Sampath Kumar, in his usual style, tried to bait me into an argument on ICL, Pakistan’s security-related isolation and other issues. I took the bait! I will try and address these here. These are just my opinions, of course.
On the banning of ICL players:
I do believe that the BCCI was partially right in seeking — and enforcing — a ban. The coming months will test the BCCI’s resolve totally in this regard, especially with the actions of the Sri Lanka Board to lift their ban on ICL-contracted players. But I do believe that the BCCI was partially right in seeking this ban. In saying this, I must say that I am approaching this purely from an academic perspective and am not being an apologist for the BCCI. I do not like the way they function (that being an operative word in this case and I would normally wash my mouth after using “function” and “BCCI” in the same breath!). I do believe that they need a big scare before they get their house in order on most things to do with cricket — and I do believe that they are getting just that.
I’d like to separate my argument along two modes (a) Players from India, (b) Players from other countries. I am clear that Indian players that are contracted with the BCCI ought to banned if they play in the ICL. The waters get a bit muddy when we deal with non-Indian players contracted by the ICL. I reiterate that mine is a non-legal opinion on this issue.
I do not often agree with the directions, approach and strategy of the BCCI. However, I do believe that the BCCI is right to seek exclusivity as the body that governs cricket in India. You can’t — just can’t — have two bodies that govern and run cricket in India. That doesn’t mean that the ICL is wrong to organise cricket — anyone can organise a game in their backyard or local park. It is a free world after all.
However, a player who is contracted to play in ICC-approved tournaments in individual countries cannot and should not be allowed to play in competitions that are organised by bodies other than the officially recognised representative body in that country.
Suddenly there is talk of restriction of trade practices? Well, I am not a legal expert and would need to read up on this material a bit before commenting with authority. However, I can’t imagine too many employers giving all of its employees free reign to work with its competitors! If you are contracted to a company — and all players in India have some form of contract with BCCI, the official governing body that is recognised by the ICC for organising and running cricket in India — then, I suspect your contract would say that you have to stick with that company and offer your services to that company.
As an employer, your contract would ask for exclusivity of your services to your employer in return for monetary and other considerations, so that your employer (in this case, the BCCI) can maximise — in a tightly governed manner — the deals that it can make with TV companies and marketing companies. Its contracts with its employees — its players, ground staff, coaches, et al — assure the organisation that it is able to satisfy the exclusivity clauses that would dominate such external contracts.
Indian Players are contracted to the BCCI to play in BCCI-approved tournaments — from Buchi Babu Trophy to Tests. So, the moment they play in a tournament that is not “approved”, they can be deemed to have reneged on their contract. That much is clear to me!
Why is this exclusivity important?
Let us imagine that the ICL is recognised by the ICC as a body that also runs and organises cricket in India. Apart from TV and marketing deals with sponsors which would fall through, is it not conceivable then, if we take the argument to its logical conclusion, that the ICL would put up an alternate “Team India” to the “Team India” that the BCCI put up? Which India will Australia (for example) face when it tours India? Will it ask the real ‘Team India’ to stand up every time it tours?
So the ICC should only recognise one governing body in each country. The fact that the market in India is large enough to allow for 3-4 bodies for organising cricket is, in my view, irrelevant.
Now whether or not the BCCI should have actively negotiated with the ICL in talks around when the ICL was being set-up is a different matter altogether.
And whether or not the BCCI is disorganised and bad is also a different matter.
My point is that there can only be one governing body for cricket in each country, just as there is only one governing body in each country that is a part of the International Olympic Association (or FIFA, etc).
So let us accept that there can only be one representative governing council in every country for any sport. Further, let us also accept that all employees of that governing council’s jurisdiction sign-up to the policies of that governing council (no performance enhancing drugs, fair play, will not play for an unauthorised body, etc) when they sign their employment contracts. Then, logically, all Indian-players should expect a BCCI-ban if they play in the ICL.
The waters get terribly murky when dealing with overseas ICL-contracted players — say Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or England.
The argument here is that the bleeding of talent from Bangladesh to the ICL would erode the talent-base in that country. And that is fair enough. The Bangladeshi cricketers took the opportunity for a quick pocket-fill before their careers crash and burn. However, if the ICL did not exist, the only way the Bangladeshi cricketers would have been able to do a pocket-fill would have been to be good enough to be playing in the IPL, the officially-recognised tournament.
