By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, June 6 (IANS) Turning to senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, who was representing then Indian cricket board president N. Srinivasan, Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur said bias in a conflict of interest situation happens in a “subtle way”.
Thakur said that on December 8, 2014, while hearing the 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal in which Srinivasan, whose son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan and others were central figures in the scandal, was battling to come out of the conflicted zone.
Thakur had made the “subtle way” comment when Srinivasan was trying to constitute a committee to probe the 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal. Some members of that committee were also conflicted and the panel was eventually not accepted by the Supreme Court that had to approve or reject it.
Also, as secretary and later president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Srinivasan would attend Indian Premier League (IPL) governing council meetings, and was thus aware of the decisions the BCCI was taking.
It’s difficult to believe that he never shared discussions, or decisions, within the BCCI with his own IPL franchise, Chennai Super Kings (CSK), and took advantage of that.
More than six years later, Srinivasan’s daughter, Rupa, finds herself in a similar position — in the conflict of interest zone. The person who spotted her there is a retired Supreme Court judge, D.K. Jain. He pronounced his judgment as the BCCI Ethics Officer on June 3.
Rupa Gurunath was elected TNCA president, succeeding her father, in September 2019. Her husband, Gurunath Meiyappan, has been banned for life by the Supreme Court for his role in the same 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal. Rupa holds two posts — of TNCA president and a Whole Time Director of India Cements Limited (ICL), which runs the Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd (CSKCL) that owns IPL franchise CSK.
These two are high profile cases that have caught the eye. In reality, there are any number of conflicted persons at a lower level whose unethical deeds never come to light, they do it in such a “subtle way”. Usually, powerful people back these conflicted persons. These powerful persons are mostly politicians and businessmen across sports in India.
So, that brings us to the question: Who has harmed cricket — or sports in general — the most in India? Many people would say that it is the people involved in match-fixing/betting.
However, I feel the conflict of interest is the biggest curse and misfortunate of Indian cricket, rather Indian sports. Match-fixing is probably not as deep rooted and as widespread as conflict of interest, if seen across all sports, not just cricket, played in the country. But conflict of interest is everywhere; only the degree that it influences varies. Sometimes it is blatant, as in the case of Srinivasan and Rupa. At other times, it happens in a “subtle way”.
Match-fixing may not be found in all competitive sports. But conflict of interest is present across the spectrum; no Indian sport can claim it is not influenced by conflicted people. Be it the election of sports bodies or selection of athletes/teams, conflict of interest is found in different forms at different levels.
Most of the conflicted persons are sports administrators, selectors, or coaches. If their brothers/sisters/sons/daughters/nephews/nieces are also playing cricket — or play any other sport — in which their elders hold positions, the conflict-of-interest becomes obvious and blatant. It will be rare to find selectors, sports administrators, coaches clear of the conflict.
The conflict of interest is not restricted only to selection of the “near and dear ones” by their fathers and uncles. It plays with full gusto while awarding contracts of constructing stadiums, laying of astro turfs/athletic tracks, athletes’ clothing, sponsorship, supply of food during competitions, erecting tents, etc. The list is so long and varied that mind boggles.
The conflict of interest is more pronounced and blatant in cricket because there is more money to be made from it than in any other sport in India. The case of certain officials of the BCCI and its affiliated state associations, particularly the TNCA, is a case in point.
In cricket, sponsors pay more money, the various requirements for tournaments is much bigger than other sports, so obviously more people come into conflict zone as they often award these contracts and rights to their known ones, many times without following the laid down process of tender etc. The Delhi and District Cricket Association is notorious in this regard and leads the way.
Also, retired cricketers open academies in their names and then when confronted they claim their don’t benefit from the income and that they are run by their mothers, fathers, or brothers, saying they only lent their names. Many of these cricketers also sit in selection committees and become coaches. Would you believe them that they never influence selection of players, either blatantly or in a “subtle way”, particularly if their sons and nephews are in contention? Impossible.
So, when the BCCI Ethics Officer on Thursday declared that TNCA president Rupa Gurunath was indeed in the conflicted zone, it should not have taken more than five months — since the time complaint was filed — to arrive at the conclusion. The conflict was so obvious.
Interestingly, the BCCI did not respond to the notice of Justice DK Jain. The reason is not far to seek: Srinivasan’s is one of the four groups that had formed the coalition in October 2019 to come to power without having to fight election.
They at all costs wanted to get rid of the Vinod Rai-headed Committee of Administrators, appointed by the Supreme Court, that had been running the BCCI for around 33 moths, following the 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal.
The bright side of all this is that at least the BCCI has an Ombudsman, though he at times is rendered powerless. Some sports federations might also have Ombudsman. But have you heard of any judgments of the same magnitude as Rupa Gurunath delivered by them? Or, any judgment at all.
“Purity of the game has to be maintained at any cost. Persons at the helm of affairs should be above suspicion. We are thinking in the larger interest of the game. There should be no chance for people to point fingers at those who are running the show,” the TS Thakur-headed Supreme Court bench, also comprising FMI Kalifulla, had said in December 2014 while hearing the IPL scandal.
The already side-lined Srinivasan, whose son-in-law Meiyappan was in sharp focus in the IPL scandal, had offered to keep away from the BCCI-initiated probe involving Meiyappan and others.
The bench countered that by asking Srinivasan’s counsel Sibal: “You [Srinivasan] say even if elected you will stay away from decision making against those found guilty. But the question is even then can the decision of BCCI be seen as a fair decision? Will not he be exercising his influence in some way or other? Bias in such situation happens in a subtle way.”
By Qaiser Mohammad Ali