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The recently proposed sports bill does not recognise that the BCCI is unique among sports bodies in the country, and is unlikely to do the game any good
Desh Gaurav Sekhri
September 10, 2011
The ongoing debate regarding the proposed and rejected National Sports (Development) Bill 2011 in India has brought the nation's focus towards the tussle between the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) on one side, and the National Sports Federations (NSFs) - symbolised by the BCCI - on the other.
This article looks at the bill's effect on cricket and the BCCI purely from the perspective of sports administration and the business of sports in India, without delving into the apparent politics or conflict-of-interest controversies. And in that context the sports bill just doesn't work for cricket.
Globally, and especially in North America and Europe, legislation gives the sporting bodies and leagues of the most popular and successful sports (football and baseball) exemptions or "carve-outs" from otherwise onerous legal obligations. Organised sports leagues or bodies have somewhat unique positioning and structures, and provide intangible benefits to society, which must be taken into consideration before imposing blanket regulations upon them. While I'm not suggesting cricket should be provided a blanket carve-out, its unique position in Indian society and sports landscape should be taken into consideration before subjecting the BCCI to either the sports bill or other uniform legislation.
The BCCI was established to promote and develop cricket. It owes a fiduciary responsibility to its stakeholders - sponsors, players, and above all else, Indian fans. Rather than restrict its ability to function in day-to-day matters, which bringing it under the sports bill's requirements will do, one must leave it to the courts or parliament to play a role if in future there is proof of some clear-cut illegality in how cricket is governed and conducted - for example, irrefutable proof of harmful conflicts of interest. Their involvement at that juncture if such a situation arises will be of necessity, as these are potential felonies and obvious breaches of fiduciary and social responsibilities. A sports bill is not needed to deal with such an eventuality. Baseball and FIFA have gone through similar situations, and these have been resolved either in the courts or using internal mechanisms. Cricket is a national sport and passion, just like football, baseball and American football are for their societies, and this must be respected by assisting it to function as long as no laws are being broken.
Internationally, government's role is clearly defined - to enable, not inhibit or restrain. The all-encompassing nature of the sports bill makes it especially onerous for the BCCI to be bound by its noose, especially since it is the NSF for a non-Olympic sport, one with a successful track record of revenue generation and player improvement. If the stated purpose is to streamline and professionalise sport, a blanket sports bill isn't the way forward from cricket's perspective.
Given cricket's popularity, and the speculation surrounding it, expect a flurry of queries unrelated to cricket administration if the BCCI is brought under the RTI Act. There will be a selection committee comprising nearly a billion experts. Team selection and its processes, sponsorship agreements and their intricacies, are aspects that the average fan may not understand, but under the RTI Act will have the ability to dissect and disrupt. This is not only untenable, but also counter-productive.
Bringing the BCCI's sponsorship contracts and mechanisms into the public domain as a means of enabling transparency isn't an option. Sports attorneys take pride in constructing innovative clauses and protecting their clients from confidential information being made available to the world at large. The BCCI is the closest India has to a hybrid professional and amateur sports entity. If it is forced to disclose information about sponsorship agreements for the national side, or the IPL, corporate houses may be driven away from investing in or sponsoring cricket events. I'm sure there are better ways to ensure some sort of accountability in Indian cricket, but it won't be an overnight solution.
In many ways, the sports bill appears to parallel the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US, enacted to protect shareholders of publicly held companies in the post-Enron and Worldcom era, through good governance practices and by ensuring accountability and liability for high-level executives. Good governance, transparency and accountability are the stated objectives of the Indian sports bill as well, but it fails to recognise cricket's unique position in the Indian sports landscape, and also the general lack of dependence that the BCCI and the sport of cricket have on the ministry or any other section of the central or state governments.
The BCCI is a de facto NSF, but gets no government funding, and has had the tax breaks it used to get withdrawn. It does, though, have access to stadiums that are government-owned (albeit leased to the state cricket associations). Also, the door for cricket (via the BCCI) becoming an Olympic sport is open as long as it is a recognised NSF in the eyes of the Indian Olympic Association, SAI, and the sports ministry. Were the BCCI to become an independent body, it would no longer have these opportunities, especially if it were de-recognised by the IOA and the sports ministry. In a country where sports infrastructure is extremely scarce, access to stadiums may be enough of a carrot to keep BCCI within the NSF fold.
|Given cricket's popularity, and the speculation surrounding it, expect a flurry of queries unrelated to cricket administration if the BCCI is brought under the Right to Information Act. There will be a selection committee comprising nearly a billion experts|
That apart, the BCCI's position is such that if it no longer wishes to bind itself to the sports ministry or the IOA, it could simply consider asking the ICC to recognise it regardless of whether or not the BCCI is the NSF for cricket. And given India's status in world cricket, the ICC would well consider granting the BCCI "official" recognition. Not only will the BCCI then be outside the ambit of the sports bill altogether, it will force the sports ministry to look for a replacement NSF for cricket - putting into jeopardy cricket administration, events and player development.
The sports bill appears to be tailor-made, and intended more, for NSFs in predominantly amateur Olympic sports with limited funds, no access to professional and qualified personnel for management and administration, and uncertain (if any) revenue channels. And while most might claim that there is limited professionalism within the BCCI, the fact does remain that sections within the sports bill dealing with NADA-affiliated dope-testing and guidelines, the long-term development plans, and the sports ombudsman scheme for dispute resolution mechanisms across sports, are somewhat simplistic for the BCCI (and IPL) to adopt, given their own mechanisms are more sophisticated.
The intent behind the sports bill is positive and proactive, but when it comes to cricket and the BCCI there needs to be a more flexible and modified legislation. A carve-out, keeping in mind the stark divide between cricket and other sports in India, which allows the BCCI to utilise its expertise and channel its revenues towards improving facilities and the farming system for domestic young cricketers.
Today the BCCI has the best resources at its disposal, and the funds to support its goals. To encumber it for the sake of uniformity is somewhat unfair. Installing a central approval mechanism will hamper, not help, cricket administrators and the professional entities that manage or consult the numerous verticals.
There is no track record of administration in sports in India, so the expertise will have to be reverse-outsourced, by bringing in professional management from sophisticated sports industries globally. It is highly unlikely that the government or SAI will be able to internally manage to administer or regulate cricket and its events, given the responsibility.
Ours is not to question the intent behind the sports bill, nor the internal workings of the BCCI. It is only to analyse the positives that cricket administration and the BCCI may derive from coming under the sports bill's umbrella, and the glaring truth is that there are none.
The author is a sports attorney with J Sagar Associates. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached here
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