In this article, we take a look at the dark clouds of corruption surrounding former BCCI president N Srinivasan and his reported fresh attempts at an ICC takeover. With a goal to improve cricket's global governance structure and to make it less susceptible to manipulation by a handful of countries, we also have five recommendations for the ICC.
In many ways, the administrative careers of BCCI chiefs, Jagmohan Dalmiya and N Srinivasan exhibit the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect of the organisation. Whereas Dalmiya was a pragmatist and a genuine cricket lover, Srinivasan is an industrialist who was belatedly introduced to cricket administration in 2002-03 by former BCCI President AC Muttiah.
In fact, it is quite revealing that Muttiah has regretted that fateful decision ever since and now considers bringing Srinivasan into cricket administration as 'a huge mistake'.
Srinivasan has been a deeply divisive and malignant influence on world cricket over the last decade. He was the chief architect of the ‘Big 3 Takeover’ in 2014, which re-directed vast amounts of ICC funding to the BCCI, ECB and CA coffers and away from smaller Full Members, Associate nations and the ICC Development Department.
Other structural overhauls included the complete executive takeover of ICC, with the Big 3 boards having permanent memberships on the executive and finance committees.
Worse still, these arrangements were made in secret and were forced down the throats of smaller boards who had to vote in favour of them, lest they lose out on the lucrative tours from the Big 3 nations. Appearing unscrupulous, avaricious, ruthless and authoritarian, and having built up a long rap sheet of questionable behaviour to date, it would not be unreasonable to describe Srinivasan as the “Vladimir Putin of Indian Cricket”.
When Srinivasan became BCCI chief in 2013, he was the de-facto owner of IPL Franchise Chennai Super Kings (CSK) through his company ‘India Cements’, which owned the franchise. He was instrumental in amending an IPL regulation which stated that no administrator should have direct or indirect interest in matches or events conducted by the BCCI. That paved the way for his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan’s appointment as team principal at CSK.
He later tried to interfere in investigations which found Meiyappan guilty of spot-fixing and betting charges related to the CSK franchise. Srinivasan refused to take any responsibility over the scandal, instead referring to his son-in-law’s investigation as an 'unfair' and 'motivated attack'.
In 2015, media reports revealed that Srinivasan had misused Rs 14 crore of BCCI funds for personal use. In plot developments lifted straight from a spy thriller movie, this money was allegedly paid to a London based private agency to tap the phones of board officials and hack their emails.
Furthermore, Srinivasan’s own son Ashwin has made scurrilous allegations that his father tried to 'cure' him of homosexuality by medicating Ashwin and having him and his same-sex partner beaten up. He even went as far as cutting Ashwin off from the family fortune.
One of the legacies of the spot fixing scandal was the increased scrutiny on BCCI operations by India’s Supreme Court. Disturbed by Srinivasan’s ethics violations and flagrant disregard for the law, the Supreme Court was ultimately successful in removing him from BCCI’s leadership position in 2014.
The court then appointed a Committee of Administrators (COA) to carry out BCCI’s operations and made amendments to its constitution to bring BCCI in line with the minimum standards of corporate governance.
However, a mere five years later, these reforms are back in threat. Free from COA’s shackles, the old guard is back, and BCCI has proposed sweeping changes to its constitution, which dismantles every single Lodha committee recommendation.
The board requires an approval from the Supreme Court to go ahead with the changes, but thankfully the Supreme Court so far has held firm. Srinivasan is also back, pulling the puppet strings at BCCI from the background.
On 13th January 2020, a select group of administrators (including Srinivasan), from India, England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand met at a swanky 5-star hotel in Mumbai to put their signatures on a letter that accused the ICC of harming cricket administration by making “arbitrary decisions without consulting the members who bring in the revenue”.
The letter also made demands that BCCI’s 'rightful' place at the ICC table be restored and pushed back on the idea of extra ICC events and the T20 World Cup expansion.
The aforementioned events should worry all cricket fans around the world. It is clear that the Big 3 seek a comeback and will try to undermine the ICC at every possible opportunity.
There are also reports out there which claim that former Indian captain and current BCCI Presidentt Sourav Ganguly is a firm favourite to win the nomination for ICC Chairman. While, it’s unclear whether Ganguly himself wants to run for that position, he certainly has high profile backers such as Graeme Smith and Kumar Sangakkara.
In India, Ganguly is much loved as the captain who brought mental resilience and a positive attitude to the Indian dressing room. As someone of Bengali heritage myself, I feel proud that Ganguly is the greatest cricketer the state of West Bengal has ever produced.
As a commentator, he is articulate, analytical and insightful. But Ganguly in a position of power at the ICC concerns me greatly, given his prior statements about getting India’s 'fair share' and extracting more money from the ICC.
The distinct possibility that he is being used as a political pawn by the likes of Srinivasan and Rajeev Shukla to further their agenda, is even more troublesome. There is a strong likelihood of political power games playing out at ICC headquarters in the future. In that backdrop, I have outlined five recommendations meant to improve ICC’s governance structure and to help make it less susceptible to a hostile takeover by powerful and manipulative Full Member boards again.
Five recommendations to improve the ICC's governance structure:
#1: Make the ICC Chairman position truly independent
Ideally, the ICC chairman position should be totally independent, meaning that the person selected should not have held any position of influence within an existing Full Member or Associate board.
The counter argument against this position is the insistence by some influential boards that an ICC Chairman needs to deeply understand the ICC Distribution Model and should have attended ICC meetings previously. If that is the case, then a cooling off period of at least 4-5 years can be implemented.
It would prevent the farcical situation of someone like a Ganguly serving a term as BCCI chief before becoming immediately eligible as a contender for the ICC Chairman position, with no cooling off period in between.
If elected, Ganguly can put his proposed action plan into motion by making decisions that elevate the interests of one powerful board over the interests of 103 other ICC members. That will be a resonating slap in the face of the principles of independence that an ICC Chairman position is supposed to come with and make a mockery of the 'world' governing body’s role.
#2: Get Cricket into the Olympics
This is an absolute no-brainer. Associate nations often to have to make do with limited ICC distribution funds to plan their operations and undertake developmental activities.
However, if cricket were to gain entry into the Olympics, it can unlock as much as $500,000 in government funds for smaller cricket nations due to cricket being recognised as an official Olympic sport.
Furthermore, these funds will become available immediately and will not be contingent on waiting for the Olympics tournament to take place in the future and nor would it be dependent on the nation qualifying for the main event. Having access to these extra funds can easily be a game changer, in terms of exposure, development and capturing the general public’s interest for cricket.
BCCI wants to avoid losing autonomy to the Indian Olympic Association as it would come under IOA’s umbrella if cricket were to gain an Olympic inclusion.
Furthermore, BCCI does not want additional international T20 tournaments competing with its crown jewel product, the IPL. However, if cricket seeks a sustainable future and wants to avoid sliding down the pecking order of world sports, an Olympics entry is non-negotiable.
#3: Touring teams should get to keep 20% of the broadcasting fees generated by the host boards
There is wide consensus among experts about breaking the bilateral model in cricket because bilateral tours only make money for a few select boards.
While the ODI Super League and World Test Championship are steps in the right direction, the tournaments do not address one major flaw of the bilateral model, which is that only the hosts make money from incoming tours. This is a problem as not every country such as Afghanistan and Pakistan can host incoming tours due to security reasons, Often these countries play out games to empty stands at their adopted home bases of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, missing out on gate revenue.
Furthermore, smaller boards such as the European triumvirate of Scotland, Ireland and Netherlands face risks of home-game washouts due to inclement weather conditions. As it is, these teams only host a selected number of games during the European summer. Therefore, any washouts can have significant impacts on their revenues.
If associate teams were able to receive 20% of the broadcast revenue by touring the likes of Australia, India or England, it would spread the inflow of income through the financial year and not have everything riding on their limited cricket season.
