Monday, May 31, 2010

"Corporate Governance", BCCI, IPL and Haigh

In a post that could easily pass as a Who's who of the corporate buzzword population, Gideon Haigh trumpets the same old story for the umpteenth time on Cricinfo. Odd Men In was such a wonderful column! Why is Mr. Haigh trying to tell us about things he clearly doesn't understand - namely, the workings of the BCCI and it's connection with the IPL?

It would be so much better if Mr. Haigh were to set aside his set-piece, two-pronged formulation - first, that BCCI has too much power in world cricket, and second, that it is run by incompetent politicians who don't care about cricket, and actually try to trace associations instead of speculating about personality conflicts. Any grown up person will tell you that personality conflicts are usually less important than the deeper interests which each of the parties in the conflict are representing. The conflicts of interests that are pointed out in the article in the specific case of Mr. Srinivasan sound terrible, until you realize that the IPL has nothing to do with the Indian team, in the same way that owning an IPL franchise has nothing really to do with being a BCCI office bearer. If the Captain of India and the Chairman of Selectors of the Indian team being on the same IPL franchise is a conflict of interest, then how much of a conflict of interest is it for a regular in the Australian side playing for an IPL franchise captained by the current Sri Lankan captain, just before an Australia v Sri Lanka series (to take a hypothetical example)? Haigh insinuates plenty, but establishes nothing. He is in effect banking on the fact that he is preaching to the choir - after all, who doesn't like to say that the powers that be are totally incompetent and that they are destroying everything?

A deeper question, one that a columnist should grapple with, would be about the size of the IPL. How big should the IPL be? Is the addition of two franchises and the prospective addition of a few more franchises in the coming decade good for cricket? If someone thinks, as Mr. Haigh appears to, that the IPL has been a good thing for cricket, how does one fit this innovation into cricket as it originally was?

As for Ramchandra Guha's notion that "The truth is that citizenship and cricket have been comprehensively trumped by the claims of commerce." - what dreamworld is Mr. Guha (and Mr. Haigh, who so faithfully quotes him) living in? There already exists an equitable set of teams in India, distributed according to citizenship (to borrow Guha's usage) - they are called Ranji Trophy teams. Have Mr. Modi or Mr. Pawar ever been asked why they chose to pitch for new franchises, rather than a more modest partnership with existing Ranji Trophy teams? Obviously, India or Citizenship had nothing to do with anything in the IPL.

Until the advent of the IPL, top level cricket was played as a sport - because the focus of everyone's attention was the sport. Money was important to the extent that the sport remained a viable professional option, and to the extent that it remained solvent and some amount of money could be invested in the future and given to associate members of the ICC. With the IPL, the focus became the bottom line, in the pursuit of which Cricket was a mere vehicle. Thats the only reason why the T20 format was invented.

Gideon Haigh asks whether it is a scandal that BCCI spends only 8% of it's annual revenue on "actual cricket promotion" (whatever that means). Well, it's far from clear that it is a scandal. Should this not depend on how much actual money that 8% amounts to? If the BCCI is making ridiculous sums of money, then it would be a scandal if they spent most of it on "actual cricket promotion"! After all, in a world consisting of real people and real problems, would it not be a scandal if an insane amount went in purchasing cricket bats and balls and stumps and painting stadia?

The fatal problem with Mr. Haigh's article is that it fails to present the distinction between cricket as a sport and cricket as a business. The IPL is the latter, where as BCCI is an agency of the former. Unless this basic distance is tackled, Mr. Haigh has no option but to take refuge in nonsense like "corporate governance" - which basically amounts to a recommendation to make money, but do it "competently". Competence itself is a euphemism for "cover your rear-end".

It's sad to see a historian get stuck in the mire like this.


  1. Kartikeya, I really don't see what you're getting at here. "Corporate governance" has a lot to do with covering your rear-end, but it's not restricted to making money.

    I don't know where you get the impression that Haigh appears to think that the IPL has simply been a good thing for cricket. I also don't know why you think that a faithful quote from the Telegraph article serves to make the same point as the author did, let alone suggest that the IPL was ever about "citizenship".

    The history of interaction between cricket as sport and cricket as business is much murkier than a bright line at the advent of the IPL, as you hint at with your reference to the invention of T20. However we view it, it is indeed a significant distinction. The buzzwords are not important, but something like corporate governance is surely an acceptable framework through which to look at this interaction (including conflicts of interest).

    Whether enough money is being spent on cricket is one question, in which the percentages are irrelevant. But a world full of real problems only answers the questions over the other 92% (if the figures have any relationship with reality) if we know that it is being spent on those problems. Otherwise, perhaps there isn't actually any truth in distinguishing between cricket as a sport and cricket as a business when it comes to our national governing bodies.

  2. The problem with corporate governance - is precisely that it cannot replace "cricket governance", but is pretending to in Haigh's formulation. The two are not the same and I refrained from using that phrase in the post, precisely because I wanted to remove the argument from the technical level at which Haigh wants to make it.

    The difference between Sport and Business is not murky at all.

    If we are to be concerned with cricket governance, then core questions about existence of the IPL and franchises are inevitable. Further, the questions that we will be compelled to ask won't have obvious answers like the ones Haigh presents.

    The recommendations in Haigh's column reads like a memo drafted by a public relations professional, not a cricket journalist.

  3. I'm afraid I still don't understand what you're getting at. Even accepting the notion that sports governance may not completely fall within the remit of "corporate governance", cricket is governed by corporate bodies. Is the governance of those bodies themselves not important?

    Was there really not any impact on cricket from those who were using it for business purposes before the IPL? Is it really not possible/likely that people supposedly engaged in govening a sport are making decisions that benefit their business interests when the two are intertwined? There is a clear difference between sport and business, if a national body makes a lot more money than it spends on its supposed raison d'etre, is it really engaged in sport, in business, or something else?

    I don't get the impression that Haigh is trying to answer all the questions. His preferred outcomes are not entirely clear, but in at least one case he is suggesting that the sort of questions you ask about IPL and franchises weren't answered by the right people, and that improving the structure would change that. That doesn't sound too different to what you are saying.

  4. Before the IPL, name one instance of entire cricket teams being formed, with the blessing of the ICC. The Packer teams are an example - but this was shortlived. Besides, even Packer did not tamper with the format of cricket. I don't think the view that the IPL is somehow just another in a natural and ongoing shift of cricket into the entertainment business is sustainable.

    Cricket has always been governed by corporate bodies - non-profit cooperative confederate bodies, not commercial businesses.

  5. Do you mean entire cricket teams being formed in order to make money? I'd be surprised if this has never happened before IPL/ICL/Packer, but that isn't my point. The Packer teams were shortlived at least partly because the establishment began to play along. The influence may not have been as extreme as in the IPL, but in either case it needs to be scrutinised. (Apart from that, surely you are not saying the time-outs count as tampering with the format - the serious changes clearly came before the business model that you and Haigh are both focussing on here.)

    My understanding of the ideas discussed as "corporate governance" is that they are aimed at corporate bodies and their incorporated structure, not necessarily the commercial/profit angle. I agree that it would be a mistake to look at things in a money-making framework - I just don't think that is the issue here.

    Yes, we can ask whether governing bodies should authorise commercial leagues/teams. If anything, Haigh's third proposal seems to agree with you. But whichever approach is taken, it is certainly worth questioning how its implementation is governed, and also worth at least look at the relative advantages and disadvantages of the purely confederate structure that is more or less entrenched at different levels.