Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Clean Up the BCCI

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”
Abraham Lincoln 

While I do not want our Supreme Court to play judge, jury and executioner, they are also the last resort to save our sport from the cesspool it has been reduced to by the very men who were tasked with stewarding it. In this regard I am glad that the court has taken a rather dim view of the BCCI board’s actions, or lack thereof, in the illegal betting scandal that engulfed the last IPL.

The two Justices have shown public disdain for Mr. Srinivasan from the time they called his refusal to step aside “nauseating.” While it is easy to detest a man like Srinivasan, it would not bode well for the credibility of our legal system if we were to cast him aside purely on the grounds that he is not a likeable man or for his lack of honour and integrity. Additionally, as tempting as it may be for every Indian and cricket lover to see Mr. Srinivasan being bashed around and bullied by these Justices, in the end they must find substantive legal grounds to usher in his demise and to restore credibility to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Finding impropriety in the BCCI board’s actions and lack of governance should not be very hard for the court to do. The BCCI’s defense of Srinivasan has been laughable. I am no legal expert, but it seems there are already three very serious and clear violations of the board’s code of ethics that may also constitute legal grounds for some serious action by the court. 

1. Conflict of Interest
This is common sense and something that EVERY governing body in the world adheres to. Srinivasan’s ownership of the Chennai Super Kings would be the equivalent of American Football Commissioner Roger Goodell's owning the New England Patriots or another team. It is absolutely absurd. The fact that Srinivasan and the BCCI legal team are actually trying to defend his ownership of the Chennai Super Kings just demonstrates how deluded and absolutely corrupt their absolute power has made them. 

2. Perjury
Srinivasan and MS Dhoni both stated publicly and vehemently that Gurunath Meiyappan’s role in the Chennai Super Kings was nothing more than that of a cricket enthusiast. The court-appointed Mudgal investigation has concluded that Meiyappan was in fact a team official, and functioned more like their CEO. It would seem that both men lied. At worst they have perjured themselves; at best they were protecting a person whom they knew had been implicated in an illegal betting ring. Both should be held criminally culpable if they did willfully mislead the court appointed panel.

3. Board Governance & Credibility
After the allegations surfaced, the arrest made of Srinivasan’s son-in-law, and the fact that the team he owns was implicated in the IPL illegal match fixing scandal, the logical (and honourable) thing for him to do would have been to resign. Instead Srinivasan did the opposite and refused to budge. After much public pressure, he was forced to step aside while he personally appointed a committee that cleared him and his son-in-law of any wrongdoing.  It was not until the Supreme Court intervened that he truly stepped aside, although by all accounts he has continued to make all the major decisions, running the board remotely.

The net result of all this is that Srinivasan and this BCCI board have lost all credibility. No matter what actions the court demands, they can no longer be counted upon to conduct an unbiased or impartial investigation, or to implement the changes needed to restore credibility to cricket’s wealthiest and most powerful governing body.

So what can be done? We need to go back to the basic tenets of the BCCI’s mandate and in doing so bring back meaning to the emblem of the Order of the Star of India, India's highest order of chivalry during the British Raj. To this end, I hope the court can find sufficient legal grounds to not only publicly discredit the current board and all the administrators, making their continued tenure impossible, but also initiate legal proceedings against many of these men.

For cricket to have a future and for the BCCI to regain credibility, we must put in place new court-imposed rules and regulations. I do not believe any solution should involve a takeover or greater involvement from the government. That said, it is also not going to be sufficient to simply remove Srinivasan and his cronies; this would treat the symptom and not the cancer. The power vacuum left behind will quickly be filled by equally despotic men like Sharad Pawar or Lalit Modi. What we need is a complete overhaul of the BCCI’s functioning and structure, along with new blood to run it.

Here are my suggestions for our Supreme Court, on both the legal actions I hope they initiate take and the functional changes they need to mandate to truly reform the BCCI: 

LEGAL ACTIONS:
1. N Srinivasan to be banned from holding any position in Indian cricket, for life.
2. Start a criminal investigation of M.S. Dhoni and N. Srinivasan for conflict of interest issues and misrepresenting CSK team management facts to court appointed panel
3. Disqualify Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals from IPL, for 3-5 years
4. Tainted players to be suspended while being investigated; banned for life if found guilty
5. Owners of both teams to forfeit ownership and never be allowed to own an IPL team
6. Legalise sports betting
7. Bring BCCI under Right to Information Act (RTI) 

MANAGEMENT & STRUCTURAL REFORMS
1. Ban politicians (current & former) from being on board or part of management of BCCI or any regional/state cricket associations

2. Ensure strong conflict of interest rules added to BCCI constitution, i.e. no administrator or employee of BCCI should be allowed to own a stake in any of team, franchises or cricketing venture where they may financially benefit as a result of their position within BCCI.

