Whatever happened to governance?
The title under which Cricinfo began aggregating its coverage of l'affaire Modi last month was a spontaneous decision, but would now be hard to improve: "The IPL Mess". The affair carries the hallmarks of scandal, it has threatened to become a meltdown, but of its characteristics as a mess there can be no doubt.
One of the more delicious stories to emerge, in the Times of India a couple of weeks ago, was that the Board of Control for Cricket in India was forbidding employees from taking work home, not out of a noble commitment to work-life balance but because they were afraid of still more documentation going astray. Profound significance was attached to Lalit Modi disgorging 15,000 pages of Indian Premier League material to the BCCI, but what was significant surely was that it had to be disgorged in the first place: Modi was seeking credit for surrendering to the BCCI its own documentation. Huh?
Of course, we now also know that the IPL governing councillors didn't believe it was their job to handle this information. Ravi Shastri has complained that his role was to "ask cricket questions", which makes it sound like he thought he was quizmaster at a trivia night. The BCCI's chief executive, Shashank Manohar, was only half right when he complained: "An institution functions on trust." Better is the philosophy that Ronald Reagan applied to the Soviet Union, which also fits an institutional framework snugly: "Trust but verify." The BCCI approach of "trust then panic and blame" would disgrace a corner store, let alone an enterprise like the IPL, which as we're often reminded, is a brand worth not $4.12 billion or $4.14 billion but $4.13 billion - a branding consultancy said so.
If Modi and the BCCI do part ways, it is unlikely to be chiefly because of a dubious facilitation fee or a rigged franchise auction, but fundamentally because they can no longer work together, assuming they ever really did: the "behavioural pattern" part of the charge sheet. Such a parting would actually be perfectly defensible. "I just don't like you," explained Henry Ford II on sacking Lee Iacocca, the most celebrated auto executive of his generation, soon after Ford Motor Company had posted a $2 billion profit in 1978. There was no question of the competence or integrity of Graham Halbish when he was booted out as chief executive of Cricket Australia in 1997; he simply could not coexist with his chairman Denis Rogers.
Modi has complained of being "public enemy No. 1" at the BCCI for some time; indeed, he might well have been ousted from his position last December, remaining only on the understanding he cooperate more closely with Manohar. That this was allowed to continue beggars belief. Chief executives serve at the pleasure of their boards; when they lose the confidence of a majority, or even a significant minority, they become a debilitating liability, because they cease to be completely effective. Modi's eagerness to stay on is understandable. He had money, motivation, a chorus of sycophants, and his most acerbic detractor, N Srinivasan, was more conflicted than Kashmir: BCCI secretary, IPL governing council member, president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, proprietor of the Chennai Super Kings, which employed India's captain as its captain and India's chairman of selectors as "brand ambassador". In such a tu quoque-rich environment, the temptation to brazen it out would have been overpowering. But what was the BCCI doing allowing such a situation to fester?
As it is, if Modi and the BCCI now do not part ways, the perception will be that it is because they have a mutual interest in the containment of the controversy, in which case Ratnakar Shetty's so-called "investigation" will look a little like the long-forgotten Chandrachud inquiry into match-fixing 12 years ago, absolving everyone and everything, and derogating allegations of corruption as nothing but media mischief. All that talk now of government interventions, probes by taxation- and foreign-investment authorities, Rahul Mehra's unflagging campaign for the reform of all national sporting bodies to make them less like personal fiefdoms… well, who knows where they might lead, eh? Here, then, is one of those scenarios where whoever prevails will be undeserving, and the system, such as it is, will have utterly failed. The time is ripe, in fact, to look beyond the "mess" and to that system itself - how, and not just in India, cricket is governing, and failing to govern, itself.
Corporate governance is not as much fun to discuss as the doosra or the Dilscoop. Not even corporate governors find it all that interesting, routinely treating it as a box-ticking exercise in which the priority is technical compliance rather than genuine effectiveness: Satyam Computer Services won the Golden Peacock Award for Corporate Governance under Risk Management and Compliance Issues five months before the depredations of its chairman Ramalinga Raju were revealed. But in a game turning over billions of dollars, there must be questions about the coping capacity of cricket's historic institutional structures.
The basis of cricket's government everywhere is geography. Every national board of control is constituted on the basis of representation, selected by the states, provinces, counties or islands composing it; these states, provinces, counties or islands are themselves usually a gathering of smaller geographic units. The International Cricket Council is this concept writ large, a coming together of emissaries from those national organisations.
