Cricket is a national sport that connects the people of India in a unique way. Yet for a sport of unrivalled popularity within the country, The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been widely criticised and accused of serious inaction regarding betting and match fixing issues.
Many of these criticisms have been addressed in a report by Rajendra Mal Lodha, a former Chief Justice of India. Lodha headed up a three-member panel, appointed by the Indian Supreme Court, and recommended that cricket betting be legalised in the country, while suggesting structural changes to the powerful BCCI to ensure more transparency in its operation.
As the number 1 sport in India, international cricket matches are now the subject of endorsements, commercials and various vignettes measured to extract every penny possible as revenue. It is therefore unsurprising that it has also attracted the interest of the wagering community.
With only horse-racing legally permissible in India, those interested in betting have gone underground and sought out illegal bookmakers to manage their affairs. When you consider that the worldwide legal sports betting market is worth over $400 billion, money laundering was probably an inevitable outcome.
It also came to the notice of the Committee that bookies maintain a close vigil on players from an early stage in their career and lure them with gifts and cash for a sustained period of time, before eventually introducing them into illegal betting and fixing syndicates.
Over recent years, these illegal syndicates have continued to thrive, as shown by the 2013 betting scandal which led to two-year bans for two franchises in the Indian Premier league (IPL). Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings were kicked out, while life bans were handed out to two key officials for their involvement in illegal betting.
This prompted the appointment of the panel to enforce the necessary structural changes to cricket betting in India. Chairman Rajendra Mal Lodha and colleagues interacted with 74 individuals before submitting the report, which confirmed his recommendation for legalised betting, the criminalisation of match fixing, and an in-built mechanism to ensure players and administrators don’t bet on matches.
He commented: We have suggested legislature for legalising betting. To ensure that players don’t get involved in betting, they have to disclose their assets to the BCCI. It can only be done through betting houses which will have to take licences. Any misconduct by them will result in cancellation of those licences.”
The recommendations made also included the introduction of regulatory watchdogs to ensure the strict monitoring of betting houses. And that the BCCI should be brought under the Right to Information Act which would allow citizens to access information held by the board.
Finally, the Anti-corruption wing of BCCI/ICC should work in co-ordination with police, and develop sophisticated investigative machinery to prevent betting and fixing in cricket matches, and collect all information available from players or other sources.
It is important to recognise that Lodha has acknowledged some good work from BCCI, particularly with pumping money back into the game to improve infrastructure and successfully hosting international tournaments.
Indeed, since Shashank Manohar returned for a second stint as president in October, BCCI has been striving to shed its reputation for being non-transparent and slow to react to pressing issues. Any expenditure above 2.5 million rupees is now put up on the board’s website, and they have been pushing an ACSU education module involving lecturers by ICC instructors.
However, Lodha is in no doubt over the room for improvement, the need to remove ‘ailing parts’ of the organisation and the importance of enforcing these recommended changes.