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Lodha gives cricket cause for hope

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IPL_verdict_Justice_Lodha_CSK_RR_banThat the actions of just a few individuals can lead to the suspension, and possibly the termination or even collapse, of two entire IPL teams supported by millions of people is a sharp example of why sporting corruption is so unpleasant. It is also why Justice Lodha’s ruling that suspends the owners of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals for two IPL seasons is not a cause for celebration or for joy. It is, however, a cause for hope. Hope that cricket administrators can be held to account. Hope that those who do harm to cricket and its fans can be punished. Hope that the future can be brighter than the past.

The order of the Justice Lodha Committee is harsh on the fans of CSK and RR, but don’t blame the judiciary for that; blame Gurunath Meiyappan, blame Raj Kundra, blame the infrastructure that let it happen, and be pleased that those responsible are being punished and made an example of. Indeed, cricket owes a lot not only to Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha and his panel, but to Justice Mukul Mudgal and his panel, who headed the first judicial investigation into corruption in the IPL, and also to Aditya Verma, Secretary of the Cricket Association of Bihar, who filed the initial petition with the Supreme Court of India that set these pieces in motion.

Where the order could be perhaps too harsh is that the suspension, according to lawyers who have examined the details, could extend beyond merely the owners, India Cements Ltd and Jaipur IPL Cricket Limited, to the teams themselves, CSK and RR. Regardless of ownership, argue some lawyers, there is no way that CSK and RR can appear in the IPL for the next two seasons. Despite the owners being those who committed the wrongdoing it is the entire teams, their players, fans, brands and entire entities that are being punished. Given that the teams, by consequence of the action of their owners, have breached IPL operational rules, IPL regulations, the IPL anti-corruption code, the IPL code of conduct, and crucially, the franchisee agreements, this is in accordance with the rules. But given that such breaches were made by just a fraction of what encompasses CSK and RR, it would be tough on the many innocent parties if this was to be the case.

But too tough is certainly better than too feeble. Cricket will never rid itself of corruption if those who are guilty of wrongdoing are not punished, and this order certainly punishes those who are guilty. The sad thing is that many who are entirely innocent will be punished too, but it is the nature of private ownership that people who are blameless can suffer from the wrong-doing of a few. This is the price cricket fans must pay if their sport is to rid itself of corruption.

 

The price that the BCCI and the IPL Governing Council will pay is more tangible. The brand value of the league will be affected, the brand value of the two teams and perhaps the other six will too. Broadcasting and sponsorship deals were signed on the premise of a 60-match IPL, and now that is far from certain with just six teams set to participate. The BCCI have already postponed the concept of a Mini-IPL which was suggested to replace the Champions League T20. The Justice Lodha Committee has hit the BCCI where it hurts: the bottom line.

While it is impossible not to feel sympathy for the fans of CSK, RR, the IPL and cricket more broadly, the same cannot be said of those at the BCCI and the IPL. Or in fact, of cricket administrators around the world, all of whom have run cricket, a sport that means so much to so many people, as a product to be monetised and commodified at every turn. In this particular case, the BCCI’s arrogance engendered at first denial of the problem and then a steadfast refusal to deal with it internally. Rather appropriately, they are to blame for the situation they now find themselves in.

The Lodha ruling therefore serves as a reminder to those who run the sport that they have a responsibility to protect the game. A responsibility to its millions of fans.

And that's where the hope comes in. Because now, like never before, those administrators (at the BCCI at least) are being held to account, and are being held to account by the courts.

The origins of this Lodha Committee order lie in Article 226 of the Constitution of India, and a decision made by the Supreme Court of India on January 22nd this year at the culmination of Justice Mudgal’s investigation. In selecting Indian teams, the BCCI was, the court argued in light of Mudgal’s report, controlling the activities of players and others like match officials, scorers and administrators, performing public functions and was therefore open to judicial scrutiny. Any violation made it open to litigation under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. Essentially, with this order the Supreme Court of India took custody of cricket in India by ensuring its governing body would not remain unregulated. It wasn’t really until now, six months later, that the weight of the ruling has become apparent.

In fact, what could well be the more significant, albeit perhaps less dramatic, of Justice Lodha’s duties is still to come: the Supreme Court also appointed his Committee to table recommendations as to the restructuring of the BCCI itself.

In the wake of the ruling this week, confusion and chaos reigns: fans fear for the future of their teams while almost 50 players and numerous coaches and backroom staff have little idea as to their own. But beneath the red mist there is light and there is hope. For too long cricket has been run from the shadows, not for the fans but for the governors. Now the tide, it seems, is finally turning.

 

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Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist @fwildecricket....

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