Peacocks weren’t the only ones strutting the Supreme Court lawn that day. In front of a crowd of cameras, proud petitioners and their lawyers weaved words like ‘historic’ and ‘monumental’ into sentences that would end with ‘this is the beginning of an era in Indian cricket’.
July 18, 2016 was the much-anticipated Judgment Day. It was nearly three years after the IPL spot fixing case reached the Supreme Court. The country’s highest judiciary had issued its final order approving sweeping changes recommended by Committee of the Judiciary RM Lodha to the BCCI constitution. It had all the trappings needed for the men in black robes to give it the halo of “landmark lordship”.
The arrangement was the result of an extensive design process and a drawn-out, epic courtroom drama. Several Chief Justices, part of rotating benches, had heard arguments from “Rs 25 lakh per hearing” rock star lawyers. The Attorney General also appeared in the case where the BCCI had reportedly spent Rs 350 crore on legal fees.
The best legal minds in the country had been working towards what appeared to be a permanent closure. There was a sense of relief among the cricket reporters covering the day’s court hearings. More used to working in the din of sprawling cricket stadiums, the crowded corner of the court’s visitors’ gallery was too restrictive. The setting was way too formal.
There were other annoyances from the “outsiders” who made a habit of rushing into the SC. Why can’t they put their Dictaphone on the judges’ table, like they did in the post-game press conferences? The legal Beat regulars would roll their eyes. They would teach the newbies to stretch their necks, place their ears strategically, and take notes diligently. This came with a warning of the dire consequences of misquoting their lordships.
But the hope that cricket matches would henceforth only take place in stadiums turned out to be wishful thinking. July 18, 2016 did not live up to its promise in many ways.
The BCCI would pick clauses from the new SC-approved constitution and return to court to plead for a rewrite of the rewrite. It has been six years since the SC regulation has not been fully implemented. Sports reporters’ court visits have not stopped; they have become more regular.
To the dismay of those who have pledged to make the sports arenas their workplace, even the national bodies for the Olympics, soccer, hockey and a few others are now on trial. The classic playbook for athletic body reform is back. As with cricket, the Committee of Administrators (CoA), hand-picked by the SC, is responsible for all major sports in the country.
Not surprisingly, the veteran administrators kicked and shouted, some trying their best to call proxies in charge. The fuss has been ugly, it has had ugly consequences – threats of international bans and administrative insecurity. None of these national federations is a shining example of sporting leadership. They were the fiefs of a handful. But what about the courts’ track record of handling these situations? Do your intentions fit into implementation?
In a court of law, a precedent is an important tool to establish justice. It is a doctrine, a binding principle of jurisprudence that ensures consistency and fairness. Post 2016, the changes cricket has undergone may provide clues as to the fate that awaits football and others. But the results aren’t too encouraging for those wanting to witness a ‘new era’ in football. Although the BCCI has been under judicial scrutiny the longest, it continues to be governed as it was. The original SC order from 2016 was not implemented either in letter or in spirit.
Cricket’s constitutional ambiguity persists as BCCI pleading, which points to practical difficulties in implementing the Lodha reforms, is still pending. They have objected to the ‘cooling off’ clause, which has resulted in President Sourav Ganguly and Secretary Jay Shah remaining in office despite their ending terms. The power clique has continued to shrink and the promised player empowerment has remained in the legal documents. The cricket case generates cynicism and questions the purpose of the time-consuming, expensive exercise.
In a way, football renewal follows the cricket template. The courts and the bodies they appoint have absolute confidence in the credibility of ex-players. They firmly believe that allowing ex-players into the system would ensure good governance.
The CoA, which is responsible for football, believes that the 50 percent of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) executive committee should include “outstanding players” as co-opted members. Ironically, around the time India reserved players’ seats on the executive branch, celebrated French footballer Michel Platini was jailed for a financial fraud he committed as FIFA vice-president.
When the CoA left the BCCI, Ganguly, the charismatic former Indian captain, became president. The visuals were superb, the courts had wrested powers from the fuddy-silly administrators and put a seasoned cricketer leader on the field. Ganguly’s stay at the Cricket Center was far from brilliant. As BCCI President, he has continued his commercial associations, which have repeatedly raised questions about conflicts of interest. Even his very public row with India’s No. 1 cricketer Virat Kohli did not give the impression that the house was in order and only the players understood the players. It is an open secret in cricket circles that Secretary Shah holds the real power in the BCCI.
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Despite their aura as national stars and the pressure from the pitches, the players could not assert themselves. They remain vulnerable to temptation and lack the conviction to take on the old guard. In short, they remain human. Perhaps football will be a different story, the courts may have learned their lesson.
Sports reporters will continue to drag their feet to the pitch, crane their necks and take diligent notes until the end of the game. From the corner of the courts they will observe whether the courts can only crack the whip or even cats can ring the bell this time.