February 17, 2017

Why isolating the BCCI is bad politics

The dismantling of the Big Three regime offered the opportunity to forge a collaboration for a new global order in cricket, but that has gone to waste

The Indian television market brings in a huge chunk of the game's revenue and remains the BCCI's biggest bargaining chip © Getty Images

In the wake of the outrage against the Big Three takeover of the ICC in 2014, a sentence, or variations of it, came to be commonly used by the administrators of the ECB and Cricket Australia. Broadly, it went: "Better to have the BCCI in the tent, than having it pelt stones from outside." Apparently the BCCI was ready to walk out of the ICC if the revenue distribution model wasn't recast in its favour.

Three years later, it looks like the clock has been rewound: the BCCI has been left out of the tent, and prominent among those pushing the needle back are the ECB and CA, and they have been led by the ICC's first independent chairman, a prominent cricket administrator from India, who vacated the top job at the BCCI to take up the leadership of global cricket.

On the surface this appears to be a masterpiece in strategy and execution. The chief architect and guiding force behind the Big Three proposal, N Srinivasan, was removed long ago, and the BCCI leadership has since been flattened by the Supreme Court of India, leading to confusion and chaos. Many of the smaller national boards had been steamrolled into signing the earlier constitutional amendments, so with the ECB and CA on their side now, what better opportunity to isolate and corner the bully?

But is that really the case?

There is no doubt that the Big Three amendments needed to be overturned. The Asian nations had railed for years against the veto granted to the imperial powers (England and Australia), and yet the Indian cricket board joined forces with the ECB and CA to secure decisive control of the ICC. Much of the planning had been done in stealth, and more than the distribution model, which granted the BCCI over 20% of the ICC's revenues, and nifty hikes to the ECB and CA, it was the governance structure that really stank.

It mandated that the chairmanship of the ICC would rotate between the Big Three for the next three terms, and it gave permanent memberships to these three boards on the two most powerful committees of the ICC. At its most benevolent, the message to the rest of the boards was this: it's for your own good that we will rule you.

How could it possibly be wrong to pay the BCCI back in its own coin?

As ICC chairman, Manohar chose to exclude the BCCI from the committee formed to revise the financial model, while co-opting members of the ECB and the CA. Is any significant global trade negotiation conceivable without the US at the table?

Let's get the simple question of propriety out of the way first. Paying someone back in their own coin is the rule of the streets and of high schools. The ICC has forever been a beehive of intrigue and deal-making, but transparency and good governance have been buzzwords in recent months, and the secrecy behind the revamping of the revenue redistribution and the haste in trying to get it approved have smacked of the same kind of opportunism and scheming that was a feature of the Big Three heist. It is incredible that Giles Clarke, a leading light of the Big Three proposal as the ECB president at the time, and a vocal defender of it in subsequent months, should also be part of the working group tasked with its unmaking.

That aside, this bit of manoeuvring contains multiple thorns. For a start, it takes world cricket politics squarely back to the pre-2014 era, with the BCCI outside the tent, growling and waiting for its turn to strike. It is bad in principle to have a disgruntled member in a small society, but if that member turns out be the one holding the purse strings, you're asking for trouble.

Just as there is no exact science with which to determine which country contributes how much to the ICC's central revenue, there cannot be an exact formula for distribution of revenue. There seems to a consensus that the BCCI, cricket's largest economy by a distance, ought to receive the largest share.

What that share should be is a matter of perspective. There is a view, which I share, that the wealth should be shared more equitably so that nations disadvantaged by the size of their fan base or economic conditions are able to sustain a certain level in the game, since the global game isn't sustainable with only three or four major players.

The other view, which finds wide resonance in India, is that a 20% share for the BCCI is hardly unreasonable, given that it contributes nearly four times more to the global cricket economy than any other country, and it has to support an infrastructure many times the size of any other, given the geographical vastness and the population of the country.

It's an argument that can be settled only through negotiation.

What can global cricket achieve by alienating its largest stakeholder? © Getty Images

There was indeed an opportunity for engagement. Under Manohar's brief presidency, the BCCI itself had agreed to a reduction of its share, with only one dissenting voice. But as ICC chairman, Manohar chose to exclude the BCCI from the committee formed to revise the financial model, while co-opting members of the ECB and the CA. Is any significant global trade negotiation conceivable without the US at the table?

And do the rest now expect the BCCI, or even the court-appointed committee of administrators, to simply accept a figure that has been arrived at in good faith? Of course, international cricket survives on inter-dependency, and the IPL could never have reached the heights it has without the participation of global stars, but just as Indian cricket cannot flourish in isolation, cricket's global revenues will simply collapse without India's participation.

Over the last couple of weeks I have spoken to several senior officials of the ICC's global broadcaster and there is unanimity over the assessment that the Indian market alone contributes nearly 70% of the value of the rights; if you include the various Indian diasporas, that figure is in the region of 80%. India's withdrawal from the Champions Trophy is unthinkable, and the consequences will be disastrous for all concerned, but the Members Participation Agreement, signed in 2014, does give them the right to do so, and the broadcast agreement does allow the broadcasters to pull out in such an eventuality.

The point is not whether this will happen; the question is about the soundness of the strategy to marginalise and isolate the game's largest stakeholder (it's a word cricket's administrators are increasingly fond of) from the decision-making process and paint it into such a corner that it will lay in wait for the opportunity to extract vengeance.

Already, there is nervousness among cricket boards over the matter of bilateral tours with India, the most reliable source of income for many boards, and by April, when the next ICC board meeting is due, it is likely that the voting equation will have altered.

