Sports lawyer Desh Sekhri reflects on IPL spot-fixing scandal

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  • The IPL has looked to move on from the 2013 scandal.

    Desh Gaurav Sekhri is better known for his frequent columns in national dailies like The Indian Express, Business Standard and Economic Times than for being one of the handful sports lawyers in India. Recently, he decided to improve his already impressive profile by authoring a non-fiction book ‘Not Out! – The Incredible Story of the Indian Premier League’.

    On the third anniversary of the IPL spot-fixing scandal, seized a chance to catch up with the man of the moment for an exclusive interview regarding the legal and administrative drama that enshrouds Indian cricket at this point in time.

    I don’t think the government should have direct control over regulating and governing cricket, but what the government should be allowed to do is to pass national laws which talk about the governing of the sports body as well as prevention of corruption – Sekhri

    The IPL in its ninth season continues to be as polarising as ever, do you believe there are ways to bring back the initial excitement that it enjoyed in 2008-09?

    I don’t think there is a way to address this issue immediately. This is going to be a long term revival process of the BCCI, in my opinion. I think there is a certain degree of monotony which has come within the format of the league. So many new T20 leagues around the world have led to a certain degree of saturation, and have also increased the vulnerability of players to injury.

    The quality of the IPL in terms of onfield performance has suffered, and to recover that will take a lot of effort. We’ll have to look at the measures to increase the parity. Also, we need to see that the fan base is engaged pretty much throughout the entire season. The third thing is setting up initiatives to build around throughout the year, for example, may be a league in tier 2 or tier 3 cities with the players who don’t make it to the playing XI in the IPL .

    The enthusiasm that has been lost may not be easily recoverable. However, I do think there are steps they can take, like for example if they change the format of the knockout and, involve all eight teams in a quarter-final kind of a setup – that is going to create excitement. But overall, it’s a very different environment now than it used to be in the initial years, especially because of the controversies and scandals that have added to the sliding of this format.

    With the amount of money being thrown around, what message do you think it sends to domestic cricketers who can now remain satisfied with franchises aiding their bank balance?

    I don’t think they look at it like that. The IPL is a shortcut from the shorter format of the game into the national team. If you have a really good season in the IPL, you have a very good chance to be considered for the ODI squad, and for T20 internationals. Also the IPL has changed the way players approach their careers, their batting and their bowling. So you have to focus on building technique, using performances to ensure a long-term stint in international squad. That’s the ultimate aim.

    It has been three years since the infamous IPL spot-fixing scandal, are there any positives to derive from the otherwise shameful events of 2013?

    I think there are. First of all, the workings of the BCCI and the IPL have come into the public domain. I think everybody now is well aware where the lapses are. Besides, the fact remains that the judiciary now has taken an active hands-on role with respect to the workings of the IPL. This saga has brought a lot of problems to the judiciary’s attention and now they are acting on it. While the implementation, which depends on the BCCI, is still going to be a problem, the positive is that one knows what’s wrong, and the next step is trying to fix what is broken.

    Four key moments in IPL scandal

    • 16 May '13: Three RR players arrested for spot-fixing
    • 8 Oct '13: SC orders commission of Mudgal probe panel
    • 22 Jan '15: SC raps the BCCI in its 130-page verdict
    • 14 Jul '15: Lodha panel suggests reforms

    If the Lodha Committee recommendations pertaining to curtailment of advertisement are implemented, BCCI’s revenue will suffer significantly. The secretary has also spoken of moving the IPL out of India, what are your thoughts on this?

    In the last few years, the actual action on the field has been reduced and peripheral aspects like sponsorship and advertisement have taken center stage. But I think that the strong restrictions on advertising rights may backfire because a large fraction of the revenue comes from advertisements, sponsorships and the likes. This is something that has to be looked into closely.

    Moving on to the part where the BCCI hinted at moving the IPL away from India, that, I think, is a big concern. Threatening to move the IPL away from home cannot augur well for the fans as well as the BCCI in the long run. From the BCCI’s perspective, they have had a smooth run for the last 30 or so years, and suddenly they face this big challenge of functioning under so many restrictions. We need to consider that if over-regulation occurs with respect to the IPL, it may lead to us losing India’s most viable source of sports-related revenue, perhaps permanently.

    The BCCI has stonewalled the reforms on various occasions. How long will the implementation of reforms take?

    That is exactly what the BCCI is trying to inform the court. Basically the BCCI has become larger – the parts are larger than the whole, because there are so many independent associations which have their own constitutional requirements. So even if the intent is there, implementation will take a significant amount of time and, unfortunately, the Supreme Court, is now so impatient with the lack of urgency on the BCCI’s part that it is not going to wait that long for the board to implement the reforms. I think the BCCI will try to find a middle ground where they implement some of the more pressing recommendations and then ask for time.

    As the one-state, one-vote policy continues to be debated, how do you feel about the BCCI’s reasons for opposing the recommendation?

    You can understand both sides’ arguments for this point actually. The Lodha Committee’s perspective is that specific organisations should not really have individual votes, and if they are to have a vote, it should be decided at the state-level and not board-level. On the other hand a lot of these associations have been there pretty much from the start of the BCCI as a construct.

    I think the one-state, one-vote policy is a good one, and it should be implemented over time. But it’s true that at the same time, there will be increased politics at the state level because never mind who that association is, there will be a lot of tussles to determine the state representatives.

    How do you feel about the possible return of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals? Does it have an impact on the credibility of the tournament?

    I think the BCCI should have taken a strong and concrete stand and terminated the two franchises. I don’t think the return of the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, and business as usual from 2018 onward will be a good sign for the integrity and the operation of the IPL. From a credibility standpoint, I feel that should not have been allowed. Having said that, there’s no doubt the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals indeed have a large fan base, and perhaps they could have been given a chance over time to apply for ownership of franchises in the IPL once the processes and integrity measures had been verified and enforced.

    Should the BCCI come under government jurisdiction?

    I don’t think the government should have direct control over regulating and governing cricket, but what the government should be allowed to do is to pass national laws which talk about the governing of the sports body as well as prevention of corruption.

    It’s been suggested the Indian Penal Code does not adequately cover all the unethical issues in sports. Is a central sports law that clearly demarcates probable cause of action, punishment for potential offenders and ensures uniformity across the country the way forward?

    Yes, a central sports law which is free of any restriction or restraint is needed. Or else, it will be very difficult to ensure uniformity, as we will see different states with independent laws. So yes, that is something which is critical for the survival of sports in India.

    BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur recently introduced the Sports Ethics Bill in the Lok Sabha. Isn’t it a little ironic that it is the BCCI leading the clean-up process?

    It is ironic in the sense that in the past, the BCCI has been the center of so much negative attention, especially regarding the IPL and everything associated with it. But at the same time, we have to look at the positives. At least someone is actually taking the onus of presenting a very strict sports law that if accepted and implemented will put a harsh penalty on the offenders – be it fixing matches, doping violations, or age manipulation.

    It is a very good measure, but at the same time, I think that it is a bill that needs to be looked at and drafted by a set of experts in the field – lawyers, administrators or former sports persons themselves. That way, we will get a holistic sports bill that will mandate which actions will not be allowed and the punishment for each.

    Do you think the intentions are genuine, or is it simply a stunt with enough loopholes to exploit in future?

    I think it’s somewhere in the middle – it’s a reactive as well as a proactive move by the BCCI to clean up a system that is clearly decaying. I think the intent for this is partly because they know that if they don’t do it, the judiciary will. Besides, they want to show they are progressive as a body; they want to bring the BCCI system up to speed.

    The implementation though is going to be a very difficult task because there will be resistance at every level. I think there are enough people in cricket administration who would not want reforms beyond what is the bare minimum required to avoid the judiciary’s wrath.

    Shashank Manohar resigned as the BCCI president amid the legal mess. Was he right to leave?

    Obviously he wanted to go for the ICC chairman’s post which now requires an independent candidate. Again, he said in a recent interview that his conscience didn’t allow him to continue, the reason being he disagrees with many of the the Lodha Committee’s recommendations.

    A bigger concern is who will be next, because if it’s somebody who is purely from a political background, then we are back to square one and the Board is really going to face strong opposition from the judiciary as well as the public.

    How will Manohar’s departure affect the BCCI’s approach? Do you see a change in attitude with a Rajeev Shukla or Anurag Thakur at the helm?

    In all likelihood, a politician is going to take over from Manohar, and that is the basic concern. Considering how the judiciary looks upon a politician being involved with the Board, I don’t feel it is ideal for cricket administration. I don’t feel that a politician should take up full-time cricket administration responsibilities, purely due to the lack of time as well as the conflict of interest that crops up. Having said that, someone like Anurag Thakur, who is actually a big part of the reform committee, will be the ideal person to follow Manohar because the vision will be the same then.

    Incidentally, Thakur is a member of the BJP – the same party that Sreesanth is representing in the Kerala assembly elections. What are your views on that?

    At the end of the day, this is bound to happen because the scope of association in politics is so wide. This is why it is important that politician, if they want to be in a sports administration role, they must first address the conflict that arises due to his dual role. Regardless of whether it is justifiable or not, this is something that is unavoidable.

    Where do you see the IPL going from here?

    I think it is a very interesting time for the IPL, which seems to be at a crossroad. Whether it can remain viable from a financial as well as administrative standpoint remains to be seen. Whether or not the Board survives, whether or not the IPL survives – those questions will only be answered in the days to come.