Transparency and public scrutiny is must in sport (Column: Just Sport)

As a new year dawns, it’s time to reminisce and conjecture. The highs and lows of Indian as well as global sport have been mused over. The resultant portents are unsettling.

Cricket is the sport Indians like and discuss endlessly. The sport is expected to undergo a sea change with the Supreme Court stepping in following the uproar over the administration of the sport. The discussion is on at two stages, one at the board level and the other at the state level.

If the Supreme Court appointed Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee decides to redraft the board’s constitution and insist on the state units follow suit, it is going to be a massive overhaul.

There has to be a uniform constitution for both the board and the affiliated state units. There will be a public debate and there could be a spate of petitions before the Supreme Court for reconsidering certain recommendations of the Lodha Committee.

The imbroglio over the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) is of a different nature, but the outcome of the fight between personalities can cause ripples in other state associations presided over by high-profile politicians – and in some cases, former international players.

First the court intervention in cricket matters. The Supreme Court appointed Justice Mudgal Committee probed corruption in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and then expanded the scope of the inquiry by setting up the Lodha committee to look at the functioning of the Indian cricket board itself.

Now, the Delhi government has asked former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium to unravel the shady deals in the construction of the stadium at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla by the board’s affiliate, and the legal luminary wants a whole lot of top-rated sleuths and cops with unimpeachable credentials to help him in carrying out the investigation.

Some of the Lodha Committee recommendations are already being discussed. Obviously, the committee is looking for feedback before finalising its report.

What gave a peek into the salient features of the purported report, has also smartly brought into public domain the alleged inquiries by the two top board officials of the kind of fees paid to the judges.

One wonders why the committee members are so worried about the board making discreet inquiries about the kind of money it has to shell out from its coffers to undermine its own position and get its officials punished!

The members were at pains to explain that the entire eight-month exercise by the high-powered committee would cost a mere Rs.2 crore as against Rs.15 crore if the retired judges had charged their actual professional fees.

It would be interesting to see how far the committee will go to change the structure of the board. There is little doubt the recommendations will be exhaustive as some of these have come from former international cricketers, India captains, former board presidents and public-spirited people from around the country.

The committee, with former Supreme Court Judges R.V. Raveendran and Ashok Bhan, besides Lodha, and helped out by advocate Gopal Shankarnarayanan, is believed to have made far-reaching structural changes in the board.

The committee appears to have played it safe by stating that corporate honchos and politicians can enter the board provided they have had a career in cricket prior to entering politics and business!

This clause paves the way for first-class cricketers M.P. Pandove (Punjab), Anurag Thakur (Himachal Pradesh) and Ranjib Biswal (Orissa) to remain in the board, not to talk of Dilip Vengsarkar, Sourav Ganguly, Shivlal Yadav, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Brijesh Patel and Arshad Ayub, who have all played Test cricket, to remain in some capacity or the other in the state associations and possibly the board.

Another vexed issue the committee may find it difficult to insist on is the one state one association concept. The issue largely affects Maharashtra and Gujarat, the states which field three teams each in the Ranji Trophy, now that Andhra Pradesh has been bifurcated to carve out Telangana.

If Maharashtra and Gujarat have to field one team each, then some 30-40 cricketers will lose the opportunity to play as they have been doing for decades.

The protagonists of the DDCA flare-up have been fighting the establishment for years and come to think of it, they have all been part of it in various capacities at one time or other.

World Cup-winning Kirti Azad, a third time Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Bihar, backed by former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi and a couple of his teammates, have found the issue of corruption to attack the DDCA, though their target, at least Kirti Azad’s, appears to be Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who headed the association for over a decade in the new millennium and was principally responsible for the construction of a stadium at the Kotla.

Azad’s party has felt that he is attacking Jaitley using the corruption in the DDCA and suspended him. Like a fiery parliamentarian, he has marshalled his facts and even dragged Jaitley’s friends from other parties to make it appear that he is really fighting corruption in the cricket board.

Even the media is divided. Some have given a free run to Azad while some others provided the DDCA the platform to reply to the charges. Both have gone overboard in the allegations and counter-allegations, some too personal bordering moral turpitude.

The issue is not whether the board or its affiliated state units remain under the Societies Act, the Company Law Board or be made into a public trust as long as there is uniformity and transparency in their functioning and funding.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at v.srivatsa@gmail.com)

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