I am writing this a few weeks after I watched an ODI game at the Wankhede Stadium between India and England.
In the months and weeks preceding the game, I had had many arguments with fellow cricket tragics in Mumbai about facilities in some of the new stadia in India and about how the game’s administrators in India, the BCCI, treat the game’s key stakeholder: the fans.
The BCCI has been in an immensely fortunate position since the early 1990s: Fortunate because it suddenly discovered that it had a significant and substantially large fan base; Fortunate because these fans collectively delivered the BCCI a significant power base in World cricket. Through the suddenly discovered fans, BCCI discovered TV licensing rights. It discovered money.
I say ‘discovered’ rather than using a term more definite, concerted, understood and coordinated because, in my view, much of what the BCCI does appears to be serendipitous. The BCCI gives me the impression of an organisation that is continually in search for a needle in a haystack but continues to find the farmer’s daughter there instead!
The BCCI has not been accused so far of having a coordinated and well articulated strategy for exploiting the distinct advantage it has — a large, devoted and unshakable fan base. Nor is it in any danger of being accused of having a strategy to develop or grow its fan base. The fan base just exists. And fortunately for the BCCI, today, this fan base is still growing.
One can condone BCCI not taking care of its fans if it shows leadership in other spheres — particularly at the head table of the ICC. On balance, I would not say that it does. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rather haphazard, seemingly disorganized and somewhat myopic thinking by the BCCI. The organisation’s stance on the “whereabouts clause” in the WADA dope testing regime is one of them. Another example of leadership — albeit somewhat ineffective for a while — was BCCI’s stand on the DRS. The BCCI was not at the head-table providing opinion and thought leadership. Instead it had its office bearers mumbling their way through immature explanations and ill-thought out rationalizations. BCCI’s paid commentators said that the rest of the world was against India because of “envy”! There was no one from the BCCI putting out a cogent and articulate argument against the DRS. Once again, the thought leadership was absent on this issue — an issue on which BCCI, perhaps, had a legitimate objection. Perhaps the BCCI didn’t know how to construct a cogent argument. Perhaps the BCCI could not be bothered. Perhaps the BCCI lacked the wherewithal to make a convincing argument.
Today, the BCCI is a powerful organisation. It is a monopsony (thanks to @sumants for this reference). It operates in a market condition in which goods or services or talent are offered by several sellers (players with skills) but there is only one buyer for these skills. When ICL came into the picture, BCCI was able to move the ICC to not provide the ICL with a license to operate. This is a powerful position to operate from. It is also a position that ought to force the monopsonist to act with utmost care and phenomenal responsibility.
The bar must be significantly high.
It is not BCCI’s fault they are the largest and most powerful member of the structurally inefficient ICC family! But neither is it, in my view, to their credit that they are the largest and most powerful! You and I have delivered this power to the BCCI. Today, it just is the most powerful voice at the ICC table. It is also not BCCI’s problem if the representatives from Sri Lanka and Pakistan (say) just nod the same way when the BCCI nods. But inevitably power gives the powerful member a few strings at the end of which one often finds the heads of puppets. So it becomes important for the power wielder to use that power judiciously.
Of course, other boards around the world are guilty of lining up to the BCCI for their own advantage. An example is the motion for a 10-member 2015 World Cup, where the joint Australia-NZ idea was mooted and proposed by the BCCI at the ICC meeting. Witness also the cunning ECB plan of an ICC permanent presidency — again being proposed by the BCCI. Favours will have been traded prior to the BCCI putting up such nonsensical contrivances. But in the end, the BCCI did put up these motions expecting everyone to nod the way it did.
On the 10-member World Cup issue, CA and CNZ placed a gun on BCCI’s shoulder and fired. So the appropriate question is whether BCCI should have allowed CA and CNZ to place a gun on their shoulder to fire — in exchange for another favour elsewhere. Similarly on the permanent presidency issue, the ECB was allowed to place its gun on BCCI’s shoulder to fire. While the “conniving followers” cannot be totally absolved in these (and other) episodes, it is true that the BCCI provided the shoulder.
So one can quite understand the collective urge to paint BCCI as a “permanent bully”. And of course, there are several examples to support a theory that it has become quite fashionable for opinion-makers to blame BCCI for all ills in cricket today. Soon, we might even start blaming BCCI for world poverty, hunger, the political problems in pockets of the world, Arjuna Ranatunga’s excessive weight and Merv Hughes’s mustache!
