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'Stop confronting, start talking'

Vinod Rai, the chairman of Indian cricket's interim committee of administrators, evaluates the first 100 days of their tenure, and talks about working with the BCCI

"Handling the employees of the BCCI is not a problem. Basically you need to understand where they coming from and then try and analyse how they are looking at a particular issue"  •  Getty Images

"Handling the employees of the BCCI is not a problem. Basically you need to understand where they coming from and then try and analyse how they are looking at a particular issue"  •  Getty Images

On January 30 the Supreme Court of India appointed a four-member committee of administrators (COA) to govern the BCCI till the board adopted the Lodha Committee recommendations. The COA's task was to create a structure that would facilitate the implementation of the reforms not just by the BCCI but also its members - the state associations. Vinod Rai, the COA chairman, had predicted that panel's role would be "very short", akin to that of a nightwatchman in Test cricket. The committee is 100 days old today, and its journey has been anything but smooth. The BCCI and the majority of the state associations have remained unrelenting in this time. Yet Rai and his colleagues have insisted on engaging with them and not on imposing themselves.
Here, Rai speaks about the challenges and how he remains optimistic of finishing the job by October.
You walked in as a nightwatchman and have survived 100 days.
Why do you say survived? I came in as a nightwatchman largely because I did not see a place for the COA over a long tenure. We have a very limited mandate. That mandate is the reforms the Supreme Court has asked us to implement.
Could you tell us about the roles you identified for each of the members?
Vikram [Limaye, CEO and MD of IDFC Bank] is very good at finance-related issues. He is very good at comparing the various revenue and governance models that have recently been debated by the ICC board. Diana [Edulji, former India women's captain] brings in a huge amount of experience from the players' perspective. I find a lot of players gravitating towards her and giving her their inputs. No one knows the state associations as well as Ram [Guha, historian] does. Tell him any state association and he will rattle off statistics etc. The Supreme Court has brought together a bunch of very cohesive people with diverse experiences. As far as I am concerned, probably I can handle people better.
Given your experience as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), what has this experience with the BCCI been like?
The BCCI has not really been a challenge. I was the CAG for only close to six years, but we have been trained to handle people and issues that are far more diverse and divergent in a large number of ways. But as the CAG, you call the shots. As a COA member, you don't. Whatever you say can be contested by the BCCI office-bearers or state associations. So I don't really have any power. I have to keep running back to the court. We have to work with the BCCI office-bearers because there is no way we can be effective if we don't work with them.
Has it been more or less complicated than dealing with taxation issues and governmental scams at a national level? Is there a common quality that has worked for you in both roles?
I understand people and where they come from. The BCCI is an institution. Any institution is an aggregation of people. You have to break it down to the people who run that institution. Handling the employees of the BCCI is not a problem, but the office-bearers bring to the table the strength of the institutions they represent. The constituencies of these office-bearers are very different. Basically you need to understand where they coming from and then try and analyse how they are looking at a particular issue.
Has work on fulfilling your mandate started?
It has now. May 6 was the first time that the dialogue with the state associations started directly. We spent the larger part of February and March engaged in issues such as helping the IPL take off. Also, immediately upon taking charge, we had to deal with the ICC quarterly meetings in February. Then we were tied up with the residual issues from those meetings. The role of the COA and the office-bearers was also not clear. Only later in March, the court clarified, and since then we have been working together with the three office-bearers.
In our meeting with the state associations we explained the entire reform process. I am fairly confident that, going forward, if I have two more dialogues with them, we would be able to narrow down the issues where they have differences of opinion with the Lodha Committee recommendations.
Why did you feel that carrying out discussions with the state associations was important?
I wanted to brief them before the special general meeting (SGM), that if they were going to vote, they better know what they were going to vote for. I sincerely believed they did not know what they were voting for and that turned out to be true because of what the states said.
Secondly, it was the first time I was meeting the state associations. So that was my opening gambit, to say to them, "Look, we need to be in conversation with each other." They are all positively oriented, thinking people. The only thing is their thinking and their perspective was exceedingly narrow. They just did not know that there was an ICC governance model and a finance model. And the finance model, as far as we are concerned, is crumbs.
