We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For all its perceived ills, the Indian Premier League has changed the landscape of Indian sports. It has not only made it possible for cricketers to earn a good living without playing for India, but has spurred a series of copycat leagues in other sports, from badminton to kabaddi.
This mushrooming has suddenly made sports a viable career option in India, a country which needs all the employment opportunities it can get. Where before parents would squash the joy of sports out of their children and insist on hours of math tuition instead, now children have greater freedom to pursue the field of their dreams.
That’s why the Chennai Super Kings should not be scrapped. The franchise is the most successful team in the league and has a huge fan following in its home city. To disqualify it, as the Supreme Court suggested during today’s hearings of Mudgal Committee report case, would be to knock down one of the strongest pillars that support the league.
It would also demoralise the players, most of whom are pawns trapped in a much larger power game, and punish fans who are guilty of nothing more than being cricket lovers.
The court should not consider the team that takes the field and its owners as indivisible. Other sporting leagues provide examples that the Supreme Court can follow. When the general manager of Juventus, Luciano Moggi was found guilty of match-fixing in the Serie A in 2006, the league might have been justified in scrapping the club in the same way trees are cut down to prevent disease from spreading to the whole forest.
Instead, the football club was stripped of its two tainted titles, demoted to the second division for the first time in its history. That punished the club, but spared the players and the fans who could continue to support their team. Today, Juventus is on top of the Serie A standings once again (though the league) lost a great deal of its lustre thanks to the scandal.
Earlier this year, Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA, was caught on camera making racist comments. The league and its new commissioner, Adam Silver, immediately swung in to action, conducted an investigation and found Sterling guilty.
The league then forced Sterling to sell the team to Steve Ballmer, the co-founder of Microsoft and banned him from owning a team in the league. It punished the owner for his crime, but did not hold the entire organisation accountable for the wrong done by one person.
And when former baseball star Pete Rose was found guilty of placing bets while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds in Major League Baseball in 1989, it was Rose who was banned for life from the game, not the team.
In the case of CSK, it is Gurunath Meiyappan and N Srinivasan who need to be held accountable (and possibly MS Dhoni but we don’t know enough about his role in this mess yet). Meiyappan for betting while running the team and Srinivasan for attempting to cover up Meiyappan’s role in the franchise, as well as his clear conflict of interest in owning an IPL team while being a BCCI official.
The IPL franchise agreement has a provision for terminating a team if “the Franchisee, any Franchisee Group Company and/or any Owner acts in a way that has material effect upon the reputation or standing of the League, BCCI-IPL, BCCI, the Franchise, the team (or any other team in the League) and/or the game of cricket.”
Both Srinivasan and Meiyappan could reasonably be found guilty of violating this clause (as could Raj Kundra, the co-owner of the Rajasthan Royals). But the remedy should be to force Srinivasan to sell CSK to a buyer with no stakes in the BCCI and ban Meiyappan and Srinivasan from cricket for life. That would punish the guilty while sparing the innocent, preventing the kind of collateral damage that would happen if the franchise was disqualified.