August 6, 2009

BCCI v the world

The Indian board's foot-dragging and muscle-flexing over the drug-testing issue is typical

Every once in a while the Indian cricket board takes a break from its primary activity, turning the game and itself into even bigger brands, and indulges in its favourite secondary, physical, activities - jerking its knee and flexing its muscle. This atavistic trait doesn't show up only when there is a grand threat - perceived or otherwise - to its powers and position. It can happen when the BCCI is merely irritated. As in the latest case concerning the dope-testing protocol.

The issue is simple: With drug abuse becoming an increasing threat to sport, cricket - to be clean, and to be seen as clean - needs a dope-testing protocol. There is one currently used across the world, by almost every sporting body, devised and administered by the acknowledged nodal organisation. It is not flawless and it has its critics - as perhaps any protocol cutting such a wide swathe will - but it is the law. And the world's leading sportsmen follow it, even as some of them complain bitterly about it.

But not India's cricketers. And not India's cricket board.

The players reportedly raised concerns when informed about the requirements, during the tour of New Zealand earlier this year, and when the time came to sign the protocol refused to do so (for these players are nothing if not proud products of the board they represent). And so as the deadline came and went, and India's cricketers remained the only ones in the world not to have signed, the board went on the defensive. Which meant the offensive. And so the knee jerk and the muscle flex.

As an immediate reaction it offered a two-pronged argument against the players signing up. On the one hand, it wondered whether there really was any need for cricket to join a broad-spectrum testing protocol; instead, cricket should, the board said, fashion a customised set of rules taking into account the peculiarities of the game and focusing on testing during camps and series or tournaments instead of 24/7/365. On the other, it trotted out a set of specific reasons why their 11 players should not sign the current protocol, and even invoked the Constitution of India and its guarantee of privacy.

By mooting a doping code outside of WADA, the BCCI is effectively asking the ICC to take cricket out of the global sporting family and exist as a sort of renegade unit. It's not really a request, given that 70% of the money in world cricket comes from India

One would be tempted to dismiss this as nonsense but for the gravity of the situation. By mooting a doping code outside of WADA, the BCCI is effectively asking the ICC to take cricket out of the global sporting family and exist as a sort of renegade unit. It's not really a request, given that 70% of the money in world cricket comes from India. So it is not nonsensical but hugely irresponsible.

One can see where the board is coming from - cricket in India is not really a sport; it exists outside the framework that covers every other sport in the country. It does not need government funding; on the contrary, it is itself a donor to other sports - Wednesday's newspapers reported how India's football federation has sought a grant from the BCCI for an ambitious development project. The BCCI is larger than sport itself in this country and so believes that it can exist in precisely the same way in the global community. And so it might, too: the sport has a unique, captive fan base, while the IPL has opened up new avenues for bringing in finances - streets paved with gold.

Yet there is the obligation for the BCCI to act as the leader, to sometimes bend for the greater good, to acquire an identity higher than that of a purely commercial enterprise. Time and again, when it perceives a threat to its superiority, it has raised the stakes to an impossible level; the latest example was in Sydney in 2008 when it had an umpire replaced, and prepared to risk an entire series over one bad Test. It seems to be heading down the same road now, in the face of advice, suggestions, entreaties and the odd bit of ridicule from across the sporting spectrum.

The irony is that it has fairly simple solutions at hand. The problem is a simple one, of managing players' schedules. The BCCI can, without the slightest dent to its coffers, appoint a minion to coordinate the whereabouts of nine cricketers (one imagines the two women are really not a problem here) and send the necessary emails and text messages to the WADA officials concerned. It is a decision that takes a minute to approve and is a trifle to implement. Perhaps it is too easy.

If the board's actions sound irresponsible, the stand taken by the players is ludicrous. They, too, are leaders in their field, respected by their peers, and most importantly, are role models for millions of youth. They are not unlike other global stars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, just two of sport's big names to sign on the dotted line. It is also disingenuous of Yuvraj Singh to claim that cricketers are a unique breed with a more itinerant lifestyle than other sportsmen. Actually, it is plain rubbish, as any tennis player or golfer, whose schedule depends on how far he progresses in each tournament, will tell you.

If cricket wants to be taken as a global sport and move beyond its identity as an extension of the Commonwealth, it needs to exist in the global family. It needs the validation and the vehicle of the Olympic movement and its offshoots to permeate uncharted territories. Twenty20 is a prime candidate for an Olympic sport, yet it will not make the breakthrough unless the ICC and IOC - and the BCCI - play ball.

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Subhasish on August 8, 2009, 23:05 GMT

    I agree with the author that this is an opportunity to hog limelight by having a go @ BCCI. But for the mundane, it seems like a valid question to ask by the players from what appears in media about the merits surrounding the controversy. Even CA has come out partially agreeing to the view. I don't quite understand what's more sinister while being controversial - Being in vogue and subversively compliant or being expressive that seems rebellious.

  • Tendlya on August 8, 2009, 17:26 GMT

    The article is biased, illogical and sexist. The author recommends appointing a person to keep track of schedules of the 9 male cricketers but not the 2 female cricketers ("one imagines the two women are really not a problem here"). This is an utterly male chauvinistic remark. It is disappointing to see such statements coming from an executive editor. Anyway, the idea proposed by the author is ridiculous. It is very dangerous to have one person possess the information about scheduls of all Indian players. The solution proposed by the BCCI seems more reasonable but the author conveniently forgets to mention BCCI's solution.

