The Indian Premier League, or IPL, never ceases to amaze - almost exclusively, off the pitch. On the field of play, Season 8 has been relatively uneventful, a mixed bag of competitive games, one-sided beat-downs, and the occasional washout. Off the pitch, however, The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has unwittingly managed to keep everyone entertained and itself the focal point of shock and awe. And, with the realignment of the International Cricket Council (ICC) adding muscle to India's already sizeable presence with the former BCCI president helming the position of chairman of the ICC, controversies have naturally followed.
For, as tight-lipped an entity as the BCCI has historically been, the IPL has been the lever that pried open Pandora's Box and the inflammatory contents have thus spewed forth. The rumoured disputes are not limited to intra-IPL head-butting or intra-BCCI bickering. With a change in the overall regime at BCCI, there seems to be a whole host of decisions made in the past that are now coming up for scrutiny and possible reversal in the near future. Many of these disputes will now likely end up in court, a place where until recently only disgruntled members of the public or reform proponents aired their grievances, not a venue of redress for the BCCI's inner circle.
The extent of the recent controversies is baffling. The most bizarre development has been the logic-defying de-merger of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) franchise to a subsidiary of India Cements, at a valuation of Rs 5 lakh. Even by conservative estimates this is an infinitesimal fraction of the already low Rs 400-600 crore value ascribed to the franchise by independent entities. That this was approved by the IPL Governing Council present at the time is extremely surprising, and that the BCCI's Working Committee at its meeting on April 26 absolved the erstwhile Governing Council of any bad faith due to the "legal complexity" of the matter will no doubt be scrutinised sooner rather than later. The BCCI refused to ratify the de-merger of CSK at that valuation, and legal options are being explored.
To put the valuation of CSK into perspective - this isn't a floundering franchise like the Deccan Chargers, sold to the Sun Group at a valuation of approximately $160 million, once were. The CSK are the New England Patriots of the IPL, if you will. The team sits at the top of the league table even in this edition, and is the favourite to win the title for the third time in just eight years. It is the most successful franchise in the IPL, and there is no conceivable reason to believe its value is merely $8,000.
This, however, is not all in the world of BCCI. The ICC, helmed by the now out-of-favour former BCCI president, who also happens (or happened) to be the owner of the CSK, issued an advisory alert against the BCCI's secretary, with a photo as evidence of his association with a bookie. The BCCI responded by initiating a probe into allegations of the erstwhile president using Rs 14 crore of the BCCI's funds towards spying on the activities and/or antics of the other members of the BCCI with regard to their loyalty. Meanwhile, in Baroda, the former BCCI secretary was asked to vacate his post with the Baroda Cricket Association due to a technical flaw, and of course, is expected to contest this in the courts.
If any of these allegations are true, then not since Dennis Kozlowski and the Tyco-funded Caligula-themed corporate parties has something this absurd come to light. And most people will remember the prodigious fall from grace that such rumors precipitated for corporate nouveau riche America.
The IPL has so far not had any real competition but if rumors are to be believed, then the Essel Group has a resurrection planned - one which, if the time and place is right, could be the first real threat to the Indian cricket administration. The BCCI doesn't have too many friends in the ICC, and if it all implodes due to the new world order's restructuring, there won't be too many sympathisers.
The cricket fraternity is now seeking the shelter of the courts - an institution that has not been indulgent of it recently. Perhaps sleeping with the enemy is the only option left for the once impregnable authoritarian.
The author leads the sports law practice at J Sagar Associates. These views are his own