By Javed Siddiqui
India, which dominates world cricket, is embroiled in a bitter battle over how it runs its domestic sport. The turbulence dates back to when the country’s supreme court issued a set of recommendations several years ago, designed to reform Indian cricket from top to bottom.
The judges were intervening on the back of a series of ugly revelations about corruption in the sport, including match fixing and bid rigging for franchise auctions in the Indian Premier League. The Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), which oversees the game, stood accused of using its massive wealth to distribute favours to state-level member associations in exchange for their support.
The BCCI was lukewarm about the supreme court’s recommendations, baulking at some moves designed to clean up the board itself – such as preventing politicians from being board members and forcing officials to retire at 70. Last January the supreme court duly ousted the president, Anurag Thakur, and the rest of the board. It installed a committee of administrators to oversee the appointment of a new board.
The problems are far from over, however. Thakur and his former secretary are fighting through the courts to be reinstated. The current BCCI secretary, who is connected to the old regime, has launched an attack on the committee of administrators, accusing them of failing to carry out the reforms.
Other state agencies have waded in, too: the Law Commission of India has said the BCCI is “flying under the radar of public scrutiny”, while the country’s Central Information Commission argues the board should be recast as a public agency to become more accountable and transparent. Match-fixing, among other forms of corruption, also refuses to go away. It is hard to say where and when all this will end. If Indian cricket can’t sort itself out, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the world game.
World cricket has undergone an amazing transformation over the past three decades. The BCCI has transformed from cash-strapped also-ran to the wealthiest cricket board in the world.
Cricket was once the archetypal English “gentlemen’s game”. Traditionally, the actual outcome tended to be of lesser interest for the spectators and the players than the overall experience: you could be involved in a day’s play and not know the result until the match was completed several days later – and even then, it was often a draw.
The game went international when it was exported with great success to Britain’s colonies – from India to South Africa, from Australia to latter-day Zimbabwe. Yet by the middle years of the 20th century, attendances were falling significantly in some countries, most notably England: the changing pace of life meant that people were less attracted to the game.
One-day internationals were introduced in the 1970s, starting with a clash between England and Australia (the Australians won). Demand for even shorter versions of the game resulted in the introduction of T20 cricket in 2007, in which play is restricted to 20 overs per side, or about three hours compared to five day Test matches. These newer formats helped to provide a major financial boost to the game across the world, via TV rights and event sponsorship. From a modest budget of US$150,000 (£116,000) in 1991, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has a projected net surplus of US$2.5 billion in the years 2015-23.
The ICC was originally founded as the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909 by England, Australia and South Africa. In keeping with many global sports, cricket’s ruling body was dominated for years by Western nations, who dictated the rules of the game and the council’s governance remit.
Yet while cricket was declining in the West, it was becoming a manifestation of national identity in the likes of India and Pakistan. With the subcontinent able to attract substantial amounts of money from a large, dedicated fanbase, there was a power shift within the ICC. This culminated in India taking over the presidency in 1997, having assumed control of about 80% of the council’s finances. The country now rapidly established itself as the driving force in cricket governance.
This was a refreshing point of difference with most other international sports, yet it came with temptations. This was a time when the newer shorter versions of cricket were already making the game more susceptible to corruption by players and administrators, since matches were now more likely to produce a winner. Besides the scandals in Indian cricket, South Africa and Pakistan have been similarly implicated.
This has raised questions about the ICC’s ability to govern the game properly. The BCCI has also been accused of using its financial muscle in the past to influence ICC decision-making on issues ranging from protecting its players from racial abuse allegations to interfering with governance structures in other countries.
In 2014 the ICC adopted a new financial model whose chief architect was the BCCI. It awarded India the bulk of net surpluses and effectively put the “Big Three” – India, England and Australia – in charge of council finances and executive decision making. Two years later, following heavy criticism and a change of chairman to Shashank Manohar, the council introduced a more egalitarian system. The enraged BCCI threatened to remove Manohar from the council, despite having nominated him. It was only after Thakur’s ousting that the BCCI changed tack.
India’s dominance of world cricket over the past two decades has clearly been a double-edged sword. India benefits the game in terms of globalisation and commercialisation, and the sport has clearly thrived under this leadership – above all in the sub-continent.
But in a week in which the ICC chief executive insisted “world cricket is in great health”, there are serious questions about the state of governance, and the extent to which it serves to protect and advance vested interests over the global well-being of the game. This is why India’s battle to clean up domestic cricket matters so much: if the authorities succeed, it will send an important message around the world that the old ways have had their day.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius