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August 1, 2000

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"Kapil, Azhar, Jadeja shouldn't go to Toronto"

Editor's Note: Column-writing is a lonely process. Wherein the writer, unilaterally, gives cogent form to his thoughts, opinions, feelings.

And it has its value. Undoubtedly.

But sometimes -- especially on a medium as dynamic as the Net -- you can go one better. You can enter into a dialogue, discuss the events of the day, get two or more people into a discussion, the thoughts of each sparking off responses, elaborations, from the other.

That is the thinking behind this new Rediff feature -- Conversations. In the inaugural verson, Harsha Bhogle and Prem Panicker discuss a couple of issues that are the talk of the cricket-following public today. Read on...

Harsha, I don't know about your mailbox, but mine's been flooded, of late, with readers arguing the question of the likes of Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja et al being part of the team to play in Toronto, come September. The fans -- the bulk of them who have written in -- seem to think they should not go. The board, and its president, seem to think that they should. Made me wonder, what is your take?

Actually, Prem, my view is that the board president is right, given the job he holds, to say that no one can be presumed guilty until actually proven so. But then, public opinion is overwhelmingly against the players you named, the public has made up its mind already, so I'd think the idea of dropping them merits consideration, especially in light of the recent I T raids. Actually, my view is that the BCCI should officially ask the I T department to come clean, and that quickly, on what they found out in course of the raids... remember, the finance minister has promised to make a statement in Parliament on this.... and till that time, the BCCI asks the players concerned to stay out of the team -- with the proviso that if the finance ministry, the IT authorities, dawdle over things, if nothing concrete is forthcoming by then, the BCCI will then pick those players for the ICC Trophy in Kenya.

Fair enough. But I must admit that I am a bit peeved with the BCCI's 'innocent until proven guilty' argument on two counts. For one thing, talk of betting, match-fixing et al have been doing the rounds for years now. The BCCI had both the right, and the mandate, to allay the fans' suspicions, fears. It abdicated that responsibility, all it chose to do was to get Chandrachud to apply a coat of whitewash. It was the government that appointed an inquiry, it is the government that has taken the lead in trying to resolve the issue, while the BCCI has sat back and said, simply, 'The government is doing something, why should we?' Right, then -- if the board is content to leave something this crucial to the government, then I don't think the board has any grounds to complain if the government in its turn calls the shots on who can, and who cannot, play.

You did say you had two reasons for being peeved...

Right, Harsha, the second one being, I am not sure who the BCCI should be considering at this point. On the one hand there are the players concerned. On the other, there are one billion fans out there, who are getting rapidly disillusioned by the minute, and whose disillusionment will be complete if they see the same team go to Canada, and go through the same motions against the same opposition. Question being, who has the greater claim on the BCCI -- the players, or the fans who have consistently backed the game in this country and made it what it is?

I agree that the BCCI has brought the government into the picture thanks to its own ills, its own failings. Had they run cricket professionally, the government would have had neither the need nor the opportunity to enter the picture. And yes, I agree that the fans are the one to consider, but that isn't something the BCCI has ever done, is it?

Yeah, so then, Harsha, could it be that this whole thing, this faceoff between board and ministry, is a blessing in disguise, since it forces the BCCI to realise that it cannot, should not, operate in a vacuum?

Possibly. One good thing about this is that the government has actually forced the BCCI to think of the future of the game, to produce a vision statement. And Prem, a vision statement is not a very difficult document to create, if you do have a vision. That is where the problem is, really -- the board has none. I mean, look at the short-sightedness of it all -- the board has known for a while that they are seen as a problem. Why then don't they have the vision to pre-empt a takeover, by going to the government with a well crafted vision document and telling the sports minister, here you go, here is the best vision sstatement among all the sports federations in India, now if you want, you can appoint a watchdog to see that it is being followed?

Exactly. Actually, now that I think of it, didn't you write a piece once somewhere, on this whole vision statement thing? Might be an idea to run it on Rediff today, I think. Meanwhile, Harsha, that bit you said about the government appointing a watchdog -- that does remind me of a question quite a few readers have been asking in mail. Namely, should the government be allowed to interfere in the workings of the BCCI? I mean, Sajid Bombhal, one of our regular readers, and a few others have written in recently, pointing out the government's track record of ruining every public undertaking it has touched....

You know, Prem, at the heart of it all, all these issues, there is the question of pride. When we were in school, there were always some kids who didn't mind if they got a rap from the teacher, and other kids who would feel terrible if that happened, who felt shame, and who would tell themselves that they wouldn't allow it to happen again, that they wouldn't give the teacher any reason ever again to punish them. The BCCI, I am afraid, falls into the first category, and that is why I have been talking in my columns of the arrogance in cricket. As to the question of government interference, my take is, perhaps not on a regular basis, but definitely in a watchdog capacity, a bit like the SEBI...

Hmmmm... actually, I had a little thought on this. Everyone agrees that the board has mismanaged cricket. Equally, everyone agrees that the root of the problem lies in the constitution of the board, which guarantees autonomy without equally guaranteeing professionalism, permits arrogance without mandating responsibility. So, given that the BCCI is under the gun at this point, isn't there a case for the government to force the board into completely redrafting its constitution?

