The power and seeming impunity of Indian cricket’s governing body,and its besieged chief,is facing its most severe test in the wake of a fixing scandal which has exposed previously ignored conflicts of interest and intimidation of critics.
The scandal has tarnished the previously glossy local image of the Board of Control for Cricket in India,which does not depend on government funding,has brokered lucrative broadcasting contracts that helped it earn a $1 billion in revenue last year,and has become the powerbase of the international game.
The public perception of the cricket board has changed drastically amid a spot-fixing scandal engulfing its flagship Indian Premier League. And BCCI president N Srinivasan is struggling to hang on to power after his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was arrested during the police investigations into the betting scams.
The calls for Srinivasan’s ouster have been getting louder,and if he hangs on as president it will be only because of the fence-sitters within the board.
Most of the executive and international players aren’t speaking publicly against Srinivasan,perhaps for fear of repercussions,but the critics who have gone on the record certainly haven’t masked their opinions.
“Am I surprised that the most influential,arrogant and haughty sports official in the history of Indian sport its present president has been reduced to an object of mockery?” former test captain Bishan Bedi wrote in a column for The Hindu newspaper. “Here is a man blinded by his own monumental craving for insatiable authority.”
The spot-fixing scandal is the hot topic of conversation everywhere in India from tea-stalls to boardrooms,and is dominating the local news.
Srinivasan became embroiled when Meiyappan was taken in for questioning after the arrests of former test cricketer Shantakumaran Sreesanth and two others who played for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
Srinivasan is the managing director of India Cements,which owns the Chennai franchise in the IPL. Meiyappan was involved with the Chennai Super Kings team,either as a high-ranking official or No. 1 supporter,depending on who you believe.
Former International Cricket Council and BCCI chief Sharad Pawar joined the chorus after at least three other past presidents criticized the functioning of the BCCI under Srinivasan,widely regarded as the most powerful man in world cricket owing to India’s financial clout.
“It is better if Srinivasan leaves till the probe is over as the BCCI’s image has already been dented by the IPL scandal,” Pawar said. “All matches of this year’s IPL must be probed and the entire fixing matter should be sent to the home ministry.”
Former BCCI presidents Shashank Manohar,A.C.Muthiah,and Inderjit Singh Bindra are also demanding answers after the spot fixing scandal widened to include bookmakers and officials,along with players.
“The BCCI should immediately file a criminal complaint with the investigating agencies,urging them to probe all games in the current IPL edition,” Manohar said. “It has to deal with this menace with an iron fist. If,at the end of it all,13 and not three players are involved in fixing,so be it.”
India’s sports ministry has urged Srinivasan to resign on “moral grounds” since his close relative is being probed by both investigating agencies and the board itself.
He has rejected those calls,and defended himself against the media barrage. Srinivasan,who tweaked the rules that restrained board officials from having business interests in the game and then got to run the Chennai franchise,is not about to step down.
He has argued the “rotten eggs” had been identified and rejected the idea of broader corruption within the IPL.
That rotten eggs reference was to the three arrested players Sreesanth,Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan and not his son-in-law Meiyappan,who was commonly called the chief executive or team principal by Chennai Super Kings.
Once Meiyappan’s name came up during interrogation of little-known actor Vindoo Randhawa the alleged conduit between bookmakers and players the team rapidly sought to downplay his role. India Cements denied Meiyappan was the team’s CEO and claimed that he only held an honorary position in the team management. That seemed at odds with his consistent presence either in the team dugouts as its principal or at team auctions and post-match parties.
The 68-year-old Srinivasan explained his son-in-law’s omnipresence merely as “enthusiasm.” And he shrugged off calls for his resignation by saying there’s no allegations of wrongdoing against him.
However the scandal has raised questions about a perceived conflict of interest. He runs the national governing body for cricket and also controls the most successful team in the richest domestic tournament.
In the past,India’s former chief selector Krishnamachary Srikkanth was also the brand ambassador for the Chennai franchise. With India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also leading the team,is it reasonable to think playing for Chennai gave players an advantage when it came to national selection?
Yet for all these questions,criticism of Indian cricket’s power structure had been muted until recently,due both to the BCCI’s unchecked power and a carrot-and-stick approach to critics.
The BCCI even had commentators Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri on its payrolls in various committees.
The BCCI and Srinivan’s vehement opposition to the Decision Review System in recent years and the alleged manner in which it pushed to get former leg-spinner Lakshman Sivaramakrishnan onto an ICC cricket committee last month are examples of its unabashed use of influence.
Political pressure is also faint,with lawmakers of many persuasions having been involved in the BCCI executive for a long time.
And while the cricket board faces allegations of foreign exchange violation and tax evasion and has a former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi living in self-imposed exile in London,it still has support in high places.
The IPL commissioner and BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla is a minister of the ruling Congress government while a top leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janta Party is another vice-president who is also the BCCI’s president designate.
And they’re just the prominent board members.
So it’s not surprising that apart from the likes of Bedi,Kirti Azad and Ashok Malhotra,very few people inside the game have dared to be critical.
After all,the BCCI can quite easily stop ex-gratia payments and a monthly payment scheme for ex-players that it runs on the lines of a pension fund.
Some who attended a protest against the BCCI staged by Azad last year were warned that they would lose financially if they did not tender an unconditional apology to the BCCI. They were quick to disassociate themselves from Azad.