The outrage with which former players have received the defeat of Dilip Vengsarkar has once again revived the old debate - should the Sports Associations be exclusively reserved for the former players? Though Dilip has taken it sportingly but some of the comments from former players have been interesting to say the least.
This is not a legal question, not even an ethical one. This question is one of domain knowledge of the game. The presumption is that the domain knowledge of the game best inheres in a former player. The bigger the level that a player has represented, the better his knowledge of the game.
The question is whether it is enough to have played the game at the highest level to run an Association. Allied to that is the question whether it is enough to have run a ministry to be able to run a sports association. I have carefully heard the arguments on both sides. The extreme point of view of course came from Bishen Singh Bedi who termed Mumbai cricket as a loser due to the victory of a former CM of Maharashtra.
Between these two arguments is also the question of art of contesting elections of democratic bodies. Elections can be a messy affair and the theory of elections is as different from the practice as chalk is from cheese. Dilip Vengsarkar has done yeoman service to Mumbai cricket and has given back more to Mumbai cricket than he has got. He is one wedded to the field. He runs academies, conducts tournaments, attends games and passionately promotes the U-14s and U-16s. He has been in MCA administration for many years and has been representing them in BCCI. He genuinely invests in Mumbai cricket's future. He is a notable exception in his tribe as there are many other greats who have done precious little for Mumbai cricket except to attend a few committee meetings. Yet this was not enough to convince the voters to elect him.
The converse argument is that Bombay cricket's best years, including a 15 year run as Ranji champions came when SK Wankhede was its President. Their signature property, the Wankhede Stadium was his handiwork and Bombay dominated Indian cricket like a colossus during his reign. He was not a cricketer, much less a Test player. He knew his voters though. He knew their requirements and was able to carry them. At the same time, he spawned a system in which the cricketers did the specialized jobs, such as coaching and selections and he promoted a fair system where only the best could represent Bombay. Even under Sharad Pawar, Mumbai has been winning Ranji Trophy time and again.
I asked Makarand Waingankar, veteran sports journalist and a close friend of Dilip, what he thought of it. Mac was forthright as always. He said, "The politician knows the system and its loopholes and how to exploit it. The cricketer knows his cricket and thinks that the voters would reward his cricket acumen. This doesn't happen."
Why this doesn't happen would be the next logical question. A Test cricketer would spend all his formative years and the best part of his youth playing the game. He learns the art of batsmanship, the nuances of bowling, the finer aspects of cricketing strategy and all about the modern developments in training methodology. After having represented India for many years, he retires and then realizes that he has spent the better part of his life doing things that the public has enjoyed but he has neglected learning things which make for moving up in life outside cricket. He may probably have neglected education and he has not the ghost of an idea about financial aspects of running an association, much less contesting an election. He would be ideally suited for running the cricketing aspect of an Association if he gets the co-operation of a competent Administrator. To run the administration, he would have to learn the ropes, the politics, the legal complications, the financial aspects, Income Tax and Service Tax issues, and not the least, liaison with various agencies. While a politician would have been exposed to many of these facets of running an Association right from the beginning of his career, there would hardly be a Test player who would have been exposed to these before retirement. This puts an ex-player at a considerable handicap even before the race begins.
Coming to the nitty-gritty of elections, a player is once again considerably handicapped. A politician is product of elections and has known the process inside out ever since he began his career. A player is just beginning to feel his way into the real world after retirement. The higher his achievements, the more difficult it is for him to come to grips with the real world post-retirement. Elections are fought ruthlessly, where no quarter is given and none should be asked for. I contested against Lalit Modi and I could counter every trick up his sleeve with my knowledge of law, politics and cricket, but how many players are in that position. Brijesh Patel ran KSCA for 12 years, but he got into it early as he did not play many test matches and could devote a lot of time after an early retirement. (I hope Anil Kumble and Srinath prove me wrong). Harsha Bhogle wrote on twitter that 'heading a sports association is like running an automobile company. You must love your product and know how to run a business'. Sanjay Manjrekar replied to Harsha that 'you need a sports minded guy with administrative skills rather than just sportsmen running associations'.
Another stark fact is that no politician has come into an association by himself. Leave aside rare examples where players also double up as politicians, all politicians are brought into associations to counter the rival group. Entry of non-player politicians is almost always the result of internecine warfare within the Associations. Skilful player administrators keep politicians at bay even as they are actively hobnobbing with them, as they know it all too well that they would stand no chance against a politician in a head to head contest. Most players are anyway happier doing the specialized jobs, such as coaching, refereeing, training, commentating and a lot of other paid jobs. How many of them really prefer an honorary job of running an association?
The most difficult person to contest against was undoubtedly Lalit Modi. He was many things combined into one and a very very aggressive litigant to boot. To contest and win against him, you had to be at your very best in everything, and specially in the legal field. He once obtained a stay order from the Hon'ble Supreme Court bypassing the regular appellate channel of the Double Bench of High Court. We were incredulous. He could spend crores of rupees per day on litigation and attempt impossible remedies from courts. He could offer impossible amounts to buy votes, take audacious, even outrageous steps and be completely brazen about his methods. A player would never be able to match him and his methods. He once flew an entire contingent of voters in a Charter flight to Bikaner to get a few signatures on a paper. I remember having told reporters after my victory that "Money can buy a lot but not everything." I think Dilip had a far easier opposition.
I also have to join issue with the cricketers who pronounced Mumbai cricket dead after Dilip lost the elections. I like Dilip personally and I am sure he would have done a great job as MCA President but institutions do not live and die on the basis of a mere election. I have to ask these greats of cricket as to why they do think that sportsmen alone can do a great job of running an association. We live in a democracy and our sports institutions have a process of democratic franchise. It is extreme thinking to say that a person who loves a sport cannot run a sports association only because he has not represented a country in that sport. By this logic, nobody would run club cricket as he would have no hope of going to the highest positions as those positions would be reserved for international players! By converse logic, what right does a person have to have the top positions reserved? Why should an ordinary club secretary who runs cricket at the grass root level not be equally qualified to occupy top positions?
The controversy to me is a bit unnecessary. The truth is that anyone who runs cricket at any level is eminently qualified to run a sports association if he has the necessary wherewithal. The Vengsarkars of this world will have to learn a few more tricks than just running cricket to be able to win elections of associations and I wish them the best. It will be a good thing if former top players get into the nitty-gritty of administration a little bit early in life otherwise they can't blame the voters but only themselves for losing elections to poll experts.