The Mudgal Report: Beating the IPL Haze

State-of-the-art equipment and cash seized from an IPL betting gang in Hyderabad in 2013.   -  File: The Hindu

These are times when the controversies surrounding cricket are more in the headlines than the score. Last year’s Indian Premier League was dogged by a betting and match fixing scandal, prompting the Supreme Court to set up a probe committee. The Justice Mudgal Committee recently submitted its report to the Supreme Court, but one of its members differed with the majority view. The Hindu Centre’s Abhishek Mukherjee analyses the two reports that bring out the dark secrets of the gentleman’s game.

The Indian Premier League (IPL), which raised hopes of ushering in a new and exciting format of cricket, continues to be mired in mistrust. Suspicion and confusion, which hasn’t stopped surrounding the IPL, is now spread even more by those who should be reducing it.

Unanimity has eluded members of the Justice Mudgal IPL Probe Committee, constituted by the Supreme Court to investigate allegations of betting and spot fixing in last year’s edition of the tournament.

Justice Mukul Mudgal, retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court — who chaired the Committee — and L. Nageswar Rao, Additional Solicitor General of India, found that there was adequate evidence to substantiate charges of betting and the use of insider information, but not so in the case of spot fixing. [Click here for the report by Justice Mudgal.]

The third member of the Committee, Nilay Dutta, a senior advocate, however, struck a different note, seeking more evidence to prove the charges. [Click here for the report by Mr. Dutta.]

The Committee has arrived at different conclusions with regards to the proof of allegations. Moreover, there are fears of attempts by law enforcers to hide information to the Committee, amid speculation of many players being involved in corruption.

It seems that water is slowly receding from the tip of the iceberg.

Besides fanning the flame, what does the Committee, after its thorough probe, tell us collectively about the murky world of cricket and the IPL? More importantly, does it avoid the trodden path?

It recognises the puzzling lack of will by the actors in the day-to-day running of the game to close out tightly all outlets to unfairness and corruption. This further prompts a consideration: is everyone on the same page in their support to get rid of corruption?

It starts at the very top: N. Srinivasan’s ownership of India Cements, the company that owns Chennai Super Kings (CSK), while heading the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), a phenomenon called by the Committee as ‘conflict of interest’. It seems strange that a person who holds power within the BCCI holds a business stake in something that it conducts, for his influence could be used to unfairly favour his franchise. Whether that has happened or not is another question.

The ‘conflict of interest’ seems to be even more relevant in connection with allegations of corruption within the CSK. Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of Mr. Srinivasan, is found to have indulged in betting and passing on information for betting purposes and is also proved to be a team official of the franchise, a fact vehemently denied by the CSK bosses.

Contradictory Findings

But an additional report by Mr. Dutta, a member of the same Committee, refused to hold Mr. Meiyappan guilty on any account until the transcripts of the conversations on phone provided by the Mumbai police as evidence was scientifically proven. Here, the two reports appear to contradict each other as the Mudgal report seems convinced about his role in betting and passing useful information in its ‘inference’, based on its communication with the Mumbai police, the Chennai police and ‘the views of other persons who deposed’ before the committee.

It finds proved ‘the allegations of betting and passing of information against Mr. Meiyappan,’ whereas Mr. Dutta’s report states the inability to confirm his guilt for lack of proof of the authenticity of the tapes, for it holds that only this evidence was the clinching factor. “The materials against Gurunath Meiyappan on allegations of betting have been produced only by the Mumbai Police before the Committee,” it says.

Both reports are critical of the apparent uncertainty over his position in the franchise. The suggestion by Mr. Srinivasan that Mr. Meiyappan was a ‘mere enthusiast’, when he had been projecting himself as the owner of CSK, is dissected and commented upon sharply. The Committee understands that these were noticeable efforts in disassociating Mr. Meiyappan from the franchise, to prevent the team to be terminated; it is laudable that the argument has not been allowed to find traction.

The Mudgal report raised the valid question of how an amendment was allowed to be made to a rule that prevented BCCI officials to have any business interest in any event associated with the board, and noted that “it is evident that the questions raised before us about conflict of interest are serious and may have large scale ramifications on the functioning of cricket”.

One of the reasons why it could potentially harm the game is that it sets a precedent on the ability to manoeuvre the laws to suit personal interests. Digging a little deeper, it was found that ‘various persons who deposed before the committee’, including former BCCI president, A.C. Muthiah, found the amended law — and thereby Mr. Srinivasan’s position — unacceptable for its potential dangers.

But if the dangers are so well known, how was the amendment allowed? A former BCCI administrator (whose name is kept confidential) revealed that the tweak was accommodated only to help Lalit Modi, the banned former IPL Commissioner, own an IPL team. Does it suggest that the eyes looked away wilfully?

