Corruption in Cricket Exposes India's Larger Failings

This latest corruption scandal is a powerful reflection of the larger failings afflicting India today: rampant cronyism, poor governance, and the absence of accountability.
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There appears to be no end in sight to India's long season of scandal. Charges of corruption have now engulfed the world of professional cricket, the country's most revered sport. Authorities arrested three players and eleven bookkeepers weeks ago for alleged spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India's hugely popular and profitable domestic tournament. This latest corruption scandal is a powerful reflection of the larger failings afflicting India today: rampant cronyism, poor governance, and the absence of accountability. To understand the root causes of India's current corruption crisis, one need not look any further than the controversy now surrounding Indian cricket.

The IPL debuted five years ago as a shorter, flashier, and more lucrative version of the English summertime sport. Modeled after the English Premier League, the IPL recruited a host of international cricket stars for its team rosters and was an instant success in India.

But the league's governing body, the Board of Control of Cricket (BCCI), has fared less well over the years. Although it is one of the richest sporting bodies in the world with revenues totaling more than $200 million annually, the BCCI claims status as a charitable organization and only recently began paying taxes on its vast income. Board members seem more interested in lining their pockets and ascending the organization's hierarchy than in regulating the sport or improving governance. The BCCI's current president, N. Srinivasan, for example, owns one of the IPL teams that his board purportedly is tasked with regulating. His son-in-law, a senior manager of yet another IPL team playing in the tournament, was recently arrested in connection with the fixing scandal. Srinivasan, however, has refused to resign as BCCI president.

It is perhaps no surprise then that corruption has flourished in Indian cricket. The cronyism, opaqueness, ineffective governance, and lack of accountability characteristic of the BCCI, however, are not limited to the sports arena. On the contrary, these ills consistently represent the hallmark features of all of India's recent high profile corruption scandals, from the 2G scam to Coalgate, and speak to the larger problems plaguing the country today. In fact, corruption in cricket, like corruption everywhere else in India, is hardly a new phenomenon. Over the past two decades, countless cricketers have been fined, banned, and even jailed for engaging in a wide range of illicit activity including fixing and betting on matches. Charges of match-fixing against the captain of India's national cricket team in 2000 revealed the shadowy nexus between India's cricketers, bookkeepers, and racketeers over a decade ago.

Remarkably little has changed since then. The controversy now surrounding the IPL seems to confirm that this nexus remains largely intact because Indian officials have done virtually nothing to disassemble it. And therein lies the problem. New Delhi's inability to stem the tide of corruption in Indian cricket exposes its wider failure in addressing India's corruption epidemic more generally. The same corrosive forces rotting the sport are likewise rotting the country and the government has yet to formulate an effective set of reforms to stop the steady decay.

So what is India to do? Overhauling the structure and management of the BCCI, imposing harsher penalties on complicit cricketers, and enacting sports-specific anti-corruption legislation represent useful starting points. Although these remedies focus on the current IPL controversy alone, they constitute effective guideposts in addressing India's larger corruption problem by encouraging oversight, accountability, transparency, and better governance. By implementing these steps, Indian cricket can provide a model of how to curb corruption rather than being a source of it.

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