DELIVERING a series of stringent punishments in the 2013 IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal, the Supreme Court-appointed RM Lodha panel on Tuesday suspended the franchisees of two of the league’s most successful teams, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals — India Cements Limited and Jaipur IPL respectively — for two years for bringing “the game into disrepute”.
It means that under existing ownership, CSK and RR, who have between them three IPL titles, cannot be part of the league for that duration.
In an order that is likely to shake up Indian and world cricket, the three-member panel also handed life bans to Chennai and Rajasthan’s key officials and public faces, Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra respectively, from any cricket-related activities. They had been found guilty of betting on matches and passing on information to bookmakers.
Meiyappan is the son-in-law of the ICC chairman and India Cements Limited’s promoter N Srinivasan. Kundra, husband of actor Shilpa Shetty, had an 11.7 percent stake in RR before exiting earlier this year.
In a packed press conference room at the India Habitat Centre, Justice Lodha, flanked by justices Ashok Bhan and R V Raveendran, began by punching holes in the defendants’ arguments.
“Disrepute has been brought to cricket…to such an extent that there are doubts abound in the public whether the game is clean or not… The fact that Gurunath was an integral part of CSK and most people saw him as the face of the team, he ought not to have indulged in betting practices,” Justice Lodha said, reading out the verdict.
“That the allegation of match-fixing against Kundra was not finally established does not matter because his status as owner has brought disrepute to the game. The argument that these acts were personal and the franchise cannot be responsible cannot be accepted,” concluded the committee, which was set up in January to decided the quantum of punishment.
The decision, for all practical purposes is final and binding, as Justice Lodha explained. “The Supreme Court order says it is subject to any remedy in appropriate judicial proceedings, so a challenge is available in court. But since this is a committee comprising three senior judges of the Supreme Court, it is highly unlikely a court will interfere,’’ said the former Chief Justice of India.
The judgment sent the BCCI and its legal team into a huddle.
While the verdict is unequivocal in the letter, how it is carried out in the spirit is left to the BCCI. One of the key questions that the decision threw up was: will Chennai and Rajasthan continue to participate in the IPL if there is a change in ownership? Justice Lodha left the BCCI to tackle the issue.
“This question is not for us. But the BCCI has to take a call and whatever legal recourse is there, it is available. You must appreciate that we cannot address every aspect of the matter,” he said.
Interestingly, soon after the RM Lodha panel was formed, India Cements Limited had transferred its stake to Chennai Super Kings Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary.
For its part, the BCCI has promised transparency. “BCCI is committed to honour and respect judicial decisions and it would give its observations after the entire report is read and a collective decision is taken,” Dalmiya was quoted as saying in a BCCI media release.
Secretary Anurag Thakur added: “We respect the verdict and would undertake a collective decision in a transparent manner, in the right direction and in the larger interest of the game after the verdict is received and analysed.”
A six-team IPL at this point looks unlikely as it would mean a considerable loss of revenue for all parties involved as a result of reduced number of matches. The BCCI has called for a meeting of the IPL’s Governing Council on July 19 in Mumbai to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, there is also the question of the verdict’s impact on the players of both teams. Chennai and Rajasthan, two teams with massive fan following, have in their ranks some of the biggest names in Indian and world cricket, including MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin.
“Players are free. They will not be attached to a franchisee which has been suspended. With regard to the financial loss they may incur, we thought that if cricket is bigger than individuals then financial loss to players and franchises is not of significance,” Justice Lodha said.
Sure enough the players were also tuned in to know there fate. As soon as the judgment was out, R Ashwin tweeted: “CSK and RR suspended for two years.” The tweet was soon deleted.
The RM Lodha commission, meanwhile, said that the probe into alleged wrongdoings by IPL’s chief operating officer Sundar Raman will take more time.
“About Sundar Raman, we examined the material about him and we believe it requires further investigation. Vivek Priyadarshi has been appointed by the Supreme Court to look into it and he is examining the matter, we are awaiting his report. After that we will decide what will be the action,” he said.