In a country where cricket is worshiped, its high-priests – the officials – have dragged the ‘Gentleman sport’ into the worst sort of ignominy. On July 14, a Supreme Court (SC)-appointed committee suspended two teams of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and also banned two of their officials for life from taking part in any activities of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). They have been penalized for involvement in betting scandal going back to 2013.
The Supreme Court committee headed by former chief justice of the apex court, R L Lodha, placed under suspension for two years the star-studded Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals. The CSK is led by cricketing icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni and consists of several test and one-day players, including Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
The Rajasthan Royals is led by Australian all-rounder Steve Smith and includes among others stars like Ajinkya Rahane and Stuart Binny.
In its clean-up exercise that has sent shock wave across the cricketing world, the SC committee also cracked the whip against their top officials Gurunath Meiyappan, who is son-in-law of former BCCI chief R Srinivasan, and Raj Kundra, who is husband of Bollywood starlet Shilpa Shetty..
Meiyappan, a former Team Principal of India Cements Ltd (ICL)-owned franchise CSK, and Kundra, co-owner of Jaipur IPL that runs Rajasthan Royals (RR), were suspended for life from any involvement in any matches conducted by BCCI. They will also not be allowed to take part in any IPL activities for five years.
Srinivasan, who is currently the chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC), is also the vice-president and managing director of India Cements, which owned the franchise at the time. In February this year/ He has been accused of shielding the misdeeds of his son-in-law.
The judgment came at time when former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi has been making major disclosure about financial Irregularities in the BCCI on a daily basis through his explosive tweets. Lalit Modi himself is facing 15 cases of economic offences and tax evasion in connection with conduct of IPL matches.
The Lodha-led committee held that the conduct of Meiyappan and Kundra brought into “disrepute” the game of cricket, BCCI and IPL and they deserved no leniency.
“We understand that financial loss is inevitable to the players with these two franchises. If cricket is bigger than the individuals who play the game then the loss is insignificant in our opinion…”
– Justice R L Lodha, on behalf of the committee.
Reading out the operative part in the judgment concerning Meiyappan, Justice Lodha said he acted in gross violation of the anti-corruption code and IPL Operational Rules. The judgment said Meiyppan lost Rs.60 lakhs ($94,000) in betting, which showed his heavy betting habits.
The committee rejected Kundra’s defense that he was a UK citizen and he did not know that betting was illegal here cannot be accepted.”If he was truly in love with game, he would not gave engaged in betting,” Justice Lodha read from the verdict.
Justice Lodha kept open the possibility of initiating criminal action against the two franchises.
The Delhi police busted the IPL betting and spot-fixing scandal in 2013, when it arrested three cricketers from the Rajasthan Royals — S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan — for spot-fixing.
Ina follow-up exercise, a week later, the Mumbai Police arrested CSK co-owner Meiyappan and actor Vindoo Dara Singh for betting-related activities.
The verdict has also done immense harm to the reputation of Mahindra Singh Dhoni who had testified that Meiyappan was a mere cricket enthusiast and not an official of the CSK. Now, questions are being raised on Dhoni’s conduct as his wife was spotted in several games with Vindoo Dara Singh.
The July 14 verdict may just be tip of the iceberg. The SC has so far not allowed disclosure of the findings of the Justice Mudgal committee that went into the entire betting scandal and zeroes in on the role of some top players. However, the court has not allowed permission to make those names public.
As the things stand, the owners of the CSK and Rajasthan Royals will come under tremendous pressure to allow their players to opt for others teams in case the BCCI ropes in two fresh outfits to fill the gap. This seems to best course for the team owners who could hope to make up for their loss of reputation and revenue by auctioning the players (if that is permitted by the BCCI).
However, this unsavory development has once again given fresh impetus for the public to demand a cleanup of the BCCI and state cricket units, which have become a playground for India’s top politicians. It is expected that the Justice Lodha committee will next come out with a series of recommendations to introduce greater transparency in the functioning of the BCCI.
This presents an excellent opportunity for the Supreme Court/ BCCI to show the way forward by appointing receivers for both the team venues (meaning create a new team based in Chennai – call it Whistlers and another in Rajasthan – call it Hallabols) under their supervision, take them public and provide a way for cricket enthusiasts to be shareholders and make it a fair and transparent system. Since the ‘Eminenterati’ of India won’t change their ways, it is important that this clean up is done all the way so it can be a trendsetter for the future. Cricket belongs to the players and their patrons, the public and the sooner it is restored to its rightful owners, the better the chances of a long life for this game.
For the curious, LalitGate has shined a harsh flashlight into the multiple hats worn by some influential personalities in India (they are politicians, corporate officers, sports administrators rolled into one). The sad part is that each of these roles demands a person’s full time attention. Either these personalities are having proxies run some of these entities or worse, they are making decisions without having all the facts in hand. Either way it is high time these ‘Eminenterati’ take a call and pursue just one vocation. They can hide and obfuscate news in 2 of the 3 types of media but Social Media brushes away all their steel walls and will pursue the truth relentlessly.
1. The conversion rate used in this article is 1 USD = 63.56 rupees.