Emerging Cricket Founder Tim Cutler proposes an alternative model where he envisages a central pooling of global rights shared by all boards for World Test Championship / ODI / T20I leagues, so that the game can better plan its annual calendar and account for the costs of broadcasting and player wages etc.
Such a model does involve a radical rethink of the status quo but might be necessary going forward to sustain international cricket, particularly Test Cricket between the smaller boards.
#4. Further relax the performance criteria for obtaining ICC's Full Membership
An ICC Full Membership comes with many perks such as additional voting rights and increased share of funding compared to Associate Membership.
When Afghanistan and Ireland were awarded Full Membership of the ICC in 2017, it meant that they had a direct representative on the ICC board committee rather than coming under the Associates umbrella where a mere three votes are shared among 92 associate boards.
Recently, the ICC took some positive steps towards reducing the considerable barriers to entry. As per the new membership criteria approved on 22nd June 2017 by the ICC Council, associate nations no longer need to have a domestic 3- or 4-day competition in order to be eligible for a ICC Full Membership. That is fabulous as putting in place a domestic 3- or 4-day competition is expensive and needlessly prohibitive for associate nations operating on modest annual budgets.
However, the guidelines set are still very difficult to achieve and would benefit from further relaxation, particularly the ones related to performance. Until the introduction of the Cricket World Cup Super-Leagues, the haphazard and self-serving nature of the Future Tours Programme will mean that Associate Nations continue to play a pitiful number of games against the Full Member Nations.
In that scenario, the requirement to win five games against Top 10 Full Members of the ICC (across World Cups, qualifiers and bilaterals) is patently unfair. In fact, teams like Hong Kong, Namibia, Nepal, Oman and Papua New Guinea have never played official ODI’s against full members of the ICC outside the framework of official tournaments.
Therefore, this part of the ICC Performance guideline needs to be amended with more emphasis put on regular participation and qualification across the men’s, women’s and U-19 tournaments rather than on wins against ICC Full Members.
#5. Elevate the best performing ICC associate member countries such as Scotland, Netherlands and Oman to Full Membership
Once the ICC performance guidelines are relaxed, top associate countries like Netherlands, Scotland and Oman need to be elevated to Full Member status as they meet many of the other criteria set out by the ICC: proper governance system, ODI status, domestic 50-over and 20-over tournament structures and satisfactory junior / woman pathways with a decent level of participation.
It will have a crucial two-fold effect. Not only, will this reward countries for good performances with elevation to the top level in ICC but also provide them with benefits such as increased funding and direct voting representation at a board member level.
More importantly, it will further dilute the power of BCCI and Big 3 on the ICC. If there are 14-15 Full Members along with three associate representatives, it would make manipulation and intimidation of the smaller boards by their bigger counterparts more difficult.
Furthermore, it will help create an additional voting bloc between the European members of Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands or the smaller Asian members like Afghanistan, Oman and Sri Lanka who can vote together as a bloc to counter any regressive, self-interested ideas put forward by the ICC's Big-3 Boards.
To wind up, I will leave you with these beautiful words below. It is how Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj ended his segment about cricket corruption on ‘Patriot Act’.
The sentiment expressed here is a perfect summation of what many in the cricket community feel about the potential of cricket as a force for good, India’s financial dominance and BCCI’s sinister monopolising of it.
Rather than seeking a socialist revolution which overthrows the elitism and colonial mindset of cricket and opens the game to all, BCCI instead seems determined to form a new cabal with the former racist, imperial boards of CA and ECB.
“The saddest part of all this is that cricket can be such a force for good. We have already seen so many inspiring examples. Afghanistan went from playing cricket in the refugee camps to playing cricket at the highest level. Their rise shows what the spread of cricket can mean to a country. As an Indian, I’m proud that we are so dominant in cricket, and the game is finally exciting to watch. We took something our colonisers forced on us, and we made it our own. But, my complaint is that we are so concerned with owning the sport that it isn’t about playing cricket anymore. It’s about colonising it for ourselves.”