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The BCCI has been overcautious in reacting to spot-fixing

Suresh Menon | | Updated: October 7, 2015, 5:41 PM IST

In the past couple of days I have found myself in the unusual position of defending the BCCI on national television. True, the board seems to be more keen on protecting their 'property', the IPL, than in serving the sport itself, and true too, that the leadership qualities that one expects in a crisis have been conspicuous by their absence.
Yet, to conclude that the rot of fixing has reached the highest echelons of the governing body and that everybody from the BCCI president to the office boy is in on it is both libellous and convenient. It is understandable though. For so long has the BCCI made a virtue of its opacity and lack of accountability that when the s-word hit the fan, it had nowhere to run.  And few friends to turn to. Many see it as the comeuppance for an arrogant board now forced to deal with the fallout of its own hubris.

The president, otherwise unavailable to the media and seldom deigning to answer any question with more than a monosyllable, is suddenly articulate, available, and only too keen to repeat himself on every television channel. The commissioner of the IPL, the politician Rajeev Shukla, who can't walk past a camera without spewing banal unquotable quotes has swung the other extreme - it took him a few days to appear on television and repeat a few more banalities.
Sitting in London, the original godfather of the IPL, Lalit Modi, has been sounding like a combination of Mother Theresa and a cuckoo clock, emerging at regular intervals to tell us how clean he is, how dirty everyone else is and how everything is the Board President's fault.
This is open season for board-bashing (which is not such a bad thing because it might lead to a crack in its opacity). Yet, there is merit in what the president says - institutions like the police, the Enforcement Directorate are better equipped to deal with the crime of spot-fixing.
But what he will not admit is that the culture of the IPL invites the kind of crimes that are exercising a nation today.  Team owners have manipulated rules to their advantage. And the conflict of interest has remained at various levels. Players operate in an atmosphere where those in charge - the board, the team owners - are focused on the quick buck, preferably with little effort. Watching them get away with it tends to obscure if not erase the line between what is acceptable and what is "not cricket".
Transaction and manipulation are the key to the IPL - whether it is television rights and the bribes that go with them, or player retention which favours a few, or commentators beholden to the BCCI and therefore uncritical. In this culture, the players too have their temptations. Some succumb. Some get caught. Some get away. 
Still, the BCCI has taken an important step - by recognising player agents and deciding to accredit them in the future. The hangers-on around players are usually a bunch of suspicious characters, many of them unshaven with shifty looks in their eyes, the clichéd image of those who are up to no good.  They passed off as 'agents' and had easy access to the team. Now that number will be reduced.
The best news to emerge from the mess is that the Law Minister is keen on pushing through legislation that will formally recognise spot fixing and match fixing as crimes, define them and lay out the punishment. While the Board is playing a wait-and-watch policy, having appointed a one-man commission to investigate, Rajasthan Royals has gone ahead and filed a case against the players. No one is quite sure of the legal position since the charges against the players are of cheating, which is broad enough for a clever lawyer to play with.
The BCCI has been overcautious. It should have taken the lead in filing a case. It should have banned the players for life - and then fought the case if the players took them to court. That would have helped create a penal code to deal with fixing.
How this will play out, how many more heads will roll, and how it will affect the IPL remain to be seen. For all you know, the IPL's spin doctors are sitting down right now working out a way to give a positive spin to the whole affair so both the paying public and the paying sponsor retain their loyalty. Stranger things have happened.
First Published: May 21, 2013, 12:53 PM IST

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