Why would the BCCI act like Mandela?
At the MCC Spirit of Cricket address this year Tony Greig, cricket commentator, Kerry Packer rebel, former England captain who grew up in apartheid South Africa urged India, the current cricket superpower, to follow Nelson Mandela's approach to solve the problems of world cricket. Instead of adopting Mandela's conciliatory attitude, Greig said, "India eschews his approach by indulging in a little pay back."
In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has vividly captured the changes in South Africa as the erstwhile apartheid regime made way for an all-inclusive rainbow nation. As the FW De Klerk government's power began to fade, Mandela had to decide if South Africans needed political and economic equality or to settle for political equality and let the beneficiaries of the apartheid era continue with their hegemonic power over the South African economy. He chose the latter but he also set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to record the atrocities of the apartheid regime. For those who came forward, confessed to their crimes and got amnesty, the justice wasn't retributive.
Now, in this rainbow nation, the winners of the apartheid regime and a few blacks live in gated communities but are isolated from the poor black majority. Thus, in South Africa, there's a new but global form of apartheid in which money is the basis of discrimination. To understand the problems in world cricket we need a brief history of cricket's administration.
International cricket was once governed by England, Australia and South Africa under the aegis of the Imperial Cricket Conference which was later re-christened the International Cricket Conference (ICC). Until recently, cricket was run primarily by England and Australia who enjoyed veto powers on the game's decisions and which they used to advance their own interest with occasional decisions of noblesse oblige. It was only in 1996 that the ICC's constitution was rewritten and the veto powers rescinded. Today, for any ICC decision to be applicable it needs a 70% vote and India, with support from other boards, has been able to thwart some of the recommendations of the erstwhile veto-wielding nations.
The erstwhile 'imperial' powers of cricket had not reckoned with India's arrival as a global cricketing superpower. The process started in 1983 when Kapil Dev's team won the World Cup at Lord's. Along with the introduction of colour television and the increasing wealth of India's burgeoning middle class, cricket found a market hitherto unheard of. The BCCI now had its coffers overflowing, made many new friends and found itself leading the group of the Asian members of the ICC. When the BCCI's representative Jagmohan Dalmiya was elected as the President of the ICC in 1997, it was the culmination of a transfer of power within the game's governing body. Ever since, India, with its supporters, has ruled the roost in ICC matters and even Australia and South Africa support India in lure for the largesse that BCCI has to offer.
So, the most disgruntled power in the ICC is the ECB, which hasn't really welcomed the IPL with great excitement. Most media in the UK, with the exception of ITV, did not cover the cricket played in the IPL which attracted most of the leading players in the world. With this historical background, I will now discuss the validity of the Mandela-esque plea made by Greig.
Imagine a market where two firms enjoy dominant market shares for a long time and used this power to sustain their hold on the market. Imagine a hitherto small firm from this market suddenly outstripping the dominant duo with significantly larger revenues. Is it incumbent on the new monopoly to co-operate or collude with the ancien regime? Also, has the USA, the dominant hegemon, shared its power and wealth with the people of the world or at least with all of its own people? Doesn't the UN resemble the Imperial Cricket Conference with five countries wielding the veto power? Has the South African elite shared its wealth with its impoverished countrymen in the new rainbow nation? And if a wrong has been committed, should the perpetrator be punished or co-opted in the new power dispensation?
To this writer, it appears the behaviour of the BCCI, if Mr. Greig's thesis is correct, is entirely consistent with the historical behaviour of dominant powers. Is that the right way for the BCCI to behave? This will need an examination of the BCCI's position on issues that Greig claims the Indian board is using its muscle power to influence and stop 'progress' in the cricketing world. And on the subject of the DRS, where the BCCI and Indian cricketers have been portrayed as Luddites, there is more than a case for the Indian position. The Indians have consistently opposed the DRS especially on its predictive characteristics, and they have a point that technophiles ignore to their own peril.
In the modern system of justice, for someone to be convicted of a crime the prosecution must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused actually committed the crime. In recent judicial cases here in the UK, original verdicts have been overturned because the expert testimony used to convict the accused was found to be of dubious quality. Hence, the Indian position on an lbw decision appears to be valid, for it questions the validity of replacing the opinion of an umpire with the opinion of an expensive piece of technology. Therefore, Greig is not right, at least in the case of the DRS, when he argues that India is abusing its position and in the process preventing cricket from progressing.
Of course, there is a possibility that racial undertones, schadenfreude and power politics could govern relations between the ICC members. But for India to behave like Mandela, the ICC will need its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Until then hegemonic power-plays, I predict, will continue.