A fork in the road

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Will this week’s IPL verdict herald a new era of transparency, or will the criminalisation of cricket continue unabated?

A true sports fan would make any number of sacrifices to see their game flourish. It is a sad reality, however, that all too often, the few privileged individuals who are charged with that very task choose instead to sacrifice the game in pursuit of their crooked personal agendas.
It was a bittersweet moment on 14 July when the owners of the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals Indian Premier League franchises, along with a former team official and co-owner respectively, were handed suspensions of varying lengths for their parts in the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal. For although it was undoubtedly a step forward, it served as a grave reminder of the rampancy of corruption and the hubris surrounding the administration of cricket in the subcontinent – it may not have been too little, but it is definitely too late.

N Srinivasan

It was in May 2013 that the world of cricket – having barely recovered from the 2010 Pakistani spot-fixing saga – was once again left in upheaval, this time by the arrests of cricketers S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila on charges of fraud and cheating. It was an evolving beast – over the coming weeks, news broke of the arrest, on charges of cheating, fraud and forgery, of Gurunath Meiyappan, who was not only a top official of the Chennai Super Kings franchise, but the son-in-law of then-BCCI President N Srinivasan. Then, soon afterward came the admission by Rajasthan Royals co-owner, Raj Kundra, that he had wagered on IPL matches – including those involving his team.
Gurunath Meiyappan

And typically, almost inevitably, despite the confession, despite the arrests, despite the widespread acknowledgement that something was awry in the subcontinent – the two-member panel appointed by the BCCI to investigate the players and officials found “no evidence of any wrongdoing” by either Kundra or Gurunath, continuing the BCCI’s impressive record of incompetency in self-governance.

“With the exception of certain football scandals presided over by FIFA, it is hard to recall a more mismanaged corruption investigation in the history of sport.”

It was only through the avenue of public interest litigation that the matter was reopened, and only after the establishment of a number of committees, Srinivasan’s embarrassing attempt to stay on as BCCI President during the investigations into his son-in-law, and an overall level of transparency not dissimilar to that of a brick wall, that the Lodha committee finally set out its recommended punishments on Tuesday.

Raj Kundra

Let us make no mistake – although the sentences are significant, they are certainly fair. Meiyappan, who faced criminal charges and regularly placed bets in IPL matches, was banned for life from involvement in any type of cricket matches. Kundra, giving away his intellect by submitting that as a UK citizen, he didn’t know the laws regarding betting in India, was given the same punishment. Meanwhile, India Cements and Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Limited, the owners of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals respectively, were banned from the league for two years, leaving the owners with teams that are not permitted to play.
Although the bans spell short-term disaster for the IPL and the game of cricket in India – the Champions League has already been cancelled – former High Court judge Mukul Mudgal, part of an independent investigation panel which investigated the allegations of corruption, stressed that it was about more than just a team or game.
“Please remember however great [the team] may be, however popular [the team] may be, it’s about the game of cricket. And therefore in the long run it will benefit the IPL. There is a current feeling that all matches in the IPL are fixed, which is a totally wrong feeling. I can only think that this step will restore people’s confidence in the game of cricket and in the IPL.”

The decision carries significant ramifications not just for the franchises, teams and individuals involved, but for the reputation of the governing body of Indian cricket itself. After all, the BCCI could have put this matter to bed a long time ago when it conducted its own investigations. However, with the exception of certain football scandals presided over by FIFA, it is hard to recall a more mismanaged corruption investigation in the history of sport.
The BCCI’s ineptitude is best encapsulated by the actions of the man who became the face of the corruption scandal, and current ICC chairman, Srinivasan. Srinivasan was met with ridicule and widespread jeering when he made the trip down under to present the winners trophy at the World Cup final in Melbourne in 2015, seemingly oblivious to the distrust that characterised his milieu. There is no suggestion that Srinivasan himself was involved in any corrupt conduct – but the sheer disrespect he showed towards the game, its players and its fans on that day, in his quest of yet another moment in the spotlight, was nothing short of despicable.

Accountability and transparency is the hallmark of good governance. Yet for far too long, millions of loyal cricket fans – both in India and abroad – have been forced to watch on helplessly as men with overflowing bank balances and negligible morals have staked the reputation and success of the sport against their ability to be held accountable for their transgressions.
In his best King Henry VIII impression, Srinivasan had once famously cried, “I am not answerable to anyone.” Cricket fans can only hope that the verdict ends Srinivasan’s now untenable reign as ICC chairman. Although there are unavoidable hurdles ahead, there’s at a fork in the road; will the verdict herald a new era in which administrators are answerable to the game and to its perennially mistreated fans, or will a new generation of criminals resume the destruction of their predecessors?

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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