Were Anti-Corruption Agencies Proactive?

The other major doubt concerned the usefulness of the agencies constituted to prevent and investigate corruption — the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) of the ICC and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) of the BCCI. The role of the units, which are supposed to function in conjunction with each other, was ‘far from satisfactory and ineffective’, it was concluded, elaborated by two noted flaws.

They were observed to have limited their focus to the players who had already been in news through investigation by the Delhi and the Mumbai police. Further, the charges of fixing against Mr. Meiyappan somehow weren’t looked into thoroughly by them, despite the presence of information available for investigation.

The units need more power — they don’t have the authority to conduct sting operations or tap phones, for instance. It is a point that the report states in its recommendations. But despite this, this sluggishness from agencies formed solely to prevent and examine such crimes, is odd to see.

The alarming finding that ‘the committee during its interactions and on review of documents provided to it has come across many allegations of sporting fraud’, also begs the question as to whether the units were proactive enough. For, it is pointed out that there seems to be a reliance on ‘outside agency’ like the media to reveal a prospective wrongdoing for the probe to begin.

Pointing to a Deeper Mess

The reason for such lapses seems to be lethargy, but there is a possibility of deeper mess if the lethargy is on purpose.

The report, while being forthcoming in suggesting a comprehensive repair-work, maintains its integrity by not naming players who have been brought under the scanner for corruption, and providing the details in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court. Having expressed its surprise over claims that Raj Kundra, one of the owners of the Rajasthan Royals, wasn’t aware that betting was illegal in India, it concludes its opinion on his case by asking for a detailed probe on him.

However, in a rare departure from finding all kinds of faults with the way allegations of corruption have been handled so far, the report deems BCCI’s inquiry into allegations of spot fixing on four players, who were found guilty, as ‘adequate and satisfactory’.

Could this be due to the convenience of finding scapegoats to distract attention from the root of trouble?

The obvious holes to plug would be to correct the imperfect laws such as the rule allowing BCCI officials to own IPL teams and the removal of doubt in the definition of Ownership of a team. Mr. Dutta’s report stated, ‘The definition under clause 1.1 of the Franchise Agreement, states that an owner shall mean, any person who is the ultimate controller of the franchisee.’

But this reeks of confusion as to who the owners really were, and although it has been unequivocally held that Mr. Meiyappan’s involvement as a team official has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, the ambiguity is certainly an example of neglect for a professional sports league.

There should be a stringent code of conduct imposed by the team regulating its internal affairs. If a person who is not officially recognised as the owner should happen to assume control of the team, fines and other appropriate penalties should be levied. All actions undertaken at the behest of the principal should face the consequences of their actions and it is important that the mechanism for the same should be reflected in the legislation that governs the sport.

The case for legalising betting in India to help stamp the fire is also made in the report. If that happens, lawmakers will have the capacity, among others, to keep a tab on betting syndicates, to notice anything amiss. It will also help the persons who place their bets to gain a fair chance of winning their bets. It may ‘reduce the element of black money and the influence of the underworld, besides helping them (law enforcers) in detection and focusing their investigation’, as the report maintains. But it can’t serve as a broom that removes all the dirt — for a sport that has as high an evaluation as cricket in India, the total eradication through this means is unlikely.

Another mitigating factor is proper screening of players’ agents, whose presence is not seen in a good light by the committee. Their prospective links to the bookies and the underworld can be avoided, thereby reducing the threat of players getting lured by them.

What can further help the players keep away from temptations are, as rightly mentioned in the report, cautioning counsel by ‘players with impeachable integrity’, and interactive meetings in local languages instead of lectures by foreign instructors organised by the anti-corruption bodies.

But these suggestions, though valuable, seem limited in scope, and may only help in creating a healthier atmosphere off the field, for the committee has gauged the deep-rooted dangers the game is presently facing that need a more comprehensive look.

Mr. Dutta’s report calls for the constitution of an investigative team to look into betting, spot-fixing and corruption in the IPL and Indian cricket. It is ironical that a genuine concern for the game comes from people outside its domain — a similar concern had been shown by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in its report on match fixing in the wake of confessions by the late South African cricketer, Hansie Cronje, 14 years ago. Despite all the steps taken to make the blockage to corruption opaque, media outlets and the police have repeatedly exposed the failure of that happening.

The Committee seems to have fulfilled reasonable expectations of having made genuine attempts at showing the mirror, which is not easy to do since there is always a fear that the image would be too dirty to show. It will remain to be seen whether this image will be on its way to be cleansed, when the Supreme Court hears the case based on the report on March 7.

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