The Lodha committee reforms are a shot in the arm for cricket, but practical considerations are being sacrificed for lofty goals
Cricket associations in India are in a mess, but that is nothing new. Allegations of financial impropriety, corruption, round-tripping, illegal appropriation of funds, rigged elections and even sexual harassment have often been levelled against the state officials. The cricketing machinery in the country has, for decades, suffered because of lack of transparency and accountability, conflict of interest and general apathy towards all-round malfeasance.
Not surprisingly, many critics have often equated state associations with “fiefdoms”, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) looking the other way. A number of state associations and the BCCI for long have been in a convenient relationship where cases of fiscal pilfering were quietly swept under the carpet.
While the status quo was immensely lucrative to the stakeholders on the inside, it has come at a massive cost to the game, its players and its followers. Naturally, the radical reform measures recommended by former chief justice of India (CJI) Rajendra Mal Lodha have received a rousing welcome from fans and media in general.
In January 2015, the supreme court (SC) appointed the Lodha committee to investigate recurrent controversies that the game found itself mired in. The committee was assigned with the task of recommending changes to the extant functioning of the game in India, including ushering in efficiency in the management of the BCCI and cleaning the body of its political and bureaucratic hold.
There is little doubt then that the Lodha committee reforms are a shot in the arm for the game. However, these sweeping recommendations will create a new set of executive challenges, and with it will come a rough transition period before business in the BCCI can go back to usual.
In July last year, the Lodha committee recommended a ban of two years on the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) for their involvement in the 2013 spot-fixing and betting scandal. Gurunath Meiyappan, ‘team principal’ of CSK and son-in-law of former International Cricket Council (ICC) chairman N Srinivasan, and Raj Kundra, co-owner of RR, faced the committee’s ire and were banned for life from all cricketing activities.
Along with this came the sweeping recommendations for the BCCI’s internal structure.
According to the committee’s report, all 29 states of India are to be granted full membership. At the time of the report’s release, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and the northeastern states – Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunchal Pradesh and Mizoram – did not enjoy the status of a full membership in the cricketing body. Some states, on the other hand, were over-represented. For instance, Maharashtra and Gujarat boasted of having three different cricketing bodies each. Many hailed this recommendation as an unprecedented levelling of the playing field, ensuring equal opportunity to all the associations. What was ignored was the resultant problems of such a path-breaking decision. With these recommendations, the three associations of Maharashtra now cannot vote individually in the BCCI elections. The state will have only one vote as per the ‘one state, one vote’ policy. However, multiple associations of Maharashtra – Mumbai, Vidarbha and Maharashtra – will continue to play domestic cricket. Same is the case with Gujarat which has three associations: Baroda, Gujarat and Saurashtra. By doing so, the committee has robbed the legitimate associations of Maharashtra and Gujarat from their erstwhile full memberships, and has instead granted voting rights to the northeastern states that have historically and culturally never been receptive to the game.
Though this move will ensure equality among the states, but it will deprive the already thriving cricket associations of their full membership. As a solution, the committee has suggested an annual rotational system of full membership for states with multiple associations. This recommendation bodes enormous risks to associations without full membership and consequently no voting right.
Primarily, their access to funds could be choked off and secondarily, their domestic teams would be playing in the field without having any representation in the BCCI. Further, granting the northeastern states full membership is an idealistic step forward, but in reality it can lead to a situation where powerful office-bearers will woo these states to align with their interests. This might lead to rampant politicisation of the internal working of these associations.
Additionally, the northeastern states lack first-class cricket teams. By granting them full membership, these states will have the power and privilege to influence the governance of cricket without even having a functional team.
The fact that Gujarat and Maharashtra have three different cricketing bodies is inherently linked to the popularity and cultural appeal of the game in these states. Besides, these states have a rich history of luminaries contributing to the promotion of the game like Ranjitsinhji and Vijaysingh Madhavji Merchant.
The committee in its broad-sweeping reforms has given the status of just an associate member to the Railways and Services teams, delivering a blow to their representation in the BCCI as well.
Another major recommendation of the Lodha committee states that every office-bearer of the BCCI and state associations will have a three-year tenure and can contest for maximum three terms. Also, there will be an obligatory cooling-off period of three years after each term, which is to say that no office-bearer can hold office successively. Further, no member shall be allowed to serve if he/she has already completed over nine years as an office-bearer.
A limit is placed on the tenure so that an office-bearer does not consider the institution as his/her “fiefdom” –which has been the prevalent practice in the state associations, limiting the power in the hands of a few.
However, legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar differs from the committee’s views. Speaking to media, he pointed out that three years is too short a time for a member to become a president, which is the “pinnacle in an administrator’s career”.
Even Kapil Dev, who led the Indian team that won the 1983 world cup, found himself in disagreement with the three-year tenure recommendation. He told the media, “Three years is too quick. Things are happening and before you know whether you should do it or not, the time is over. Running such a big organisation is not a small thing. Maybe 30 years back it was different. Back then we didn’t have coaches and management. Now you have professional people to help. Today, the board has changed.”
The hasty implementation of tenure restriction will immediately disqualify most office-bearers resulting in a vacuum of managerial experience. This paucity of skilled hands will be filled by elected but inexperienced individuals, who will be responsible for handling extremely complex and sensitive positions for short tenures. The cost for this will be borne by the players, both at the state and the district level, suffering at the hands of “a weak administration”.
Another important reform has been limiting the age of an office-bearer to 70. This means that a lot of political heavyweights in the BCCI and state units will have to call it a day. However, the history of state associations and the BCCI is replete with instances of state association members acting on behalf of power-players. The 70-year-age restriction is a cosmetic reform that stands the risk of being manipulated, in spirit, if not in form.
Ditto with restrictions on bureaucrats and politicians entering the BCCI and state units. In the past, netas and babus have often had allegations of impropriety flung at them and removing them from the administration seems a justified move. However, simply eliminating politicians doesn’t necessarily weed out the political interference. In future, the working of the body will still be dependent on the realpolitik in the BCCI and state associations rather than on considerations of public probity.
The committee also recommends formation of an apex council. This council will comprise of five elected members of the BCCI – president, vice president, secretary, joint secretary and treasurer. It will also have four other councillors – two (one male and one female) to be nominated by the players’ association (yet to be formed), one to be elected by the full member of the BCCI and one to be nominated by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) of India. The council eliminates the need of zonal vice presidents. As a result, there will be only one vice president, instead of five zonal vice presidents earlier.
Similarly, the committee has put an end to the zonal system of selectors and has replaced it with a system comprising of three national selectors. The panel’s recommendation to do away with the zonal system will mean excessive burden on the proposed selection committee, which will have to bear the burden of selecting the finest in the game from the large talent pool within the country. Stakeholders from key state associations say that the selection committee will find it difficult to shoulder such huge responsibility and that it will invariably come at the cost of talent being overlooked.
Cricket in India often enjoys the status of religion with players being treated as demigods. The Lodha committee recommendations are meant to rescue the gentleman’s game from an opaque and unaccountable power structure. However, this transition will be riddled with a host of administrative problems, the answers to which have not yet been envisaged by the committee. The muck in the game cannot be eliminated by arm-twisting the BCCI and its state units. To comprehend the feasibility, one has to reverse the view and observe the committee’s recommendations from the state associations’ perspective as well.
Here, it is also imperative to note that the sport is just not narrowed down to the management but is also devoted to the sentiments of its audience and players who have embraced the game as part of their culture.
(The article appears in November 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)