Senior officials on the ICC's decision-making executive board are unlikely to support any radical suggestion from the BCCI to shun the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and opt instead for a cricket-specific code without off-season testing. However, they will endorse the Indian board's objection to the contentious 'whereabouts' clause in the anti-doping code and ask the ICC to try and work out a practical solution with WADA during a year-end review.
The ICC board is likely to discuss the issue soon over teleconference, rather than wait for their next scheduled meeting in early October. And officials from a majority of the ICC board constituents, including Australia and South Africa, have confided that they would support India fully on the 'whereabouts' issue, but would like to remain WADA-compliant for important reasons, not the least of which is the question of government support.
For instance, government funding for grassroots cricket programmes in England requires the English board to be WADA-compliant and Australian legislation requires the same of its national sporting organisations. The BCCI, which will need the backing of these three major boards to make any headway on the issue at the ICC level, is an autonomous organisation that operates independently from India's sports ministry.
The consensus which has emerged is that the ICC board would ask the governing body to raise India's concerns with WADA and hopefully, try to work out a cricket-specific solution when it meets officials of the anti-doping watchdog for a year-end review. Cricket Australia, for one, wants a "practical solution" but what remains to be sorted out, though, is whether India's players should continue to be exempt from complying with the norms till then.
On Sunday, the BCCI's decision-making working committee resolved to back its players and reject the 'whereabouts' clause in the amended WADA code, which was implemented by the ICC from January 1. This clause requires cricketers in the ICC's international testing pool to reveal before every quarter details of their location for an hour every day for the next three months to facilitate out-of-competition testing. The 11 Indian players in the pool have expressed security concerns in this regard, especially because some of them such as Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni face threats from terrorist organisations. The BCCI has said that this clause, which prescribes severe penalties for defaulters including a ban for up to two years, also violates the country's privacy guidelines.
Other international cricketers in the testing pool from other countries had also expressed privacy and practicality concerns about the clause but agreed to abide by it within the July 31 deadline. The Indian board has officially suggested that instead of players revealing whereabouts information in advance, the ICC or WADA testers should contact the BCCI, which will ensure that the player will be available within 24 hours at the required location for testing.
WADA officials have clearly stated that there can be no exceptions on the 'whereabouts' norms, and the BCCI appears to be completely isolated on the issue at home with the country's sports minister leading calls from top athletes and other non-cricket sportspersons for the Indian cricketers to abide by the internationally accepted code. But cricket officials from various boards are hopeful that a solution can be worked out on the lines that football has. Football's governing body, FIFA, will abide by the 'whereabouts' clause but has been given greater freedom in deciding who gets to be tested. The cricketers in the pool were selected on the basis of their ICC ranking in January, but as one ICC board member asked: "Can the Indian board can be persuaded to join the system if some of their high-profile cricketers who face security threats be removed from the testing pool?"
Cricket Australia, which became a founding partner of the BCCI's Champions League Twenty20 tournament last year, is sympathetic towards the Indian board, and sources in Cricket South Africa (CSA), the other founding partner, said they would back India's stand against the whereabouts clause. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are tight-lipped on the issue except to reiterate that English cricket has always supported WADA but their players' association has pointed out the link between government funding and grassroots cricket.
"We are sympathetic to what the BCCI are arguing but we are bound by our own national requirements: under Australian legislation, national sporting organizations are required to have a WADA compliant code," Peter Young, the Cricket Australia's spokesperson, said. "If the BCCI identify a more practical approach to this then we support the work that they might be able to come up with. Nevertheless, we have sympathy for the BCCI's view on this and its concerns highlight the value of world sport continuing to look at practical solutions to the particular issue which the BCCI has highlighted."
Gerald Majola, CSA's chief executive, did not comment on the issue because his own board hasn't discussed it officially yet, but there are enough indications from within the set-up and that of New Zealand that their approach will mirror that of Australia. England's case is explained better by Sean Morris, the chief executive of their Players Cricket Association (PCA), who says WADA-compliance is a must though the cricketers are not happy with the whereabouts clause.
"Genuinely, we understand why the Indian players have a problem, but where there a slight difference is because of the way our sport is funded; we have government money going to grassroot programmes," Morris told Cricinfo. "That money is conditional upon certain criteria, one of which is the board being WADA-compliant. That is why it is a bigger problem for us. If we do not abide by the WADA code then obviously some of our funding would be impacted, and, that then has a knock on the grassroots. That is why it is more complex here."
It is ironic, really, that it is the players' associations, whom the BCCI doesn't recognise, who seem to be speaking the Indian board's language. "We will welcome the removal of it and we support the stand the Indians are taking and hope that if it is removed for the Indian players it would be removed for all the other cricketers, too," Paul Marsh, who heads the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA), told Cricinfo. "The solution is something we are not necessarily completely happy with but for public relations and the government funding of sport connected to the WADA code, we can't help it."
Any ICC board resolution requires seven out of 10 full member votes and the one member who could raise some uncomfortable questions for India is Pakistan, considering the recent dispute between the two boards over hosting the 2011 World Cup. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is clear that it has, unlike India, absolutely no problems with the WADA code and the 'whereabouts clause'. "PCB is totally WADA compliant now and the players had no issues signing that clause," Salim Altaf, the PCB's chief operating officer, told Cricinfo. Altaf said the PCB is also an autonomous body like the BCCI but "had become WADA compliant because the ICC signed on to it."
With inputs from Ajay S Shankar, Alex Brown and Osman Samiuddin
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo