By Nikhil Vaish
Cricket is still considered a gentleman’s game. It is one of the oldest and largest global sports still steeped in tradition and old fashioned sporting values; derived from its 16th century origins in Southern England (source: Wikipedia). Ironically, cricket’s dominance and governing power structure have also mirrored the shifting balance of global economic power from the West to the East. Today, India’s Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the most powerful cricket governing body in the world based on its financial clout. It is single-handedly able to make the rules about how and where the game is played. Much like India vies to become a Superpower on the world stage, the BCCI in many ways already has become one. However, with great power comes great responsibility and this is a lesson that like India, the BCCI have yet to learn.
The BBCI is currently embroiled in a massive image tarnishing illegal betting scandal that involves spot and match fixing where players were paid to underperform to produce outcomes in Indian Premier League (IPL) matches. That there is illegal gambling in cricket is not a surprise to anyone, but the extent and sheer audacity of this latest scandal is greater and farther reaching than any we have witnessed in the past. International and Indian cricket players have been caught, fined and banned in the past, but beyond that absolutely nothing has been done to cleanse the sport of this plague. In fact, since the last time there was evidence of illegal activities, instead of becoming more transparent and creating a zero-tolerance policy for ridding the sport of this cancer, it feels like the BCCI closed ranks, brought more politicians onto their board and created a smaller circle of elite Indians to protect their nexus and corruption. Thus far the fans have been content to look the other way as long as they were entertained and a few heads rolled, every time there was a scandal. This time it feels very different and the public outrage seems to be growing.
The IPL betting scandal not only involves top Indian players but also movie stars, bookies, the underworld, business and cricketing officials, and politicians; Bollywood could not have come up with a richer cast of characters or more intriguing storyline. To fully understand the far reaching ramifications of this current scandal, let’s start with the fact that the current head of the BCCI is a businessman named N. Srinivasan who also happens to be the owner one of the most successful teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL) – Chennai Super Kings. That alone should have been sufficient ground to disqualify him from holding the posts he does as President of BCCI and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, anywhere else in the world. But this type of cronyism is nothing new in India. That fact aside, one of the revelations from the still unfolding scandal is that Mr. Srinivasan’s son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, (supposedly CEO of the Chennai Super Kings franchise) has been implicated in the illegal betting, by one of the prime accused. Naturally, this makes Mr. Srinivasan’s position untenable and one would expect him to immediately tender his resignation. It would not only be the honourable thing to do as head of the tainted sport, but also necessary because of the clear impropriety involved in any BCCI investigation into the matter, as it involves his family member. Instead of resigning, Mr. Srinivasan has chosen to go on the offensive. He says he did nothing wrong, and has even suggested that it is the media who is responsible for sullying his reputation and integrity. So drunk on power and deluded is Mr. Srinivasan that he has the tenacity to claim that he can proceed in an unbiased manner. So he has personally appointed a panel (consisting also of two BCCI board members) to investigate the matter and bring all the culprits to justice. It is a sad testament to what those in power have reduced honour and responsibility to in India.
Cricket is a religion in India. We hold cricketers in higher esteem than movie stars and Gods. So while the stakes are high with this scandal at home, because the BCCI is a $200 million business, it now has global tentacles and an image that goes well beyond domestic cricket. So I believe that the way we handle this latest scandal will have far reaching consequences that will define how India is seen and respected on the world stage. This time we cannot hide from or pretend that it will be swept under the rug like every other political scandal that the world could not care less about. Not only are the eyes of the cricketing world fixed on this scandal, but given the vast sums of money and global commercial interests, it will be the cynosure of all eyes. The BCCI also mirrors all that is wrong with India; the business-political nexus with two of its board members being a senior member from each of the main political parties. Even one of the most controversial and vociferous future prime ministerial candidates, Narendra Modi (Gujarat’s Chief Minister) who happens to head the Gujarat Cricket Association has stayed uncharacteristically silent on the issue thus far. So far the BCCI board has also shown no signs of developing a spine and calling for Mr. Srinivasan’s removal. Nor have any senior well-respected cricketers, who are on BCCI’s payroll.
The future of India hangs in the balance because we have a real chance to show the world that we can be taken seriously by stepping up to the plate and cleaning up cricket. We should introduce transparency, fairness and rules that apply to all, just like on the cricket field. We can break both the underworld and business nexus with politics that is also prevalent in guiding every aspect of decision-making in commerce and public policy in India, today. And we can show the world that there are still gentlemen left in Indian cricket; who have honour, integrity and the courage to stand up and do the right thing for the good of the sport, its adoring fans and an entire nation and world that reveres cricket. India can lead and set the example, and the moral standard, for the world to follow; the way a Superpower should. Or we can once again all look the other way, as an investigation drags on for years and finally exonerates all those involved and remain a banana republic where anyone can be bought for a price. I hope we choose wisely.