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The Round Table
The boardroom battle for commercial rights
October 31, 2006
Lalit Modi tells Sanjay Manjrekar and Tony Greig why the ICC is wrong about the commercial rights. The first of the two-part series
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'BCCI is only worried about its own sphere, we are not worried about outside our sphere. Our sphere is limited to our country. Whatever benefits us, you got to understand, is going to benefit every other member' © Getty Images

Sanjay Manjrekar: Lalit, if you were asked to describe the BCCI, how would you do it?

Lalit Modi: The current body at the BCCI is a combination of highly talented people. We've colleagues from all walks of life, who are proactive unlike in the past where the board was run by one person or two people. The enthusiasm level and the time that each one is giving is quite tremendous and we are getting towards being one of the most professionally run bodies in the world.

Is it fair to say then that your perception now of this body, or what you are saying about the body, is that it has gone from being a bit of a dictatorship to more of a democracy?

LM: It has, and to illustrate the point further we've with us experts whether its on the administration side like Mr [IS] Bindra or the finance side like Mr N Sreenivasan or legal side like Mr Shashank Manohar or myself in marketing or Mr [Ratnakar] Shetty on the administrative side.

SM: Tony, I think it is important to bring you in here and ask how an outsider like you looks at the BCCI.

TG: The way I sit here and get the feeling that on the one hand they had this guy who was obviously a sort of dictator as far as this game is concerned and on the other hand they've now got what is tantamount to what I said is democracy. However, it doesn't seem to me that the problems have gone away: the world of cricket sits back there and looks at India as if India are the ones that are causing all of the problems. That seems to be one of the common threats or feel that comes from the old runners of the game like the Englishmen or the Australians or the South Africans. Every time there is a problem in cricket, and it has frustrated me to no end, they seem to be pointing their finger not necessarily or directly at India but it's in this direction - it comes across here either directly at India or partially down towards Sri Lanka or up towards Pakistan. So because I love this place so much it has been a source of frustration to me...if you don't mind me asking in one question here I want to know what Mr Modi perceives as the ideal situation in respect of India's position and if he wants to elaborate on Asia's position in terms of the ICC.

SM: And also while you are doing that why is there this general perception that it's always BCCI v ICC?

LM: I'll tell you. This is a very interesting question wherein lies the core of all the problems. The ICC doesn't make members, members make the ICC. ICC has been for the past so many years got used to dictating to members of how to run the game and what to do with the game especially with our commercial program. ICC's mandate is to run the game of cricket and to lay down the ground rules which are fair to everybody. It just so happens that cricket is not a passion; it is a religion in this part of the world. Of course we've a billion people who are crazy about the game and our sponsors and our advertisers want to reach out to them and they are ready to pay big bucks to do so. So far the dealings of the BCCI were somewhat shady, I would say. And all of a sudden when we opened up the Pandora's Box and made everything transparent all the monies that were due to the game, which should've come years and years ago, have started to come back into the board coffers. That has woken up the world of cricket and all of sudden they have realised that the BCCI is making so much of money. Why is the BCCI making so much of money? There is an underlying fact because we have the population base.

Majority of board members are told by the ICC this is in your favour, this is good for you, and these members sign on the dotted line. As far as India is concerned we like to get into the detail of it, our lawyers look into it and when we come across a grey area we point it out and then that becomes a major issue.

SM: But why is there always a standoff. Why couldn't this sorted out in meeting rooms and then you come to an arrangement that is agreeable to all boards. Does the BCCI fall short of diplomacy when it comes these sensitive matters?

LM: It doesn't because we have been discussing this with the ICC on a regular basis. Only when things have reached a high point or a crunch have these things have come out into the public domain. We started this prior to the Champions Trophy agreement, prior to the World Cup agreement and what happened is that the ICC only keeps throwing back at us the agreement which we had signed in the year 2000. Now that agreement comes to an end in 2007. All those past legacies or mistakes or issues that have been there have all been documented by the BCCI and the BCCI is now raising them because prior to signing any agreement we want to ensure that those things are taken into account or those issues are overcome in one way or the other. Of course there is going to be a flashpoint. As far as the ICC are concerned they are used to certain ways of doing business and now they want to extend that certain ways of doing business via certain more control form their point of view. When two bodies are trying to control that domain of cricket in their own sphere that is fine. BCCI is only worried about its own sphere, we are not worried about outside our sphere. Our sphere is limited to our country. Whatever benefits us, you got to understand, is going to benefit every other member.

