time and opportunity to make valid changes in line with the directives, the Board has been given its due process. It seems to be fairly certain at this point that this isn’t a witch-hunt against the BCCI or its officials, and the focus seems to be more on reforming cricket and potentially creating a blueprint for the comprehensive governance of each sport in India.
On January 3, the court’s final verdict is expected, and it is most likely that it will replace the Board with a panel of observers tasked with contractual and strategic review powers for an interim period, and also with overseeing comprehensive implementation of the Lodha Committee’s recommendations. In the meantime, the delay and uncertainty could well take a toll on the Indian Premier League, with the upcoming broadcast rights tender and bidding process for the 2018-2028 term being suspended indefinitely during this stalemate. It is expected to be one of the most lucrative broadcast deals globally, and how the confrontation with the court impacts the monetary and optical success of Indian cricket is a question mark for now.
Today, there seems to be no apparent escape route for the BCCI. A widely expected sports law has not been tabled before Parliament and both the review and curative motions have been denied by the court. Circa January 2017, it seems quite apparent that cricket administration in India, and perhaps sports administration as a whole, would have received a complete and perhaps irreversible facelift.
Desh Gaurav Sekhri is a sports attorney and author of ‘Not Out! The incredible story of the Indian Premier League.’