As the world anxiously awaits the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Lodha Committee reforms that is due on December 14, National School of Journalism caught up with Suresh Menon, acclaimed Indian sports writer and editor of Wisden India Almanack to take a closer look at the case- to see where the board went wrong and if the judiciary, in its attempt to cleanse the game, has overshot its authority.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the stakeholders in this case- years’ worth of debates and mudslinging from both sides. As we’re sitting on the brink of a verdict, we asked Mr. Menon for his outlook.
Menon finds the whole setup of the board to be extremely feudalistic. The BCCI have been running international cricket for quite some time now, yet its house has not been in order for decades. The combination of access to money and political shenanigans have blown up in their faces, mainly because when given a chance to set its own house in order, the BCCI decided to kick its heels in like a child throwing a tantrum, and that is exactly what has led to the current scenario.
The BCCI is one of the finest sports bodies in the world and has been functioning for over eight decades now, yet it lacks discipline. So what made the board suddenly conscious of its shortcomings?
Menon thinks that money was the game-changer. Over the years, the quantum of money has increased enormously, so now it affects everybody! Earlier in the 50s and 60s, there was no limelight on the board. But once India started winning matches, right from ’83, bringing in laurels, focus gradually shifted to the BCCI. The media fraternity had a significant role in bringing it to the attention of the public that things aren’t as hunky-dory as they should be, so it’s time something ought to be done.
In a 2013 article in Tehelka Magazine named When hysteria takes over reason, Menon wrote, “Wink-wink, nudge-nudge journalism is at its best on some TV channels. The hullabaloo generated by the media and even the police in the IPL spot-fixing scandal is nothing but another sport, in which everyone is playing to the gallery. The idea should be to check this unscrupulous and tedious coverage and concentrate on accountability.”
The problem with spot fixing or match fixing is that there is no law in India against either. So when Sreesanth wore a towel attached to his trousers as an apparent signal to bookies, the media was piling on to it with a great deal of interest. In fact, he was charged with the MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act), which was basically for terrorists. It is absurd to argue that part of the money that he got came from the same source that also funds terrorists. Even the media could see how preposterous it all was, but that didn’t stop them from going on and on with it. The story there was that India didn’t have a law against spot-fixing in 2000, in 2013 or even today. That is the essence that the media forgot when it decided to play personalities. Rather than focusing on cricket, we often tend to focus on cricketers and therefore, in that process, lose perspective.
Has the media been objective in its coverage of the Lodha-BCCI controversy? Some have come down heavily against Lodha and some against the BCCI. The BCCI was needed to be given a fresh coat of paint, while the Lodha committee might have overstepped a bit. For example, one cannot say that the BCCI can only have 3 selectors; that is for the BCCI to decide. Menon thinks that Lodha went into it in a very granular manner which should have ideally been the BCCI’s job.
Here the question arises, if the Lodha reforms are Srinivasan’s only legacy, given that during the spot-fixing scandal of 2013, he was the president of the board. In an interview to Wisden last year, Srinivasan said that he hoped his legacy would be that he contributed towards the good of the game, and indirectly he already has. If he hadn’t refused to ‘clean the house’, the Supreme Court wouldn’t have stepped in.
Menon thinks that the 70 year cut off for the office bearers is perfectly valid. If implemented, it can not only be used for cricket, but for all the other sports where there are people who have been in power for thirty-forty years and have made no significant contributions. There’s also a problem with the cooling off period, according to him. Let’s assume that a test cricketer retires at the age of forty, so if the cooling off period of three years is implemented, by the time he is fifty, his involvement with cricket would be over. The One State One Vote reform makes sense, there’s no reason that why Mumbai should not, despite bagging 41 Ranji trophies, be at par with Meghalaya, for example. It might not make a lot of sense right now, but twenty-five-thirty years down the line, there will be an established system. The North-Eastern states might not be ready to play first class cricket today because they lack adequate infrastructure, thanks to the BCCI. Maybe a temporary fix would be to have a combined North-Eastern team that plays the Ranji trophy, and test the pitch for a trial period of five years,says Menon.
From the beginning the board has taken the Supreme Court head on, hence resulting in an ego battle and arm twisting between these two entities. The Lodha committee now feels that despite giving the BCCI enough time, they haven’t taken advantage of it. The Supreme Court didn’t pull up the BCCI for contempt of court, which they were perfectly entitled to do. This presumably has made the BCCI think that the Supreme Court isn’t too sure about its stand. There is no body in India, let alone a sports body, which can take on the Supreme Court with such flair, such arrogance. Menon feels that there is a bigger game being played here- a judiciary versus executive game. Maybe the whole cricketing community vis-à-vis the Lodha committee and Supreme Court is just a pawn in a much larger game. There have been talk of judicial overreach in other areas as well.
Surprisingly all of this hasn’t been affecting the on-field action at all. It is quite amazing how Kohli and his men have marched on completely untouched by the politico-legal shenanigans that seem to have plagued the board.
How would this hurly-burly affect the IPL, we ask. Menon smirks as he quotes RK Narayan. “We’re a country that lives in the eleventh hour,” he says. And by the twelfth, everything will be alright.