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BCCI president N. Srinivasan. Photo: Reuters
BCCI president N. Srinivasan. Photo: Reuters

IPL case | Cleaning up the game

The Supreme Court verdict indicates the need for cleaning up cricket and lays down a stronger foundation for its governance

New Delhi: While the verdict squarely handles the issue of accountability of the officials in the world of cricket, it also indicates the need for cleaning up the sport and lays down a stronger foundation for its governance. The 138-page verdict starts on a note of caution when it records that “accusations of malpractices and conflict of interests against those who not only hold positions of influence in the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) but also own franchises and teams competing in the IPL format have left many a cricketing enthusiasts...deeply suspicious about what goes on in the name of the game".

The court reflects the views of many cricket lovers when it remarks: “Cricket being not only a passion but a great unifying force in this country, a zero-tolerance approach towards any wrongdoing alone can satisfy the cry for cleansing."

The court’s effort is to sort out two sets of complexities that have plagues the BCCI—one is to simplify the role of stakeholders in the IPL and the second is to bring BCCI as a body within the ambit of the law.

Meticulously manoeuvring through the web of multiple roles, responsibilities and commercial interests of Indian Premier League (IPL) stakeholders, the verdict also brings accountability in line with the assigned positions. It finds that Gurunath Meiyappan is a team official as is Raj Kundra. The BCCI president, who donned multiple hats, is hard to categorise and the court recognizes that “a clear conflict of interest has arisen between what is Mr Srinivasan’s duty as president of BCCI on the one hand and his interest as father-in-law of Mr Gurunath Meiyappan and owner of team CSK on the other".

A significant lesson that the verdict lays down for the governance of cricket is by circumscribing the scope of BCCI’s functioning along the lines of “principles of natural justice"—an overarching principle which basically binds the body to function according to rules. The court says: “Even if the duties and functions which BCCI discharges are administrative and not quasi judicial, the principles will find their application with the same rigor as may be applicable to quasi-judicial functions".

The apex court holds that BCCI performs “public functions" which makes it amenable to the power of high courts under their writ jurisdiction. The court further explains that the same standard of scrutiny would then apply to the BCCI’s functioning, despite it being a private society.

“It appears that just as in the case of governance deficit in the executive segment, where the Supreme Court is taking an activist approach, the same activist approach is also being extended to the ‘private’ or hitherto non-public sector. It suffers from the same deficit of legitimacy as judicial activism usually suffers from", said Rahul Singh, assistant professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.

Commenting on the verdict, former cricketer Atul Wassan said: “It’s the right start as it takes cognisance of the fact that something was not right with the administration of cricket. It indicated that if you ignore the conflict in the system, it will be open to judicial scrutiny." Although cricket thrived in the country because of its autonomy, its administration has reached a point where a quasi-government inquiry was needed, he said. “The verdict will help the image of the game."

The court is also critical of the state condoning and even abetting the BCCI’s monopoly. It says: “The state has not chosen to bring any law or taken any other step that would either deprive or dilute the board’s monopoly in the field of cricket. On the contrary, the government of India has allowed the board to select the national team which is then recognized by all concerned..."

It goes on to note that “the functions of the board are clearly public functions, which, till such time the state intervenes to take over the same, remain in the nature of public functions," even though it is registered as a society.

Apoorva contributed to this story.

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