x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Wrong to blame only Modi for the IPL problems

Evidence is beginning to show that more people were complicit in how the IPL was run then was first believed

New reports are supporting Lalit Modi's claims that others knew about his actions when he was IPL chairman.
New reports are supporting Lalit Modi's claims that others knew about his actions when he was IPL chairman.

In his autobiography, The Clown Prince of Football, Len Shackleton, the Sunderland football legend, included a chapter titled The Average Director's Knowledge of Football.

It had a blank page.

That certainly would not be the case if one were to write on Indian cricket's modern-day administrators.

Some, like the now banished Lalit Modi, were too clever by half. Others, even those not especially clued in to the intricacies of the game, have shown a tremendous ability to extract maximum benefit from India's obsession with the game.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is everyone's favourite pantomime villain. But for being registered as a "charitable organisation", you would probably be studying a module on it at Harvard Business School.

While other Indian athletes struggle even to afford a reasonable daily diet, even the average first-class cricketer is flush with cash. And for that, you can thank the organisation that gets plenty of brickbats and no bouquets.

Consider this. When the BCCI first decided to sell broadcast rights for a home series, against England in 1993, it brought them the princely sum of US$40,000 (Dh146,800).

In January 2010, they sold four years worth of domestic television coverage for $436 million. But for the recession, it would have been more. The previous deal, also for four years, had been worth $549m.

The renegotiated Indian Premier League (IPL) television rights were worth more than $1.7 billion over nine years, with 20 per cent making its way into the BCCI's coffers. It is no surprise then that they can afford to pay former players pensions and even donate to other sports like football.

That is the good side. The bad was in evidence during a parliamentary investigation into the IPL's finances recently. It focuses on Modi, the former IPL chairman, who has been accused of money laundering, rigging franchise bids and malpractices in the awarding of television rights for the money-spinning league.

A copy of the report was leaked to the Times of India, and it had N Srinivasan, the owner of the Chennai Super Kings and the BCCI president-elect, saying: "We were taken for a ride. I know we cannot plead before you that we did not know all this was happening.

"Your question would be, were you not vigilant? What did you do? I am sorry, sir, there is no defence for me. No defence in front of you. So, I am not pleading that [ignorance] at all. We just put our heads down."

When the scandal first broke in April 2010, there was a concerted effort to paint Modi as the sole villain of the piece. But as the parliamentary committee has subsequently discovered, the cheques, authorising sundry deals now being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and other agencies, were signed by Srinivasan, then the treasurer, and MP Pandove, who replaced him in the post.

Modi's assertion that whatever he did was with the full consent of the others has an increasing ring of truth to it.

The timing of this little expose could not be worse. As India's tour of England continues like an interminably long horror movie, disgruntled fans and media commentators are looking for scapegoats.

The BCCI, which has regarded transparency as most of us would an unwelcome creepy-crawly, is the most obvious one.

Calls for the government to intervene only highlight how clueless most of these critics are though.

The history of Indian sport is a sordid saga of government and bureaucratic bungling, of power-crazed imbeciles who made Shackleton's directors look like Einstein.

Cricket escaped and produced a team that has given India much to be proud of only because it was free of official largesse.

You only have to look at the other sport that used to dominate the Indian sporting landscape.

India's hockey team won the World Cup in 1975 and the Olympic gold in 1980 (the western nations boycotted Moscow), at a time when the cricket team were struggling to be taken seriously away from home. A few years later, after unexpected success in the World Cup final at Lord's (1983), cricket had lift-off.

Hockey stayed behind on the runway, and is now buried six feet under thanks to the sheer ineptitude and stubbornness of men like Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, the police officer who treated the federation as a personal fiefdom for a decade and a half.

He is not the only one. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a politician, has headed the archery federation for nearly four decades. SS Dhindsa's stewardship of cycling is into its 17th year. Until he went to jail on corruption charges, Suresh Kalmadi was into his fourth term as the Indian Olympic Association's president.

The BCCI, whose team play under the national flag and who have availed of huge tax exemptions in the past, should certainly come under the purview of the Right to Information Act.

Keeping them honest is one thing though. Handing the reins over to those that have destroyed everything they have touched will only take Indian cricket where hockey now rests. The cemetery.



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