But it is often BCCI’s behaviour at the head table that gives rise to this collective tendency to yell “BCCI Bully” before an issue is even properly addressed/investigated. The DRS is a wonderful example of just this. The irrational fear is that if BCCI opposes an issue, it will remain opposed.
The BCCI has to show exemplary leadership — and I make no compromise on this requirement, knowing full well that the non-leaders are not innocent rabbits either! There are political moves that are constantly made! We cannot ignore the expediency in deal-making by the “followers of the leader”. To ignore these moves would be to sacrifice completeness. To do that would be to sacrifice opinion integrity. To do that would be to compromise honesty. But more importantly, to do that would be to widen the trust-chasm and the trust-deficit that exists in the cricket world today.
We, the fans, need to be tough on our expectations of BCCI because cricket journalists and opinion-makers in India are, in my view, rather weak. Few journalists in India can criticize the BCCI. This most powerful organisation controls access, accreditation and privileges and frowns on negative press it receives from anyone in the press lobby. As a result not much is written against the BCCI in the press. Press folk value their accreditation privileges too much to talk out against the many BCCI-inflicted atrocities. There are easy routes to take. And on most issues, despite the sore bottoms they might acquire as a result, a fence-sit is convenient for most press folk in India.
I expect to be flamed by my friends on Twitter and elsewhere for this criticism of the BCCI. But I expect the BCCI to be extraordinary citizens at the ICC table and extraordinary governors of the game at home. I am not convinced that they are either. I expect the BCCI to move motions at the ICC with extreme caution and utmost wisdom. I expect the BCCI to show a level of governance of the game in India that is the envy of the world. The BCCI falls short on both counts.
Oh! And what about the game itself on 23 October 2011?
The tickets were ridiculously priced. I could not purchase the cheaper tickets online. I had to trot to a window in South Bombay to purchase tickets. I did not. I got the tickets through someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who then got tickets for us through someone they knew! Is this the way tickets ought to be sold in 2011? I do not think so.
The face value of the tickets we got was Rs 2000. The fact is we got these for cheaper than the face-value. But that is neither here nor there. The tickets were priced at Rs 2000, which is approximately AUD$45. In other words, these tickets were almost as expensive as an ODI ticket at (say) the MCG. My experience was nowhere close to the many lovely experiences I have had at the MCG or the SCG or Adelaide Oval.
Although there were only about 5,000 fans in a stadium that could hold 35,000 (or thereabouts) it took us several security checks — each one more cursory and more unnecessary than the previous check — before we could get in to the ground. This may not be BCCI’s fault. However, I would expect BCCI to be involved in discussions with the several agencies involved in streamlining these totally obtuse and completely irrelevant entry procedures. We were “security checked” by 6 different sets of people within a 100m distance. Each security group performed a job that was worse than the previous group. The final check was performed by a group that was hired by the BCCI (or so I was told). This was the worst check performed of the lot. I did not see the point of such entry procedures performed in a quality-vacuum and a trust-vacuum. The job was, at best, perfunctorily performed by a bunch of people who wanted to be inside the ground rather than outside it. It was a frustrating experience on what was a hot, humid and sultry day. As a result, what ought to have been a 5 minutes procedure took us over 45 minutes to get in.
We could not take mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions into the stadium. That may be fine if we could purchase mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions inside the stadium. We could not. Did we need these inside the stadium? That is not the point. Players apply zinc cream on their faces. Should spectators not?
The seats were clumsy, dirty and just bad. The toilets were incredibly bad. Sure. The facilities are better than they were some 10 years ago. But that cannot be an excuse to charge Rs 2000 and continue to short-change the fan.
I have watched games at various venues in England (The Lord’s, Oval, Leeds, Wembley, West Ham, The Kop, etc) and Australia (The MCG, The SCG, The Adelaide Oval, Rod Laver Arena, etc). I never felt as unwanted as I was at the Wankhede stadium. I was irrelevant to the BCCI. I felt that I was interrupting the BCCI from its enjoyment of the game. Is this what we ought to be accepting from the premier organisation in the game? I don’t believe so. Am I alone in feeling thus?
— Mohan (@mohank)
Ps: This post was motivated by (a) an email exchange I had with Gideon Haigh, (b) a long Twitter discussion I had with Sumant Srivathsan (@sumants) and (c) a Twitter discussion I had with Shrikant Subramanian (@Homertweets)