Clearly, the BCCI has no contractual basis for stopping players contracted with the ECB, say, from playing in the ICL. Nor does the BCCI have an automatic right to seek the home Boards to impose a ban on ICL-players by using its financial muscle-power. The only way it can impose some implicit pressure is by banning players with ICL contracts from playing in one of BCCI’s own torunaments — like the IPL. And that, to me, is fair enough.
The BCCI should stop being negative about all things ICL. They should, instead, concentrate on making the IPL brand stronger than it is. And if that brand needs the protection of bans, then that is fine as long as it is all above-board and as long as it affords a “duty of care” that an employer has to afford its employees.
The ICL could and should exist, in my view! In a way, it is good that it exists. Why not? After all it keeps the BCCI honest. Moreover — and I say this without a tinge of either sarcasm or patronization in my tone — it provides safe passage to a few geriatrics and some not-so-good players to earn some moolah before they exit the game completely. Who would really care if some unheard of and long-since-retired Bangladeshi player plays in the ICL and makes some money before retiring? In my view, it is good that there exists this cash-grab opportunity for a few not-so-good players! Do we really care that a now-retired Mohammed Rafique, Manjural Islam, Mohammad Sharif and Tapash Baishya play in the ICL? With the successful launch of the IPL, the BCCI has shown that it can get its house in order — and that is the space and brand where most good players will be attracted to. It is worrying, however, that the ICL is hastening the retirements of players like Habibul Bashar, an attractive and dashing player. But them’s the breaks. One has got to live with the fact that, occasionally, a Bashar or a Rayudu may get lost to the rebel-league.
Incidentally, the ICL season kick-starts on October 2, a day after India take on Australia in the 1st Test. Clearly, the ICL has India’s cricket excellence top-most on its priority! Not!
However, in a bid to strengthen its own Flagship brands (IPL, Champions League, etc) it can and should rule that no ICL-contracted can play in any tournament that it organises. Clearly, all Indian ICL-contracted players cannot play in the IPL or Ranji Trophy or Buchi Babu or anything else. This has been extended to non-Indian ICL-contracted players too. And that is fair enough. After all, it is the BCCI that is organising the tournament.
Once you accept the above argument — that it is ok for the BCCI to ban any ICL-contracted player (Indian or overseas) from playing in BCCI-approved-and-run tournaments like the IPL — then, the argument can be extended to say that, any team that includes an ICL-contracted player will also be excluded from BCCI-run tournaments like the Champions Trophy. So, if for example, Durham or The Colombo Titans (hypothetically) includes ICL-contracted players, while the BCCI cannot demand that Durham or The Colombo Titans bans these players, it can say that these teams just cannot play in BCCI-approved tournaments. That is totally above-board, in my view.
That is the only way the BCCI can apply implicit pressure on Boards like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, etc. The ICC does not function in a manner that allows these rules to be formulated at the top! That is the unfortunate state of world cricket, in my view!
This is just the start of the debate. I jotted down some of my views and thoughts. Let the arguments begin!
On Australia’s bombing-hypocrisy:
Sampath Kumar’s point is that Pakistan is right in making claims that Australia has double standards. While Australia shunned Pakistan as a destination for the Champions Cup (or whatever that tournament was called) due to a worsening security situation in that country, Australia has decided to continue on with its tour of India despite recent bombings in India.
This is too much of a political hot-potato for me to comment on in depth. However, I’d like to think that the ability, the capacity and willingness to deal with such security threats is different in each country. Therefore, I’d like to believe that we are not dealing with a level playing field when comparing security risks! And to suggest that we have a level-playing-field is, in my view, nothing short of immature naivety. Any security and threat assessment should take into account the preparedness and capacity of the authorities on the ground to be able to deal with threats.
I hope I would not be accused of double standards for not rushing to my travel agent in a tearing hurry to book my next holiday in Dafur although I might book one in Bali — after all, both places have seen security troubles in the recent past! I’d like to believe my own assessment of the threat to my personal security might lead me to conclude that, just at this moment, Bali is a place that would offer me greater security than Dafur! No doubt, I will visit Dafur when my own assessment of the security-risk improves!