SM: That is something I've never understood. The chief executive of the ICC is actually an employee of a cricket board of which BCCI is a very strong member. How does this happen. How can the CEO of ICC set certain deadlines and put pressure on BCCI?

LM: Deadlines are fine and deadlines are something we need to adhere to. But the pressure that the ICC chief executive wants to implement on India is something that the Indian cricket board is not amenable to or going to accept. And for him to try and dictate that is not something that we are going to lie back and listen to him. What happens is, and I have seen this, the agenda of the ICC runs into hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages with hundreds of pages of annexure. Now these are very complicated documentation. When the board members receive, or even when I receive it takes me weeks and weeks if not months to decipher them and to see what's in these documentation. Majority of board members are told by the ICC this is in your favour, this is good for you, and these members sign on the dotted line. As far as India is concerned we like to get into the detail of it, our lawyers look into it and when we come across a grey area we point it out and then that becomes a major issue.

SM: Tony, why doesn't Cricket Australia have as much of a problem with the ICC as India does?

TG: Lalit has actually explained that to be honest because it's to do with money first of all. The first thing he talked about was the explosion of money in this place. This country has now become the banker of world cricket. There is no doubt about that: this is where the money is and everyone realises it. Knowing the abundance of money here all the world of cricket including Cricket Australia realise that if they want to implement some of their programs this is the key to it. So I perfectly understand how India is coming from India we want to have a little bit more of a say. That's what I would do.

SM: Do you think that's why the Australian cricket board doesn't make as much of a noise as say the BCCI?

LM: I don't think that is true because the Australian Cricket Board is very thorough in its documentation. In fact they have also refused to sign the MPA. I have the comments of the Australian cricket board which are identical to our comments. They sent their comments out only in the month September. And there are lots of issues that the Australian board doesn't agree with. Also you got to keep in mind that cricket is the No. 1, 2 and 3 sport in this country while in other countries like Australia and England cricket is not the number one sport, there are other sports which overtake cricket in terms of rating, in terms of viewership where rugby or tennis or soccer is the predominant sport. And when you actually collectively look at the revenues of these sports there is a large revenue. Fortunately for us cricket is a major, major revenue source for us.

SM: Are you worried sometimes that when you are having these negotiations with the ICC that some of the other countries will get together and alienate BCCI and Indian cricket at some point of time. And do you feel that could happen and you've got to tackle this a bit more responsibly or carefully?

LM: We are. We are in touch with every cricket board. We are actually going out of our way. For example: the West Indies Cricket Board has a hole in their balance sheet. The Australian cricket board had to have five million dollars extra for their balance sheet this year. We went out of our way to accommodate the Australians to play the tri-series in Malaysia. They made five million dollars extra, the Windies made millions of dollars with us. Prior to that the tri-series in Sri Lanka was abandoned early on due to rains - we went out of our way, out of the FTP, to ensure that we play with the Sri Lankans so they make more money. The Bangladeshis with whom we are required to play one tour in six years are the ones with whom we have gone there to play three tours. The Zimbabweans, they have no money.

All the countries are behind us on the MPA. When the ICC says the agreement has been signed I'll like to see one single agreement signed

SM: So why don't you get the support from these countries?

LM: Who says we are not getting their support, all the countries are behind us on the MPA. When the ICC says the agreement has been signed I'll like to see one single agreement signed.

