“We have got to try and get the ICC right. We have a situation at the moment where the ICC is dominated by India. They tell Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and one or two other countries what to do and they always get the vote,” Tony Greig told the BBC in an interview in 2015.
Many sporting tournaments were cancelled amidst the pandemic last year, one of which was the 2020 Men’s T20 World Cup which was scheduled to be held in Australia in October. The COVID-19 pandemic left the World Cup postponed and that opened up a window for the Board of Control for Cricket in India to host the IPL, which also was postponed. How did a domestic T20 league get the green light amidst a global pandemic that led to the postponement of an international tournament? If there was a safe way to host the IPL, why wasn’t the same format, administration and logistics used to host the World T20?
This decision of having the BCCI conduct a tournament over the World Cup reignited a long, ongoing debate – does the BCCI really control the ICC? A number of incidents over the last few years have put doubts over the ICC’s status as cricket’s governing body and whether it is merely a puppet to the BCCI.
The History of a Cold War
We can trace back the tussle between the ICC and the BCCI to more than a decade ago. Back in 2008, the Decision Review System (DRS) was just introduced to eliminate on-field errors by the umpires. During DRS’s initial days, the system was opposed by the BCCI, even though majority of the nations were in favour of it. Its main issue with the DRS was that of the exclusion of Snickometer and Hot Spot technologies. But with extreme pressure from the Indian board, the ICC retracted from its initial decision and made the usage of DRS non-mandatory stating the system will only be used when all teams in a series are on board with using the system.
The same year, India toured Australia for what would become the infamous 2008 Border-Gavaskar Trophy Series. During the Sydney test of the series, an incident between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds led to the Australian all-rounder claiming Singh had hurled racist abuses towards him. Following an investigation, the ICC decided to serve Singh with a three-match ban but shortly after this decision the BCCI threatened to pull out of series. Guess what happened next? Yes, the ICC buckled under pressure along with fears of revenue loss and went back on the initial decision and did not impose any ban on Singh and let him off with a fine.
Even umpires aren’t left out of the pressure put by the BCCI. Daryl Harper retired from the sport in 2011 after being heavily criticised by the BCCI following a few incorrect decisions in a series between India and West Indies. Harper concluded he was leaving the game hurt, even though the ICC backed the veteran umpire who retired from the game with an astounding correct decision percentage of 96% in tests involving India. Harper, though, wasn’t the first umpire to come under pressure from the BCCI. The aforementioned 2008 Border-Gavaskar series saw BCCI pressurise the ICC to remove Steve Bucknor from the series post some controversial decisions in the Sydney test.
The BCCI recently also publicly expressed its displeasure with the ICC’s new bidding policy. Earlier this year, the ICC decided to bid to host events rather than deciding beforehand as to who would host a tournament, which was not met positively by the Indian board’s top brass. The decision was met with some interest, but none of the Big Three (BCCI, ECB and CA) showed any of it.
In addition to this, an ICC Board meeting held in October 2019 caused more unrest in the BCCI camp as the Indian board claimed that it did not have any of its members present for the meeting. This, though, wasn’t entirely true, as former BCCI secretary Amitabh Choudhury, who was at the time supervising the board, attended said meeting. Although the member of BCCI being present was a secondary matter, the main issue was the context of the meeting – the ICC held it to approve the additional events in the upcoming 2023-2031 cycle.
Arun Dhumal, treasurer of the BCCI, had recently questioned the existence and validity of the ICC without the BCCI. An employee of a national cricketing board making such a public statement regarding the sport’s main governing body publicly shows the power and influence of the BCCI in world cricket.
Cash is King
So why does BCCI get away with all this?
Well, one of the main reasons could be attributed to the fact that 70% of the ICC’s total revenue comes from the BCCI. In 2017, former ICC chief Shashank Manohar decided to cut down BCCI’s share from 32% to 23%. This didn’t help matters, as the BCCI threatened to boycott the Champions Trophy that year, although it didn’t go ahead with it.
