How do you solve a problem like BCCI (Board for Control of Cricket in India)? You can’t. It’s like asking how do you straighten a dog’s tail. You can leave it in a hard cement cast and, when the cast is removed, the tail will rediscover it curve. So, the Supreme Court should stop trying to straighten out the BCCI. Its efforts will fail despite giving a temporary appearance of improvement…
I have two broad points to make: One, monopolies cannot be ended without competition. And the solution to the BCCI’s waywardness is competition. Two, I recommend a model from our own stock market experience, where the National Stock Exchange broke the Bombay Stock Exchange’s monopoly and cleaned up the investment game. I don’t think the Supreme Court should even be wasting its time – and taxpayer money – trying to fix a cosy cartel of powerful vested interests, people who are more interested in the money than the game. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) is a private body, and what it does is largely its business. The courts should only adjudicate disputes from within BCCI – not outsiders. The BCCI behaves the way most monopolies do: kill competitors, doctor the pitch for newcomers, and protect its humongous profits.
Also, what is the public interest involved in trying to fix the BCCI? The allegation is that there are conflicts of interest, and some players or matches may be fixed – and things like that. This may be true. But cricket is also entertainment. As long as people pay to be entertained by BCCI’s version of cricket, whether crookedly run or straight, why should the courts care?
Example: the World Wrestling Federation (now renamed World Wrestling Entertainment as the World Wildlife Fund objected) organises bouts between scary-looking, but comic, characters. Their bouts have all the appearances of fixed matches, but the crowds, especially kids, seem to enjoy it. WWE is entertainment, not serious sport. If no one pays for it, it will die. But if people are willing to pay for it, why worry about whether it is fixed or kosher? So the real issue is BCCI’s monopoly, and not how badly (or excellently) it is run. The only remedy for monopoly is competition. The remedy for an entrenched monopolist is a rival with deep pockets who will not blink first. Some years ago, Subhash Chandra of Zee TV set up a rival platform called the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Faced with a threat to its profits and monopoly, the BCCI struck back with IPL – the Indian Premier League – which is now at the core of the Supreme Court hearings over the BCCI boss N Srinivasan shenanigans and his conflicted ownership of the Chennai Super Kings IPL team.
The better-funded IPL needed a well-funded rival to take it on, but Subhash Chandra was not prepared to put adequate money where his mouth was. He blinked first. And BCCI retained its cosy monopoly. Is there a new competitor who can take on the BCCI? Given the sheer number of billionaires in India, I am tempted to say “there should be”. But that would only create another crony club of private players.
The right precedent and model is probably the National Stock Exchange (NSE), a for-profit stock exchange set up under the Companies Act. The NSE is run not by brokers but professionals who had no skin in the stock market game themselves. The NSE not only broke the Bombay Stock Exchange’s monopoly, but has also become the new near-monopoly in trading (but that is a different story). In the year to March 2014, it made profits of Rs 1,019 crore, and distributed Rs 68 as dividend per share. It was promoted by public financial institutions and banks – and remains that way. It has effectively no recognisable chief promoter.
A brief history is worth recalling. Around the early 1990s, the BSE was run like a club. Even though the investor population had been exploding since the early 1980s, and especially after liberalisation in 1991, the BSE continued to function like a club that worked to protect the narrow interests of its member-brokers instead of the wider circle of investors. If this sounds unreasonable, don’t be surprised. That is how almost all clubs function even though they may throw open their facilities to the general public and charge them for it. The public may pay to swim in its pools or play tennis on its courts, but the rules framed by the club usually favour the existing membership – especially the powerful cabal that may run it.
And so it was with the BSE. This led to serious disruptions in trading as members gambled on the stock exchange in the sure knowledge that other members would save them if they made the wrong bets. This may have damaged outside investors interests, but nothing the regulator could do would change this aspect of a club running for the benefit of its members. The Harshad Mehta scam of 1992 was only to be expected in such a club.
This was when the Narasimha Rao Government decided to step in and create the NSE – a pure trading platform where the people running it would have no conflict of interest with the trading members and the rules would be tough, but transparent. A old hand from the IDBI, RH Patil (now deceased) was given charge to create a modern, transparent and computerised trading ring (the BSE, despite all its profits, still ran a rambunctious open-outcry system of trading, where individual brokers offered two-way quotes on shares. The spreads between buy and sell were large in most shares, with both buyers and sellers getting a raw deal).
The NSE was a near instant success for the simple reason that it could run the exchange without having to worry about broking interests. The rules were tough but clear, and traders could focus on their businesses and clients instead of worrying what the coterie at the headquarters was upto. Around the mid-1990s, NSE became No 1.
The BCCI needs an NSE-type solution. And these are the key elements of that solution. One, the rival should be funded by willing banks and even stock exchanges like the NSE with a capital of at least Rs 1,000 crore. In fact, it would be a good idea to let the NSE plough its profits into organising cricket and run this set-up. It has the heft and the track record. Two, none of the board members should have anything to do with cricket’s current establishment – the administrators or the players. Somebody like Justice BN Srikrishna or a truly above board judge or eminent persons can run it. There should be no cricketers or cricket associations on the board. Their expertise can come in through task-specific panels.
Three, the new BCCI rival should organise its own matches and tournaments, including finding its own sponsors. All that the government should do is ensure that the old BCCI does not use strong-arm tactics to kill it. A sports regulator or even the Competition Commission of India can ensure that the field is level. Four, the only place where the government should step in – if need be – is to tell the ICC that India would henceforth send two or more teams, and it had better play ball – or else. The ICC, already smarting under BCCI’s excessive power, may be only too happy to oblige. If theUK can have two or three Test or world cup teams, it should be relatively simple for India to send three or five potential teams to ICC championships or play Test matches. Five, the job of the new organisation should be to develop the sport from the school, college and other levels, and recruit a team (or teams) that will represent India – a team to rival BCCI’s. Maybe, just maybe, it can also be called BCCI – the Board for Clean Cricket in India. That would poke one in the eye for the older BCCI.