Late in the night of October 24, the Board of Control for Cricket in India issued a statement deferring a tender process for awarding media rights of the Indian Premier League. The statement was long and sardonic, and it did not carry the sign of either BCCI president Anurag Thakur or secretary Ajay Shirke. Its objective: to put the onus of the tender process squarely on the three-member committee headed by retired judge R.M. Lodha, appointed by the Supreme Court to reform the BCCI. “In view of the aforesaid directions, as the Committee has been entrusted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court with the mandate of overseeing the tender process and in effect is now the custodian of the IPL tender process and has to take all actions to safeguard the IPL tender and the interest of BCCI and cricket in India...,” read a line in the statement.
A day earlier, the Lodha committee had emailed the BCCI, politely inquiring about the date of expiry of the current media rights cycle and the date of commencement of the next ten-year cycle. The committee was informed that the current cycle would end in 2018, but certain technicalities demanded that the bid process be completed this year itself. Reportedly, the Lodha panel was in no hurry to rush through the process, given that the deadline for it was set by the current set of BCCI office-bearers, who, as per the committee’s own recommendations submitted to the Supreme Court, should not have been there to begin with.
In its interim order on October 21, the Supreme Court had asked the BCCI to “cease and desist” from disbursing funds to state associations and imposed restrictions on awarding contracts until it complied with the recommendations of the Lodha panel. The squeeze on funds has hit the BCCI where it hurts: IPL rights form the biggest chunk of the BCCI’s revenues, with the new rights cycle expected to bring in as much as Rs 20,000 crore.
The Supreme Court has shown great restraint in dealing with the BCCI, which has refused to act in accordance with the July 18 order that gave it six months to implement the Lodha panel’s recommendations. In its interim order on October 21, the court gave the BCCI more time to take measures to comply with the reforms process.
“Implementation of the final judgment of this Court dated 18 July 2016 has prima facie been impeded by the intransigence of the BCCI...,” said the court. “However, having due regard to the submission made on behalf of the BCCI that it would make every genuine effort to persuade the state associations to secure compliance with the judgment of this Court... we are desisting from issuing a direction in terms of the request made by the Committee for appointment of administrators so as to enable the BCCI to demonstrate its good faith.”
It was a breather for the BCCI. As its counsel Kapil Sibal came out of the court after the verdict, a smiling Shirke gave him the thumbs-up. Shirke could continue as BCCI secretary till December 3.
State associations, however, have started blaming the BCCI for passing to them the burden of implementing reforms. “It is the BCCI who does not get immunity as per the order,” said a seasoned state association administrator. “It was not correct for the BCCI to [pass the reforms burden].”
Ever since the July 18 order, the BCCI has been trying to discredit the Lodha panel. “It is disappointing,” Lodha told THE WEEK. “The committee worked objectively, and strictly within the mandate given to it by the court. It would have been nice if the BCCI had also seen the committee’s functioning in that spirit. It is not the Lodha panel vs the BCCI. We are not a party here. We have been given a mandate; we are doing what the court has asked us to do.”
The question is, who will blink first in this battle of brinkmanship? Many people feel it could well be the Lodha panel, whose patience has been put to the test. “That observation is not unfair,” said a source close to the panel. “The committee was tasked to suggest reforms and then mandated to carry them out. Members may feel they don’t want to do it anymore.”
For the BCCI, what is comforting is that its big member-associations are not feeling the impact of the fund squeeze as of now. For instance, Mumbai Cricket Association, headed by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, reportedly has Rs 50 crore in fixed deposits. Gujarat Cricket Association, headed by BJP president Amit Shah, reportedly has Rs 200 crore in its kitty.
But, according to an official of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, the squeeze on funds “will be an issue for every state in the long term”. The first casualties will be the associations that have grossly mismanaged their funds: Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, and Goa. Also affected will be those, like Kerala Cricket Association, that have heavily invested in infrastructure projects. Unless these associations give a written undertaking promising full compliance with the Lodha panel recommendations, they cannot access BCCI funds. If push comes to shove, associations in Punjab and Delhi are likely to implement reforms.
The BCCI’s hopes of the Union government coming to its rescue—either by promulgating an ordinance or by tabling the sports bill—have now been dashed. According to well-placed sources, the matter of BCCI reforms came up during Pawar’s recent meeting with the prime minister. Apparently, Pawar was told that an ordinance was out of the question, as it would again pit the government against the judiciary. The sports bill, on the other hand, raises the question of whether the BCCI is ready to be clubbed with the Indian Olympic Association and its member-federations. The answer is obvious: the BCCI’s reluctance to reform itself is, perhaps, only matched by its opposition to be placed under the IOA umbrella.