Stories alleging conflict of interest in Indian cricket have broken out like acne on a teenager in recent months. After Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, another former captain, Anil Kumble, finds himself under the scanner too.
I must mention at the outset that this is a period of “evolutionary turmoil” in Indian sport. Circumstances and society have changed dramatically in the past three or four decades, sports has changed from being just a hobby into an industry, but many critics and fans expect sportspersons to be paragons of virtue, especially where earning (or spending) money is concerned.
Under the scanner: (from left) K. Srikkanthm, Photo by R Senthil Kumar/PTI; Sunil Gavaskar, By Matt Turner/Getty Images; Ravi Shastri, By Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Conversely, sportspersons have also not come to terms clearly with what the strong participation of commerce in sport entails. If Indian cricket, for instance, is not just a game but a multi-billion dollar enterprise, the systems and processes which govern such enterprises with a high degree of transparency must become imperative too.
The simplest definition of conflict of interest is “when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt motivation for an act in the other”. But this piece is not a case study of Kumble’s alleged conflict of interest; rather why such situations erupt so regularly in Indian cricket? And can these be stymied?
My understanding is that most players, current and past, don’t fully understand “conflict of interest”. Having played at the highest level with single-minded focus and achieved laurels for themselves, their teams and country, they often find any question about their motives, even after they have stopped playing, as a slur on their person.
It’s not necessarily greed or vested interest, rather a closed mindset, which prevents them from a complete understanding of the situation. If the standards and practices which administer the sport are loose, it creates more opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise with many even failing to see the problem.
Anil Kumble. Photo by Gurpreet Singh/Hindustan Times
Wikipedia suggests that “the presence of a conflict of interest is independent from the execution of impropriety”. What this implies is that while the individual concerned may be upright and honest, the conflict does not necessarily vanish.
For instance, Gavaskar and Shastri may never compromise their independence as commentators even if on the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) payroll, but what is the guarantee that some lesser mortal might not? The effort, therefore, should be to defuse any perceivable conflict of interest before corruption occurs, or regiment the system in a manner which severely limits such situations from arising.
The problem of conflict of interest ought not to be looked at emotionally, parochially or idealistically. Instead, what is required is a rational, legal and common sense approach. For instance, the allegations that the many hats which Kumble wears lead to a conflict of interest have to be examined without prejudice.
He has been elected president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA). He resigned as captain of Indian Premier League (IPL) team Royal Challengers Bangalore but remains their mentor. As president of the KSCA, he appoints the selectors for the Karnataka teams. But he also owns a company which manages two Karnataka players. There is potential for confusion between all these hats, without appointing any motives.
Similarly, there has been hot debate about BCCI president N. Srinivasan also being owner of the IPL team Chennai Super Kings, and the chairman of the selection committee, K. Srikkanth, being ambassador for the same team. Many of the allegations against ousted IPL chief Lalit Modi is that his family members and friends were too closely involved, financially, in IPL teams. There was also the fact that the BCCI did not declare that Gavaskar and Shastri were on the payroll as commentators.
The problem then seems to suggest that there are no established standards and practices in the BCCI to deal with the various roles which administrators and cricketers—former and current—play in different aspects of the game. The integrity, character and intent of all those concerned is not what is under dispute: Rather, these questions need to be sorted out so that in the future, no allegations of conflict of interest may exist.
The argument can be made that if board members and administrators can wear several hats, then why can’t players? If the BCCI sets down the standards and practices to be followed by administrators and players, keeping conflict of interest in mind, then few such problems would arise.
One might suggest that the BCCI, instead of running itself like a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), where everything takes place behind closed doors, needs to open itself more and become more transparent.
Undoubtedly, many of these problems arise out of the tremendous money which the BCCI now commands. The volumes no longer allow this “HUF” approach. Given the vast fan base which cricket has in India and the close connections it has with our lives, it bears repeating that the BCCI has a bigger responsibility to clean up and straighten out its processes.
It would give the BCCI great credit if it looked to address these issues now before things spin out of control.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org