Governance, integrity and perception in Indian cricket: IPL and ICC developments

Published 22 April 2014 By: Desh Gaurav Sekhri

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Season 7 of cricket’s Indian Premier League (“IPL”) kicked off on the 16th of April, and the extremely controversial league is in the middle of its sternest test in the wake of the spot-fixing and illegal betting allegation from the 2013 Season.

With its parent body- the Board of Control for Cricket in India (“BCCI”) now subjected to intense scrutiny due to alleged governance and ethics lapses, the erstwhile positive perception of Indian cricket is now at risk.

 

Background

The spot fixing allegations from the 2013 season of the IPL led to the Supreme Court of India ordering the setting up of a probe committee led by the retired Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court (two prominent Indian states), Mr. Mukul Mudgal. The Justice Mudgal IPL Probe Committee (“Committee”) was set up with the mandate to investigate and report on the allegations of betting and spot/match-fixing in the IPL. The allegations centered around certain players who had been suspected of spot-fixing and team owners/officials who had allegedly illegally bet during the IPL, and possibly engaged in sharing inside information with friends and/or bookmakers. 

The Committee had been set up by the Indian Supreme Court to do a report on the allegations, and was set up because the BCCI’s internal IPL probe was considered to be insufficient, inaccurate, and not conducted at arm’s length. Therefore, the Supreme Court empanelled a Committee that did not have any vested interest in the outcome of the probe it conducted, and as an independent body, it was expected to provide its suggestions and observations in a report that it presented to the Supreme Court for further action.

The 3-member Committee was appointed by the Indian Supreme Court with the following terms of reference:

1. The allegations of betting and spot-fixing in the IPL matches against Gurunath Meiyappan, allegedly the team principal of [the] Chennai Super Kings, 3rd respondent (India Cements Limited) and the players and 4th respondent/team owner of IPL franchisee Rajasthan Royals (Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Limited);

2.The allegations against Gurunath Meiyappan, the respondent 3 and 4 with regard to their involvement in spot fixing and betting.1

Although the scope of the Committee’s report was limited to the betting and spot-fixing allegations against the suspected players and owners/team officials of two of the teams, the outcome of the report appears to have unearthed suspected misconduct that extends above and beyond the circumscribed parameters, although it must be stressed that at the present time these are purely allegations. The Committee therefore broadly drew its inferences under two headings:

  1. those having a direct bearing on the terms of reference; and, 
  2. those indirectly related to the terms of reference.

The Committee’s report was released in two volumes; Volume 12 containing the Committee’s findings and conclusion; and, Volume 23, which had additional analysis and conclusions by Mr. Nilay Dutta, one of the members of the Committee. 

 

The Committee’s Report

The conclusions and findings of the Committee have created a major stir since this is one of the only times that there has been a formal alleged finding of illegality within cricket administration and team ownership in Indian cricket. With an increased focus on good governance and a large number of politicians holding elected positions in state cricket federations as well as the BCCI, in a year where the national elections are the focus of all the political parties, even a hint of scandal in cricket could have serious political ramifications. Further, there is said to be a serious cause for concern among cricket stakeholders based on the supposed findings of unethical practices by as yet unnamed cricketers both current and retired, as well as ongoing investigations surrounding player-agent relationships and questionable practices by team owners in the IPL. With the seemingly unsatisfactory response by the BCCI to the entire spot-fixing issue4 through 2013, compounded by the increased revenue and power reforms giving BCCI greater autonomy world cricket earlier this year5, the Committee’s report seems to have added to an already controversial start to 2014 for the BCCI, arguably one of the most influential and powerful sports entities in the world.

 

Developments due to the Committee’s Report

The Committee found that the role of Mr. Gurunath Meiyappan in Chennai Super Kings as the team official stands proved and the allegations of betting and passing on information against Mr. Gurunath Meiyappan stand proved. However, the allegations of fixing require further investigation.’6  It was further found by the Committee that Meiyappan was in violation of numerous IPL related codes and rules, and the franchisee owner of the team had failed to ensure Meiyappan had complied with certain BCCI and IPL related codes, operational rules and regulations, leading to a violation of the IPL Operational Rules, and the IPL franchisee agreement, for bringing the game into disrepute. The Committee found that the allegations of betting and spot-fixing against Raj Kundra, team owner of the Jaipur Cricket Private Limited required further investigation.

The allegations of match-fixing and spot-fixing against the five players from the Rajasthan Royals franchise, if gauged on the basis of evidence provided by the Delhi Police could lead to a criminal trial. The Committee felt that the punishment imposed on the players by the board was adequate, with the sporting punishment ranging from suspensions of a certain number of years for a majority of the offenders, to a life ban for one of the cricketers. During the Committee’s investigation, it came across allegations of sporting fraud against certain persons. In light of the sensitive nature of the information, the Committee provided this information separately in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court of India has had three (3) hearings regarding the Committee’s report, with the most recent being on the 16th of April. In the hearing on the 25th of March, the Supreme Court ordered the President of the BCCI, N. Srinivasan, to stand down, and instead appointed two interim presidents - a former cricketer in charge of the IPL, and a BCCI vice-president in charge of all BCCI-related matters. The Supreme Court reconfirmed its decision to exclude N. Srinivasan from his position in the BCCI, at its hearing on the 16th of April. It has also ordered the probe into spot-fixing and illegal gambling to be conducted by the BCCI itself, rather than the Court. The Supreme Court also made reference to the contents of the sealed envelope, stating the Srinivasan’s name was one of the 13 names mentioned in the Committee’s report. This is the first mention of what is contained in the sealed envelope, the contents of which are not otherwise available for public review.

 

Conflict of Interest, and the Committee’s Recommendations

Another aspect that was outside the scope of review of the Committee, but which repeatedly was brought to the Committee’s attention, was the presence of potential conflicts of interest, including the amendment to clause 6.2.4 of the BCCI Rules and Regulations7 whereby office bearers in the BCCI were permitted to hold a commercial interest in the IPL and The Champions League Twenty20. The Champions League Twenty20 is a tri-sanctioned event that features the top 3 IPL teams, and other qualifiers from across the world, including Australia, West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and others. The conflict of interest issue is likely to be a troublesome one for the IPL in the near future. 

Among the recommendations of the Committee, some of the important ones are listed below8:

  1. ‘[The Committee recommends appointing] reputed retired armed forces and police officers from India to familiarize the Indian players with the anti-corruption codes of conduct in Indian languages rather than solely in English;
  2. [However], In the interest of the league, IPL should be a stand-alone commercial entity with representatives from the franchises, BCCI, broadcasters and independent professional directors forming a part of the governing body of the IPL;
  3. BCCI should have a system of registering player agents. Before registering player agents there should be an examination of the agents to confirm their understanding of the rules and regulations of BCCI and IPL. Besides this the antecedents of the player agent should also be verified so that dubious elements of society with links to bookies or the underworld are not given a registration as a player agent;
  4. Players should not be allowed to own any stakes or interests in player agencies or companies involved with cricket unless such interests are in the nature of sponsorship or endorsements.’

Mr. Dutta on Page 66 in Volume 2 of the Committee’s report, suggests that the ‘Supreme Court may therefore consider directing a comprehensive investigation into the entire betting and match fixing episode in cricket and in particular in IPL by a competent statutory investigative agency with a view to identifying and prosecuting the criminals involved.’ The Committee’s report is now the starting point for the Supreme Court to proceed. 

 

BCCI-ICC Development

The Committee’s report came shortly after a development involving the BCCI and its role in world cricket being expanded. The International Cricket Council (“ICC”), the governing international body for cricket-playing nations has recently overhauled its commercial and governance measures by essentially agreeing to a proposal by the England and Wales Cricket Board (“ECB”), Cricket Australia (“CA”), and the BCCI through which the ‘Big 3’ would take a significantly greater share of revenue, and be given the mandate of reforming cricket internationally. Coinciding with the appointment of current BCCI president N. Srinivasan as the ICC Chairman, the ICC press release announcing the new reforms had certain salient points that reaffirmed the importance of the BCCI to world cricket, and a seismic move away from a parity growth model towards a trickle down growth model that is leader driven by the BCCI, CA and ECB:

Recognition of the need for strong leadership of the ICC, involving leading Members, which will involve BCCI taking a central leadership responsibility....[and] the establishment of an Executive Committee (ExCo) and Financial & Commercial Affairs Committee (F&CA) to provide leadership at an operational level, with five members, including BCCI, CA and ECB representatives. Anybody from within the Board can be elected to Chair the Board and anybody from within ExCo and F&CA can be elected to Chair those Committees. With the ICC undergoing a transitional period that includes a new governance structure and media rights cycle, this leadership will be provided for two years from June 2014 by: a BCCI representative to Chair the ICC Board, a CA representative to Chair the ExCo and an ECB representative to Chair the F&CA.9

Coming at a time when the commercial interests of BCCI have been flagged during a governance review, this move towards a growth model driven by BCCI has led to further, justified yet unfortunate, criticism of cricket and its administration in India. The Committee’s report casts further doubt on whether the ‘autonomy of sport’ model is appropriate for Indian cricket. The findings of the report that detail governance lapses, the inability to monitor team ownership and behaviour in the IPL, and the recurring corruption allegations that lead to the Supreme Court of India’s frequent intervention leads one to believe that the sport needs to be strongly regulated rather than allowed to operate autonomously.

 

 

Conclusion

It’s rare that the commercialisation of a particular sport is led by an India-centric focus but cricket is very much the exception to the rule. While it’s a foregone conclusion that cricket is dependant to a great extent on India, the fact that the future monetization of the sport remains firmly within the control of decision-makers emanating in India is seen as more of a negative than a positive. This in itself is why it is critically important for governance and conduct in Indian sports to provide themselves a legitimate litmus test. In the absence of any laws or regulations that govern unethical activities in sports in India, much of the success that any sports activity that is monetized will be credited to unsavoury factors rather than innovation and genuine commercial intuition.  Perhaps it is too much to expect the sports bodies in India to conceptualize an independent regulator or sports governance overseer, but in that case, the Central and State governments must move forward towards passing the amended ‘Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill, 2013’ into law before it’s too late to salvage the reputation of sports administration bodies in India10.

The irony is that despite the unenviable position that cricket finds itself in now in India, and despite the clear recommendations of the Committee, there seems to be little progress made towards proposing a viable Bill that would tackle corrupt and unethical practices on a national or state-level basis. The Bill is now on hold, and unlikely to make its way before Parliament until July at the earliest. There could be the use of precedents such as the cleaning up of Major League Baseball in the wake of the Black Sox” scandal11. Major League Baseball had done this by appointing former Judge Kenesaw ‘Mountain’ Landis as the commissioner with the sole directive of restoring baseball’s reputation through all means possible. By appointing a commissioner without any vested interest in the sport and giving him or her the right to weed out the unsavoury aspects of the sport and dole out punishment to the offenders could be the only way forward for the cricket to salvage its reputation. This of course is easier said than done, given the challenges that the passage of the legislation will likely face in the current scenario12. Perhaps those given the responsibility of introducing governance changes especially in cricket waited for too long before being put in an indefensible position where the Supreme Court of India may decide to take decisive measures that are potentially catastrophic for the future of cricket as we know it today. Or, perhaps as the Committee mentions in its report, the allegations are unsubstantiated by evidence, and cricket administration may have dodged a bullet this time. Either way this is the time where the IPL needs to reflect on what is in the report and the BCCI must show its good faith by supporting the ‘Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill, 2013’ and all other mechanisms that are tailor made for Indian conditions. Being ‘guilty by [virtue of being a sport] association’ in India is becoming the norm, and it needs to be stemmed before the fans and the investors/sponsors lose faith. IPL 7 may act as a temporary diversion, but the true battle lies ahead for this beleaguered sport.

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Author

Desh Gaurav Sikri

Desh Gaurav Sekhri

Desh Gaurav Sekhri is one of the first Sports Attorneys in India, and he leads the Sports law practice at J. Sagar Associates (“JSA”), a premier national law firm, since he joined in February, 2009. He is also the author of “Not Out! The incredible story of the Indian Premier League”.

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