NEW DELHI - The newly-elected boss of world cricket N. Srinivasan suffered a blow on Monday when an Indian Supreme Court panel probing a match-fixing scandal said his son-in-law was guilty of illegal betting on games. After an extensive investigation, the three-member panel also said allegations of match-fixing against Gurunath Meiyappan during the Indian Premier League (IPL) required further investigation.
"Roots of corruption and malpractices have crept in deep into the game of cricket, more particularly the IPL, and are seeping into the game at an alarming rate," the panel said in its 170-page report made available to AFP. The panel, headed by retired judge Mukul Mudgal, suggested that Meiyappan may have passed on team information to outsiders for illegal betting, but did not specify what information or to whom.
Meiyappan was the team principal of Chennai Super Kings, an IPL franchise owned by Srinivasan's India Cements company and captained by national skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The court had appointed the panel on October 8 to investigate the scandal that last year rocked the popular Twenty20 tournament run by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The probe was separate from investigations by police, who have filed charges in court against a string of officials, players and bookmakers for illegal betting during the tournament.
Meiyappan has been charged by Mumbai police with forgery, cheating, criminal conspiracy, breach of contract and handing critical team information to alleged bookmakers. The panel's report come just two days after Srinivasan was chosen as the first chairman of the International Cricket Council in a controversial shake-up of the governance and structure of cricket's world body.
"One notes with utmost pain that the folklore of corruption and such other malpractices that has come to surround the game of cricket and in particular, IPL, unfortunately has a ring of truth to it," one member of the panel, Nilay Dutta, wrote in the report. The report was handed to Supreme Court judges Ananga Kumar Patnaik and Jagdish Singh Khehar, who will take it up on March 7.
The panel dismissed Srinivasan's claim that Meiyappan was merely a cricket enthusiast, saying he was the face of the franchise. It also said Srinivasan himself could face a conflict of interest by being the BCCI president and also the owner of the IPL franchise, "a serious issue" that needed to be considered by the court. Allegations of betting and spot-fixing against another IPL franchise owner, Rajasthan Royals' Raj Kundra, must be further investigated, the report said.
Mudgal said the menace of match-fixing may never be eradicated from cricket, India's most popular sport. "I don't think match-fixing can be totally eliminated," Mudgal told the CNN-IBN TV channel. "It is necessary to legalise betting and gambling to erase match-fixing." Despite the probe, the Supreme Court allowed the players' auction for the seventh edition of the IPL this year to go ahead as scheduled in the city of Bangalore on Tuesday and Wednesday.
BCCI vice-president and chief spokesman Rajiv Shukla told AFP the board would take further action only after the Supreme Court gave its verdict. "This is a panel report, let us wait to see what the Supreme Court rules," he said. "I have no further comments to make." Even as the reputation of the IPL took a hit, the future of the Chennai Super Kings was thrown into doubt.
IPL rules state that a franchise "may be terminated immediately" if the franchisee or owner's actions have a "material adverse effect" on the competition's or the sport's reputation. The IPL, which began in 2008, features the world's top players signed up for huge fees by rich business houses and individuals in a glitzy mix of sport and entertainment.
The panel recommended that leading former cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble advise young players about the malaise of match-fixing. International news organisations, including Agence France-Presse (AFP), have suspended their on-field coverage of matches hosted by the BCCI since 2012 after the board imposed restrictions on picture agencies.