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Heart of the matter

There is a real threat that the battle between the Judiciary and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) could spill onto the field of play. Source-based reports across various Indian media outlets seem to suggest that the BCCI may call off the ongoing India-New Zealand series, which still has one Test match and five One-Day Internationals lined up. This purported move comes after the Supreme Court-appointed Justice RM Lodha committee asked banks to freeze the BCCI’s accounts for not following through on its directives. “We have no option other than to call off the India-New Zealand series as our banks have decided to freeze BCCI accounts. How can we function, how can we hold any games now? Who will make the payment?”, asked a senior board official. Taking strong exception to BCCI “misleading” everyone on key issues such as disbursement of large amount of funds to state associations, the Supreme Court-appointed Justice RM Lodha panel said on Tuesday it was unfortunate that their directions have been “misinterpreted”. In the email, Justice Lodha clearly states that the BCCI’s “routine expenses” have not been curtailed and that the banks were only told to confine large disbursements to state bodies. He said there was “no question” of cancelling any series. To the uninitiated, the Justice Lodha panel was constituted by the Apex Court in January 2015 to clean up Indian cricket, in the aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal. 

At stake here is the financial clout of the BCCI. It is no secret that the BCCI has not taken too kindly to the Lodha panel’s proposed reforms to clean up Indian cricket. BCCI president Anurag Thakur even stated on Monday that the governing body would be forced to choose between the Indian Premier League and the Champions Trophy in 2017 if the reforms were implemented. It was only after the Supreme Court weighed in that the cricket board decided to implement these reforms. True to form, however, the BCCI chose to implement only some of the recommendations at its Special General Meeting on September 30. Some of the high-profile recommendations from the judicial body that were not accepted by the BCCI include the “one state-one vote” directive, the age cap of 70 for office-bearers and the capping of tenure in office to nine years. Long-time observers contend that the “one state-one vote” directive would completely change existing power structures within the organisation. Meanwhile, the fixing of tenures for all BCCI office-bearers could leave many of Indian cricket’s most powerful men facing an immediate exit. But the current stand-off pertains to two financial decisions that the BCCI took during its emergent working committee meeting on September 30. According to a report on ESPN Cricinfo: “At the meeting on Friday (September 30), the BCCI decided that all its full members - with the exception of the out-of-favour Rajasthan Cricket Association - would get INR 10 crores as an increment to the state associations’ existing infrastructure subsidy of INR 60 crore. The working committee also decided that money received from the broadcaster as compensation for the cancellation of the Champions League T20 would be distributed among the BCCI’s full members.”

The Lodha panel took strong exception to these transactions because the board had been directed to only take decisions on routine matters till it implemented the reforms. It is evident that the Lodha panel’s directives to the banks were only confined to financial disbursements to state associations and did not affect “routine expenses” of cricket activities and administrative matters. Suggestions that the Lodha panel’s actions would jeopardise the current India-New Zealand series seem far-fetched. However, the standoff between the two entities is a lot bigger than just two financial transactions. It is no secret that BCCI is the most influential player in world cricket. The financial clout it enjoys is massive. According to a Mint report in December 2015, India accounted for 80 percent of the game’s revenues. One of the BCCI’s greatest achievements has been its ability to mint money off the game’s success. The resultant monetary windfall has proven to be beneficial for many associated with the game, especially the cricket-watching audience. Unsurprisingly, the BCCI’s growing financial clout has allowed it to exert a significant amount of influence on the global game. One example is BCCI’s decision to oppose the Umpire Decision Review System (DRS). India remains the only country in world cricket not to use DRS. What the Lodha’s panel directive to the banks to freeze the BCCI’s accounts has done is to strike at the very heart of that clout. Most of the panel’s recommendations thus far have focused on governance-related issues. However, this directive is indicative that the Lodha panel is not shy to go after the source of BCCI’s power—money. In this battle for the control of finances, the BCCI has made it clear that they will do everything to protect their turf. There is no doubt that BCCI is a cosy cartel of vested interests, whose only interests are to protect its massive profits. It is indeed a corrupt body that desperately needs reform. In an obvious bid to protect their interests, the political class, cutting across party lines, has done little to augment that process. Despite these facts, some have argued that the apex court has gone way beyond its constitutional brief to try and impose a solution on the cricket body is run. They argue that it is not the Apex Court’s place to decide how the BCCI or cricket should be administrated. The next scene of this stand-off will be now played out in the Apex Court on October 6.  
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