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After BCCI vs Supreme Court, it’s back to status quo

Sandeep Dwivedi writes: BCCI's long brush with judiciary has had its learning. In cricket, it's never over till the last ball is bowled. In courts, there are no last balls, every final order has an amendment

Sandeep Dwivedi writes: By granting BCCI's wish of continuity, the SC seems to have lost its own. There have been three different cooling-off periods -- three, six and 12 years — in three SC orders since 2016. (Illustration: CR Sasikumar)

Continuity was the plank on which the BCCI stood in its court battle to water down the much-debated cooling-off clause. It wanted the Supreme Court-approved constitution amended to give office bearers longer terms. To serve Indian cricket better, they needed time, the board stressed. Say, if an able administrator had a grand vision to build a grand stadium in his state, he would need to be in power for a few terms at a stretch, they argued. A BCCI representative at the ICC first needed to be seen as a “regular” to understand the equations, get influential, be one among the boys and protect India’s interest in world cricket.

The SC heard them out and even saw merit in their plea. The clause got tweaked.

But by doing so, the bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli have moved the ball from long-on to deep fine leg. The original 2016 SC order, based on the Justice RM Lodha committee recommendations, wanted the office-bearers to take a mandatory break after every three-year term. Now, they can remain in a state body and the BCCI together for an unbroken stint of 12 years.

With time, orders do get relaxed and the wisdom of Lordships can change. But considering the tone and tenor of the case so far, this qualified to be called a volte-face. To say that the pitch of the judges hearing this long-running case in the past was shrill would be putting things mildly.

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Back in the September of 2016, with BCCI digging its heels in and delaying implementing the SC order — not even in letter, forget spirit — the then CJI TS Thakur, had let out a stern observation in open court. “BCCI thinks it is a law unto itself. We know how to get our orders implemented. BCCI thinks it is the lord. You better fall in line or we will make you fall in line,” Thakur had told the Indian board representative. It was around the same time another officer of the court, on the day of the verdict, had told this newspaper if the board didn’t adhere to the SC order, they would “shove it down their throats”.

Six years later, the original order hadn’t gotten implemented, BCCI hadn’t fallen in line and now finally, the world should make peace with the undeniable fact that in this cricket-crazy country the Indian cricket board is truly a law unto itself.

By granting BCCI’s wish of continuity, the SC seems to have lost its own. There have been three different cooling-off periods — three, six and 12 years — in three SC orders since 2016.

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The original order was a result of an extensive exercise that the Lodha committee undertook. For days they had sittings in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and New Delhi. They interacted with 74 persons — an assorted mix of top players starting with Sachin Tendulkar, everybody important below him, administrators, reporters, editors, enthusiasts, romantics and as the Lodha report says “strangers who walked up to the members on morning walks and even called at odd hours to put in their two bits on what the way forward ought to be for Indian cricket”. This was followed by another marathon scrutiny, this time with the country’s top legal brains. Long afternoons would drag as the judges, with the help of amicus curiae, would listen to complex problems that would get raised because of a new constitution that SC was suggesting.

Churning of this magnitude can’t be done overnight but if it results in a status quo, it would be called a colossal waste of time for the judiciary that is grossly unfair to those awaiting trial or begging to consider their cases. More so since most in the long queue had far more important issues than the governance of a sport that’s at its core a contest to connect a leather ball with a piece of wood.

Justice RM Lodha, a former CJI, told this newspaper that the “cooling off period clause” was “the most important pillar of our report as far as governance and structure of BCCI is concerned” to check monopolies and enforce antitrust regulations. So a less firm pillar means the weakening of the order and as a result the futility of the exercise. Before the Lodha restructuring process, the SC had appointed a panel headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal to look into the allegation of spot-fixing by team representatives. Police officer B B Misra joined the probe at the SC’s insistence after Justice Mudgal, in his first report, mentioned several cases of suspected sporting fraud.

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Years later, Misra would tell The Indian Express that he was very close to cracking the case as there was enough evidence of wrongdoing against a 2011 World Cup winning squad member. He wasn’t given extra time to nail the player since his findings were not connected to this particular IPL fixing case. His findings are with the court but all orders have skirted this aspect of the probe. So much for the judiciary’s operation Cleanup Cricket.

The period of the SC-appointed Committee of Administrators too wasn’t really the golden era of cricket nor was it the worst phase for the game. It was as good or bad as the BCCI days. There were angry resignations (Ramchandra Guha), silent exits (Vikram Limaye) and fierce infighting (Vinod Rai vs Diana Edulji). State units continued to be run as private fiefdoms, cricketing controversies didn’t quite end and Team India continued to win and lose.

Like in each era, there was the token coach (Anil Kumble) vs captain (Virat Kohli) tiff and the occasional irresponsible comment by the top man. CoA chief Rai, before the 2019 World Cup, wanted to isolate Pakistan internationally. Calling it the new cricket “apartheid”, a terrible misnomer if there was one, he wanted Pakistan to be treated like South Africa before the 1990s.

In a nutshell, this “new professional BCCI” was not too different from the good old honorary BCCI.

FIFA’s ultimatum to ban Indian football because of recent court interference might make the judges sceptical about wading into sporting arenas. However, the BCCI’s long brush with judiciary has had its learning. In cricket, it’s never over till the last ball is bowled. In courts, there are no last balls, every final order has an amendment.

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And the BCCI, however triumphant and vindicated it feels, will know that they can be dragged back to court if they go off the rails, doing as they please. When the Lordships are in session, the fat lady dares not sing.

sandeep.dwivedi@expressindia.com

First published on: 15-09-2022 at 06:22:07 pm
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