Lalit Modi, the man who launched the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2008 and made it a stupendous success, but two years later was suspended as IPL Commissioner following serious charges against him, discussed the current spot-fixing controversy with Ajita Shashidhar in an email interview. Edited excerpts:
Q. As IPL founder, how do you feel about the recent controversies engulfing the tournament?
A. Very sad. I'm also annoyed and extremely frustrated. At the end of the day, I am an administrator so I'm angry to see the game crumbling like this. The failures are there for all to see. A different administration with even a semblance of reason would have managed it far better than this. It's a national disgrace.
Q. Do you fear the recent events pose a threat to the very existence of the league?
A. Although the situation is very serious, we need to put it in perspective. What people appear to be missing is that the IPL is not the only sporting event where match fixing or spot-fixing is an issue. The problem is that the people in-charge are allowing it to seem that way. In January, the FIFA General Secretary, Jerome Valke said match fixing was "a disease" that could kill football. In February, the Head of Australia's Crime Commission, John Lawler said match fixing was the single biggest problem facing Australian sport. You can't isolate the IPL as being the exclusive province of fixers, but people are doing that because the IPL has been allowed to become the subject of everybody's criticism. As I say, it doesn't make it right but it illustrates that the IPL is not an exceptional case. The IPL was built to be sporting entertainment. It was never meant to be a replacement for Test Cricket or ODI. It was a T20 carnival that was exciting and fun. People should ask whether it is the IPL that's flawed or the people running it.
Q. Has the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) flouted any ethical codes you had put in place?
A. Well for starters, it seems that no-one has had any direct power apart from the person at the very top and it's as if no one can speak unless he is given permission. I actually challenged that in an e-mail to the president in 2009 which I published a couple of days ago.
After this latest spot-fixing scandal was reported, days went by before the IPL Commissioner said anything. In my view, that isn't good enough. The paying public, the people who fill the stadiums deserve answers but the man who runs the specific tournament in question was nowhere to be seen. Now that might not be entirely his fault, but the lack of communication was terrifying. The problem was massive to start with. But extra damage is done if the people directly responsible for the tournament don't react. My view was always to approach a problem head on. It's a fundamental principle that seems to have been forgotten.
Q. Many in the corporate world feel it is high time the BCCI's autonomy was curbed. They think there is need for government supervision. Will that reduce malpractices?
A. This is rooted in the lack of transparency and strong governance within the BCCI. If the BCCI had been operating appropriately, the debate about government supervision wouldn't be necessary. It is exactly the sort of individual issue which reflects the wider picture. The BCCI is under pressure because there are questions that people justifiably want answers to, but there has been no transparency. They (BCCI officials) should have been working in-house to fulfil their public obligations. Instead, everyone is now looking at a problem that could have been avoided if they had worked up a responsible solution based around complete transparency.
Q. How can one ensure transparency? How can confidence be restored?
A. The only way to restore confidence is to replace the entire board. The president's position is clearly untenable and the appointment of one his own lieutenants in his place is out of the question. The BCCI has lost the confidence of the public, the sponsors and the IPL franchise owners. Now is the time for wholesale change. Promotion from within would merely be moving the pieces around the board. We need to start a brand new game and everyone associated with the current administration must go immediately if Indian cricket is to regain its credibility.
Q. Many feel franchise owners should not be part of the BCCI. [N. Srinivasan, BCCI Chairman, also heads India Cements, which owns the Chennai Super Kings team.] What's your take?
A. I agree. It's all part of the whole issue of control. The (team) owners should have their own voice but that has been suppressed.
Q. Sahara, one of the longest supporters of the sport has not only pulled out its franchise, but also withdrawn its sponsorship of the national team. How does this reflect on the BCCI?
A. When you read the Sahara statement, it's easy to see why they've pulled the plug. It reflects miscommunication, evasion and general contempt on the part of the BCCI for a company that has been involved in Indian cricket for over a decade. It reflects badly on those running the game and I think under the circumstances, Sahara have been incredibly benevolent in delaying the withdrawal of their support for the national team until January. It's another reason why those at the top of the BCCI have to resign. And the list of reasons is growing longer and longer.
Q. Finally, how different was your style of functioning? What is the BCCI's biggest flaw?
A. As I said earlier, there seems to be a complete vacuum within the IPL Governing Council. It seems that no one is able to speak unless he has permission. I was very hands-on and dealt with things publicly on a daily basis. Sometimes I was abrasive but for me transparency and publicity for the brand were vital ingredients. Some people didn't like that because they wanted to see their own name in the lights - which is why I'm where I am now. As for others, well, they're finally getting their fair share of publicity.