When the BCCI stated that it would accept the Lodha Committee’s recommendations in toto, few believed it would make any substantial difference to its inner workings and the postponement of any decision about the suspended teams CSK and RR only fueled these suspicions.
The first inkling of sweeping changes in the offing occurred yesterday when the BCCI addressed the issue of conflict of interest in a letter to its members requested them to sign a declaration stating that they have no existing conflicts of interest in their capacities as officials with the BCCI or any state association.
The letter states:
“Conflict of interest is not about beliefs or biases. It is about a person’s roles and responsibilities, and the tendency or apprehension of bias that assumes to exist when duties, decisions or actions conflict. Deciding that someone has a conflict of interest is a description of a situation, not a judgement about the person or their actual beliefs.”
It also asks members to declare the absence of “any personal or family allegiance, bias, inclination, obligation or any interest of whatsoever nature, directly or indirectly which may in any way affect or provide any financial or any other benefit to me, my family or close relations or which may tend to interfere with or affect my objectivity, independence, impartiality and neutrality in any decision making process, acts and conduct relating to or arising out of discharge of my office of President/Hony. Secretary of …”
It is a pity really that the antics of politicians and certain ‘luminaries’ within the BCCI and other national sports federations have tarred all who have been accused of conflicts of interest with the same brush.
The paucity of qualified people especially ex-sportspersons willing to be a part of sports administration is well known and there is always a possibility that there will be some entanglement of private and public roles and responsibilities.
That’s as it is. It should not be sufficient reason to jettison recent developments as non-viable or unworkable in an Indian context. This has been the bane of any attempt at reforms.
Let us revisit the definition of ‘conflict of interest‘ first.
“A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.
The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs. A widely used definition is: “A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.” Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public office. Secondary interest includes not only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement and the wish to do favours for family and friends, but conflict of interest rules usually focus on financial relationships because they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable. The secondary interests are not treated as wrong in themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. The conflict in a conflict of interest exists whether or not a particular individual is actually influenced by the secondary interest. It exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that decisions may be unduly influenced by secondary interests.”
Conflict of interest is best understood in the judicial context. It’s probably no surprise that Shashank Manohar, a lawyer by profession, was and is one of former BCCI supremo N Srinivasan’s staunchest critics.
“Judicial disqualification, also referred to as recusal, refers to the act of abstaining from participation in an official action such as a court case/legal proceeding due to a conflict of interest of the presiding court official or administrative officer. Applicable statutes or canons of ethics may provide standards for recusal in a given proceeding or matter. Providing that the judge or presiding officer must be free from disabling conflicts of interest makes the fairness of the proceedings less likely to be questioned.
In the legal profession, the duty of loyalty owed to a client prohibits an attorney (or a law firm) from representing any other party with interests adverse to those of a current client. The few exceptions to this rule require informed written consent from all affected clients, i.e., an “ethical wall”. In some circumstances, a conflict of interest can never be waived by a client. In perhaps the most common example encountered by the general public, the same firm should not represent both parties in a divorce or child custody matter. Found conflict can lead to denial or disgorgement of legal fees, or in some cases (such as the failure to make mandatory disclosure), criminal proceedings. In the United States, a law firm usually cannot represent a client if its interests conflict with those of another client, even if they have separate lawyers within the firm, unless (in some jurisdictions) the lawyer is segregated from the rest of the firm for the duration of the conflict. Law firms often employ software in conjunction with their case management and accounting systems in order to meet their duties to monitor their conflict of interest exposure and to assist in obtaining waivers.”
Wikipedia also lists the following methods for mitigation of conflicts of interest:
N Srinivasan, in an attempt to retain his position as BCCI president, has placed his CSK shareholdings in a ‘players’ trust‘. This, however, did not cut any ice with the Supreme Court since the remaining 71% shares were still owned by India Cements in which he and his family members hold a controlling interest.
Disclosure and recusal sometimes go hand-in-hand where the (usually prior) disclosure of a conflict of interest may lead to the official abstaining himself from any deliberations where a personal stake could affect the outcome.
The stakes are high. The aforesaid letter is just the beginning.
The next step would be for the BCCI and state associations to set out code of ethics and conduct for players, office bearers and umpires.
Will N Srinivasan see the writing on the wall and step down from the ICC?