An order for an overhaul
To grasp the true significance of the seminal verdict handed down by India's Supreme Court in the IPL spot-fixing case, we need to look beyond the immediate. Beyond N Srinivasan, who has grabbed the headlines; beyond the improprieties, both alleged and proven, that were under scrutiny; and beyond the turf wars within and surrounding the BCCI, which resulted in this case being filed.
The central message delivered by the court is a simple but powerful one: sport, cricket in this case, is sustained by the faith of the fans, and administrators are only custodians of that faith. It's a principle the BCCI has observed mostly in the breach, and the highest court of the land has started a process of redressal.
Over the last few years the BCCI has been presented, through a series of controversies and scandals, several opportunities for course correction and institutional reform but each of these has been spurned due to a combination of hubris and self-interest. The Supreme Court has now decided that the BCCI is neither capable of cleaning up its own act, nor can it be trusted with the job.
The cloud over Srinivasan's re-election as BCCI president has dominated the immediate news agenda but the most consequential part of the judgement is that the board has now been brought within the ambit of judicial scrutiny that public and state bodies are subjected to. Simply put, the BCCI can no longer be a law unto itself under the guise of being a private organisation.
The tenor of the judgement is unequivocal and unambiguous: with governance must come accountability and propriety, and responsibility doesn't end with protecting the bottom line; the fiduciary obligation of a sports organisation extends beyond the bottom line to protecting the integrity and credibility of the game.
For these alone, it is a profoundly groundbreaking judgement. To quote:
"[The] BCCI's commercial plans for its own benefit and the benefit of the players are bound to blow up in smoke if the people who watch and support the game were to lose interest or be indifferent because they get to know that some business interests have hijacked the game for their own ends or that the game is no longer the game they know or love because of frauds on and off the field. There is no manner of doubt whatsoever that the game enjoys its popularity and raises passions only because of what it stands for and because the people who watch the sport believe that it is being played in the true spirit of the game without letting any corrupting influence come anywhere near the principles and fundamental imperatives considered sacrosanct and inviolable."
The immediate fallout of the judgement will be felt most severely by Srinivasan, who has remained cricket's most powerful figure despite being off the BCCI throne. He has been given the clear option of choosing between the BCCI presidency, a position he dearly covets, and ownership of Chennai Super Kings, the highly successful IPL franchise that he has assiduously nurtured.
It's a decision he ought to have taken months ago when it became demonstrably apparent - in case it hadn't been at the time of his acquiring the franchise - that his two hats were irredeemably incompatible. It wasn't so much a matter of his complicity in the wrongdoings of his son-in-law as it was the mere perception of him being in a position of influence when matters relating to his own franchise came up for adjudication.
In striking down the controversial amendment to the BCCI's constitution that allowed Srinivasan to buy CSK, the court said it violated "a fundamental tenet of law that no one can be a judge in his own cause''.
But while Srinivasan's adversaries in the BCCI publicly rejoiced in his discomfiture once the judgement was delivered, few of them can escape culpability. The truth is that the judgement is an indictment of the system. That includes those - Sharad Pawar, Shashank Manohar, IS Bindra and Lalit Modi included - who were party to the constitutional amendment that institutionalised conflict of interest, and then there has been the majority, who have been complicit through their acquiescence. It bears noting that Srinivasan was re-elected unopposed and unanimously even while this case was being heard.
And it can also be argued that while Srinivasan sought and obtained the organisation's sanction for acquiring a commercial interest in the IPL, it is not the first or only instance of a conflict of interest in the BCCI. The father-in-law of Pawar's daughter had a stake in Multi Screen Media, which owned broadcast rights to the IPL; and an affidavit filed by Srinivasan in April 2014, during the hearing of this case, pointed out that Bindra's son had been an employee of Nimbus, the company that owned BCCI television rights between 2006 and 2014, while the company negotiated, and obtained, a discount of nearly US$50 million from a BCCI committee on which Bindra was a member.
The judgement is, however, the beginning of a process that will be now be taken forward by the three-member committee entrusted with the critical task of deciding the punishment for Gurunath Meiyappan - who, it has now been established, was a Super Kings official for all purposes, and who was found to have been betting for and against his own team, and chillingly, in one instance, bet on his team scoring within a range that was one run off the eventual total - and Raj Kundra, a shareholder in Rajasthan Royals. The committee is also tasked with examining the allegations against the conduct of Sundar Raman, the chief operating officer of the IPL, and with overseeing the forthcoming BCCI elections.
But potentially the most far-reaching part of its job will be to examine and recommend institutional reforms for the BCCI. Prima facie, the mandate seems all-encompassing: it covers the role and eligibility of administrators, regulations to resolve issues of conflict of interest, amendments that might be necessary to carry out the recommendations of the Mudgal Committee, and this open-ended mandate:
"Any other recommendation with or without suitable amendment of the relevant Rules and Regulations, which the Committee may consider necessary to make with a view to preventing sporting frauds, conflict of interests, streamlining the working of BCCI to make it more responsive to the expectations of the public at large and to bring transparency in practices and procedures followed by BCCI."
Shortly after the judgement was delivered, the BCCI released a statement welcoming the end of the uncertainty and offering its "unstinted co-operation" to the committee. It must now match its words in both deed and spirit. A combination of circumstances and entrepreneurship have handed it the leadership of world cricket through financial might. But real leadership can only be earned through credibility.
For the BCCI, all the battles outside have been won; the world has been conquered; past slights, real and perceived, have been avenged. It's time to look within.
Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal