Greed is not good

N Srinivasan
Nowhere to hide The good times are over for N Srinivasan. Photo: AP

Last week, the Supreme Court handed over charge of the BCCI to legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, sending a clear message to all involved in the business of cricket that the time for a clean-up had arrived. Gavaskar is now the interim president, while charges of corruption against former BCCI chief N Srinivasan are being investigated.

The SC put BCCI vice-president Shivlal Yadav in charge of the board’s affairs (except the Indian Premier League, which Gavaskar will oversee). It was the BCCI, under Srinivasan’s directions, which suggested that Yadav take over. What the BCCI failed to tell the SC is that the Andhra Pradesh Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department is probing Yadav for alleged embezzlement to the tune of Rs 100 crore in constructing the Rajiv Gandhi Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad, along with other officials of the Hyderabad Cricket Association.

“While submitting to the SC that he would assist in the ongoing probe, Srinivasan failed to mention this important detail about Yadav,” says Aditya Verma, secretary of the Bihar Cricket Association (BCA). “Secondly, Srinivasan also referred to Yadav as the ‘senior-most vice-president’. No such distinction exists in the BCCI regarding seniority. These factors will clarify what kind of a man has taken charge of the BCCI, by trying to pull the wool over the judges.”

It was Verma’s PIL that shook the cricketing world and led to the SC intervention in cleaning up the sport. After Jharkhand’s bifurcation from Bihar in 2000, Jharkhand-cadre IPS officer Amitabh Chaudhary split the BCA in 2002. Verma took over as BCA secretary in 2007 and filed a PIL challenging the split. The SC directed that the BCCI should resolve the dispute. But when the board didn’t respond, Verma decided to expose the arrogance of BCCI officials such as Srinivasan.

“I wrote several times to Srinivasan regarding my complaint about Chaudhary,” says Verma, who played for Tata Steel and has been a BCA selector for the Ranji Trophy. “Their arrogance has been exposed. For the first time, the SC has had to intervene.”

‘Nauseating’ was one of the several choicest adjectives that the SC used to describe the manner in which Srinivasan was blocking the anti-corruption probe. The SC noted that it was nauseating to see him continue as the BCCI chief while his role was being investigated in a scam in which an SC-appointed committee indicted his son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, on corruption charges.

When the England & Wales Cricket Board came up with a new format called Twenty20 in 2003, little did they know that the experiment would revolutionise the game in faraway India. Five years later, Lalit Modi & Co announced the birth of the IPL, which offered big bucks to players and an investment opportunity for corporates.

After a string of controversies and a power struggle within the BCCI, Modi was suspended in 2010. Three years later, the BCCI imposed a lifetime ban on him.

Srinivasan, on his way to become the most powerful owner, sponsor, manager and official, ensured his control over the IPL. In 2008, Srinvasan was the treasurer of the BCCI, which is registered as a society under the Indian Societies Registration Act. He is also a promoter of India Cements, which bid for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK).

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s reputation as a clutch player made him one of the most-wanted. CSK bid for him and made him the team captain. Srinivasan did not directly place himself in CSK’s day-to-day affairs. Instead, his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was the team CEO and responsible for its management. But there is no doubt that Meiyappan, even if his father-in-law refers to him as a “cricket enthusiast”, was a mere front. Srinivasan’s role and control over CSK cannot be in question. In March, the SC made this nexus public.

While hearing Verma’s PIL, the SC first considered that CSK and Rajasthan Royals be dropped from IPL-7 but later clarified that it was not going to ban them. The SC then opined that Srinivasan step down within two days so that the probe could be conducted smoothly. He responded through a written commitment that he would not discharge any functions as BCCI chief.

On 28 March, the SC recommended that Gavaskar take over as interim chief to oversee the IPL, with vice-president Yadav in charge of the other affairs.

The next day, Verma wrote to Gavaskar, discussing the role of IPL Chief Operating Officer Sundar Raman in match-fixing. As per the Justice Mudgal Committee, it is believed that Raman was passing on information about other teams to Meiyappan. Police investigations, including phone tapping, revealed that Meiyappan was in touch with bookies and TV celebrity Vindoo Dara Singh, who was accused of betting on IPL matches.

The Justice Mudgal Committee submitted its final findings in a sealed envelope, which the two SC judges have alone seen and not disclosed.

Gavaskar opened his BCCI innings by making phone calls to IPL team owners and board officials about whom to drop. In his first official meeting on 31 March, the single-point agenda was COO Raman. The SC also asked Gavaskar to look into a replacement for Raman, hinting at his possible mention in the sealed envelope.

