The Supreme Court in India is saving cricket from the politicians there

Dear Editor,

The Indian Supreme Court is saving cricket from the politicians in India who have corrupted the game, according to the public at large and sports fans I spoke with there. In the West Indies, fans say cricket needs the politicians to save the game from incompetent managers and selectors who are ruining it.

The West Indies cricket team has performed poorly again through the first innings of the second Test in Melbourne. (The game may well have been over within three days had Australia enforced the follow on.) This will lead to greater clamour from fans for the dissolution of the West Indies Cricket Board.

The rot in the WICB is deep and institutionalized. The board must go, according to public opinion. In the West Indies, there is not much direct political involvement of the management of cricket, which is in sharp contrast to India where the people want to end political involvement in cricket and for it to be managed by professional players. The West Indies management has let down the team leading to political intervention by a Caricom-appointed prime ministerial committee which has called for the dissolution of the board.

In India, the Supreme Court, through the intervention of public interest litigants who approached the court, suspended the management of the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) two years ago because of allegations of corruption and gambling. The court appointed Sunil Gavaskar for an interim period to oversee the management of BCCI and to clean up the game. The court also appointed an independent committee to study and propose solutions on how to clean up Indian cricket. Indian media reports say the Indian Supreme Court will receive its required report on January 4 when next the matter will be heard again. The reports say the commission will recommend a ban on or a limit to the involvement of politicians in the game of cricket; this may be impossible since politicians (governments) pump tens of millions of dollars a year into stadiums and infrastructure to accommodate cricket. The report will recommend that former cricketers manage the game and that current cricketers be given a voice on how cricket is managed. The latter is what cricketers in the West Indian region have been demanding in addition to a greater share of revenues.

West Indies has not been doing well financially; the management complains it is near bankruptcy and owes India some US$42M which the board will never be able to repay. This is in sharp contrast with India’s cricket board which is the wealthiest in the world, thanks to political intervention and as such it may be counterproductive to exclude politicians from management. Media reports say the BCCI collects some US$125M in revenues a year for broadcast rights and sponsorships and tens of millions more in gate receipts. This is a far cry from two decades ago when it hardly collected one tenth of that amount. Whereas in the not so distant past, professional cricketers from around the world went to England or Australia to earn a decent income, in recent years they (English and Aussies as well) have been coming to India where they can earn up to US$1 a million a year for a six week stint of professional cricket. Without an Indian stint, many West Indian players would be paupers; some also play 20/20 in other countries adding to their income.

There are lessons to learn from India to transform cricket in the West Indies. The board will remain poor and its finances will not improve unless it is disbanded. Since there can be no court intervention as in India, greater public attention and political power is needed to clean up the inept management. Political pressure is the only resort available to dissolve the board. There should be an interim committee of former professional players to manage the game as has been done in India, after the Indian board refused to change the way it managed the game. Whatever action is taken on the board, it must be with the interest of cricket in mind.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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