Gaming the System

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Sticky wicket BCCI chief N Srinivasan
Sticky wicket BCCI chief N Srinivasan. Photo: AP

AS SPECIMENS of thick-skinned and officious individuals, completely oblivious to public perceptions, few in India can beat the bigwigs at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Days after the betting and spot-fixing scandal led to the arrest of his son-inlaw, Gurunath Meiyyappan, N Srinivasan, president of the BCCI, continued to resist pressure to step down. Srinivasan is also managing director of India Cements, the corporate owner of Chennai Super Kings (CSK). His son-in-law was described as the chief executive of CSK till the scandal erupted. He has since been dismissed as only an honorary official.

To most people, however, it has been apparent Meiyyappan is in the wrong. As part of team management, he placed bets on his team’s performance and possibly leveraged insider knowledge. His, and CSK’s, guilt if any has to be judged by a BCCI of which the CSK super-boss, Srinivasan, is president. This was precisely the sort of conflict of interest critics warned against when Srinivasan became BCCI chief. To make things more ridiculous, the three members of the commission the BCCI has appointed to study the CSK issue include two retired judges from the Madras High Court, located in Srinivasan’s backyard.

It’s all so brazen that the politicians in the BCCI have begun to panic. Union Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA), has asked Srinivasan to step down. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla — who doubles as commissioner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) — has urged Srinivasan to see reason. Arun Jaitley, BJP leader and president of the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association (DDCA), is believed to be unhappy but has not opened his mouth in public.

As Shukla told TEHELKA, “There will be direct implementation of the BCCI inquiry report. I have advised Mr Srinivasan to keep himself out of the probe process. We want a strict investigation. All guilty will be punished.”

If the BCCI and the IPL authorities go strictly by their rules (such as they are) and by precedents with the Kochi and Pune IPL teams, CSK could be terminated as an IPL franchise. This will be a crippling blow to Srinivasan and he wants to use his remaining months as BCCI chief — theoretically he can be re-elected for another year in September, but this is now unlikely — to ensure CSK survives and his business interests are not threatened.

According to a BCCI executive committee member, “Srinivasan is trying to buy time and bully his way through. He wants time till September, when his term ends. He is worried about the Mumbai Police move to summon senior players of CSK and Harbhajan Singh… How far will this go?”

Well, how far will it go? Many in the cricket fraternity sense the worst is yet to come. According to senior police officials in Mumbai, at least half-a-dozen players from King’s XI Punjab (the Chandigarhbased IPL franchise), and two or three players from CSK and Mumbai Indians are likely to be called soon for questioning.

It all may lead nowhere. Even so, when big names like Harbhajan, the former Indian spinner who plays for the Mumbai IPL team, and that of a second official from CSK are mentioned, the suspicion can only intensify.

Under the scanner are players who seemed to know an influential bookie called Chandresh Jain aka Jupiter. “It appears both MS Dhoni and Harbhajan knew Jupiter,” says a senior police officer. “We got this lead from Vindoo Dara Singh’s interrogation.” It is believed Vindoo was introduced to Meiyyappan by Arun Pandey of Rhiti Sports. Pandey is a friend and business representative of Dhoni. “We have absolutely nothing against Dhoni,” a police officer was quick to clarify, “and there is no reason to question him yet.”

Also under the microscope is a former first-class cricketer who doubles as a team assistant for Kolkata Knight Riders. Common to several suspects is an Air-India background. Like Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila, the arrested Rajasthan Royal cricketers, they have played for the public- sector airline’s team.

Foul play Rajasthan Royals bowler S Sreesanth
Foul play Rajasthan Royals bowler S Sreesanth. Photo: Vijay Pandey

MEANWHILE, THE UPA government is getting ready with a Bill to counter match fixing, spot fixing and a range of corrupt activities in sport. The Bill will be introduced in the Monsoon Session of Parliament and is a joint effort of the law and sports ministries. There was some confusion as to whether the Union government should bring such a law, as betting and gambling is a state subject under the Constitution. The law ministry, however, argued match fixing could not be seen as betting or gambling in the eyes of the law. In betting or gambling, the result is unknown. While in fixing, the result is known due to dishonest practice, the law ministry said.

The basic Bill has been drafted by the law ministry after consultations took place with the sports ministry and other stakeholders. Jaitley, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and Shukla met Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal on behalf of the BCCI. It was argued that fixing was akin to insider trading and the new law should reflect that. An Australian law on fixing and corrupt practices in sport was also studied.

The Bill is likely to define “dishonest conduct” in sport as well as “gratification”, whether in cash or kind. This means even if gifts are accepted to fix a match or part of a match, the Bill and its provisions will come into play. The Bill will cover not just players but also managers and officials associated with a team.

Corporate houses with an interest in sport — such as IPL franchises and their owners — will come under the Bill’s ambit should they be found fixing the proceedings of a match. The Bill will apply to all tournaments played in India and also to foreign players playing in India. If a match is being played abroad and Indian players are found guilty of malpractice, then too the Bill can be invoked. Those convicted for a direct role in fixing could go to prison for as long as five years, according to an early draft of the Bill.

After Indian cricket’s second major fixing scandal in 13 years, many suggestions have come forward. There is a proposal to legalise betting. This could clean up the game somewhat but will not necessarily end fixing. What needs urgent redressing is the murky and incestuous club the BCCI has become. As Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien tweeted on 19 May, “Cricket politics should respect the ‘one man, one post’ principle.”

A situation where the BCCI president also heads a company that runs an IPL franchise, where an IPL governing council member is also a paid commentator for the tournament and for the BCCI television unit, where the chief selector for the Indian team is a paid representative of a particular IPL franchise, and where the IPL commissioner is not a professional manager but a political fixer and minister on a moonlighting mission, is always going to be a recipe for trouble.

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