The reason Manohar had reduced BCCI’s share was to distribute more amongst the smaller cricket-playing nations. Prior to this, when N. Srinivasan was the ICC President, he had gone out of his way to try and increase BCCI’s share, along with that of England and Australia – promoting his ‘Big-Three’ formula. Although, with Srinivasan losing his spot and Manohar replacing him, Manohar publicly called out the Big Three formula, with an aim to build and promote the game in the smaller nations as well.
Along with this, the biggest cash cow of the BCCI (the golden goose, if you may say so), the Indian Premier League, also plays a major part in this ongoing tussle for power. The IPL is the number one domestic league in the world and fetches the BCCI millions of dollars every year, helping it unearth domestic talents, while also providing international players a platform to prolong or revive their careers.
With all the glitz, glamour and attention attached to the league, the BCCI has gone to the extent of not allowing any Indian player to participate in any other league in the world to maintain the exclusivity and dominance of the IPL. International players come and play in the IPL, choosing money over national duty. Although their decisions to put a domestic league over national duty are questioned constantly, one should understand that along with playing for their countries the game also helps them with their livelihoods, and the IPL provides a substantial income source for them to have a stable career. If questions must be asked, they should be asked to the BCCI and the ICC for allowing a domestic league take place during international series and where the league stands in comparison to other international tournaments.
In 2016, during the Maharashtra droughts, the Bombay High Court advised the IPL organisers to shift the matches from the state due to the water usage on the pitches, water that could have been used to help with other essential things. Despite this, the BCCI went ahead and held the matches anyway in Mumbai and Pune.
So where does this power come from?
The answer really is a simple one – the amount of revenue the IPL generates. The BCCI can’t not hold the IPL. Just think about the suspended 2021 season this year; amidst a second wave, the IPL continued. What would have happened if it didn’t take place? Would Virat Kohli have lost his form without one season with the Royal Challengers Bangalore? Would a team like Mumbai Indians have to shut down due to one season without the IPL? No, it was just about generating revenue for the BCCI and that’s what it’s always been. Even now, when the IPL has been suspended, the BCCI is desperately trying to get the remaining matches done at any cost. The updated IPL schedule is just days apart from the T20 World Cup and it will be important to see how many players prioritise their work load and national duty over the IPL.
Another major matter in this battle between the BCCI and the ICC is of the taxes. The ICC is known to giving hosting rights of its major events to the countries which allow the events to be held tax-free. India, too, allowed the 2011 Men’s World Cup to be a tax-free event but when the next major event took place in India, the 2016 Men’s T20 World Cup, the Indian board failed to make it a tax-free event.
With the BCCI failing to make the 2016 T20 World Cup tax free, they were asked to pay up US$23.7 million as taxes. With the broadcasting rights organisation, Star Sports, also having to pay taxes, they removed that amount from what they were going to pay the ICC, who then went ahead and deducted that amount from what it was going to pay the BCCI, which meant the Indian board got but a nominal fee. With the 2023 Men’s World Cup scheduled to be held in India, the ongoing feud on many things including the tax exemptions need to be sorted out before it’s too late.
Broadcasting rights have also played a role in the feud. The new cycle schedule of the ICC of one ICC event per year has also apparently upset the BCCI. With the ECB having stated that they cannot host more than two events during its domestic season (July – September), it leaves the major events having to be crammed between October and March, which is when the majority of India’s season takes place. This would mean reshuffling the cricket windows every year and could lead to cutting down BCCI’s home season by 30-45 days.
The BCCI approximately earns INR 65 crore for every international game held in the country and INR 55 crore for an IPL game through broadcasting rights. If the BCCI sees its home season cut short, it will see a massive decrease in revenue of almost INR 1000 crore (for cancelling just 15 games). The Indian cricket board has thusly stated that this schedule was drafted to disrupt its revenue share from the broadcasters.
The Road Ahead
Whether the BCCI controls the ICC is a question that is debatable, but for the sake of the game, the former’s power must be controlled and a more structured approach must be made to include more nations as Full Members of the ICC to grow the game worldwide. Multiple issues have risen over the years that have caused major rifts between the two boards, but for the game to move ahead and not suffer it is essential that both governing bodies function together in a harmonious way.
A game that brings so much joy to people worldwide seems likes it’s being controlled for power and money.