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Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri: Crash of the titans

There are eerie similarities between FIFA and the BCCI. Both boast office-bearers who seemingly were above the law, and a wanton disregard for government and authority

Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri 

Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri

The world of sports administration is already reeling from the unprecedented series of events that shook FIFA, the world governing body of football this week. There are two separate causes of worry for FIFA: the mass indictments and arrests of its office bearers for widespread and intricate corruption that includes bribes and kickbacks in excess of $150 million; and a criminal investigation by the Swiss authorities into the bidding process and allocation of host countries for the FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022, Russia and Qatar. Fourteen people have already been indicted and seven people arrested by the United States' justice department that now seeks their extraditions for what could amount to felony charges and extended jail time.

This was a long time coming for FIFA; but, even so, this was sensational and sudden, which makes optimists now hope that integrity and governance measures in sports administration across the world will alter and evolve. It's only a first step, and by all accounts it's likely to be business as usual at FIFA with an unchanged regime set to be re-elected this week - and even an official announcement that the World Cup venues for 2018 and 2022 shall remain unchanged. But, everyone in the world of sports administration has officially been put on notice, and any semblance of immunity for sports bodies will now be put to test.

This exorcism of FIFA is predicated on a detailed report submitted by attorney Michael Garcia, a report that was mostly ignored by FIFA despite having been commissioned by it. It was however not ignored by the US or Swiss authorities, and both have been involved with acting upon it with the cleansing of football as their stated end goal. The US has jurisdiction over FIFA by virtue of acts committed in the US by an American citizen who was a FIFA office-bearer and then acted as whistle-blower in a deal with the authorities. The US may also have an axe to grind with FIFA over the years, after questionable decision-making by FIFA excluded bids by US cities to host the World Cup.

There are eerie similarities between FIFA and the BCCI. Both boast office-bearers who seemingly were above the law, and a wanton disregard for government and authority. Both also have been accused of arrogance, indifference, opaqueness and an unnatural monopoly.

There are also significant differences. There are no indications yet that there is a seedy underbelly to the decision-making on sponsors, investors, or hosts of flagship properties either by the BCCI or the ICC, so a blanket comparison would at this time be inaccurate. BCCI also has a clear advantage over FIFA, which has been indicted by the US, where football is a relatively innocuous sport despite its global popularity, and where the public furore against any disruption to the sport will be minimal. That is clearly not the case with cricket in India, where authorities might be reluctant to take action that hurts the public image of cricket.

That said, there will invariably be comparisons with FIFA, and there are real worries for the BCCI. It is currently the subject of a widespread probe by what has been a very active judiciary, and is a party to numerous litigations. It needs to be proactive, transparent, and take a close look at what its processes are, lest inaction helps the judiciary in using the treatment of FIFA after the Garcia report as a precedent for the committees who are to decide the future of how sports bodies are run in India. Introducing changes in line with globally-accepted processes before they are made mandatory would go a long way in helping the BCCI change public perception.

For FIFA, the graft is just one of many pending issues that are likely to come to the fore now that the floodgates have opened, including allegations of human rights violations, and a mass exodus of sponsors. For sports administrations everywhere, and especially those like the BCCI, now is the time to self-correct and self-regulate if it already isn't too late. The erstwhile insulation may soon be replaced by isolation. as the exalted status of immunity is pared away from blatant misconduct by the sports administrations. It will be reasonable to expect government, judicial, and law-enforcement interference and interventions sooner rather than later. That would be the new normal in sports governance.

The author leads the sports practice at J Sagar Associates. Views are personal.

First Published: Fri, May 29 2015. 22:24 IST