April 25, 2010

BCCI bitten by its own buzzword

The BCCI under Sharad Pawar's presidency has made a mockery of the vision document it released in 2005

In December 2005, the BCCI circulated a vision paper titled "The cricket board in the 21st century". It covered topics such as "quality of grounds and pitches", "infrastructure development", "marketing and merchandising" and "National Cricket Academy". Though presumably shelved immediately after and forgotten since, it was a bold statement of intent, one befitting the occasion - the first working committee meeting under Sharad Pawar's presidency in an entity that was already assuming its current leviathan proportions.

The most important point, though, was the preamble. Written in the aftermath of the board election that ended the much-vilified Jagmohan Dalmiya regime and began the Pawar era, it spoke of the fans' expectations of the new dispensation whose buzzword, it said, would be transparency. Just over four years later those expectations have been rudely shattered, and Pawar and his associates stand discredited. The future looks bleak but if Shashank Manohar - who finally has a chance to run Indian cricket as his own man - needs a plan to revive the board's credibility, he need look no further than that eerily prescient vision document.

Read now, though, that preamble is a mockery of whatever Sharad Pawar and his colleagues have done in their time at the helm. In fact their prescription for the board in 2005 is needed, now more than ever, in the wake of the worst scandal by far to engulf Indian cricket. The saddest part of the vision document is that, though four years old, it has not dated, instead it has become even more relevant.

"Some of the happenings during the last few years have grievously dented the board's image," the vision document says. "Our first priority should be to restore its pristine glory by creating confidence among the followers of the game that the board is indeed a sincere custodian of Indian cricket. Frankly the question being asked is, as the richest body in world cricket, has it fulfilled its obligations towards the players and paying public? For that we all need to introspect and touch our hearts before saying 'yes, we have'."

That time for introspection has come, with the Board's credibility at an all-time low - and with the pendulum of public sympathy swinging dangerously, if improbably, towards Modi. Perhaps the only fact in this whole stew of allegations is that not a single charge against Modi has yet been proved - he is as innocent or as guilty as anyone else. Public perception shouldn't matter too much to the BCCI - things would not have come to such a pass if it did - but it does matter to a senior politician like Pawar, who faces elections in his home state of Maharashtra next year. Pawar also takes up the ICC presidency two months from now and his immense clout would be undermined by any mud sticking to him.

Over the past few days there has been much talk of who could set this right - the government, the judiciary, a collegium of corporate leaders. The Army, that go-to for all India's problems, has presumably been ruled out because of a conflict of interest - there's a Services team in the Ranji Trophy. None of that will work, though, without corrective measures from within.

Can it be done? Back to that preamble: "As a premier national sports body, the board had been a model for all others sports organizations, but of late it has invited scorn from the public. In a fast paced world driven by market forces, we have to gear up to meet the ever increasing challenges and aspirations of a cricket-crazy nation. When the country is getting excited about the Right to Information Act, the Board is being ridiculed for its lack of transparency. Unless we believe in the free flow of information, particularly when millions and millions of rupees are involved, we are bound to be misunderstood. There can't be a better start to the new-look board than resolve that everything we do from hereon will be transparent and in the game's and public interest, be it election or allotting television rights or the team selection.

"The buzz word should be "Transparency.'"

Later, the document deals specifically with the issue of television rights. "The Board wants to end speculation over the selling of television rights. It would like to come up with a transparent method which will not only benefit the Board financially but will also help in restoring its image as an organisation which has become the epicenter of international cricket."

No one will hold the BCCI to every word in this document. But if they can, over the next few days, weeks and months, stay true to this buzzword, there may be some chance of the mess being resolved. Otherwise let's hope they find the world's biggest carpet under which to shovel the dirt.

Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of Cricinfo in India