Parthasarathy: Despite Dilutions, Supreme Court’s Lodha Order can be Fine Model for Sports Governance in India
On August 9, the Supreme Court delivered its latest iteration in its verdicts on the affairs of the Board of Control for Cricket in India [BCCI]. Somewhat disappointingly, the judgment, delivered by a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices DY Chandrachud and AM Khanwilkar, weakened a few of the more path breaking recommendations proposed by the Lodha Committee, which the court itself had endorsed in July 2016.
Among other pronouncements, the court has now scrapped the one-state-one-vote policy that the committee had seen as the backbone for a new constitution of the BCCI. In its place, the court has confirmed the voting power of not only all the existing associations in Maharashtra and Gujarat but has also affirmed the votes available to the government bodies, the Services Sports Control Board, the Railway Sports Promotion Board and the Association of Indian Universities.
Perhaps even more significantly, though, the court has watered down the much-lauded cooling-off period suggested in the draft constitution that the Committee of Administrators appointed by the court had drawn-up. This clause was included at the behest of the Lodha Panel, which had recommended that the tenure of each term for office bearers of the BCCI and the various state associations should be three years, and that there should be a mandatory “cooling off period” after each term; that is, an office bearer who holds a post for three consecutive years would be disentitled from contesting a succeeding election to any post either within the BCCI or within any of the various state associations.
The judgment, authored by Justice Chandrachud, now makes it clear that while the term of office shall be as suggested in the draft constitution, the cooling off period of three years shall apply only when an individual has held the post of an office bearer for two consecutive terms either in a state association or in the BCCI or in a combination of both.
Other changes made by the court to the draft constitution include a widening of the size of the selection committee responsible for choosing representatives to the Indian team at various different levels. The number of selectors will now be enhanced to five from three, but subject to a condition that each selector ought to have played a minimum of seven test matches or thirty first class matches or a minimum of 10 ODIs and 20 first-class matches.
Although the court fails to tell us why it ought to have reviewed its own endorsement given to the Lodha Panel’s report in its judgment delivered in July 2016, it offers a reasonable justification for each of the amendments that it now mandates. For instance, in rejecting the one-state-one-vote policy, the court holds that “to utilise territoriality as a basis of exclusion is problematic because it ignores history and the contributions made by [various] associations to the development of cricket and its popularity.”
The contributions made to cricket by Mumbai and Vidarbha in the State of Maharashtra and by Baroda and Saurashtra in the State of Gujarat, the court holds, cannot be ignored, by applying a uniform principle of territoriality. At the same time, though, the court has affirmed the Lodha Panel’s decision to deny voting rights to the Cricket Club of India (CCI) and the National Cricket Club (NCC), since neither association fields a team in the Ranji Trophy. Similarly, the court’s decisions to weaken the cooling off period recommended by the Lodha Panel and to widen the strength of the selection committee are also backed by what appears to be sound reasoning.
Much as some of these changes can be seen as an undermining of the Lodha Panel’s suggestions, though, equally we can also now see the court as having accorded a final imprimatur to a raft of other suggestions proposed by the committee. For instance, the court has kept alive key clauses suggested by the panel towards disqualification of persons from being an office bearer or a member of the governing council or any other committee, or as a representative to the International Cricket Council.
This now means that persons above the age of 70 years, ministers, government servants and others holding public office, persons serving as office bearers of other sports federations, and persons charged by a court of law of having committed any criminal offence are all disqualified from contesting for any post within the BCCI or any of its state associations. Also disqualified are persons who have served terms as an office bearer of the BCCI or any of the state associations for a cumulative period of nine years. These requirements, the court has held, serve as important safeguards against the development of vested personal interests and against the concentration of power in a few hands, encouraging thereby a “dispersal of authority,” and the creation of a “wider body of experienced administrators.”
Even before the court delivered its August 9 ruling, many of the other suggestions of the Lodha Panel had already been finally approved. These incorporate, for instance, recommendations towards the establishment of an apex council of nine members comprising three independent persons, with two from a newly constituted “players association,” and, at least, one woman—overseen by a reputable chief executive officer—to conduct the day-to-day administration of cricket in the country; the creation of a sound set of principles to remove conflicts of interest that had hitherto plagued the sport, including a reduction in the participation of those entrenched in politics; and, crucially, the introduction of a wall divorcing the management of the IPL from the BCCI.
The hope now therefore is this: that the court’s latest judgment will finally serve as a culmination of the 5-year-long effort at reforming the BCCI’s structure. That the court has expended enormous time and effort at addressing mismanagement in what is seen as an essentially private body has already been criticised by many.
Indeed, the appointment of the Lodha Panel, headed by the former Chief Justice of India, R.M. Lodha, was itself seen as an act of gross judicial overreach. But a reading of the committee’s recommendations ought to quell any doubt about the practical impact of the court’s intervention—for, if implemented in letter and spirit, the draft constitution based on the panel’s suggestions ought to serve as a fine model for sports governance in India, and ought to make the BCCI a more transparent body, bringing its establishment in harmony with generally acceptable standards of fairness.
The American historian Christopher Lasch once said that when a game comes to be regarded as “incidental to the benefits it supposedly confers on participants, spectators, or promoters, it loses its peculiar capacity to transport both participant and spectator beyond everyday experience – to provide a glimpse of perfect order uncontaminated by commonplace calculations of advantage or even by ordinary considerations of survival.”
In the last three decades, in particular, cricket in India has too often been seen as a by-product, of entertainment, and even of business. To prevent this from happening, in order for us to see cricket as an end by itself, we must see the sport as representing a public institution. Or, as I argued elsewhere, borrowing from the American philosopher John Rawls’s conception, as a primary cultural good.
The Lodha Committee’s recommendations, and the Supreme Court’s interventions, have to therefore be welcomed. They may not serve as a panacea to all that’s wrong with the sport. Indeed, it is only through proper legislative oversight that we can aim at truly regulating the sport for the public. But yet the new BCCI constitution will provide us with a useful road map, with a vision that perhaps one day can help bring the sport back to the community.