  • Naveen on August 8, 2009, 15:03 GMT

    Mr. Gupta, its a shame that a person of your stature has so easily written this sort of biased article. It really doesn't even once get to the real point of the issue at hand. Just because others have not denied doesn't mean WADA is "the" way to go. There are critics of WADA all around the word because it does have some tweaks required. So instead of having a complete senseless go at BCCI and Indian players, please for once think from their point of view and act sensible.

  • BillyBlue on August 8, 2009, 12:26 GMT

    What utter rubbish. Looks like BCCI snubbed the author at some point & he's taking his grudge out here. This is a blatantly biased article. Mr. Gupta never once, seriously addresses the players concerns for security & privacy. Acknowleding that cricket especially in India is an all too different sport, he fails to extend its privileges to it's governing body or to the players who are integral to it. Tennis stars are not assigned extensive security detail in every country they tour. The Indian players CANNOT travel without these details even in so called 'Civilized' countries like GB & AU. He makes it sound like BCCI is the only governing body that is high handed. Cricketing history is a subject that the author seriously needs revisiting. Blamming BCCI for all cricketing problems is in fashion, but for once I believe BCCI truely understands the uniqueness of the situation and is truely concerened for player safety. Mr. Gupta pls get some Journalism lessons in ethical & balanced writing

  • Kalyanaraman on August 7, 2009, 21:16 GMT

    Would I like my movements monitored and have an obligation to "check-in" even if I am on my personal time? that too for the rest of my career? like a paroled criminal? Definitely not. So I can't complain about the players refusing and the BCCI standing up for them. Many of us sign away all our freedoms and rights when we sign a contract defined by lawyers not because we want to or because we understand what we are getting into but because often we don't have a choice or we don't have the power to say no or because everyone else is doing it. So more power to the players for having the courage to say no. Let WADA come out with an out of the box solution.

  • lucy on August 7, 2009, 20:25 GMT

    ...the BCCI is effectively asking the ICC to take cricket out of the global sporting family and exist as a sort of renegade in India is not really a sport; it exists outside the framework that covers every other sport in the country...

    This is absolutely true, and not just because it raised the hackles of so many Indian fans (though that's always a good sign). Having said that, you do seem rather idealistic in your expectation that "If cricket wants to be taken as a global sport and move beyond its identity as an extension of the Commonwealth, it needs to exist in the global family." Face it, cricket is ruled by a "purely commercial enterprise" called the BCCI, who couldn't care less about making it a global sport. Expecting it to act responsibly is naive.

    That said, a comparison of the BCCI to the NBA would not have gone amiss. Unlike cricket, basketball is a global sport. The NBA, like the BCCI, has a self-sustaining fan base and isn't a fan of WADA regulations.

  • Vishal on August 7, 2009, 19:40 GMT

    @zapper22 - Unless you get your news from Nostradamus, I would have to disagree with you on FIFA's WADA compliance. Your general perception of Indians may have blinded your reading when it came to Indian cricket related stuff. But that's nothing when compared to the blind sightedness on the part of the author of this article, whose primary job is reading and writing articles about cricket. IOC is trying to monopolize all sports and ceding one's power to such a monster is the biggest mistake ICC can make.

  • Mark on August 7, 2009, 18:42 GMT

    Mr Gupta doesn't understand the issue and yet he was able to put couple of pages of words together, great! The goal here is to make the sport clean from drug abuse, not to sign a contract which somebody had put down for some sport. The clause in question is highly one sided and against personal freedom of any individual signing it. Only people who don't understand freedom and its value or people got threatened will sign such clause. Mr Gupta should eat ham burger and french fries for all his meal, because that may get him under a global umbrella of food eaters. Some times it is good to think creatively and work to improve existing processes instead blindly following like a fool, that is bad interpretation of globalization. There is no reason Indian cricketers under the current extremist climate should sign this. A change here would be welcomed by all other sport men and women around the world who are under the so called 'global family'.

  • Alfred on August 7, 2009, 17:54 GMT

    The BCCI are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

    We must resist the global war on drugs, because if we let them regulate our sport we will one day lose a great player for a technical breach of testing rules. Remember, WADA would have banned Warne for life.

    Cricket should make its own rules to deal with its own problems in its own ways. If players use drugs (permitted by WADA or not) to recover more quickly from injury, it should be for the cricketing community to decide if it is acceptable.

    And in my opinion, cricket can allow its players to use drugs that are banned in athletics because doping in cricket confers no competitive advantage beyond enabling a player to take the field in the first place. Fitness is not sufficient to make a good player, and unfitness doesn't seem an insurmountable obstacle to greatness (Inzy, Warne, Kallis). Cricket is about skill and nerve, not strength and speed.

    Cricket is different. WADA's moralising busybodies will damage our game.

  • Ravi Kumar on August 7, 2009, 16:50 GMT

    To add to my earlier posts:"The whereabouts requirements in Wada's code, whereby athletes must provide a 24/7 log so drug testers can track them down, were declared illegal last month by European Union data-protection experts." Wow! You mean to tell Mr Gupta could not check this simple fact?

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