3. Bring in caretaker board and administration for one year while reforms are being implemented. The idea is to completely revamp the current management structure to prevent future abuse and corruption:
  • Create a governing board consisting of two ex-cricketers, two retired judges, two individuals from private sector. Each person would serve a one-time term of three years
  • Divide the current President position into two offices;
    • President (appointed by governing panel) would oversee all cricketing affairs and retain all other current roles and responsibilities with exception of the business/financial side i.e. sponsorships, advertising, media rights negotiations, etc.
    • Add a non-elected CEO position, also hired by the governing panel to run the BCCI for a term of two years. CEO would be hired from the private sector
    • Both positions would have two-term limit with each term being limited to two years
  • Change status of BCCI to a corporation that is for profit but also for benefit to society, akin to a B Corporation in the USA
  • Officials holding positions in state cricketing bodies cannot simultaneously hold positions within the BCCI administration or its various committees
  • All monies dispensed to state associations must be accounted for at the end of the fiscal year by an external and independent auditor; this includes the BCCI financials
  • All monies spent by state associations should be used to further the cause of and promote cricket in their respective states
  • All infrastructure projects must follow an online blind bidding process with final bid award being made under supervision of CEO and board for projects above certain amount
These are some of the things that I believe will help provide much-needed transparency and accountability to the BCCI and help restore its credibility with the fans. Granted they are a private body and should remain one, but since their mission has always been about growing the sport in the public interest, there always needs to be a balance between the their autonomy and the oversight required. 

ALSO READ: Open Letter to N. Srinivasan, BCCI President

Friday, December 5, 2014

On Education: Why Peter Thiel and Vivek Wadhwa Are Both Wrong.


“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela 

You may have read an opinion piece by Peter Thiel that lambasts the traditional four year college (“Thinking too highly of higher ed”) calling it an elitist tournament that “bankrupts the losers and turns the winners into conformists.” Some years ago Mr. Thiel famously offered students $100,000 to drop out of college to start a company; since then he has been trying to hasten and also championing the demise of traditional education. On the other side of the argument, Vivek Wadhwa penned an Op-ed, also in the Washington Post, defending college education as we know it today (“In defense of college: What Peter Thiel gets wrong, once again”). He cites numerous studies about how college educated workers earn many times more than their peers without degrees. He purports that Mr. Thiel’s formula would lead us in a race to the bottom. 

The problem is that both men are completely wrong. 

The issue lies in this same absolutism that we seem to have generally embraced as a society. It comes in large part from a totally broken political system in Washington. One that has permeated into the media; with pundits from both sides having raucous debates on every issue, always with black and white viewpoints and never agreeing on anything at all. Sure, it is great for ratings because it is much more fun to watch but it is lousy for progress and keeping America competitive for the next century – which will require collaboration and ideas from all sides of the political and individual spectrum. The same seems to hold true for debates in the business world today. Whether it is the abhorrent behaviour of an Uber senior manager or the growing cacophony of women claiming that Bill Cosby drugged and raped them, we inevitably have two sides emerge, both firmly entrenched in their positions and refusing to budge. Both citing anecdotal and statistical evidence to make their individual cases. The end result is that we never reach consensus and most times the perpetrators walk away without facing any real consequences for their actions (other than a social media battering or outpouring of support). The net result is that we learn nothing and nothing changes. 

In fact, it feels like compromise has become a bad word. To suggest it is deemed as a sign of weakness rather than seen as a positive way to find a better solution - one that takes into account both viewpoints and finds the BEST path forward. Here, I stress the best path and not the one of least resistance or one that appeals to the lowest common denominator, by trying to satisfy all sides. The point is that nobody has a monopoly on great ideas – democrat, lesbian, republican, entrepreneur, African American, corporate executive, short, tall, illegal immigrant or college professor – we need to take the best ideas from across the spectrum to find the most innovative solutions to the problems we face today. Having a position, and getting entrenched without being able to listen to those who oppose our position will never allow us to make progress. Also, consider that many entrenched positions are driven by purely political ideology versus substantive data or genuine objectivity. 

In this instance I would suggest that each man has merits to his arguments, but neither is right on the merits of his alone. If we were to combine their contentions, we might start with the premise that the education system in the US is broken. Granted, pre-college education seems much more broken than higher education, but this is in large part due to the fact that it has received far more attention and been the focus of both political parties and many interest groups. However, when parents stop having a second child purely because of the cost of a private school and the ability to send a second kid to a top tier college would be cost-prohibitive, I would say we have a problem that needs to be fixed. 

