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Some problems are genuine, but BCCI’s brinkmanship could end badly

There might be a philosophical insight to be gained from an immoveable body meeting an irresistible force. But when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the body, and the Supreme Court is the force, the fallout for cricket could be dire.

The BCCI has been ignoring the Supreme Court deadlines with an arrant disregard for propriety or legality. The Supreme Court has been getting into the nuts and bolts of administration and laying itself open to charges of judicial overreach. The cricket board has some genuine issues but in choosing hubris over humility, it has thrown the system into turmoil.

The BCCI’s brinkmanship will end unhappily if the Supreme Court decides tomorrow to appoint administrators to run cricket, replacing President Anurag Thakur and other elected office-bearers. Ironically, the upheaval takes place even as India becomes the No. 1 Test team. Are the Supreme Court rulings harsh? Yes, a few are. Does the BCCI deserve another chance? Perhaps it does, but its recent record has not been encouraging.

The BCCI has no one to blame but itself. When it was still possible to explain its position to the Lodha Committee, it assumed a divine right to administration. The combination of inaction and arrogance upset the Committee.

Delaying tactics backfires
The BCCI didn’t seem to realise just how serious the matter, or indeed the Supreme Court, was. It showed amazing faith in its delaying tactics. Thakur’s predecessors had already messed it up with the Supreme Court earlier, thanks to a similar attitude.

Then the BCCI appointed Justice Markandey Katju, the maverick former Supreme Court judge, as head of its legal committee. “The Supreme Court has indulged in judicial legislation,” he said, indicating that the ruling was unconstitutional.

If the board’s idea was to stir things up, it succeeded. From a matter of sports administration, the saga took on the contours of an old-fashioned ego clash. And when the Supreme Court told the BCCI: “Fall in line or else we will make you fall in line,” there was no doubt which side had the better weapons.

Proxy war?
Why did the BCCI create a crisis by pushing the Supreme Court into a place from where it can give only one ruling on Thursday? It is difficult to imagine a sporting body taking on the highest court in the land so rashly without the backing of higher powers. This might just be a proxy war being fought on behalf of larger institutions. Perhaps the BCCI is a pawn in a larger game.

Neither side has access to a sports law since politicians of all hues have consistently opposed it. The National Sports Development Bill has been hanging fire for years now. Ironically, one way out for the BCCI might be to get such a law passed. There is a hint in the Supreme Court’s original order. It had rejected Lodha’s recommendation to bring the BCCI under the Right to Information Act (RTI), saying that that was a matter for the legislature.

The BCCI has been unhappy over the selective leaks that have painted its officials in poor light. The hostility is at fever pitch, and the steadily closing window of opportunity seems to be a breath away from being fully shut now. The one avenue open to the BCCI might be to ditch hubris for humility, and beg the Supreme Court for time to explain to the Lodha Committee why certain things cannot be done.

There is no doubt that the BCCI needed reform. When the courts entered the picture following charges of spot fixing in the IPL, the BCCI under N. Srinivasan was given ample opportunity to self-regulate. But it decided to brazen it out.

However, in ruling on every little thing, the Supreme Court might have been hasty. Whatever the merits of a three-man selection committee, the matter is best left to the governing body.

The 15-day break after the IPL means that the Champions Trophy in England might suffer. That is a call the BCCI should make in consultation with the players’ association.

Justice must be tempered with pragmatism
While the focus on Northeast cricket is welcome, justice must be tempered with pragmatism. It is too early for individual states which lack proper systems to play in the Ranji Trophy. Perhaps a solution is to have a combined north east team initially.

The BCCI’s argument is that in no other sphere of activity is there a “cooling off “ period (three years followed by a cooling off period of three and a maximum of nine years in office). But the three-year period could be stretched to five with a cooling off period and another five-year stint.

The board is unhappy that it has to fund the Players’ Association. But it is a necessary body, and fees collected can be a percentage of the players’ earnings. That will guarantee financial independence from the BCCI.

Sports bodies need to be autonomous. The BCCI, rich, arrogant, opaque, feudalistic, known as an international bully, operating with a remarkable lack of accountability over the years, is still the best run and most efficient sports body in the country.

The Supreme Court has given it a long rope, and the BCCI has chosen to play tug-of-war. If it all comes crashing down around the ears tomorrow, it will be as much for what the board did as for what it didn’t do.

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