OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

With just weeks to go for the cricket World Cup, the government on Thursday approved promulgation of an ordinance, making it mandatory for private broadcasters to share live feed of important sporting events with public broadcaster Prasar Bharati. The Government order will cover television channels, radio stations and content providers. With this order the Government has declared Cricketing events to be of “National Importance” at home and abroad. Reacting to Thursday’s ordinance on sharing of sports feed with DD, Nimbus CEO Harish Thawani pointed out that Nimbus has lost Rs 55 crore in revenues during the four-match series against the West Indies. Meanwhile, I&B minister PR Dasmunsi announced the setting up of a technical committee — including officials from BCCI and Prasar Bharati — to examine the modalities of ‘encrypting’ signals being telecast by Doordarshan’s national channel, which would ensure that the feed is not accessed by broadcasters outside India.

Offstumped has normally witheld itself from commenting on matters related to Cricket but with the Government bringing in National Interest into the telecast of sporting events and injecting Social Justice into it, Offstumped could not help but respond.

Before we get into the morality of Social Justice in Cricket, it is important to recognize the following. The Board of Cricket Control in India which is the entity ultimately benefitting here enjoys monopoly status in the regulation of cricket. It also enjoys tax exemptions and the benefit of access to stadia across India at a nominal fee. So what we have here is a monopoly which while enjoying all the tax benefits of a not for profit society raking in millions by selling access to the goods it regulates at market prices. For instance the global media rights for international cricket to be held in India between March 2006 and March 2010 were awarded to production house Nimbus for a mind-boggling sum of US$612 Million. For being the richest sports body in India and in the world of cricket, while enjoying immense political and social goodwill in India, the BCCI is barely transparent. It does not even have an Official Website worth its value. Control of BCCI has been a high stakes political game having reached previously unknown heights with a sitting Union Minister and potential Prime Ministerial aspirant Sharad Pawar serving as its President after a few court battles. Pawar is not alone in this high stakes Political game with another Prime Ministerial aspirant and BJP leader Arun Jaitley keeping him company for the jockeying of control of BCCI.

So where does BCCI spend its millions ? That indeed is a million dollar question. For an entity that has so much goodwill at the highest political offices in India, that the Central Government saw it fit to convene an emergency cabinet meeting to promulgate an Ordinance, an extreme legislative measure normally reserved for unforeseen exigencies of national importance when parliament is not in session, the BCCI has little to show by way of accountability.

Who exactly is the BCCI accountable to – A smoke filled room of political power brokers and the old boy network  ?

Let us ask the question in a different way. Is there a cost of cricket to the aam aadmi in India and if so what is it ? On the face of it from the recently promulgated Ordinance it would appear that there is no cost to the aam aadmi what with all cricket matches available for free on Doordarshan thanks to Prasar Bharathi receiving all the feeds. But then there is no free lunch. The Indian Tax Payer while apparently enjoying free cricket on National Televsion is already subsidizing BCCI which auctions cricketing rights to media entities for millions via tax exemptions and its monopolistic status. By granting BCCI monopoly on Cricket and then exempting it from taxes, the aam aadmi is paying a hefty price for Cricket rather unwittingly. 

So there was no Social Justice to begin with in cricket. Now what has this ordinance done to it. It has in fact created a rather peculiar monopolistic collusion between the Government and the BCCI where both benefit at the expense of the aam aadmi and the private enterpise in the business of distributing cricketing content. It is kind of like real estate scams in India where the same piece of land is sold twice to two different individuals using false titles. So here you have Sharad Pawar the BCCI President first selling cricketing rights to a private entity and netting a hefty sum in return. And then along comes again Sharad Pawar the Union Minister forcing the private entity to share the same rights back to him so that Sharad Paware can once again sell that content for advertising dollars.

So in the name of Social Justice what you have here is an Ordinance that esentially ensures that Sharad Pawar comes on top no matter which way the content is sold.

Offstumped Bottomline: Before celebrating free access to world cup cricket the aam aadmi must rue how much he or she has been deprived of Social Justice in the name of Social Justice. The Ordinance is a disgrace to a government that swears by the aam aadmi and justifies first claim on resources on Human Rights Interests. There is no Social Justice in letting BCCI enjoy a monopoly on cricket and tax exemptions. There is no morality in letting a Union Minister administer BCCI while regulating how its content is marketed. The Government should be ashamed of its rush to Ordinance.

If Cricket is religion to the masses its regulation and governance must be left to the masses in a free market. So before the Cricket Feed sharing Ordinance makes its way to the Ninth schedule in the name of social justice and national importance it must be challenged in the courts and consigned to the dustbin. BCCI’s monopoly on cricket must end with greater transparency and accountability and of course those tax dollars.

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