Narayanaswami Srinivasan, who has fought off ouster from presidentship of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with a mix of dogged resilience and deft legal protocol over the past year, now finds himself, to use a cliché, between a rock and a hard place.
The Supreme Court, opining on the three-member Justice Mukul Mudgal panel report it had commissioned, has observed that a “fair and free” inquiry into allegations of corruption and match-fixing in last season’s Indian Premier League (IPL) is not possible if Srinivasan remains in office. The bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and F.M.I. Kalifulla has categorically asked the BCCI president to step down; in fact the justices have used the harshest possible description for Srinivasan’s continuance in office, saying it was “nauseating” and “filled with filth”.
Accompanying the scathing observations was a threat that if Srinivasan declined to vacate his position, “we will pass a verdict”, the ramifications of which hardly need spelling out. The justices set a 48-hour deadline, which ends on Thursday, for compliance.
At the time of writing this piece, it is not known what Srinivasan intends to do. Everything suggests though that he has little room to manoeuvre and perhaps even less reason to stay in office. In fact, this would work to his own and Indian cricket’s serious detriment. A rebuffed court may even order cancellation of the forthcoming IPL, scheduled to start in mid-April. The consequences of this could be grave. Apart from precipitating a further credibility crisis, there would be serious financial implications, given the many stakeholders involved.
Almost certainly it would also trigger an open revolt against him in the BCCI. Already, three of his vice-presidents have said he should “honour” the court’s observations. This number can only grow.
It doesn’t end there. In all probability this would also extend to Srinivasan’s appointment as chairman of the International Cricket Council, due in a couple of months. Not every member country was happy with the way his candidature was approved.
To cast an eye back on the controversy, ever since allegations of match-fixing in the IPL began last year, there have been calls for the BCCI chief to step down. To be fair, Srinivasan did so after immense public pressure, but it was only for the duration of a BCCI-appointed inquiry by two retired judges who were alleged to be his “proxies”. He was back in charge once the report “cleared” him.
Subsequently, the court commissioned Mudgal panel to look into the match-fixing and betting scandal. It found enough substance in the allegations, if not to indict Srinivasan, to at least damn the way the sport is
being run in the country.
being run in the country.
The issue of conflict of interest was also brought up in the Mudgal report. This had been debated from the time India Cements Ltd, owned by Srinivasan, bid for the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings. Srinivasan was not board president then but he was an office-bearer and the rules were changed to accommodate him.
While he could not technically be faulted, the problem returned, magnified most disturbingly in last year’s corruption scandal when Srinivasan’s son-in-law G. Meiyyapan, alleged to have been part of Chennai Super Kings, was severely indicted by the Mudgal panel for betting and “sharing information”. Criminal charges against Meiyappan and some others continue.
More damagingly, the names of some players—allegedly those who’ve played for India—have been sucked into the vortex. An envelope containing the names of six players submitted by Nilay Datta (who was part of the panel appointed by the court) is now in possession of justices Patnaik and Kalifulla.
Srinivasan has steadfastly countered all allegations of wrongdoing and has claimed that he is the victim of circumstances. That is possible. But apart from the legal and moral issues involved there is one more factor that his advisers and he need to consider. Their actions have a direct bearing on the players in IPL teams, and more particularly in Chennai Super Kings. By sticking to his guns, Srinivasan is obliquely but adversely affecting the integrity of the players, including those in the team owned by his company. One of these players happens to be the captain of India.
The situation is unacceptable. The “filth” that the apex court sees in Srinivasan’s continuing in office is the sort of discredit that can destroy a sportsperson. Putting a sportsperson’s integrity in jeopardy would be an act unworthy of someone who has consistently claimed to be a lover and patron of the sport.
Whatever good work Srinivasan has done by the BCCI and the sport would get negated by obstinacy. It is not just good character but common sense that he has to step down and distance himself from the BCCI until all inquiries and investigations are over.
Indeed, while this may seem like an end game, to use another cliché, this is also a fine opportunity for Srinivasan to shrug off all the allegations hurled at him. A “fair inquiry” is something he has asked for all along. If his stepping down facilitates that, as the chief custodian of cricket in India, he should welcome it.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.