Mr. Thiel is right when he states that the education system today designed to make us all conform. From the first time we step into a classroom we begin the process of removing creative, independent thought and courageous risk-taking behaviour from our wild and imaginative little minds. We are taught to act, speak and think in a certain way rather than to explore our imaginations in ways that expand our little boundaries without ever suppressing bold and unconventional thinking. On the other hand Mr. Wadhwa is also right when he argues that we learn invaluable real world skills in college, beyond what comes out of a textbook. It is in college that we are away from our parents and fending for ourselves for the first time. Sharing a room and learning to negotiate, resolve differences and get along with perfect strangers. It is the first time many of us have had to step outside our little bubble and deal with people with whom we may have nothing in common. We also taste untethered freedom for the first time, and need to learn how to balance it with studies. We learn to deal with professors, select classes, make a schedule and figure out how to be accepted into various social circles. Most importantly it gives us time to figure out how to become adults before we have to face big bad world of responsibilities and mortgages. 

I would also go further and say that college, in the traditional four year format is not for everyone, but we cannot simply write it off as completely redundant for this reason alone, as Mr. Thiel suggests we do. What I am saying is that the premise of pre-college education should be based on teaching us valuable inter-personal skills to help us survive, but also ensure that our curious little minds get the opportunity to explore a world we did not know existed and barely imagined; from mathematics to woodwork and Shakespeare to swimming – we should stop trying to box kids into neat little squares and expect them all to become monochromatic adults. Based on this premise, if we were to re-think higher education in the same vein then we would imagine a world where it consisted of various different types of courses based on passions that have peaked during the early school formative years. We could have some kids coming out of school wanting to become mechanics, woodworkers or electricians and they can attend a two or five year specialized skills based training program that would involve job placements. Equally, we may have a bunch passionate about law, engineering or business. And finally we may have another set of people who have no idea what they want to be and attend a newly designed curriculum that exposes them to everything from business to the arts, and a host of other things. 

The point is that if we can get Mr. Wadhwa and Mr. Thiel to sit down and start to envision new ideas and ways to get kids ready for this brave new world then we will likely end up with an amazing starting roadmap to fix our broken system. But as long as they refuse to acknowledge the realities, positive and negative, and remain invested in protecting or tearing down their status quo, our kids will continue to suffer and nothing will change.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Business of Sport and Foul Play

“But rules cannot substitute for character.”
Alan Greenspan (US Federal Reverse Chairman, retired

When we think about sport the words that immediately come to mind are sportsmanship, respect, fair play, integrity and clean competition. In fact, the various sports governing bodies have ethics that are meant to set the standards and uphold the integrity and reputation of the sport they are meant to champion and steward. And they have a code of conduct tied to their mission and intent. Here are a couple of lines from FIFA, NFL and the ICC, respectively: 

“FIFA is constantly striving to protect the image of football, and especially that of FIFA, from jeopardy or harm as a result of illegal, immoral or unethical methods and practices...” 

“All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League." 

“The overriding objectives of the Code are to enhance the reputation of the ICC, to foster public confidence in the ICC’s governance and administration of the sport of cricket worldwide and in particular to strengthen its authority to deal with corruption.”

All of their codes and rules sound rather impressive, and reading through any of them might leave one with the impression that these organisations hold themselves, their executives and players, to a high standard of excellence and integrity. These standards serve to enhance the reputation of their respective sports and set an example for the rest of us, most importantly for all the young impressionable minds that form the largest audience and fan base for them. I am referring to some the most iconic, powerful and recognisable sports governing bodies in the world from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA); bodies that have been untrusted with furthering the growth and development of sport in a manner that is meant to always put the good of the sport and its athletes ahead of all other interests - personal, business or otherwise. Major sporting events often form the only common ground between sworn enemies, and also the glue that cuts across ethnic divisions within every nation. One cannot underestimate the importance of sport in our world. Where else would we see Iran take on the USA or a divided Afghanistan come together to root for their cricket team? In a world more divided and more divisive than ever before, sport has become the healthiest bond between societies, and a source of national pride and identity for legions of fans. This is the responsibility with which these men have been entrusted.

Not only are the men in charge of these governing bodies powerful in the world of sports, but also today many are counted among the most influential men in the world because of the nexus between business and sport. Sepp Blatter, the four consecutive terms President of FIFA, made #69 on the Forbes’ list of the most Powerful People for 2013. “Blatter is only the 8th President to have served in the more than 100 years of FIFA’s existence” (Source: Forbes). With all this influence and absolute power, it is no wonder that these organisations operate more like the mafia than a charity. For the recently concluded World Cup, FIFA demanded that the Brazilian government change a decade old law banning the sale of beer in stadiums because Budweiser was a major sponsor (Source: Latin Post). “Brazil spent an astounding $11 billion to host the FIFA tournament. FIFA officials have to be treated like royalty, and there have been accusations of bribery and other forms of corruption...and according to Brazil's Internal Revenue Service, FIFA is getting tax exemptions worth nearly $250 million dollars. Other estimates are even higher.” (Source: CNN). Also, there has been much media attention focused on how Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar is a desert nation that has no football team much less a league to speak of, and temperatures that routinely cross 117 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, when the event is scheduled. So far the fallout has been just one FIFA official, Jack Warner, resigning, and this only after the media released a tape of him encouraging FIFA officials to accept bribes ahead of the voting process for awarding the 2022 World Cup.