TG: What do you perceive as the ideal mechanism to run world cricket? It seems to me you've solved the local issues

LM: We do have a white paper, we are working towards that. As far as world cricket is concerned, we think that there should be total democracy in the way we operate it, it should be equitable all the way across....everybody should get a chance to get equal number of games, equal participation and equal number of tournaments. And there should be equal amount of monies as far as global cricket in concerned for the development of infrastructure. If you don't develop infrastructure in those countries they will lag behind, we won't have a world body anymore - India can't play by itself! It has to encourage others to develop their infrastructure. So, the governing body must have representation from all countries, it cannot be biased towards one country!

TG: And you think that's not the case at the moment. When you go to a meeting, around the table called the ICC, which makes these major decisions in world cricket you think that it's biased?

LM: I think the table is not biased. It's the agenda making process that is biased, the secretariat that is biased.

TG: How do you fix that then?

LM: We fix that by making sure that there is equal representation.

TG: It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the current chief executive at the ICC may in fact resign. If he did resign, Lalit Modi, in your capacity as a businessman, would you like to take that post on?

LM: No, I really don't want that. What we have to do is go out there and look for a good administrator across the world. It should be unbiased. And support him with a team who support cricket, and there should be infrastructure that will guide the people. And a liaison in the ICC working with the member countries.

There should be Asians within the group and currently that is negligible, may be one accountant and one lawye

TG: You see what they are saying at the moment is "Aww, look, all they want is to get an Asian into that position."

LM: That is unfair and I don't think that is the case. There should be Asians within the group and currently that is negligible, may be one accountant and one lawyer.

TG: Can I ask you about the TV rights issue and how you perceive that its playing itself up?

LM: I am assuming you are talking about the ICC TV rights. You see in 1987 and 1996 India conducted the World Cups and marketed the rights and we did a pretty good job. Currently what have been finding is that ICC has a partner called Global Cricket Corporation (GCC). GCC is in conflict with the ICC in certain cases and with us as a board on other issues. If we had our own rights and we marketed them I don't see any reason for conflict. Secondly whatever conditions we are imposing in the MPA or to the ICC we are trying to live by it as a sponsor on the other side and adhere to those conditions and ready to pay top dollar for it at the same time. So when we have done a great job in marketing our cricket, all the sponsors we know by the first name - these are the same sponsors who are actually going to bid for the ICC rights and are sponsors of the Indian cricket board. There is nobody unique out there, they are all going to be bidding for the same rights I think if the event is going to take place in Indian in 2011, and hopefully 2013 Twenty20 World Cup, then we should be able to market those rights and we are ready to pay top dollar for it.

SM: Are you trying to suggest that the ICC should just govern the game of cricket and leave the marketing to somebody else?

LM: The money goes to the ICC for the events it conducts. They can deploy it any way they like. But in terms of marketing we should get a fair chance to market it as any body else. Our money is as good as anybody else's.

SM: Would the other countries have the same views or they would rather have the ICC hold the power which means they can also have the power to take on one country which is getting so powerful which is India?

LM: We are not saying it is all about power - it has to do with the marketing of assets in your country. Similarly when the World Cup goes to Australia, the Australians will be ecstatic to market themselves - they are very professional board and very capable. So is the ECB, so do the South Africans. So I really see no reason why there should be any conflict on this issue. I know that between us four countries - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - in our meetings it has already been decided that we should market it. and I see no reason why we should not.

TG: How much of importance do alliances play now as they play important roles in business and things like that. India now have effectively seven of the major countries on side. Is that a fair comment?

LM: No, it is not true. It is not seven, actually it is a higher number now. Australia is an alliance partner of us and we are playing them every year; we are working with New Zealand and how we can accommodate them in our FTP as they have got a raw deal with the least number of matches with India. But you got to keep in mind that when we look at their schedule, when we look at their balance sheets, whether it's right or wrong, majority of these sports are making their money only when India plays with them and that's once in four years. And if you see at the rest of the matches you will see a big spike: two million dollars a game when India plays, when India doesn't play it is 100,000 dollars a game. So they actually make money only when India plays except for the Ashes. Apart from that none of these boards make any money. So we are trying to find ways and means of how increase their money. Now we can only play X number of days in a year and on top of that we have been thrust upon with various ICC events every year - previously these ICC events used to be every four years then it became once in two years and now it is every year.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar

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