BCCI losing its moral high ground - Column by Gulu Ezekiel

2009 Mar 18 by DreamCricket

Using its financial clout to browbeat and intimidate the rest of the cricket world into toeing its line will sooner of later backfire on Indian cricket.

By Gulu Ezekiel

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Indian Premier League czar Lalit Modi has let it be known that the nation should not come to a halt just for the sake of the national elections.

By his recent comments it appears Modi would have no problems with the nation coming to a halt for his pet project, a faux-sporting event that seeks to inflate the already giant egos of movie stars and business magnates.

Modi had told a news channel earlier this month when the Home Ministry first raised objections to the IPL dates clashing with those of the elections that the tournament dates are "set in stone".

There has been a humiliating climb down since as the IPL committee is being forced to repeatedly tinker with their 'set in stone' calendar.

The very fact that the Home Ministry is spending so much time and resources in dealing with a private corporate-based domestic tournament is linked to both national politics and the clout of big-shot industrialists for which the IPL is their latest plaything.

NCP leader Sharad Pawar, the International Cricket Council's vice-president, has been giving the Congress the heebie-jeebies with his pre-poll bargaining. His connection to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (he was the previous president) means the government has to tread carefully when it comes to the Board's cash-cow.

Modi obviously sees himself as world cricket's money-bags but has not been able to hold onto his seat in his own backyard, the Rajasthan Cricket Association.

The current debate over whether the IPL should be held at all or cancelled due to security reasons has seen the battle lines drawn. Those backing it largely have a financial stake in the tournament while those opposing it are on the outside looking in.

What is shocking is the amount of rope Home Minister P. Chidambaram is giving to the organizers - why can't he just say no?

All attempts to link the staging of the IPL to 'national pride' are petty and bogus as former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi and other influential voices have already eloquently stated.

Modi's finger-wagging admonitions aimed at the media for constantly raising the 'S (security) word' and his statement in a TV interview aired on Sunday that "there are too many news channels in India" is pretty amusing.

When last year these same channels went gaga in their coverage of IPL's inaugural season, Modi apparently had no issue with their numbers.

If at all national pride comes into the equation, it is linked to the battle for world power between the 'white' cricket nations (led by England) and the 'non-white' (led by India).

After a century of Anglo-Australian dominance, this monopoly was finally broken in 1997 when Jagmohan Dalmiya was elected president of the ICC, the first from Asia.

Market forces linked to the massive cricket-fan base in India and the three other Asian nations of the ICC then saw a major shift in the power equation.

The inaugural Champions League 20/20 was cancelled late last year in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks. Another setback for the IPL board this year may well see a power shift once again.

But should we really care? The BCCI has lost the moral high ground with its blatant use of money power and intimidation aimed at players and officials connected to the rebel 20/20 Indian Cricket League - a precursor of the IPL - launched in 2007 by media mogul Subhash Chandra. And Modi has acted like a battering ram ever since he made it into the BCCI in 2005.

Having already used strong-arm tactics to ruin the international career of New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond (among many others), the vindictive BCCI has now gone too far.

Trying to block the appointment of ICL 'rebel' and former Kiwi international Craig McMillan from the TV commentary team for the forthcoming Test series will only alienate the Board from the worldwide cricket fraternity.

The saddest part of the whole business is that it was former India all-rounder-turned-commentator Ravi Shastri who raised the red flag when informed McMillan would be part of the Sky TV commentary team for the second Test (Sony transmits the pictures from Sky, the host broadcaster).

Then again it was Shastri who gained notoriety last year by referring to Modi as "the Moses of cricket". While the Indian cricket team is being treated like rock-stars as they travel around New Zealand, team manager and BCCI official Niranjan Shah has been described as a "traveling goon" in the local media for acting as the Board's enforcer. And around the cricket world the BCCI is now dubbed the 'Board of Control for Cricket Intimidation.'

You can find a smidgen of logic in the banning of rebel Indian players from domestic tournaments conducted by the BCCI. But to insist on extending this ban to other national bodies and deny sportsmen and even umpires and commentators their bread-and-butter is both illegal and immoral.

Will print journalists who reported on the ICL be next on the IPL 'hit-list'? Already internet journalists are banned due to the IPL's own woeful website and foreign news agencies boycotted the first season due to the strictures that were presented to them in distribution of photos.

On the current New Zealand tour, Indian players were withdrawn from an exhibition 20/20 match due to the presence of a former ICL player. Indian cricketers have also been banned from being in the same English county side as these 'rebels'.

Ironically even when India led the sporting world in the boycott of apartheid South Africa from 1970 to 1991, there was no ban on Indian players being part of the same team as South Africans in both county cricket and the two World XI series in England in 1970 and Australia in 1971-72.

We had been told the IPL franchises would improve the spectator facilities in stadia around the country—among the worst in the world despite the Board's billions - and open academies to foster talent.

With the recession already cutting into their budgets, such grandiose plans seem highly unlikely now. But that has not prevented the owners from being busy making promotional videos and holding 'reality' TV shows to pick cheerleaders for the second season.

The BCCI is acting like a nouveau-riche spoilt brat in its attempts to destroy the ICL, which itself has fallen on hard times. It sure knows how to make money. But does it know how to spend it wisely?

Using its financial clout to browbeat and intimidate the rest of the cricket world into toeing its line will sooner of later backfire on Indian cricket.

The writer is a freelance journalist and author based in New Delhi. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.