6 JANAURY 2016
Bridging cricket’s credibility deficit
The committee headed by former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha has not disappointed cricket fans who favour a thorough overhaul of cricket administration in the country. Under intense judicial scrutiny ever since the betting scandal hit the Indian Premier League in 2013, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been seen by many as a cosy club of individuals who treat the various regional units as part of their personal fiefdom. The BCCI suffered from a serious credibility deficit as cricket-lovers were convinced that the businessmen and politicians who run the cash-rich body in an opaque manner were not working entirely in the game’s interest. The Supreme Court appointed the Lodha committee last year to suggest ways to rid cricket administration of its many obvious ills, such as lack of transparency and accountability. The panel has mooted sweeping reforms in the board’s structure and functioning. The proposed measures could radically alter the way the BCCI functions as well as vastly improve its public image and impart much-needed credibility: restricted tenures, bar on holding more than one office at a time, limits on terms, cooling-off periods between the holding of one office and another, and steps to prevent the sort of conflict of interest that was brazenly in view for many years. One significant suggestion is that government servants and ministers be kept out of cricket administration. Even if the political class as a whole is not barred, it will at least prevent influential politicians in government eyeing the spoils of office in cricket administration.
The report has two major suggestions related to public policy. One is the radical idea of legalising betting in cricket. Betting cast a dark shadow on the IPL and led to two franchises being suspended. Many will welcome such legalisation as that will bring in an element of regulation and monitoring. Its implementation, however, will hinge on suitable local legislation across the country. The BCCI will have to ensure strict adherence to the condition that players, managers, officials or anyone associated with cricket are not allowed to participate in betting. Another idea is that the BCCI — which the Supreme Court held last year to be a body discharging a public function — be brought under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. It does sound attractive. However, it will both require legislative change and a balancing rule that unnecessary queries are not directed towards decisions made by captains and selectors of the national and domestic teams. It is not difficult to guess that the BCCI would prefer the report to be non-binding and that it would contest some of the recommendations before the Supreme Court. A restructured cricket board and an equitable system of voting by and in all its affiliated units will surely be in the game’s interest. What ultimately matters is that cricket should not suffer because of whimsical individuals holding on to key posts in the administration and working to cover up instead of preventing unsavoury developments.
A dangerous escalation
The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an influential Shia cleric, by Saudi Arabia has expectedly led to a flare-up of sectarian passions in West Asia. Sheikh Nimr was the most prominent religious leader of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, which has long been subjected to institutionalised segregation by the Sunni monarchy of the al-Saud family. He was the driving force behind the 2011 protests in the country’s east, inspired by Arab Spring protests elsewhere. Moreover, Sheikh Nimr was a respected cleric among the Shia community in general. He had spent years in Iran’s Shia seminaries. Tehran had repeatedly asked Riyadh to pardon him. By executing him, ignoring all those pleas, Saudi Arabia has dangerously escalated its rivalry with Iran. Within days, the stand-off has snowballed into a full-blown diplomatic crisis with sectarian overtones. Saudi missions in Tehran and Mashhad were ransacked by protesters. In return, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan have cut diplomatic relations with Iran, while the United Arab Emirates has downgraded ties.
West Asia is already witnessing sectarian conflicts. Iraq, which is torn apart on sectarian lines, is taking baby steps under the new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to rebuild national unity. The country witnessed a bloody phase of sectarian strife in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion. Parts of the country, including the second largest city, Mosul, are still under the control of Islamic State, which is carrying out a systematic campaign against non-Sunni religious groups. In Yemen, the Shia Houthi rebels are fighting forces loyal to a Saudi-protected government led by Sunnis. In Bahrain, the wounds of a Shia rebellion which was crushed by a Sunni monarch with the help of the Saudis are still not healed. By executing Sheikh Nimr, Riyadh has poured oil into this sectarian fire, for which the region will have to pay a huge price. For decades, one of the main sources of instability in West Asia has been the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Though the ultimate goal of both nations has been regional supremacy, they use sectarianism as a vehicle to maximise their interests. While Riyadh has the support of Sunni monarchs and dictators in the Arab world, Iran is aligned with Iraq and Syria, besides its proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. This sets the stage for a dangerous Shia-Sunni conflict across the region. Unless tensions are dialled down between these two heavyweights, there will not be peace in West Asia. Both the U.S. and Russia, allies of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, have called for calm. Moscow has reportedly offered to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran. The U.S. and Russia should use their influence to rein in further escalation of tensions. Unchecked, the Saudi-Iran rivalry could plunge the region, already torn apart by invasions, civil wars and terrorism, into further chaos.