SC plays role of umpire on cricket controversies

Published: Thursday, December 29, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:As Indian cricket often faced high drama off the field throughout 2005, the Supreme Court was called in to play the role of umpire to resolve controversies relating to the administration of the sports's richest body, telecast rights or other facets of the mostpopular game in the country.

The fall of the Dalmiya faction from power in BCCI or the Delhi ODI watched by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf or the telecast of various series involving India, all were mired in controversies and had to pass the scrutiny of the apex Court.

Against the backdrop of the power struggle for control of BCCI, the apex court deplored the way in which the most-loved sport of the country was run observing that the controversy relating to its election was a "fight of ego".

It was more disturbing for the Supreme Court as three of its former judges, including two Chief Justices of India -- Jutice K Singh and Justice M M Punchi -- were dragged into theunsavoury episode which also saw another judge, Justice S C Sen in an embarrassing situation after it was alleged that he had spoken to a member of particular faction before the AGM.

The court preferred to keep the judges away from the crossfire of the politics of cricket board and appointed former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy as Observer to the BCCI election.

Krishnamurthy not only completed his task but came out with the ills of the BCCI's Constitution suggesting its "thorough review" as it suffers from several ambiguities andinfirmities.

For Dalmiya, the first jolt was in the begining of the year when the apex court made abolute its last year's interim order restraining him from becoming the "paton-in-chief" ofBoard of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The year 2005 was historic for Indian cricket as the apex court decided the crucial question regarding the autonomy of BCCI by holding that Cricket Board was not a "State" within the meaning of Constitution and it could not be sued in a court for alleged violation of fundamental rights.

The vexed issue had come to fore during the hearing of a petition filed by Zee Telefilms Ltd against the Board for cancellation of its bid for telecast rights of all cricket matches played in India for a period of four year.

Though Zee failed to establish that BCCI was a "State", the apex court clarified that the judgement did not mean that sports bodies could get away with whatever irregularitiescommitted by them.

However, the telecast row for the series did not end with Zee's petition. The tri-series in Sri Lanka involving India, West Indies and the host nation brought Ten Sports at loggerheads with Prasar Bharti.

The apex court declined to give any relief to Prasar Bharti after it failed to reach agreement with Ten Sport, which had exclusive rights to telecast the tri-series, on sharing live feed for the matches with Doordarshan.

Earlier in the year, a similar petition was filed by ESPN challenging a Kerala High Court order directing it to share the live feeds with DD for the Indo-Bangladesh series.

Several such petitions have been taggged together and are pending before the apex court. Ten Sports has even urged that PILs on telecast row be heard exclusively by Supreme Court as by the time it reaches the top court, the purpose of TV rights gets defeated and company suffers immense financial loss.

The summer of the year saw Supreme Court playing a pivotal role when it cleared a last minute cloud on holding of the ODI between India and Pakistan at Delhi's Feroze ShahKotla, the match which had a significance, both in cricketing terms and politically, as President Pervez Musharraf was the special guest for it.

An NGO, Society for Safe Structure, had tried to stall the match by contending that due to construction activity, Kotla stadium was not safe to accomodate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Musharraf along with 30,000 spectators on April 17.

However, the court was not impressed with the arguments of the NGO and gave a green signal to the authorities to go ahead with the historic tie.

Amidst all these events, altogether a different type of battle at the state level for control of the game involving rival associations reached the Supreme Court. Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh saw two cicket associations fighting to have control over the same.

While the dispute between the two warring factions of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh is pending before the apex court, the conflict in Himachal Pradesh cricket was heard for a very short time when the issue of BCCI elections came under the scanner of the court.

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