By appointing a panel to decide the futures of their two tainted stakeholders, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR), the Indian Premier League (IPL) has officially launched Operation Clean-Up. A process they hope, if not wish, is able to wipe the muck that has sullied the image of both the IPL and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) so much that the credibility of Indian cricket itself has been left hanging by a thread.
On the face of it, terminating the two franchises with immediate effect would appear to be the obvious — and most prudent — course of action for the panel to take. Some might even argue it is more the need of the hour than just an option if the Board is serious about its image. Both CSK and RR have been found guilty by the Probe Committee, the Supreme Court and the Lodha Committee of punishable offences that have had an adverse impact on the IPL. Getting rid of the two rotten apples would appear to be a sureshot, if dramatic, way to safeguard the league.
The conflict of interest issue has been the albatross around the necks of everyone involved with CSK, ever since the franchise was bought by India Cements, the company owned by the controversial BCCI bigwig N Srinivasan. There have been whispers about player auctions being rigged (the case of Andrew Flintoff being bought by CSK in 2009), and about umpires being specially appointed for Chennai matches. Regardless of how — and how much — he has tried to distance himself from the franchise, CSK has always remained Srinivasan’s team. And it hasn’t helped that his son-in-law, cricket enthusiast or not, has being found guilty of betting on his team’s matches from his privileged seat in the team dugout. Not to forget that the Supreme Court had to step in to annul an amendment in the BCCI constitution that supported this brazen conflict of interest. Srinivasan’s reluctance to act against the team — and his defiant denial of Gurunath Meiyappan’s and his own involvement in CSK’s functioning, just made things worse.
If CSK are left with no ethical ground to stand on, the Royals have been getting into scandals the most frequently. Three of their players have been sent to jail for alleged spot-fixing during IPL matches, and another banned for being an accomplice. These were the arrests that started off the spot-fixing scandal that now threatens to devour a major chunk of the IPL’s trustworthiness.
RR’s high-profile co-owner, Raj Kundra, has been found guilty of betting heavily on his team’s matches. And it is difficult to overlook the fact that the team’s ownership remains a topic of conjecture long after Lalit Modi, who was alleged to have had a stake in RR, was banned as IPL chairman.
You would think, therefore, that the Rajiv Shukla-led panel, which also has Sourav Ganguly and Anurag Thakur on it, would have no hesitation in recommending that the franchises be sacked so that the IPL could retain its integrity.
But if only it was that straightforward.
It is unlikely that either CSK or RR will go down without a fight. It is the legal complications of ending the contracts that will appear as the big deterrent should the IPL and BCCI consider an amputation.
To begin with, the two franchises could demand to know why they were being punished twice for the same crime, now that the Lodha Committee has already suspended them for two years. Even though Justice Lodha has hinted that the BCCI has the power to extend his verdict and pull the plug on the two franchises.
The Lodha Committee was appointed by the Supreme Court to deliberate on, and deliver, the quantum of punishment for Meiyappan, Kundra, and their respective franchises because Justice T S Thakur, who delivered that judgment, did not trust the BCCI to award an unbiased sentence. And if the BCCI were to terminate CSK and RR, how can they establish it wasn’t a motivated decision, based more on personal vendetta rather than a dispassionate call taken in the best interests of all stakeholders?
While suspending the franchises, the Lodha Committee went by the IPL’s Operational Rules, and called for it to reflect on institutional reform. So how could the BCCI now override the Committee’s verdict and pronounce its own punishment?
So what options does this leave the BCCI?
It would appear they have no choice but to keep the eight-team format of the league. Broadcast agreements dictate that status quo be maintained. Getting rid of CSK and RR could mean auctioning in two new franchises, along with the legal repercussions.
And yet, the BCCI and its members are no strangers to litigation and long court battles. If they are indeed serious about returning the IPL to its once enviable pedestal, going for the jugular might well be a gamble worth taking. It would show that the BCCI means business — and that this is not just their latest attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Indian cricket fan.
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