When most sporting institutions have adopted professional and specialised ways of functioning, some still continue to run autonomously, writes N.U. ABILASH.
SHOULD 50 per cent of the country's population be denied access to television coverage of cricket, a game that enshrines "Englishness", for the sake of a few million pounds? This question, which resonated across the sporting firmament in England recently, was the consequence of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) granting exclusive live TV rights for all matches in England from 2006 to 2009 to a satellite provider, overriding a combined bid by the same satellite channel and a free-to-air channel.
The debate in England following the ECB's controversial move has seen many different sets of conflicting interests playing each other out terrestrial TV against satellite TV, county against the country, foreign against English, traditional against globalised American, playing the game against watching it are some of these. From an Indian perspective, though, the most interesting aspect of ECB's new agreement with its television partner is that it was concluded a full 18 months before the start of the matches that came under its purview!
The BCCI in focus
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in stark contrast, opened the tender process of the sale of its own multi-million dollar TV rights to all matches played in India for four years from October 2004, barely a month before the Australian tour of India started! Small wonder, then, that the deal landed itself in the courts.
The ECB's professional approach, in keeping with the manner of running modern governing bodies of sport, has to be understood in terms of its repeated reinventions as a modern governing body of sport. In 1968, the MCC, supposedly the most conservative among all governing bodies of cricket and an organisation which was run according to the structural tenets of amateurism, constituted the professional Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) to run the first-class game in England and Wales, so as to be eligible to receive State funds for development.
The TCCB evolved into the ECB in the late 1990s in a classic case of repositioning it in the market. Under the leadership of Ian McLaurin, former managing director of Tesco, the giant British retail group, it became a professional body run along corporate lines and well supported by State funds in developing grassroots cricket.
The governing body of cricket in India, though the richest in the world, has shown reluctance to transform its structure into a modern, professional and accountable body run according to the work ethic of industrial capitalism though it handles sums of money which would give many leading business groups of the country a complex. The continued existence of the BCCI as a registered society (its consequent privileges such as exemption from tax), its perceived autonomy from the State, in terms of the absence of direct forms of funding, and the honorariums in place in it, all give one the impression that it exists in the realm of civil society, in which domain political scientists who have studied sport have placed private amateur clubs.
The example of Bob Lord
Perhaps, our job of trying to figure out the connections between the BCCI, professionalism, amateurism and television coverage of sport can be made easier by introducing the forceful (and colourful) personality of Bob Lord as an entry point. Lord was the chairman of Burnley Football Club, which now plays in the first division, in 1960 when the club was champion of England. In his autobiography published in 1963, he ranted against televising of football matches. He believed that commercialisation of sport, which would be the logical consequence of televising sport, would undermine the amateur ethos of the working of a club, such as its autonomy (not just in relation to the State but also the market), its spirit of voluntarism and its highly personalised relationship with a community of spectators. If Lord were to be made aware of the BCCI, one can be sure that he would sneer at the disjoint between the structure of the governing body of cricket in India as a non-profit making body akin to a private club and its financial dealings, such as the current television rights imbroglio in the Supreme Court worth $308 million.
Lord, like other believers in the credo of amateurism, believed that money would change social relations and it would be a matter of great impracticality, bad governance and moral posturing if one continued to behave as if one were a private club (when one was laying in more and more into television money, which falls in the public domain) without stopping the flooding of its bank account from television revenue. Commercialisation of sport through television, Lord had argued then, has to be backed by commercial development of it at the grassroots level and at the labour market (if one had any moral and ethical sense of fair play that constitutes the essence of sport), which was possible in the long run only if the existing structure of the club was changed to embrace more professional and commercial models.
Lincoln Allison's landmark book Amateurism in Sport, otherwise an apologia for amateurism, struck a similar chord when speaking about the BCCI and its functioning. Allison writes thus: "In India, for example, it was pointed out at the beginning of 21st Century that the Board of Control for the country's major sport, cricket, technically a non-profit charity, was spending less than two per cent of its revenues on coaching. The vast majority was spent on `administration'."
What social historians say
Progressive social historians of sport have read amateurism pejoratively as a defence of the class system owing to its actual political economy (only those who have money in life will treat sport as a sphere autonomous of the market and the State where happiness, not money, is the operative word). Though this may be the case, it must be said that amateurism, at the level of political philosophy, is founded on a range of ideologies ranging from Utilitarianism to Marxism.
In the post-commercial age of sport, most sporting institutions have adopted a professional and specialised way of doing things thanks to being under direct forms of control. The controls, whether that of share holders in the market or that of the governments, are the results of the recognition that governing bodies of sport are discharging functions which fall under the public domain in post-industrial society. All English premier league clubs are public limited companies; Real Madrid, in addition to being a PLC, is also subsidised heavily by the City of Madrid; the national Olympic associations of most countries are under the control of the respective governments; other cricket boards, such as the ECB, Cricket Australia, UCBSA and the WICB, are directly linked to the national governments in their respective countries through various structures.
In England, for instance, the link between the ECB and the government is through quasi non-government organisations (quangos). In Australia it is through the programme of excellence instituted by the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS), whereas in modern South Africa and West Indies, it is through enforcement of a representative character typical of the post-Apartheid and post-colonial histories of these societies.
The controls have been put in place to ensure transparency, and they have been largely responsible for the funding of grassroots sport in the post-commercial age of sport, where only the "national" and the "international" are valued as categories. The Manchester United Youth Academy has made millionaires out of working class boys such as Paul Scholes and David Beckham and the youth academy of West Ham United Football Club has created Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.
These controls have also been largely responsible for ensuring representation in elite sport for people from marginalised backgrounds. If England and South Africa are well ahead in redressing the issue of representation through their Racial Equality policy and Transformation Charter, Australia too has begun to address this issue in a small manner by the key role that Jason Gillespie, a half aborigine, has been playing in its global success. Besides, Cricket Australia has started a school of excellence in Perth under Dennis Lillee to train the next generation of aboriginal cricketers.
One hopes that the BCCI would learn some lessons from the smooth manner in which the ECB found its television partner. Professionalising its structure and establishing some visible linkages with the government should be the way forward for the BCCI if they want to be taken seriously by the people of India. After all, $308 million is a lot of money. Surely, we deserve better value and returns for all that.
Send this article to Friends by