The stakes are high for Srinivasan because he is slated to take over as the head of the International Cricket Council, which has stayed mum throughout the fiasco.

“The ICC will never intervene because the BCCI is important to them as it generates 80 percent of the revenue earned by the world body,” says a businessman with a direct interest in IPL. “The advertisements, glitz, fans, viewership — the sheer commerce behind cricket in India is too big. While Srinivasan heads the BCCI and is slated to take over world cricket, the ICC won’t say anything.”

The BCCI is the largest enterprises in world cricket and the largest contributor to the ICC. Consultant firm Brand Finance India, which did a study on the IPL’s worth, found that the league was worth $4.13 billion in 2010. The value fell to $2.92 billion in 2012 before recovering to $3.03 billion in 2013; the fall being ascribed to the fluctuating rupee.

The combined trademark value of all IPL teams was in excess of $325 million. In 2013, CSK had the highest value, estimated to be more than $42 million and enjoyed a stellar brand rating of AA. Rajasthan Royals, already in the thick of match-fixing controversies, was at the bottom, valued at $27 million with a brand rating of B.

The four players arrested on spot-fixing charges last year — S Sreesanth, Ajeeth Chandela, Ankit Chavan and Amit Kumar Singh — were all from the Rajasthan Royals. The team is owned by, among others, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan, who had initially invested $4 million. By 2010, when Rendezvous Sports bought the Kochi franchise for $333 million, Murdoch’s 5.5 percent ownership had blown up to well over $16 million.

Modi blew wide open the scam behind the purchase of he Kochi Tuskers team when he exposed that while the then Union minister Shashi Tharoor was an adviser for the franchise, his girlfriend, the late Sunanda Pushkar, whom he later married, was one of the bidders for the team.

The IPL has marked itself as an incestuous enterprise with players, advisers, owners, officials, bookies, fixers and ‘enthusiasts’ serving each other despite the obvious conflict of interest. Srinivasan continued as both the owner and de facto operator of CSK, while being the BCCI secretary and taking over as president in 2011.

The number of the India Cements employees in cricket is also stunning. Dhoni is the captain of the Indian team as well as the captain of CSK. According to an FIR filed by Lalit Modi’s constituted attorney, Mahmud Abdi, Dhoni is also an employee of India Cements. ICC player representative L Sivaramakrishnan is also an India Cements employee. Their colleague in India Cements, MA Satish, is the logistics manager for the Indian cricket team and is said to have been a Srinivasan appointee. IPL’s Chief Financial Officer Prasanna Kannan is also an India Cements employee. Other Indian players who are also employed by Srinivasan are Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Murali Vijay and Dinesh Karthik.

In Abdi’s FIR, he accuses Srinivasan of controlling the formation of the umpire panel against the BCCI rules. The FIR goes on to state that in an IPL match played between CSK and Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur on 16 May 2013, Meiyappan fixed the match and tipped bookies and a few betters. It is Abdi’s contention that Meiyappan fixed it with CSK so that the team lost by getting out for a paltry 141 runs, while the average score in that year’s IPL was 188. The Jaipur pitch is supposed to favour batsmen but CSK’s performance was below par. In fact, despite having a strong batting line-up, none of the batsmen hit a single six, while the Royals hit nine. In 17 overs, the Royals beat CSK. The umpire that day was S Ravi, who is — surprise — an India Cements employee.

The betting turnover for IPL-6 was pegged at $2 billion.

In the 30 March order, the SC also suspended all India Cements (and affiliate) employees, other than cricketers and commentators, from participating in this year’s IPL.

Abdi’s FIR might seem like an attempt by Modi to avenge the decision to deprive his control over the IPL. Srinivasan could have claimed so. But, the Mumbai Police had been listening in to a conversation between Vindoo Dara Singh and a bookie discussing the outcome of the match. The police filed a chargesheet naming Singh and others.

There is widespread speculation that some Indian team players are named as fixers in the Mudgal Committee report. In fact, Dhoni sued two media houses with a Rs 100 crore defamation suit for speculating that the Team India skipper was one of those named in the report.

In the course of another probe, Tamil Nadu State Intelligence Officer G Sampath Kumar claimed that a suspect had confessed during interrogation on 25 May 2013 that the match was fixed, and provided many details. However, that report was never provided to the Mudgal Committee and Kumar was later suspended on other charges.

The Mudgal Committee recommended that a legally empowered agency should take charge of the probe. Seems like the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate will now have their hands full and Gavaskar might be opening the batting for a cleaner innings for the BCCI.

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