The confrontation between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Supreme Court of India through its appointed committee headed by Justice Lodha is increasingly getting bitterer by the day.
Heading in to the historic October 6 hearing before the Supreme Court, this has become more of a five-day test match between the Board and the Committee, beginning from the October 2 when the outcome of the Board’s delayed Special General Body Meeting was known, with each day bringing with it an explosive development.
On October 4, to curb the BCCI’s disbursement of funds towards the state associations the committee asked two banks where the BCCI had accounts, to freeze the accounts for specific purposes.
The letter sent by the banks implied there was a blanket freeze on these accounts, which the Board interpreted as an interference in day-to-day functioning that was disrupting the organising of matches, the Indian team being in the middle of a thus far successful Test and One-day internationals series.
The BCCI suggested that this move by the committee will force the BCCI to cancel the remaining portion of the series due to the inability to make payments. The committee responded by clarifying that it had no intention to, and had not interfered in the conduct of ordinary business, including the dispensing of any funds towards matches to be played.
There is of course a recent background to this controversy which has brought us to where we are now.
The situation had initially escalated when the Board missed its first major deadline for compliance with the committee’s directives in late September.
In its recommendations following the historic verdict by the Supreme Court in July, the committee had set September 30 as the deadline for complying with the first phase, a deadline which the Board not only failed to meet, but seemingly appeared to make only a tepid effort to do so.
Over the last ten days, the relationship between the committee and the Board has deteriorated significantly, perceivably as an outcome of a lack of communication between the two, and also by the perceived intentional flouting of the directives issued by the committee.
On the September 21, at its Annual General Meeting, the Board took numerous decisions for the 2016-2017 period which went beyond the permission it had received from the committee, including the appointment of five selectors for the Indian squad instead of the committee-mandated three selectors -- some of whom did not have experience playing Test matches for India, a necessary requirement stipulated by the committee.
In the face of what it felt was a blatant disregard for its directives, the committee filed a status report with the Supreme Court in which it set out its concerns and recommended a radical overhaul which included the immediate removal of the BCCI committee members, to be replaced by an administrative committee or body to helm affairs.
It also submitted a summary of the events leading up to the final confrontation. On the September 28, the Supreme Court reprimanded the Board, and gave it time till October 6 to respond to the status report.
The Board had earlier announced a Special General Meeting for September 30 to discuss the Justice Lodha committee recommendations which was then delayed to October 1 on account of a technicality pertaining to eligibility of attendees.
The delay merely added insult to injury, since a meeting to discuss the recommendations on the actual day by which the Board was to have complied with many of them meant that the deadline would have been missed in any case.
The committee had earlier expected the BCCI to schedule an executive general body meeting on the September 28 to adopt the first phase of directives.
On October 1, the BCCI at its SGM decided to implement only in part the recommendations of the committee.
It accepted the replacement of the BCCI working committee with an Apex Council, but with modifications, it accepted the formation of certain additional committees, the formation of a players’ association, various codes of conduct, player-agent registration norms, and voting rights for Associate members, among others.
However, many of the original recommendations have not been implemented, and gauging from the dialogue, a selective adoption of the recommendations will in all likelihood not be well received by the Supreme Court.
As the situation gets increasingly bitter, things are sure to come to a head sooner rather than later.
There are a few things however that make this episode intriguing and are likely to play out in the next few days or weeks.
There is sure a strategy behind the Board’s refusal to acquiesce to the Supreme Court’s demands. And this strategy will likely put the spotlight on the central government -- silent third party until now.
A fourth party who right now is playing the wait-and-watch game is the International Cricket Council (ICC).
By refusing to get involved despite the Board allegedly requesting it to share its concern regarding external interference with the Board’s functioning, the ICC is playing an interesting role that will get further enhanced should the issue of de-recognition of the BCCI becomes a realistic possibility.
The most likely strategy the Board might be considering at present would be a two-pronged plan -- on the one hand it would seek a longer timeframe from the court for implementing the committees’ reforms, while on the other it would hope that its review petition before the court will be accepted.
There is a possibility that a revised draft of the National Sports Development Bill might be presented before parliament and notified over the course of the next few months.
For the BCCI, a sports bill with less stringent conditions than the committees’ reforms would be a welcome respite, and there is another silver lining.
The Supreme Court in its ruling had refrained from saying whether the Board should come under the Right to Information Act, and had passed the issue to the legislature. So, should the revised sports bill not come under the RTI, and the notified law is adopted by the BCCI, an even more interesting situation could arise.
With an already contentious initial report by former Supreme Court justice Markandey Katju that addresses the issue of judicial overreach, the Board may adopt the sports law, and opt to be compliant with the directives of the central government and not those of the Supreme Court.
So what would essentially happen is that there could be a standoff between the judiciary and the legislature.
And that’s not all.
De-recognizing the BCCI comes under the purview of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS), and the Sports Authority of India. So, if there is a difference in opinions between the Supreme Court and the MYAS, the BCCI might still, without being compliant with the committees’ recommendations, operate as the National Sports Federation for cricket in India.
Besides merely logistics, there is another reason why the BCCI would be benefited if there is a delay in the situation.
There is yet another way for the BCCI to salvage the situation, but there’s an interesting storyline there as well.
Now that the BCCI has proceeded towards adopting some of the committees’ recommendations, including the extremely contentious directive that requires a nominee of the C&AG in the BCCI committee and the IPL Governing Council, the threat of de-recognition by the ICC is a possible, if remote, threat.
If the ICC derecognizes the BCCI for breaching the provisions of its constitution stipulating no governmental interference, the BCCI could in all probability contest the issue against the ICC at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, the preferred dispute resolution body for sports disputes globally.
If CAS rules that the committees’ directives are unconstitutional from the perspective of the ICC, then the BCCI will have a legal precedent and grounds for not being compliant with the Supreme Courts’ directives. This is a loophole that could well work in the Board’s favour in the future.
With a situation that is this flammable, the importance of the October 6 meeting cannot be ignored. A historic ruling followed by an epic confrontation, and eventually the most significant outcome in the history of Indian, and perhaps even international sports, thus far awaits.
And that’s when the true significance of what this means to the future of cricket in India will really be known.
(The writer is a sports lawyer, and the author of Not Out! The incredible story of the Indian Premier League. Views are personal.)