The recent Chennai high court judgment, supporting the Board of Control for Cricket in India in the matter of awarding of telecast rights, received much media attention -- but an equally key court battle now nearing its denouement appears to have slipped under the collective radar.
Two cricket lovers, Rahul Mehra and Shantanu Sharma, filed a Public Interest Petition in April 2000 seeking to hold the BCCI accountable for its actions.
The petition demanded that the court intervened to prevent the BCCI from converting cricket in India into a private empire run by businessmen and traders who operate the game for their own personal interest and profit; it pointed out irregularities in the body's accounting (to cite one example, the PIL pointed out that the Delhi District Cricket Association in the year 1998-'99 spent Rs 33 lakh on liquor -- over five times the money spent on coaching and cricket promotion in the last 11 years), and it asked the court to intervene and ensure that the Board's accounts were audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
The BCCI filed a very interesting response. In it, the Board argued that it was a private body and thus not subject to interference and/or regulation by either the government, or the courts.
Bizarrely, the Board also argued that the team picked by the BCCI is not in point of fact the national side, but merely a team picked by the BCCI itself without government imprimatur.
In pronouncing judgment on the BCCI's counter-petition, a two-member bench of the Delhi high court headed by Chief Justice B C Patel essentially shot the Board's contention down.
Thus, the Court suggested, the BCCI did fall under the purview of the courts of the land.
Responding to the strange contention that the BCCI does not in effect pick the national side, the Court argued: "The team that it selects to represent India is known as the Indian team and wears the India logo. Likewise, teams selected by the member associations for say the Ranji Trophy are known as the State teams (except for the Railways and the Services).
A Ranji match between Delhi and Karnataka is known as such. Not as DDCA XI v KSCA XI. The two teams represent Delhi and Karnataka respectively.
"When a foreign team visits India, apart from playing Test matches or One-Day Internationals it also usually plays matches with State teams and other teams. One such team is termed as the Board President's XI. Now, that team may comprise all the eleven who play for India, but it is not the Indian team. People do not recognize it as the Indian team. Even the BCCI does not consider it to be the Indian team.
"A player who plays for India with pride, would have only a fraction of this pride left it he were told that he does not play for India but for the BCCI XI. We have dwelt on this aspect because an inexplicable argument was advanced on behalf of the BCCI that, in point of fact, the Indian team is not a national side in the sense of having the sanction of the Government, but a side picked by the BCCI amongst Indian players.
"The teeming millions regard it as the national team, the players feel that they are playing for India and the opponent teams, be they from Australia or Pakistan, all know that they are playing against India. The BCCI ought to take pride in the fact that all this is achieved not on the basis of any statutory power but because it has arrogated this to itself and the Government has let it do so and of course, most importantly, because of general public acceptability.
"There is nothing wrong in this. The only point that we are emphasizing is that the BCCI discharges these functions which normally ought to have been discharged by the sovereign state. Many of these functions are clearly in the nature of public functions. There are many which are purely private in nature. Insofar as the public functions are concerned a writ petition would be maintainable against the BCCI. At the same time, as regards private matters having no public law element, a writ would not lie."
Or, reduced to its essence, the Court said that the BCCI discharges a public function when it picks the national team; therefore, the BCCI is accountable to the public.
Score one, right there, for the good guys -- the judgment stymies the BCCI's effort to argue that it is a totally private body accountable neither to the government, nor to the courts, nor indeed to the public.
The judgment qualifies for the 'landmark' tag, because this is the first time a court has held that the BCCI is accountable to the public; for the past 75 years of the BCCI's existence, courts have consistently held that the BCCI can only be challenged by its own members, and is not answerable to the public.
Former Federal Minister Arun Jaitley, arguing the case on behalf of the BCCI, asked the court to dismiss the PIL; he said the Board would satisfy the court that it is the best managed sports body in the country and that it takes all possible steps for the development of the game.
The court apparently hasn't bought that, either -- in fact, it has asked the petitioners, Rahul Mehra and Shantanu Sharma, to submit by May 25 a wish list of what, in their opinion, the BCCI should do to clean up its functioning. The BCCI, the court said, has to examine the suggestions put forward by the petitioners, and respond to them in every particular.
Also read: Full text of the Delhi High Court judgment
So what should the BCCI do to clean up its act? What, in your opinion, are the urgent steps the Board should take, to ensure that the game in India is run in the smoothest possible manner? How can the BCCI ensure that players' interests, and those of the fans, are taken care of; that talent is spotted, nurtured and used to optimum?
What should the BCCI do to ensure that India emerges at the top of the heap of cricket-playing nations?
Now that the court has decreed that the public's voice should be heard, this is the time to send us your thoughts.
To help you get your thinking caps on, here are some links to stories that provide essential background:
1. The Vision Statement produced by the BCCI in August 2000
2. Analysis of the vision statement
3. Harsha Bhogle and Prem Panicker discuss the vision statement
4. Rediff's alternative to the BCCI vision statement
Your turn, now -- send us your thoughts; constructive, detailed, as elaborate as you like. Let's see if we can't get the Board's bigwigs to listen.
Mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
'Former players should head BCCI'
- Govindaraj J