Corruption in the IPL June 6, 2013

Onus on the owners

The owners' investment into the IPL has come at some very high prices; that cannot, however, absolve them of strict scrutiny

Three weeks after the IPL corruption scandal first broke, two things reminded us once again what the whole shebang was about - a festering rot in world cricket's most celebrated league.

The first glimpse of clarity from the BCCI's corner arrived on Tuesday with vice-president Arun Jaitley talking about "insiders getting involved in betting".

Then next came on Thursday in a statement by Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar that Rajasthan Royals owner Raj Kundra had confessed, during a 12-hour chat, to "betting on his own team" during the IPL. Kundra has since denied saying anything of the sort.

Until these two happenings, the BCCI had turned its attention elsewhere. For two weeks, its muddled ditherings had sidelined the real crisis facing Indian cricket and the IPL after the arrest of Gurunath Meiyappan, amorphously-titled enthusiast-official-owner of the Chennai Super Kings and definitively-established son-in-law of BCCI president N Srinivasan. The working committee meeting in Chennai on Sunday ended up being merely a 'Save Srini's Feelings' platform whose eventual result was an old order giving way to the older.

The day after Jaitley's comments, Gurunath and his alleged punter pal Vindoo Dara Singh were given bail; now, Kundra, while not charged, is alleged to have placed bets on his own team during the IPL season. It has left Indian cricket - finally free of Srinivasan's overwhelming presence - once again shaken by the knowledge that IPL 2013 had revealed the possibility of a new avenue of access for the illegal betting mafia - the owner-punter.

It is why the response to Gurunath's arrest from both Srinivasan and Chennai Super Kings was a crushing disappointment and a dangerous precedent. It portrayed Gurunath as a lone gunman, and sidestepped a central premise. That a secret club of illegal punters could be hidden among the IPL franchise owners.

The line trotted out was that Gurunath was charged with "only" betting and not spot-fixing. Betting is illegal in India; but even in countries where betting is legal, it is both illegal and unethical for team owners in sporting leagues to place bets around the event. The NFL constitution details the disciplinary action - under 8.13 C - that can be taken over betting by "a person employed by or connected with the league or any member club thereof" in what is the richest sporting league in the world. The Football Association, the parent body under whose rules England's Premier League clubs must function, has a betting handbook that states clearly that "players, managers, coaches, club medical staff, other club employees and staff, directors and licensed Agents" are not allowed to bet.

What both the Gurunath and Kundra cases instantly red-flagged is the need of the BCCI to be as thorough in asking for details from all the IPL owners and even their (to use a Lalit Modi-ism) "friends and family," as they are of cricketers, their agents and other assorted hangers-on.

The IPL owners have enormous influence and reach over their teams and its players. After Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were arrested, an IPL official offered an analogy, "Imagine the spot-fix to be like a mafia hit. Mr A has a reason to want a hit. He makes an offer to Mr B to execute the hit. Mr B makes a plan and either knows someone who knows the people who can carry out the hit or he knows the people themselves." On the money trail of this hit, the cricketers feature at the bottom; they may be the best known on this ladder but they are the least paid, at the end of the illegal betting mafia's food chain.

In this food chain, those privy to the inside information that cricketers are also privy to are valued even more. Those folk 'invest' in the betting business themselves after all, and they can open all kinds of doors for bookies. In the IPL, those are the Beautiful People, the nebulous group that populates the VIP areas of league matches. Jaitley spelt out the worst-case scenario of such insiders being involved in betting - that betting could be "transformed into fixing."

There is, it must be said, more than one BCCI official deeply suspicious of the new entrants into Indian cricket through the IPL. More than one will tell you about what they hear and see around games. A few seasons ago, a man wearing a pitch-access pass was heard to remark that there was comparatively less money in the actual IPL and more in betting, which he was into. A complaint was made to the ACSU and the man was never seen again.

In the Gurunath case, even if Srinivasan and Chennai Super Kings knew nothing of Gurunath's alleged proclivities, to attempt to completely obliterate his existence from the core of Super Kings is to dodge truth. That truth is that Srinivasan and Super Kings were responsible for giving Gurunath the access to cricketers, coaches and insider information. He is now charged with using that access to make a personal profit through betting.

Gurunath's arrest - even if on charges of betting alone - is the reason why the ownership of an IPL team by a BCCI official was always going to be a bad idea. Srinivasan's resignation pantomime was evidence that the first response of an official-owner would be to try his damnedest to prevent any and all strictures from being enforced on himself or his enterprise.

The ghastly fallout of IPL 2013 has also served as another warning to not be dazzled by the IPL's shiny, noisy wrapping paper. Or rather any sort of packaging. Gurunath looked, as IPL operations folk describe with disbelief, "absolutely correct and proper." As an owner, he had, "a totally low profile, didn't try to project himself, he was non-interfering." It was believed that Guru was the "right kind of guy" in charge of the "model-run franchise." Alleged player-bookie Amit Singh was well-spoken and educated. Not judging books by their covers is useful advice.

The more astute inside the IPL ecosystem today - and they do exist - have no doubt that the rot is spread wider and higher than the level of cricketers alone.

In the time they have at the helm of the BCCI, Jagmohan Dalmiya, Jaitley & Co must turn an unwavering glare on the IPL owners. Whatever the IPL may say it has done in terms of scrutiny of owners at the time franchises were auctioned, it was clearly not sufficient. One solution could be dealing only with corporations listed on stock exchanges. Along with that, ensuring that the bonafides of everyone involved in the owners' caravans are established and vetted from several sources. Owner access is as much an entry point for the betting mafia into the IPL as is player access. The delusional distance that the BCCI has kept from law enforcement - apart from having them look after crowd control during matches - is now threatening the very existsnce of their golden goose.

The owners' investment into the IPL has come at some very high prices; that cannot, however, make up for the diminishing values of the IPL's integrity.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo