Cricket is considered to be a gentleman’s game. In India, it is regulated by a nonprofit organisation and managed by officeholders elected democratically. Democracy is meant to provide equal opportunity for all to participate in [the administration], and even get elected to high offices. The logic holds good for institutions such as sports federations and bodies like the Medical Council of India. All very fair and well-intentioned. But how does it work on the ground?
Since democracy is a process of election and to be elected you need to canvass votes, success lies in being able to muster the required number of votes. The art of doing this is best known to politicians. One would have no quarrel with this tradition as long as the objective of the institution is being achieved. It is when the elected start feathering their own nest and that, too, at the cost of the main stakeholders that things begin to go awry.
The case in point is the fact that cricket associations at the state level, are meant to function for the benefit of potential cricketers—catch them young, nurture their talent and then provide the enabling environment for them to excel. At the national level, we have a body which has members elected from the state units. The structure is well conceptualised. Its architecture is noble.
If the architecture is all that perfect and noble, why is it that only a select few can get access to the institution? Why is it that an archery association has had one person as its president for the last 44 years? Why is it that a state cricket association has had one person as its president, again, for the last 44 years? Do we not have others who can manage it or is it that the country/state cannot produce another person who is equally competent? It is in these situations that they develop stakes and the person becomes larger than the institution. It is then that the player loses out.
The cricketer faces such a situation. When the best cricketer travels abroad, he is paid $125 per day. However, when the elected officeholder travels abroad, he is entitled to $750 per day. Is there any justification for this? If the player even remotely suggests that the team is being made to play too many days of cricket, he is told that he can surely rest as there are many waiting to play. The dominant interest in playing more games is that the state associations will get greater revenues. So what if the team suffers from fatigue.
That is not the end of the story. If the player seeks higher compensation and it appears that he may in fact be granted a higher compensation by a different dispensation, news items suddenly appear drawing attention to the huge liability of the cricket body. No one speaks of how mismanagement and misplaced priorities led to such liabilities. The entire focus is on ensuring that the player continues to be under the thumb of the administrator. And therein lies the saga of Indian sport. A saga where the sports administrator is the king and the player his praja [subject]. The game, the player and the spectator must bow to the idiosyncrasies of the administrator. It is to remedy this very situation that the courts have had to step in. The High Court for archery and football, and the Supreme Court for cricket. The earlier we can get our priorities right, the faster Indian hockey or Indian athletes will excel and be rewarded for their efforts so that India can occupy the pre-eminent position [in sports] that a country with such a large population needs to occupy. Till such a situation can be brought about, the ‘world’s richest sports body’ will continue to pay peanuts to its own cricketers.