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Justice Mukul Mudgal has been associated with important judgements in sports, written a book on sports law, and helped draft the Sports Development Bill and Sporting Fraud Act. In the news after submitting his report on match-fixing and betting in the Indian Premier League (IPL) on 10 February, Mudgal spoke in an interview about the urgent need for reforms in the administration of sports even as he made out a strong case for legalizing sports betting. The report by the Mudgal committee found Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president N. Srinivasan, guilty of betting and censured cosy relationships between IPL team owners and their players. Edited excerpts:

You have a long association with sports litigation. How did it come about?

In 1989, about 13-14 cricketers were banned by BCCI because, coming back from a West Indies tour, they played some unauthorized matches in the US. So they were banned from cricket. My friend Sudhir Kapoor and I filed a writ petition to challenge the ban; fortunately justice E.S. Venkataramaiah, who was a cricket lover, was the chief justice—the matter came before him. We engaged (Soli) Sorabjee, who did the case totally free of charge. Due to the writ petition, the ban on Kapil Dev, (Mohammad) Azharuddin, Kiran More, Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar was revoked. That is how my connection with sports started, though I have been associated with sports in school and college.

Isn’t there an urgency about the two legislation—the Sports Development Bill and the Sporting Fraud Act (Bill)—you worked on?

There is, but unfortunately the Parliament does not seem to have the time; perhaps, not even the inclination at the moment.

But the Sports Development Bill does not bring BCCI under its purview.

Not directly. But it would include BCCI in the RTI (Right to Information) Act. We divided it into those seeking grants and those not seeking grants.

Reading between the lines of your latest report, there is a strong admonition of the wrongs in the administration of cricket. But you have also said you cannot paint everyone with the same brush.

The vast majority of cricket players and cricket administrators are clean. Honestly, BCCI is still the best managed sports institution in the country. IPL is also a good format, though it may need some improvement. In IPL, the young players get a chance, exposure and money, above all; too much money at a young age can be risky.

You have said that the IPL format is good, but has deficiencies.

We said it is better that it stays at an arm’s length from BCCI. Of course, BCCI has to be there in the governing council, but it should also have some independent directors of repute from outside. Today even the franchise owners are not represented even though they have a large stake. The idea was to make it better and give it an independent ombudsman status.

What about transparency in BCCI?

It needs to be more transparent. That is where the RTI comes in.

It is also very wealthy.

Of course, it is. Next to religion, the maximum money goes to cricket in India.

Spot-fixing shows that there is a clear nexus between different stakeholders—media, players, corporate world, underworld. It is a revelation of everything that is wrong with cricket in India.

As I said there are two reports—Mr (Nilay) Dutta’s report, and mine and Mr Nageswara Rao’s. Mr Dutta is an eminent lawyer and an eminent international umpire. I respect his point of view as well. The three-member committee means you are entitled to your own view. We were of the view that unless some allegation is verified, you should not even indicate who that person is. You will find that in our report. Unverified allegations can destroy a player’s career. While one wants to cleanse the system, in the process it should not become a witch-hunt.

Mr Rao and I found that there was betting. Mr Dutta in his wisdom took the view that one cannot establish betting unless the voice sample is identified by forensic tests. We had, in fact, called Mr Meiyappan, who decided to exercise his right to remain silent. (Actor) Vindoo Dara Singh also did not appear before us. He communicated his stand even though he was a vital link in this. We had to rely on the testimonies Bombay police produced before us.

But a grand conspiracy cannot happen with one person involved. For instance, the scale of betting…

I would not say that there was a grand conspiracy. Look, betting in India is widespread. I think it is among the largest turnover industries. I have always voted for betting to be legalized. I am, not for a moment, suggesting that legalizing betting can stop match-fixing or spot-fixing, but it will reduce it considerably. And look at the revenue which will come to the government. I am not saying that the entire informal market will shift. But certainly a substantial part will shift. Which punter would like to run foul of the law? I have never bet. But if it is legalized, I might think about it.

So why isn’t the government going ahead? Is it a moral hazard?

It is largely a moral call which a strong government must take. Frankly this call can only come at the beginning of the term because it is likely to evoke a lot of response. Betting has its evil side, but I would say, in a controlled manner, it is more transparent. For example, FIFA (the international federation of football associations) has an advance warning system which warns the governing body of unusual betting patterns. FIFA has power even to annul results. Secondly, a lot of black money will come out in the market. It will be taxable.

The issue of conflict of interest has also been raised by your committee’s report.

Conflict of interest was not in our terms of reference. But a large number of people we interacted with kept on talking about this. It is a serious concern and we are merely bringing it to the court’s notice without pronouncing on it.

The sealed envelope has got all of media’s attention. Is it just an unverified allegation you came across that has been submitted to the court?

I can’t say anything about the sealed cover because that itself will be revealing about the content. Whatever be the content, the very fact that it was kept under a sealed cover was because the allegations were not corroborated, verified or investigated.

Your committee has overturned the internal BCCI committee’s findings on Meiyappan, where they gave him a clean chit.

I would be the last person to comment on another judge’s committee. There were two honorable judges of the Madras high court. Their opinion is also entitled to respect. Perhaps they did not have the material presented before them. If it was presented, they might have come to a different conclusion.

But you have overturned their conclusion.

Not overturned, they may be at variance. Overturned means you are a superior judicial hierarchy. That’s not so.

What will it take to fix this mess —judicial response or political will?

Political will is definitely required. That can establish a deterrent. Judiciary can only prod the concerned sports body. Judiciary can’t and should not take over its functions.

But you are confident that this can be fixed.

If we have pessimism, nothing would survive. No doubt there are flaws, but the entire system has not rotted.

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