Something people may not be aware of is that all these sports organisations hold tax-exempt status. Yes you heard me right – these multi-billion dollar, for profit enterprises, have tax exempt status. The latest World Cup in Brazil generated more than $4 billion in revenue for FIFA. This is on top of declared cash reserve they have of $1.4 billion (source: Forbes Article). The IOC generated $5 billion in revenue between 2009 and 2012. The NFL generates close to $10 billion annually, the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour nearly $1 billion (source: CNN article). The National Hockey League (NHL) reported record earnings of $3.7 billion this past season (source: CBS Sports Article). The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) recently joined the league of wealthiest sporting bodies in the world, with revenues of $1 billion for 2011-12 (source: Financial Express). All these sports organisations have been given tax exempt status, somewhat similar to charities, because they are considered private organisations whose primary purpose is to further the industry or profession they represent. They are similar to a local chamber of commerce or the hotel and restaurant industry associations. However, one fundamental difference is that many if these sports bodies have the right to represent countries on the international stage, and they also avail of tax payer funded facilities like stadiums and other public sporting infrastructure without paying for it. The BCCI in India has steadfastly refused to come under the purview of the Right to Information Act (RTI) on the grounds that it is a private body with charitable institution status.

Here in America, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who incidentally was paid a $44 million salary in 2012, was recently caught on the wrong side of a domestic abuse case involving one of the league’s star players. It seems Goodell may have lied about information that was previously disclosed to him, in order to cover-up the seriousness of the incident. It is possible he withheld evidence (the player got a two game suspension for knocking out his pregnant fiancé and then physically dragging her out of the lift unconscious) to protect the image of the league and the massive revenues brought in from its sponsors. Turns out that during Mr. Goodell’s seven year plus tenure there have been more than fifty reported incidents of domestic violence involving players and a total of six game suspensions handed out by him; hardly the zero tolerance policy one would expect to fit the serious nature of these crimes. Yet, Mr. Goodell has refused to step down over his clear mishandling of a very serious matter or for his less than stellar track record in dealing with this crime during his tenure (Source: NYTimes).

In India, the current ICC Chairman and BCCI President, Mr. N. Srinivasan has also been acting with complete impunity and with total disregard for the ethics he has sworn to uphold. He failed to act when an illegal match-fixing scandal engulfed the Indian Premier League. This despite the fact that his own son-in-law was indicted as one of the prime accused in the case, and it concerned a team that he owned. The fact that the head of a governing body can also be the owner of a team, in the league he governs, should be sufficient grounds to disqualify him from holding any post; it is a blatant and obvious conflict of interest. However instead of apologizing and doing the right thing, Mr. Srinivasan has dug in his heels and unabashedly challenged anyone to oust him.  It was not until India’s Supreme Court stepped in and severely reprimanded him that he was forced to step aside (albeit temporarily) as President of BCCI. The court called Mr. Srinivasan’s refusal to step down “nauseating.” Meanwhile, he has just been elected as Chairman of Cricket’s international governing body, the ICC.

These are just three examples from the sordid world of sports governing bodies and the cancer that seems to plague their leaders today. Corruption seems to be rife across the board with reports of bribery at the IOC, doping cover ups in both baseball and cycling, and even sex and drug fueled orgies to win contracts for Formula One racing. With the sheer amount of money being generated through lucrative TV rights and sponsorship deals, the influence it has brought with it has absolutely corrupted these men. Today their actions are making political crony capitalism look like amateur stuff. There is an urgent need to save the future of sport by cautioning and holding these men accountable for their conduct. We need to remind them again who they are here to serve and be clear that even as non-elected representatives their behaviour is important in preserving sports’ reputation and integrity.

We must all demand that these men be worthy of upholding the principles and values of the sports they represent, and that they are able to discharge their duties with humility, integrity and honour; always putting the good of the game ahead of their own greed and personal ambitions. It seems all these men have forgotten their purpose. So drunk on power have they become that they believe they can operate with complete impunity and function with zero external scrutiny or governance. Sport has the unique power to unite people and bring nations together. Sport, like the eternal flame, must be the beacon of hope and fairness in the world. With great power comes great responsibility.