The pity is that this was avoidable. There was the opportunity, and the environment, to forge a collaboration for a new global order in cricket. The BCCI has never been the most loved organisation either at home or abroad, but a transformation is under way. To launch a strike against it at a moment of weakness is, above everything else, bad politics.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Mani Subbu on February 25, 2017, 13:55 GMT

    I don't think any one country should be allowed to vest control of Cricket, if the game has to develop globally the ICC has to be more democratic. After all in the end it is no fun that a game which is played seriously in only 10 countries cannot be developed because of the dictatorship of a few countries. It is India's loss if we boycott leading tournaments, the tournaments will go on but Indian cricket will go down with the lack of international exposure. We have to remember England, Australia and West Indies played a great role for our development by grating tours when India was not so good, whereas it is only now that we have granted a test to Bangladesh in India.

  • Bala on February 24, 2017, 19:57 GMT

    @VBhattacharya: There seems to be a basic misunderstanding regarding the 'portion contributed by India' (70 or 80%). First of all, this is NOT money paid by the BCCI or by Indians. This is the perceived change in value of TV contracts and ticket sales for ICC events if India were to not participate. Part of the reason is because Indian TV companies are among those bidding for rights. The other aspect is the size of the audience and potential advertising revenue. That is why Sambit says calculating it is an inexact science. If India did not participate in the Champions Trophy, by how much will the viewership go down? Significantly, no doubt, but it will not go down to zero. Will this affect viewership in other countries? Maybe, and then again maybe not. There will be fewer Indian sponsors at the ground. But will ticket sales go down? Hard to say.

  • Bala on February 24, 2017, 19:48 GMT

    The discussion on distribution of funding only pertains to ICC common funds. These are the funds raised by the conduct of ICC tournaments and the sale of television/radio/internet rights to ICC events. Most boards (including the BCCI) earn the bulk of their revenue from hosting domestic series (bilateral/multilateral) and selling the rights surrounding these. No board is soleley dependent on the oney that comes from the ICC, though in some cases it is the difference between staying in the black and sinking in the red. For this reason, I feel that every Full Member should receive the same amount of money from the ICC. Similarly, every Associate Member should receive equal funds from the ICC. The amount paid to Full Members would need to be larger than that for Associates. For example, dividing ICC money in half, one half is divided equally among Full Members, and the other half among Associates. That might be the fairest way to do it.

  • Itty on February 22, 2017, 17:48 GMT

    Reading the comments, it strikes me that we are a community of fans divided by a game. Clearly, all sides of this argument have a point, and the only rational and fair way out is to negotiate. As an Indian fan, I am keeping my fingers crossed at the prospect of the BCCI being cleansed. The process is underway with the Supreme Court unrelenting. That done, I think India should negotiate fairly, and in the interest of the global game. If the current skullduggery persists at the ICC, it might be time to seriously build an alternative. Like Packer, I would advocate that the new and clean BCCI create an organization to set up an IPL like format for test cricket. This might actually afford an opportunity for Irish and Afghan players to play at the highest level, and eventually grow Test Cricket. If the India haters want to stay within their ICC, let them do so -- but good luck keeping your best players away from the best cricket and the big money!

  • Damodar on February 22, 2017, 7:33 GMT

    TBCPak on February 22, 2017, 4:38 GMT: Can you explain how Indian cricket would suffer? What about the other boards and ICC officials who have got used to the revenue flow due to India?

  • tariq on February 22, 2017, 4:38 GMT

    Yes agree with LILLEE4PM@, Without India cricket would suffer but opting out of ICC India's loss will be huge. Even IPL may not remain attractive

  • Thomas on February 21, 2017, 3:08 GMT

    If we all locked India outside the tent, then who would they play against and where would their revenue come from? The rest of us would get along just fine and all India would have is their cheesy IPL. Long live the Ashes!

  • jayaesh on February 19, 2017, 19:30 GMT

    @MOZCRIC: We can't draw parallels with Football by bringing how Fifa distributes money because Football is primarily based and driven by Leagues and clubs unlike Cricket which is widely based on Nation v/s Nation contests, TV rights of a Football league like EPL for a 3 year period is 8.5 Billion Dollars many times higher than what Fifa gets for staging WC, BTW EPL is just one league and there are others like La Liga,Serie A,Bundesliga and hundreds more . Another major difference is that Fifa WC enjoys a TV audience that is spread across evenly across the globe and Brazil,Italy,Germany fans certainly don't make up 80 % ( infact barely 10 %) of the audience like Indian fans do for ICC events . Football is a global game because it is very simple to follow and is inexpensive, kids love it, Clubs like Man United,Real Madrid ,Barcelona are brand names which attracts lots of of prospective fans in a way which is not possible with Cricket as clubs are easier to relate and identify with .

  • Venkatesh Bhattacharya on February 19, 2017, 18:23 GMT

    @CRICFAN74822000 - You're mistaken. It's not about trying to protect BCCI. Most never liked BCCI for various reasons. But, you've got to give it to them that it's because of BCCI that the game grew so much in India. It was nowhere around the 1975 world cup as compared to Hockey. It also generated revenue for the ICC. In turn, ICC toed its line just to make money. Now, some member nations find the BCCI weakened due to the interim panel and are trying to take advantage of the situation. Make hay while the sun is shining they said (and they did). All those who're taking undue advantage should understand that the same could happen to them. What I don't get is - How is is that BCCI is expected to give 80% to world cricket and cannot expect 20% of the revenues? Do note that BCCI is helping out countries like Afghanistan and Nepal, which, in fact, should be the primary responsibility of the ICC. How many countries did ECB help?

  • kenned2901317 on February 19, 2017, 17:58 GMT

    I cannot believe Indian cricket fans somehow see this as a 'patriotic duty' to defend their board, the BCCI. I'm a English cricketing fan and I hate my board (ECB)!

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