Finding a boundary
If we want to see cricket as a sport that is both ethically and morally significant, we must EMBRACE the Lodha Committee’s recommendations on the BCCI
The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s decision last week to appoint a former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju, to “interact with the Justice Lodha Committee” and to “advise and guide” the BCCI on its affairs is, at best, an effort at prevarication, and, at worst, a subversion of the Supreme Court’s authority. Exacerbating the tension, following his appointment, Justice Katju, rather indecorously given his stature as a retired judge, on August 6 released what he termed as a “first report,” with “more reports to follow,” in which he declared the Supreme Court’s judgment appointing the Lodha Committee as illegal and unconstitutional.
It is one thing to critique the court’s judgment as an outsider; for instance, it is plausible to argue, even if incorrectly, that the court ought to have exercised greater restraint in interfering with the board’s affairs. But to do as Justice Katju has, to advise a party to openly disregard the Supreme Court’s verdict, presents a dangerous proposition, one that is far more threatening than any act of judicial overreach. What’s more, in any event, given the peculiar facts and circumstances surrounding the BCCI’s structure, Justice Katju’s assertion that the court has exceeded its brief also fails to pass muster. If anything, these developments exemplify precisely why the Supreme Court’s intervention in this case was justified.
Why we play sport
To understand why the Supreme Court thought it fit to appoint the committee presided by the former Chief Justice of India, R.M. Lodha, to inquire into, and to recommend changes, to the BCCI’s organisation, we must confront a few fundamental questions. Too often, amid the chaotic world of modern sport, we tend to lose track of why we play sport, why we watch games, why we revel in them, and why we invest so much of our emotions into seemingly pointless pursuits. We must first ask ourselves, therefore, what the abiding purpose of cricket is. What do we want from it? Is the sport meant for pure entertainment? Can it be commercially exploited by a band of the elite owing no responsibility to the public? Or do we want the sport to represent a higher, more virtuous purpose? If so, how are we to achieve these ends?
To take any sport seriously, and to ask such questions, seems to represent, in some ways, an incongruity in terms. In fact, many commentators considered the adjudication of the dispute concerning the BCCI and allegations of spot-fixing as a waste of the Supreme Court’s precious time. The public, they warned, was according more importance to cricket than it really deserved. But the danger, contrary to such counsel, is not that we are taking sport too seriously. It is that we are not taking sport seriously enough.
As the American academic, Jan Boxill, has argued, sport serves to establish a moral function for society. It is “an unalienated activity which is required for self-development, self-expression, and self-respect”; or, put differently, it is morally important because it is “the art of the people,” one that ought to be included in what Marx termed as the “realm of freedom”. In India, where cricket plays such a pervasive role, the sport would therefore have to necessarily be seen as a primary cultural good, one which, to borrow from another American, the philosopher John Rawls, is critical to the fulfilment of a person’s conception of a good life. In that sense, access to cricket has to be considered as an end in and of itself, and as not in any manner subservient to some other veiled purpose, especially entertainment or business. In his marvellous epic, Beyond a Boundary, C.L.R. James argued that cricket allows us a grasp of a more complete human existence, where social justice is a legitimate aim. To seize ownership of the game we must, therefore, hold cricket’s administrators answerable to standards of public law, a check that would help in bringing about within cricket’s province a more equal distribution of resources.
When it sat in judgment over the various shenanigans of the BCCI and its management of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Supreme Court recognised some of these values inherent in cricket. For years, ever since its inception, the BCCI had functioned as its own master, as a sovereign whose diktats were decisive and unquestionable. As this dominion began to extend beyond India into a global clout, the inability to hold the board publicly accountable became graver still. Governments came and went, but legislative intervention has never been on the horizon.