I told them if the BCCI members had decided to withdraw from the ICC on the basis of the differences on the governance model, the COA will back them. But not on the finance model. You cannot put Indian cricket to risk.
"Some of these people think: 'I know it much better and I am a visionary. What do the others know?'"
Most state associations were happy to talk with the COA, but they felt that the conversations should have happened earlier. They seem, in fact, more keen on individual interactions?
Yes, I am aware. One of the state associations was slightly combative, saying: why the COA did not brief them earlier? I informed them that when the BCCI decided on a date for the SGM in April, Rahul Johri [the BCCI CEO] had informed the office-bearers that I was travelling and [asked] whether the date could be rescheduled. The office-bearers' prompt response was they could not and that I could join via video conference.
Nonetheless we had already sent an 11-page letter to the ICC explaining the BCCI's preliminary observations about the draft ICC constitution and finance model. About eight and half pages were dedicated to the new governance model. Rahul and his legal team had drafted that letter, but I made quite a few changes. We babus [bureaucrats] are good at writing letters and are file-pushers.
Is it true that you have told the state associations to list the Lodha recommendations they believe are impractical and that you will then go jointly to the court and present those difficulties?
Each one of them [state associations] has a viewpoint and all of them have filed cases against the recommendations. I told them one fine day the court might wake up and throw every objection out and just say, "You don't want to convene the AGM? Okay, [the new] constitution is adopted. Full stop." Then they are stuck.
I told them when they still had the time, why don't they think, and then the COA will tell the court that out of the, say, 20 recommendations, 18 are adopted. The court might just accede or may not, but at least you will give the court the impression that by and large you have accepted the recommendations.
Which are the recommendations that a majority of state associations are against? Most are up against the one state, one vote; having three instead of five national selectors; and having an age cap of 70 for administrators.
The tenure terms seem to be another point of disagreement. Office-bearers across the country feel a three-year term, then a cooling off period of three years, and a maximum of three terms allows neither the individual nor the organisation to benefit.
That is clearly not going to change. Ninety per cent are happy with it. They thought the tenure would be limited to just nine years, but it is nine years separately at the state [level] and nine at the BCCI.
In a column in the Week magazine, you wrote: "Somewhere in the management of the game, the office-bearers appeared to have lost sight of the interest of cricket and began to pursue their own interpretation of what cricket should be." What is their interpretation, according to you?
Unfortunately what happens is, if you are in an institution for very long, your thinking morphs into institutional thinking. If I had been at the CAG for ten to 15 years, I would have thought Vinod Rai is CAG and CAG is Vinod Rai. So, in some ways, the Lodha Committee was very right: any institution needs to move on. Fresh blood, fresh thinking must come.
You called the office-bearers' "patriotism" to the game "unparalleled". They opposed this reform till the Supreme Court ordered it, and even now their concern for the game compels them to fight on. Do you still remain optimistic?
Of course the COA is optimistic. We will get them [state associations] around. Recently we saw opposing forces within the BCCI coming together, asking to issue a notice to the ICC, saying BCCI's will must prevail otherwise India will withdraw. That is what I called "patriotism", as it comes from the vested interests of individuals.
When the COA took over, it was told the one-off Test against Bangladesh and the series against Australia would not be allowed to take place. Why? Because if they [state associations] are not in a position, there will be no cricket. Some state associations said they will not give their venues for the IPL since they own the grounds. We had to overcome that.
How did you?
There were different ways. We told them IPL gives them livelihood. Cricket in India is not a passion, it is a religion. How can you say IPL will not be played? The COA spoke to them individually.
Would it be fair to say on the basis of your direct dealings with the BCCI, that it was or is made up of a leadership that did not take the opinions or the doubts of the wider organisation into consideration when taking critical decisions following the Lodha Committee report?
Yes, it happens because I [the office-bearer/administrator] have been in the job long enough to believe that what I think is good for the institution and so I don't have to take others' opinions at all. Some of these people think: "I know it much better and I am a visionary. What do the others know?"
As a counter, what does the COA know?
I subscribe to that viewpoint: what does the COA know? The only thing the COA has done is a 360-degree evaluation of all viewpoints. We have independent thought process. With the diverse experience that we bring to bear, the COA is far more capable of objectively evaluating the interests of cricket in India than these people who have been in the job for a long time.