This has been an immensely robust and stable model, with the benefit of being easy to understand, and at least superficially democratic and equitable. It has, however, always had a number of disadvantages. The boards are unable to influence who sits on them: they must accept whomever a constituent body elects, often in circumstances where the electoral process is far from clear. Unless well-supervised and suitably motivated, the representatives themselves will tend to create not a genuine forum for policy-making but an arena of competing sectional interests, playing to an audience at home rather than the long-term welfare of the body on which they sit - as Cricket South Africa, Zimbabwe Cricket and Sri Lanka Cricket are doing at the moment in the matter of John Howard's ICC vice-presidency. They will also stand solidly in defence of the status quo, because reform will involve some people sacrificing hard-won eminence. Thus Malcolm Speed's droll line in reference to Cricket Australia: "You'll never get the turkeys to vote for Christmas."
In India, this situation has further entrenched itself in the 21st century because so many chief ministers or their proxies now run state associations, coveting membership of the BCCI, not out of an abiding commitment to cricket's betterment but as a political credential: step forward some plump prize butterball turkeys in Sharad Pawar, Arun Jaitley, Farooq Abdullah, Narendra Modi and Laloo Prasad Yadav, to name but a few. Not that there isn't something to be said for having a can-do politician in one's corner, but it's also an admission of a lack of faith in the fairness and efficiency of bureaucratic processes. And is this what India would wish to be known for?
Modi illustrates many things, meanwhile, but one is surely that cricket benefits from ideas that come from outside its own gene pool. Yet in order to make his way at the BCCI, he had to win the aegis of the cricket associations of Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, and cosy up along the way to the right patrons. Not surprisingly, the IPL was in its way a response to the malaise of the BCCI, of a governance structure geared chiefly to the division of spoils provided by a huge market, and of actual administration reduced to a clerical function, with all the strategic vision of your average goldfish. Creating the IPL as a free-standing entity and providing it with IMG manpower suited both Modi and the BCCI: Modi because it gave him mastery of his own domain; the BCCI because it obviated any need for that organisation to cultivate the nimble, responsive and disinterested leadership needed to cultivate a new league.
This, of course, brought with it a host of problems. In a bizarre vestige of the traditions of honorary officialdom, Lalit Modi was paid no salary by the BCCI, thereby exuding an aura of independent wealth, even of philanthropy. But when the IPL introduced the innovation of private ownership, to whom was Modi ultimately accountable? Was it to the BCCI? Was it to the IPL as embodied in its governing council? Was it to the IPL as constituted by the franchises? Was it to himself, whether (symbolically) to his vision, or (practically) to the Modi Entertainment Network?
The result is not simply the murk around several of the IPL's key contracts, but changes that already stand to affect the game around the world while being chiefly in the interests not of cricket, nor even of the BCCI, but of the franchises: in particular, the stealthy but relentless expansion of the IPL in number of teams and games. We have it on MAK Pataudi's authority that the IPL governing council was divided on the matter of this growth, which is turning a window in cricket's calendar into a gargantuan black hole. Yet a faceless unelected majority prevailed, regardless of the consequences for other stakeholders, like those international players whose presence is being insisted on even as their workload is being hugely expanded, like those national boards without a say in the further depletion of their expensively generated human resources, like those cricket fans outside India who will see less international cricket in their own countries as a result.
To repeat, though, we arrive at this pass because the BCCI was so wedded to a structure of politicians and bureaucrats helping themselves that it preferred to avoid the question altogether and permit the IPL near-complete autonomy. The strains on the BCCI's broad-based geographic model, which has resulted in the country hosting international cricket at no fewer than 45 arenas, are being felt nonetheless. As Ramachandra Guha pointed out in Kolkata's Telegraph last month, populous Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, in which dwell one in three Indians, remain unrepresented in the IPL; Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, accounting between them for less than a quarter of India's population, will from next year each host a franchise. "This maldistribution of IPL franchises undermines its claim to be 'Indian', and is in defiance of sporting history and achievement as well," noted Guha. "The truth is that citizenship and cricket have been comprehensively trumped by the claims of commerce."
The other problem with purely geographic models of governance, conceived as they were in response to methods of transportation and communication arrangements long obsolete, is that cricket has been left unrepresentative in basically all other respects. For example, it is almost a decade since Lord Condon in his report to the ICC on match-fixing commented that part of the crisis arose from the fact that players were "not sufficiently involved in the administration of the game and ownership of the problems"; he retires with the situation entirely unchanged, except that in the meantime players have drifted in some countries into collective bargaining arrangements.
Again, this seems a lost opportunity. Although they are, of course, being amply rewarded for it, of no group in cricket today is more being expected than players. Cricket administration, meanwhile, is desperately short of first-hand cricket knowledge. While Cricket Australia has been criticised for promoting John Howard to the ICC vice-presidency, Janette Howard knows more about cricket than the incoming ICC president: Sharad Pawar's qualification is a mastery of power politics in Maharashtra, and the idea that he can be an effective operator in time off from being India's minister of food makes a mockery of both jobs.
The IPL, for all its claims to innovation, is in this respect an old-fashioned autocracy. Where players are concerned, Modi follows Alfred Hitchcock's advice about dealing with actors: "Pay them heaps and treat them like cattle." Modi makes goo-goo eyes at Shane Warne occasionally, like Hitchcock with Tippi Hedren, but otherwise plays the role of distant sugar daddy, occasionally morphing into the role of plantation overseer. Players will be available; shirkers, such as Australians wishing to play Sheffield Shield, will not be tolerated.
Lest this critique be dismissed as singling out India for its inadequacies, it is worth pointing out where Australia is falling short, particularly in an era obsessing over broader horizons and finding new audiences. Examine the identikit parade of directors in Cricket Australia's annual report and you will find men who look like they could have been running the game in the 1950s, selected in state-by-state ratios barely changed in 105 years. Harry Harinath excepted, where are the non-Anglo faces? Where are the women? Where are the younger people? Perhaps this accounts for the 1980s disco atmosphere that now pervades Australian cricket grounds: it's old people's condescending idea of what young people like. Whatever the case, and whatever the capabilities of the individuals, it still resembles an assembly chosen on the basis of Muggins' turn.
Nor is this same document remotely as informative as it should be. Ten years ago there were seven pages of financial accounts in Cricket Australia's annual report; last year, despite the prodigious growth in the quantum and complexity of cricket's finances, there were four, with the accent on meeting statutory requirements rather than providing a genuinely instructive evidence of cricket's financial strength.
To be fair, comparisons are odorous in studying financial activity within cricket, because no two years are alike. And one would talk about the disclosure standards of the BCCI if these actually existed. But CA has fallen into bad habits, by comparison, for instance, with the England Cricket Board and Cricket South Africa, which produce impressive and voluminous documents on time every year. CA's chief executive officer, James Sutherland, is an accountant by background: the organisation should be doing better than what is analogous to a cricket scorecard featuring only fall of wicket, leg-byes and who won the toss.
Such criticism can be more generally couched. Never has more money sluiced through cricket, yet the game's attitude to disclosure remains a mixture of the grudging and the apathetic. The most recent annual report available on the ICC website is for the year ended December 31, 2008. This contains three uninformative pages of financial information; the last set of complete accounts is now three years out of date. A corporation with such habits would be a market pariah. KPMG were sent to pore over the books of Zimbabwe Cricket; perhaps they need to pay a visit on Dubai Sports City too. As for Pakistan and Sri Lanka, contemplating their finances simply gives one a headache.
The dearth is not simply of up-to-date information but of meaningful analysis, and not merely of how money is being raised but how it is being allocated. Indian observers are transfixed by the aforementioned $4.13 billion valuation ascribed to IPL by Brand Finance, a figure almost entirely meaningless: because the IPL is not for sale, the value is unrealisable. They remain perversely incurious about how the BCCI spends its vast resources. During their dispute with the Indian board in January, India's taxation authorities came up with a figure of mysterious provenance but extraordinary implications: on the actual promotion of Indian cricket, the BCCI spends just 8% of revenues. Never mind Lalit Modi - why is this not a scandal?
Anyway, to simplify, here are half a dozen modest proposals for the improvement of cricket administration at national and international level.
Reconsider the geographic basis of representation on boards of control. Encourage all responsible bodies to appoint at least a sizeable minority of competent non-executive directors, with specific areas of expertise: law, accounting, marketing, finance, broadcasting, sports medicine. Their explicit mandate should be to make decisions in the interests of the country as a whole, rather than any particular region. To quote a shrewd Australian businessman, Garry Pemberton: "The easiest way to obtain good corporate governance is to obtain good corporate governors."
Establish the clearest possible reporting lines, and remove all ambiguities of responsibility, such as arose with Modi's role at IPL. Hold individuals to the most demanding standards where conflict of interest is concerned.
Where private ownership is concerned, remember your mother's admonition: it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Cricket in India has had two hearty paydays, as franchises have been auctioned; those franchises now will act in nobody's interests but their own, and every cricketer and every fan in the world will have to live with the consequences.
Work on making cricket's government representative in all respects, with a range of ages and interests. Given the convulsive change cricket has undergone in the last three years, a board of fiftysomething suits is an anachronism. A global game requires a diversity of backgrounds. Promote more players with recent experience, rather than famous names who gave the game up 20 years ago and more; tell them they will be expected to do more than "ask cricket questions".
Improve disclosure standards at all levels, with an emphasis on information that is timely, meaningful and intelligible, rather than required by statute. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," said the American jurist William O Douglas. Boards of control around the world receive huge financial distributions from the ICC: it's arguable that as a prerequisite of membership they should be able to give a coherent account of how that money is allocated. Consider regular publication of decisions reached at meetings - after all, it's not as though national boards have any competitors in their own countries. Maybe hold some meetings in public. It is, after all, the people's game.
Don't treat cricket's governance as too established to reform or too esoteric to matter: it should be a concern of everyone involved in the game. If it is not, cricket's future will be strewn with many more messes than the most recent.
Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer