On the eve of India’s first ODI against Australia, Virat Kohli expressed his displeasure at the lack of clarity on the status of Rohit Sharma’s injury. The Indian skipper had every reason to be peeved that he wasn’t even informed about his limited-overs deputy not travelling with the team to Australia, and he made that abundantly clear in a video chat where he answered selected questions from the Indian and Australian media.
Interestingly, while the Indian team’s media manager read out all other questions along with the names of the journalists and publications they represented, queries pertaining to Rohit and Ishant Sharma, who has since been ruled out of the Test series, identified neither the questioner nor the media house. The media manager just said, “This question says...” That slice of intrigue, however, doesn’t take away the total mismanagement on the part of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, headed by Sourav Ganguly.
Players from across generations had reason to celebrate Ganguly taking charge as BCCI president, but the change in guard has hardly impacted the board’s operations. It remains opaque, indifferent and arrogant. The indictment of its functioning by the Indian captain was waiting to happen.
When Ganguly took the reins of the Indian team in 2000, he was barely four years into Test cricket and his leadership credentials were yet to be tested. Expectations were tinged with apprehension. The Indian team had been rocked by the match-fixing scandal and Ganguly had the unenviable task of restoring the game’s dignity as well as regain the trust of the fans. With some of the best cricketers to have adorned the cricket field beside him, the Kolkatan built a world-beating unit. His zest and aggressive demeanour on the field were rare but welcome in an Indian captain. He became the “dada” of Indian cricket in the real sense.
Almost 11 years after calling time on his career, when Ganguly assumed charge as the BCCI president, there were high hopes from him and his team. This time, there were no doubts about his ability to lead the Indian board out of troubled waters. A former player and captain of great standing, he had previously headed Cricket Association of Bengal after having worked as an understudy to late BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya. He knew Indian cricket like the back of his hand, and the BCCI, one thought, couldn’t have asked for a better man to help it regain its primacy in world cricket, eroded to a large extent in the post-N Srinivasan era. Thanks to the ICC’s first independent chairman Shashank Manohar’s strange and tough stance against the BCCI and the court-appointed Committee of Administrators’ go-slow approach, the Indian Board had been left isolated and humiliated in world cricket.
An influential, charismatic and strong character like Ganguly was just what BCCI needed at the time. Just over a year into office, stretching beyond his term of eight months after which he stood disqualified as per the constitution, the 46-year-old has left everyone disillusioned with the way he has gone about his job as the head of the most powerful cricket board. In his 13 months as the most visible BCCI boss, there has been no perceptible change in the board’s functioning.
Several state associations have been headed by former players before, but a player at the helm of the BCCI was, in a way, a watershed moment. In the spirit of the new constitution, one hoped, cricketers would get their due importance. Sadly, their demands and concerns haven’t been taken up, let alone addressed and met.
Among his first remarks since he took over as president in October 2019 was a commitment to ‘look after the financial health of our first-class cricketers’. Thirteen months on, nothing has changed. Due to the pandemic, half the domestic season has been be wiped out, yet there is no clarity on whether compensation packages are being worked out for men and women – that includes scorers, umpires and match referees -- many of whom depend on the sport as the sole source of sustenance and livelihood.
The Indian Cricketers’ Association, consisting of former men and women cricketers, took definitive shape in October last year. Apart from an initial funding of Rs 2 crore, they have been left in limbo. During lockdown, when several former players out of the ambit of BCCI’s pension and medical schemes were struggling, the ICA raised funds to help those who had either lost their jobs or had stopped receiving salaries from their work places, while the board embraced studied ignorance.
These are policy matters with Ganguly at the forefront, but what is more concerning is his own conduct as the president.
Ganguly’s tenure, along with that of secretary Jay Shah and treasurer Jayesh George, has technically already ended according to BCCI’s Supreme Court-approved constitution, but he is hanging on to his chair by pleading for a waiver of the cooling-off period. What it means is he is now seeking to change the same constitution because of which he became president in the first place. If there was no six-year cap on tenure, some of the previous office-bearers, both more experienced and accomplished, would have been in the running.
Ganguly faces more than one conflict of interest (CoI) allegation. He endorses a fantasy game app which encourages fans to pit their wares, and their money, against him in formalizing fantasy teams. In a world parallel to Ganguly’s, that’s called betting. What is more bizarre is that the app for which he is the brand ambassador is in direct competition with this year’s IPL title sponsor. Even given that the president’s job is an honorary one, there is something called propriety, a responsibility that comes with the post you hold. While you may argue CoI rules are impractical, you knew what you were getting into in the first place. Ganguly can live his life the way he pleases, so long as that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the president’s position. Conflict of interest, the courts have told us, is about perception; perceivably, Ganguly is in serious conflict.
Another instance of CoI Ganguly has nonchalantly brushed aside is his endorsement of JSW Cements. He and Sunil Chhetri, the Indian football captain, were roped in to promote the product this June by a company that partly owns Indian Premier League franchise Delhi Capitals. The president of the BCCI being directly associated in a non-tenuous way with a group that has massive interest in the IPL? Tut, tut.
Against this backdrop, it’s almost inconsequential to recall that prior to taking over as BCCI president, Ganguly was the mentor of the Capitals.
Rule No. 38 of the constitution deals in detail with Conflict of Interest. Under sub-rule (iii) Commercial Interest, it states: “When the individual enters into endorsement contracts or other professional engagements with third parties, the discharge of which could compromise individual’s primary obligation to the game or allow for a perception that the purity of the game stands compromised.”
Ganguly was at the forefront of restoring the game’s lost purity when he became Indian team’s captain. He had promised the same in his next significant innings, as the BCCI president. As on date, that’s been shown up as a shallow, empty promise. This is not the legacy Sourav Ganguly should want to leave behind.