Supreme Court, BCCI & Cricketing Casino

By Prabhakar Timble
15 April 2014 18:47 IST

The Supreme Court installed the 64 year old batting legend Sunil Gavaskar as the interim head of India's troubled cricket board (BCCI) after forcing the scandal-tainted incumbent N Srinivasan to stay away from IPL 2014 till the final determination into the allegations. To quote from the interim order “The IPL 2014 is, however, scheduled to commence on 16th April, 2014 and we have to pass interim orders to ensure that all those who love cricket continue to watch cricket in IPL 2014”.

If the Supreme Court extends the same logic to its interim orders banning economic activities which adversely affect life and livelihood of people, it would be providing better opportunities to people and the economy as opposed to watching cricket which stands infested with corruption, profits and profiteering. Supreme Court needs to come to the rescue of other priority and productive areas rather than the sport which is reduced to impure business and ugly entertainment.

The organizational model and business operations style have made IPL into a “cricketing casino”. It is not clear as to how a mere appointment of a former batsman and present cricket commentator and critic could make a difference to illegal betting, match-fixing and spot-fitting if the same discotheque is going to be conducted without any change in the mode.  Just by placing Sunil Gavaskar as in-charge of the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League, the glory of cricket as a sport cannot be restored. IPL has to be accepted as a model of commerce with its revenue advantages and sins. Gambling, fixing and trading are a part of such sport extravaganza. It’s a complete package which comes along with the totally privatized cricket tournament beamed all across the globe with advertisements to support every ball, each stroke and all highlights. Corporates and the gambling market decides the winners and losers as masses stay glued to the TV sets watching each ball, every stroke, all runs and every missed catch or opportunity of run out.

Without guarantees, systems and transparent procedures, the Supreme Court ought not to have taken the responsibility of running the excessively commercialized IPL through its appointee. Such an interim order is synonymous to the Supreme Court performing an executive function through its official appointment.

BCCI as state & public authority

A perusal of the case-law indicates that the judiciary does not consider such sports federations as a “State” under Article 12 of the Constitution. BCCI is private and autonomous body and a writ is not maintainable. At the same time, it is also outside the purview of the Right to Information Act as not being a “public authority”. With media and advertising, it is entirely privatized and managed by corporate capital.

At the same time, there is a strong view that BCCI should be brought under Article 12 to make it amenable under writ jurisdiction. Though private in nature, it performs public functions in terms of selection of players to represent the country. It is a non-state actor regulating cricket at all levels. In reality, it has a state-like identity and monopoly power over the game in terms of fixation of rules of the game, selection and dropping of players, approving and terminating franchises. BCCI enjoys tax exemptions and is provided with stadiums at cheaper rates.

Cricket started as an elite game and was the preserve of affluent, the bold and the beautiful.  Today, it creates a mass passion with the man on the street identifying with the game and the country. The rage of cricket has not allowed the buds of many other games to flower. An India-Pakistan cricket match will make even those who do not have a roof above their head to forget their worries. Like Uma Bharati considers Baba Ramdev’s yoga and ayurvedic products as spiritualism and nationalism, there are many who relate cricket fever as a barometer of nationalism.

Cricket federations and boards work style shows no accountability to players and the public. With Indian Premier League (IPL), the foundation of cricket has become commerce and whether it is players or advertisers or fans or the boards, all are reduced to consumers. A one-day twenty over match is a Bollywood movie with song, item numbers, and moments of sadness, suspense and ecstasy.

Why the overreach

There is no dispute on the issue that the Supreme Court can strike down any action of the BCCI in contravention of any existing law. However, maintaining that BCCI does not come under the ambit of “state” under Article 12 and within “public authority” as defined under Right to Information Act, the exercise of the power to remove a person enjoying the confidence of the Board for whatever good or bad reasons is an instance of judiciary exceeding the limits.

The Supreme Court is well within its powers to hit at actions rather than removing an official occupying the chair as per the norms enunciated under the constitution of the BCCI. The Supreme Court can remove the person if the Board has violated its own constitution or any other law in electing such a person. However, this does not happen to be the case in respect of N. Srinivasan, though it is true that the BCCI is suffering from the malaise of corruption and profiteering.

For a while, granting that the Courts have the jurisdiction to temporarily unseat a person in office to pave the way for fair and just inquiry, it would be preposterous to assume that the Courts can abrogate the right to appoint persons on such offices. Courts are well within their powers to appoint amicus curie or any persons to report before the judges for the judicial officers to arrive at reasoned decisions based on facts.

This cannot be construed as giving powers to judges to appoint people to run institutions. Courts cannot and should not pick and choose persons as is done with BCCI. Sunil Gavaskar is not even a member of the BCCI board and as per the constitution of the board a non-member cannot be an office-bearer. If such an appointment was done by the government in its executive authority, the courts would have struck down the same as violating the BCCI constitution and its autonomy. That the Supreme Court has made such an appointment does not make it less arbitrary. Supreme Court is a creature of constitutional law and cannot function like erstwhile emperors who used to dispense justice based on divine theory of law.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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