De-politicize the BCCI


Several years ago, the Australian great, Ian Chappell, warned that the presence of too many political figures in the BCCI impedes its professional functioning. Politicians don’t necessarily make good sports administrators. Cricket administrators must earn their place in the system by virtue of good cricketing experience and understanding of the intricacies of the game and not for status and power.

Chappell’s was not a random observation coming from foreign quarters, but a well-thought cricketing analysis. Even though, BCCI snubbed Ian Chappell’s scrutiny, the comment requires stern self-introspection. Chappell always brings views to cricket that cannot be whimsically dismissed. He is a constructive critique and his cricketing analyses influences opinions around dining table/coffee shop conversations among fans, aspiring players, and media.  Chappell alerted India that to depoliticize the BCCI was in the interests of Indian cricket.

The BCCI is the richest body in world cricket but far from being the best-run cricket entity. India wields far too much power in the ICC often using an indiscrete veto against well-reasoned propositions. No wonder, India is viewed as a bully in the ICC. Money power will not gain BCCI profundity; only how it utilizes its assets will. There are far too many deficits, complaints of favoritism, nepotism, and many questionable actions including in selections and instances of overt corporatization of cricket.

Politicians from multiple political parties have held positions within the BCCI; Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Madhavrao Scindia of the Indian National Congress and Anurag Thakur of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) were BCCI presidents, Arun Singh Dhumal is the IPL chairman, and his political connections are well known. Ideally this trend must change.

About the same time as Ian Chappell spoke out, the great Bishan Singh Bedi, noted for his outbursts against anything he deemed nonsensical, gave the BCCI a zero rating for professionalism. “The credibility factor is very low as far as BCCI is concerned. The accountability of BCCI is absolutely zero,” he said. More recently, Bedi roundly criticized the DDCA (Delhi Cricket association) for changing the name of the Feroze Shah Kotla Ground after a BJP stalwart, Late Arun Jaitley. Many in the cricketing world wondered if cricket stadia should be reduced to political gratification and preferences instead of keeping cricketing spaces as ones of historical recognition and appreciation of cricketing greats. The spirit of the game requires much more than satisfying political choices. Bedi objected unequivocally saying: “I pride myself as a man of immense tolerance and patience…but all that I’m afraid is running out. Bedi asked that his name be removed from the stand named after him with immediate effect. He also renounced his DDCA membership and lashed out at what he termed as a DDCA culture, which puts “administrators ahead of cricketers. In Delhi, the stadium’s name was altered only to commemorate a BJP politician whose only claim to cricketing fame was his role as President. There is no track record of previous cricketing accomplishments on the same ground.

In the same vein, the naming of the stadium in Ahmadabad after the current PM Narendra Modi has raised eyebrows both within the country and abroad. It is perfectly in order to recognize the PM for his achievements. The original name – Sardar Patel stadium- however, had no reason to be altered. It diminished the great Sardar Patel’s stature. The question is: Shouldn’t BCCI leave partisan politics out of sports? Governing bodies of sports operate best when they listen to the voices of sportspersons and eminent administrators. In fear of retribution, people do not speak their minds or object like Bedi did. But, the street speaks, and politicians miss out on knowing their aspirations and discomforts. Cricketer-turned-politician, Gautam Gambhir quite audaciously said that it was important that BCCI employ the right kind of people. “I think there should be more transparency…”  Indeed, the BCCI must set sober and intelligent criteria to name stadia and spectator stands. This standard must apply to all matters- selections, appointments of committees, and big roles which most current holders know little about.

Today things are fast evolving as the era of political cricket. Cricket diplomacy consists of using the game of cricket as a political tool to enhance or worsen the diplomatic relations between two cricket playing nations. The unilateral refusal of India to play the Asia Cup in Pakistan later this year has created an unwanted ruckus. The decision was unilaterally announced by BCCI Secretary, Jay Shah leaving the chances of political dialogue remote. The people of both nations are not at war. There are political issues between the countries that need resolution. But they can be set aside because they are separate matters requiring political dialogue. This decision not to play in Pakistan is rather super patriotic. Cricket alone has built lasting friendships between players and fans. Some suggest that cricket has healing capabilities. BBC recounts how India’s ‘peace offensive’ with its 2003-04 tour of Pakistan, Islamabad, for the first time in five decades, allowed thousands of Indians to cross the border on “cricket visas”. Indian fans “were greeted effusively by ordinary Pakistanis: to be an Indian in Lahore or Karachi those days was to be offered free rides, discounted meals and purchases, and overwhelming hospitality’. With cricket crazy-fans in both countries, cricket easily ranks as the ideal forerunner for both countries to engage politically with each other constructively. These words from the BBC narrative are instructive: “We have not imposed sanctions on Pakistan, withdrawn ambassadors, stopped trade, or even banned their movie stars and singers from practicing their profession in India”. Why keep them kept aloof on cricket? The BCCI takes all decisions on where and when to send the Indian cricket team and which teams to invite to India. But when it comes to Pakistan, the union government decides.

Can the BCCI assert autonomy and act with bona fide principles in the interests of amity between people?

Ranjan Solomon is a political commentator and a human rights activist. Views expressed are the writer’s own.


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