When you say mismanaged, I'd think the board has tried to run cricket like one of those old family-held companies. Look at the reality in Indian business today -- virtually every one of those family-run fiefdoms has vanished. Reliance is an exception, but then, Reliance is soaring because it is basically a very modern management...

Right, Reliance works because it is professionally managed, and everyone, from Anil and Mukesh Ambani on down, are held accountable for results...

So then, yes, I think the BCCI should definitely redraft its constitution, to build in accountability.

Right. One clause that to my mind is a must, is that all officials, from the president on down, should be full-time, paid, professional employees. I mean, why do we have a president whose business commitments could mean he doesn't even have time to watch the team play, much less apply his mind to long-term policy-making?

Prem, the days of honorary employees ended generations ago, everywhere except within the BCCI. We need fully professional, paid employees, with a chairman who will play an advisory role. That is what the Australians do, Dennis Rogers is chairman, but Malcolm Speed is the highly paid, professional CEO. Yes, accountability is a must, so is profitability, spectator interests, a public audit of all accounts.... Actually, my dream is for Hindustan Lever to run Indian cricket, I have no doubt that in such a scenario, we will be near the top of the world in two years, and be consistent thereafter...

Exactly. Those clauses, I'd think, are mandatory. Also, I would like to see the government tell the board that if it wants to be a non-profit society, and thus entitled to all the benefits such societies enjoy, then the board should function like one. A non-profit society is mandatorily bound to plough its profits back into developing the game, the cause it is set up to serve. So I'd think if the board wants to be one, then the board should be told that its profits must go into the development of the game from the grassroots on up. If the board wants to keep 98 crore in FDs in Kishore Rungta's home, then that goes against the mandate, the spirit, of a non-profit society. So fine, if the board wants to be a business, making money and putting it into banks and watching the interest accumulate, then the government should take away the non-profit society status, make the board pay tax on its earnings. At least that way, the government will get a sizeable corpus of funds which it can use to improve other sports.

Oh sure.. I agree, money generated by the game is not meant to breed in banks, it should be going right back into the development of the game. The reason I mentioned public audit of accounts, by the way, is because I was thinking of that story you did some time back about the Rajasthan Cricket Association -- I don't think such a thing could happen in any other country.

Absolutely... but while on that, Harsha, do you have any clue what magic wand this man, Purushottam Rungta, wields, that would account for his power? Scandals slow him down as much as water would a duck -- last I heard, he was actually a special invitee at te committee meeting here in Bombay that was reviewing the code of conduct, though officially, he has no position that merits that special status...

He has been around for a long time; he is known as a strong man, one who is greatly in favour of wielding discipline which, in itself, is not bad. And he makes some very interesting points about the players' angle to it all, he says he is very happy to introduce the changes that the players want, provided they in turn are ready to turn professional. But having said that, the fact that he has been around for 45 years tells you things about the BCCI -- I mean, if I was running the BCCI, I would still use him, considering his experience, but merely in an advisory capacity, and not as part of any decision-making process.

I know... I mean, on the one hand you have a game that is evolving, changing by the day. And on the other, a geriatric club running it. That mix is lethal, I would think.

It would not be, if they stayed in touch with reality. But at the moment it is a bit like Soviet Russia, I'm afraid...

Couldn't help laughing at the Soviet Russia analogy -- the BCCI seems to be disintegrating just as rapidly, with the broken-off bits doing better than the parent country...

On that, my thought is that the one man I would pick to run the BCCI would be Brijesh Patel. Everyone in Karnataka is happy with him, the stadium looks better, cricket is looking up, he seems to have a long-term vision, a plan, he has just signed a bilateral agreemnent with Kenya for instance, he has the right mix of cricketer and businessman...

Right, Brijesh would be a brilliant choice, wouldn't he? Meanwhile, just to wrap, you would be against Azhar, Jadeja, Kapil et al going to Toronto, with the provisio that unless the Income Tax department can put its money where its allegations are, and that right soon, they will be picked, form and merit permitting, for the subsequent series. Right?

Absolutely. Unless of course the CBI tells us what they have found, but that seems a bit distant now.

Yeah, I'd suppose the natural first step would be for the IT guys to tell us what they have found, and if they can, nail down the question of which players, if any, have actually been found in possession of money beyond their known sources of income. IF that is established, then the logical next step would be to suspend those players, while the CBI finds out just where they got those monies from, and for why. So fine, let's call it a wrap for now...

Right... till next time, then...

Note to the readers: Conversations, such as the one above, are slated to become a regular feature on Rediff. No such exercise, however, would be complete without your participation.

Within a week, we will be incorporating a Discussion Group, wherein you can continue the discussion, add your thoughts, your voice, to ours. Until then, however, let's play it this way -- write in to Harsha and Prem with your views, and in a couple of days, we will upload them, as a sequel to the above conversation. And further -- if you think there are issues that need to be discussed, if you have questions that you believe need to be thought through and answered, write in and let us know -- your mails could be the agenda for future conversations. And yes -- tell us what you think of this feature, tell us what works and what doesn't, what changes you would like to see... Let's hear from you...

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