On the ICC negotiations, the COA stand has been very clear: stop confronting, start talking. You feel India cannot all the time be selfish about its share of the ICC revenues proportionate to what it brings to the table. But why should the BCCI not be protective of what it believes it has a right on? It has to be 100% protective of what it believes is its right. I would not like to give an inch on it. There was a time when Cricket Australia and the ECB controlled cricket. Time came when the ICC headquarters moved out of London to Dubai. Time came when the BCCI was in a position to twist arms and get the 2014 model [the Big Three] in place. But within a year of the model being signed by everybody, there were murmurs and opposition came about.
So you are not always in a position where you can ram things through. If you are in such a position, you can do it, but you can only do it very short-term.
Take the ICC's new finance model, wherein the BCCI has only been allotted US$293m. It has come about because of an attempt by the ICC to make the distribution of revenue more equitable. In the discussions that the COA had with eight member countries, we had worked out a model where the other countries would not be worse off and yet India would have gotten much of the share due to it. Unfortunately in our recent negotiations, we seemed to have been chasing the mirage of $570m. We need to be realistic. A collaborative effort will take us far. Confrontation will be short-lived.
"Why should the BCCI not be protective of what it believes it has a right on? It has to be 100% protective of what it believes is its right. I would not like to give an inch on it"
In the February 2016 SGM, the BCCI gave its president Shashank Manohar [the right] to negotiate and come back with a 25% reduction [from the BCCI's share of the ICC's revenues]. With experienced people like Manohar, Sharad Pawar, Anurag Thakur, Ajay Shirke sitting in that SGM, they took a decision to negotiate. They did not say the BCCI is above everybody else and we must have our preeminent position. On the contrary, in April [2017], the BCCI gave Amitabh Choudhary [board secretary] a mandate saying negotiate only for $570 million or nothing. This obviously was a very flawed strategy.
Does the objective that Manohar has in mind sync with you?
Not really. Ours is a very narrow objective: we are concerned solely with the interest of the BCCI. He is looking at a macro picture, where it needs to be an equitable distribution among all boards. The BCCI is looking at the picture where, rather being one of the ten, we are now one of the 17 members at the ICC board.
Clearly, you have busted the myth that the COA and ICC are on the same page.
That 11-page letter sent in March says it all. Secondly, the fact that we negotiated with eight Full Member countries and got them on to our side before the ICC board voted last month. My question to some of the critics is: why did the BCCI not revoke the Members' Participation Agreement last February, when the position was exactly the same?
Do you reckon this approach of yours to engage with the BCCI office-bearers is working?
I am convinced it is working. We will build consensus on all these issues going forward.
Where do you go from here?
It is still a long haul, but that ends in October. I am very realistic, because I don't see a place for the COA in the BCCI in the long term. We want to provide a structure to the BCCI. It does not have one right now. It is run by individual styles. It is personality-oriented. We will put a structure in place and ensure that there are systems that will make this structure work.
Issues like, what should be the accounting norms, what should be the powers of the BCCI president, secretary, treasurer. Where does the CEO fit in, because the BCCI constitution does not have any place for a CEO. And finally the apex council - where it fits in. That is a rough outline of the structure I am talking about.
There have been instances when the entire finance department of a state government went on strike and yet the budget was presented on schedule. No one is indispensable. Tomorrow when we finish our job, the BCCI will continue to run smoothly.
A dozen former India players, including Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have supported the view that India should participate in the Champions Trophy. Isn't the players' support a key aspect of reforms?
Recently I met Tendulkar when I was launching a book based on him. I took the opportunity to tell him: "My call upon on you is that you are an icon, a legend and Indian cricket has ridden on your shoulders for such a long time. People like you, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Kapil Dev must come forward and not only mentor players but also speak up for the cause of cricket." I asked him if he really believed that India should not participate in the Champions Trophy, to which he said we should. I told him then to please speak up and say what a terrible loss it would be for cricket in India if we did not participate.
You remain optimistic then?
Of course, I do. I am very optimistic. I feel fresh thinking needs to be introduced at the BCCI. This fresh thinking would be devoid of baggage.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo