A small group gathered at the Gymkhana ground in Secunderabad on a balmy day in the last week of May to witness Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) Secretary R Vijayanand distributing letters of appointment to members of various committees.
Within hours, HCA President Mohammed Azharuddin issued a statement that the appointments have not been finalised, and that he “will not be responsible for any commitments, promise, compensation, honorarium or any other pecuniary benefit” promised in those letters. Cue an instantaneous riposte from Vijayanand, who said he was going by decisions taken at the general body meeting, and “If someone is not happy with it, there is nothing that can be done.” Never mind that the “someone” is his titular boss.
Azharuddin and his hand-picked panel had won the election to the HCA in September 2019. By December of that year, allegations were rife that the office-bearers were in flagrant violation of various constitutional rules and regulations. Vivek Jaisimha, selector for the state junior cricketers, wrote to the Board of Cricket Control for India’s (BCCI) ethics officer alleging that Vijayanand was “interfering, questioning, and blackmailing us with names of players to add to the teams who don’t deserve to be there.” We are helpless, Jaisimha wrote. The ethics officer is yet to be heard from.
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But then, retired Justice Devinder Kumar Jain, the BCCI’s first ever court-appointed ombudsman, moves at a glacial pace. Rupa Gurunath was elected president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association as far back as September 2019. She is a director at India Cements Ltd, the company led by her father and former BCCI president N Srinivasan. ICL is connected with the Chennai Super Kings franchise. And yet it was only on 3 June of this year, some 21 months after the election, that Jain finally found Gurunath—wife of “passionate cricket fan” Gurunath Meiyappan—guilty of conflict of interest.
Remember that it was this same Meiyappan’s involvement in betting and match-fixing that opened up an economy-sized can of worms that ultimately led to the Supreme Court’s intervention, the disbanding of the existing BCCI order and the rewriting of its constitution. History repeats, first as a tragedy that destroyed what remained of our cricketing innocence and our misplaced belief in the integrity of sport, and now as a farce that makes barely a ripple in the collective consciousness.
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You know there is something wrong with a sport when it makes headlines not for what is happening on the field of play, but for the shenanigans occurring backstage. The UK-based The Telegraph newspaper that broke the news in May that the BCCI had not given members of the Indian women’s team their share of the $550,000 (about ₹40.148 crore) prize money for placing runner-up in the World T20 Cup. That final, against Australia, was played on 8 March, 2020 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where 86,174 fans turned up to watch. 14 months later, the women were still waiting for their dues—and the BCCI’s response, when the news broke, was on the lines of ‘oops, forgot, we’ll pay up this week’.
The BCCI also forgot that in its December 2020 Annual General Meeting, it had promised to compensate domestic players for the aborted Ranji Trophy season. We have “set up a working committee to look into the modalities of distribution”, secretary Jay Shah said when the issue came up recently. The BCCI also forgot to pay domestic cricketers their entitled fees for the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, both of which were conducted in January and February of this year in empty stadia.
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Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president Avishek Dalmiya—the son of the late BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya—explained away these delayed payments on the grounds that players are required to come in person and sign the statutory documents, which hasn’t been possible because of lockdown restrictions. Those two tournaments were played in January and February; between 27 March and 2 May, West Bengal was in the throes of an endless election cycle full of rallies featuring crowds the size of which had Prime Minister Narendra Modi marvelling—but god forbid that a cricketer “travels in person” to collect the monies due to him.
It is not just the match fees either—domestic players are still waiting for their Gross Revenue Share—an amount the BCCI allocates from its TV broadcast revenues to be shared among domestic cricketers. The norm is for the amount to be paid in September each year; it has, however, not been paid since the 2016-2017 season. And it is not just the women and the domestic cricketers, either. Ground staff at various venues have not been paid. Elsewhere, 17 official scorers who found themselves suddenly superannuated on the grounds that they were over 55, wrote to BCCI president Sourav Ganguly asking for relief, for some form of retirement benefits—anything to keep the home fires burning. They are yet to receive a response.
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Indian Test cricketer Abhinav Mukund recently wrote in Cricbuzz with depth, passion, and detail on the travails of the domestic cricketer. Pre-eminent sportswriter Sharda Ugra broke down the numbers in an article in the Hindustan Times to show how the BCCI could easily make all outstanding payments without denting its bank balance.
In the last week of May, while stirring events were roiling the Hyderabad CA, the BCCI held a Special General Meeting to, among other things, figure out how to host the rest of the abruptly truncated 14th edition of the IPL. During the course of the meeting, one particular association raised the issue of outstanding payments for domestic cricketers. Board president Sourav Ganguly, himself a former cricketer, and vice-president Rajiv Shukla nixed the discussion on the grounds that “it is not on the agenda”. Why not, was a question no one bothered to ask.
The BCCI’s Apex Council will meet next on 17 July. Whether the question of outstanding payments will be on the agenda is not known. What is certain is that BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, its all-powerful secretary Jay Shah, and its joint secretary Jayesh George should not be at their posts, since their terms ended in July 2020.
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On April 8, 2016 senior advocate KK Venugopal, appearing for the BCCI, told the Supreme Court that the BCCI was a private trust, and that the SC had no business interfering in its activities. “Are you refusing to be reformed?” the Court had famously asked then, arms metaphorically akimbo.
The Court now has its answer: yes. The reforms bearing the apex court's imprimatur have been set aside so casually, and with such impunity. As of the date of writing this article, there are 14 petitions pending in the Supreme Court, all of them initiated by the BCCI and/or its member associations. All of them seek dilutions of the court-mandated constitution.
The most important of these petitions is the one filed by the BCCI seeking six major amendments to the constitution. The biggest of these relate to the tenure of the three senior office-bearers who, the BCCI argues, should be allowed to continue. Yet, despite the fact that it is the instigator of the petition, the advocate for the BCCI has over the latter part of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 sought six separate adjournments.
One such adjournment was sought on 16 February, leading to an exasperated Justice Nageswara Rao, who is hearing the petition alongside Justice Ravindra Bhat, to say enough is enough. “We can’t keep adjourning like this,” Justice Rao said, while listing the next hearing for 23 March. On that day, he said, the SC would give a decision, and will not permit further adjournments. But the matter was adjourned in March and then again in April, with status quo preserved pending a final decision from the court. We are now in June, 11 months after the tenures of Ganguly and Shah had officially expired.
Meanwhile, India’s cricket calendar carries on. Now that the World Test Championship final against New Zealand is over, focus will now turn to a full series against England. This will be followed by the remaining half of the IPL. We will get our cricketing entertainment. Meanwhile scorers, ground staff, domestic players and sundry others—bit part players in the three-ring circus that is the BCCI—will continue to beg for their bread. Because they must. And the BCCI will continue to delay, and to obfuscate, because it can.
Prem Panicker is a Bengaluru-based journalist.