As it happens occasionally with the game in India, despite the Indian Premier League (IPL) season being in full swing, events outside the playing arena dominated the cricket news during the week that had just gone by. The setback suffered by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) during the International Cricket Council (ICC) Board meeting in Dubai to discuss changes in the existing financial and governance structure of the global body received wide media attention. Reports in the press indicated that the BCCI was completely sidelined during the discussions and subsequent voting, with no member siding with it on matter of revenue sharing and only Sri Lanka supporting it on changes in governance model.
What could have caused this sudden change in the fortunes of BCCI, despite its much-flaunted financial clout? To understand the core of the issue, one needs to first study the evolution and style functioning of the ICC and the role of the individual members in influencing its functioning.
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Founded as the Imperial Cricket Council in 1909 with only three members - England, Australia and South Africa - ICC changed its name first to International Cricket Conference in 1965, before firming up on the present title in 1998. Though countries like India, the West Indies, Pakistan etc were subsequently granted full membership status by the ICC, the founding members had continued to exercise a veto over its functioning, thus effectively ensuring 'white man’s hegemony' in controlling the game. In 1996, when Jagmohan Dalmiya contested as chairman of ICC (later re-designated as president), he could not win it despite securing 23 votes as against 13 polled by his opponent Malcolm Speed of Australia for the simple reason that he could not secure two thirds of the votes polled! It was only in 1997, when Dalmiya was elected president unanimously that a person from Asia could head this elite body.
Focus shifts to Indian subcontinent
The BCCI, first under Dalmiya and later under Sharad Pawar, worked to shift the focus of ICC towards the Indian subcontinent where the popularity of the game had increased by leaps and bounds. It also helped that this region, especially India, contributed the maximum amount of revenue to the coffers of ICC. A system of rotation of president’s post among the various full members was introduced, the headquarters of the body was shifted from London to Dubai and a level playing field, giving due importance to the associate and affiliate members, was brought into force. Efforts were also made to improve the popularity of the game and take it to all parts of the world.
However, the year 2014 saw a major change in approach of the BCCI towards the ICC and its functioning. The success of the IPL and its newly found financial muscle gave the BCCI the confidence to seek a change in ICC’s governance and financial structure. The BCCI, along with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA), sought for and got permanent places on the five-member executive committee and finance and commercial affairs committee, the two most important and powerful bodies within the ICC. N. Srinivasan was elected as chairman of the board of directors of the ICC, thus effectively sidelining the post of president. Through this move the BCCI ensured greater control over operations of the ICC as well as a greater share in the revenues earned. Though there were objections from other national cricket boards against this move, they chose to keep quiet, probably on account of the fear that players from their countries ran the risk of losing financially rewarding IPL contracts in case they took on the BCCI.
However, things changed in 2016 with the fall from grace of Srinivasan and the return of Shashank Manohar to the top post in BCCI. Manohar, who also took over as chairman of ICC, had made no secret his opposition to the deal struck by Srinivasan with the ECB and the CA as well as the tactics employed by the BCCI to bully those who opposed them into submission. Manohar initiated moves for reviewing the changes brought in during 2014 and constituted a five-member committee to look into this process. It was also proposed that the ICC chairman should not be an office-bearer of any of the member units, to ensure his neutrality.
The decision of the ICC Board during its meeting on April 26 was only in keeping up with these measures. The new financial model works on the principle of equity as opposed to the older model of contribution cost (share brought in by member to the ICC) and share of surplus. When the new model is implemented, the share of BCCI would come down to approx 10-10.2 percent revenue of the ICC as against 17.6-18 percent under the earlier model. The new governance model increases the strength of the ICC Board to 15 (10 full members, 3 associate members, one female director and chairman) as against the present position where only 10 full members are included in this body. Further, the permanent presence of 'Big Three' on the two powerful committees would also be removed.
The BCCI sought a revenue share of $570 million, as per the previous financial model, while as per the new revenue sharing model it would be eligible for only $293 million. Newspaper reports indicate that Manohar and ICC offered the BCCI an amount of $400 million as a compromise measure, but a miffed Indian Board reportedly rejected it. There are also rumors floating around in the media that the BCCI would seek to retaliate by boycotting the ICC Champions Trophy tournament, which is scheduled to begin in England on June 1.
What should BCCI do at this juncture?
Equality and objectivity are the foremost principles underlying any sport. India had not only fought and emerged from the yoke of colonialism, but also helped many other nations of the world in becoming independent. The BCCI itself had fought against the veto powers enjoyed by the founding members of the ICC as it was discriminatory in nature. Hence the BCCI should first recognize that its actions in entering into a tacit understanding with the ECB and CA, to behave in a hegemonic manner and to corner a major share of revenue of the ICC, constituted bad politics and even worse principles, and deserve to be reversed.
The measures to review the decisions taken in 2014 were initiated by Manohar, a former BCCI president with high standing. The BCCI should accept these measures as the pressing need of the times and take up the offer of $400 million made by the ICC in good grace. It remains a fact that even at $293 million, the share of BCCI far exceeds that of other members, with ECB, which gets the second largest share pocketing only $145 million. The fact that even ECB and CA, its erstwhile collaborators, did not support it shows the degree of isolation of the BCCI in the ICC presently.
Measures such as boycotting Champions Trophy would not win the BCCI any friends. Indian players and cricket fans would be the ultimate losers if the BCCI decides not to take part in this high-profile tournament. The game is played on the field between players and involves many other aspects such as skills, sportsman spirit, spectator support etc and is much more than the money and revenue at stake. The BCCI should do well to remember that no one is greater than the game; not even the players and definitely not the ego of administrators.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)