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N. Srinivasan. Photo: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times
N. Srinivasan. Photo: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times

To win public favour

All said and done, the BCCI still needs to work towards restoring public faith in the IPL

In giving a “clean chit"—the term is now evoking extreme derision—to some of its functionaries, their associates and others under scrutiny for alleged spot-fixing and betting in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is now rivalling the country’s political class in the cynicism it generates.

This sense of disbelief, to queer the pitch further for the cricket board, is not restricted to public perception alone. The Mumbai police have got into a slanging match over the exoneration of Gurunath Meiyappan against whom (and several others) it is still preparing a chargesheet for trial. To compound matters, the Bombay high court has described the two-member committee appointed by the BCCI which probed the issue as “unconstitutional and illegal".

There are indications of rising dissent within the establishment too, if some statements by members—current and former—are anything to go by. Sanjay Jagdale (former secretary) and Ajay Shirke (former treasurer), who had resigned for reasons of impropriety on the BCCI’s part, had said they had no idea who formed the internal probe committee that gave this “clean chit".

That the internal probe found no evidence of any wrongdoing by BCCI chief N. Srinivasan, his son-in-law Meiyappan and Rajasthan Royals part-owner Raj Kundra should have provided massive relief to everybody concerned. On the contrary, it has thrown up a bigger credibility crisis for the BCCI.

Purely from a procedural standpoint, little action could be taken against these people in the absence of any tangible evidence provided (till then) by the Delhi and Mumbai police investigating the case against spot-fixing (betting being another issue in its legal implications altogether). Exceeding this brief was outside their mien and scope. The cases opened by police are not yet closed, so the so-called “clean chit" given by the BCCI has limited relevance. What has riled public sentiment is that the BCCI’s moves appear to lack probity and natural justice. Constituting an internal probe panel, some legal experts argue, means that the board wanted to play judge and jury to try its own. That two retired judges from Tamil Nadu—Srinivasan’s home state—were preferred in an ad hoc fashion added more grist to the mills of suspicion.

The haste with which the probe was completed without the Delhi and Mumbai police even having filed chargesheets seemed to suggest that everything was contrived to facilitate the rapid return of Srinivasan as president and Rajeev Shukla as IPL chairman.

There is clearly a blur in perception between the legal and moral positions in matters pertaining to the BCCI. But the latter aspect—given the recurring controversies and disputes—is no less important for that. The opaque nature of the BCCI’s functioning has invited growing criticism over the years despite the counter-argument that it is a private body.

From the time the IPL started, the BCCI has been perceived as even more recalcitrant in explaining its methods and operations. Conflict of interest issues at work have been cited from the time the BCCI’s laws were changed so that a board member could own an IPL team. From then on, the IPL roller coaster has thrown up a number of problems as it went on its merry joyride, leading to the current crisis.

The crux of the matter for the BCCI now is not so much the legal position, which it may well meet, albeit contentiously, but plugging the trust deficit vis-à-vis the followers of the game that has grown wider with every passing day. It has to regenerate belief that it is there for the good of the game.

Recasting the dos and don’ts for administrators, franchise owners, their friends, players, et al in the IPL is an immediate imperative. Appointing an ombudsman and a couple of independent members on the governing council would have great value too. There are just too many loose ends to make for full credibility, as has become evident over the past six years—this could be detrimental to the brand value of the IPL.

Taking cognizance of public sentiment would be an even bigger step in the right direction. I am not in favour of cricket coming under the control of the government, but being open to scrutiny under the right to information (RTI) law is not necessarily a bad thing.

The working committee meeting of the BCCI, scheduled for Friday in the Capital, is therefore crucial. Will a fresh panel, as advocated by the Bombay high court, be appointed? Will Srinivasan be restored as president or will members ask him to bide his time? A defiant Srinivasan has said he will come, irrespective of the reservations expressed by many. He argues that the high court admonishment is not such a big thing since the writ filed by the Bihar Cricket Association has been dismissed.

But the misgivings of the public may take more than just legal/organizational rightfulness or bravado to correct.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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