Sourav Ganguly is the new BCCI president - good, but for how long?

Former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly is to be the President of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI). That’s a good thing.

 

Or is it?

 

If the Lodha Committee’s recommendations are followed to the T, he would be there for only nine months, because he was heading the Cricket Association of Bengal for five years, and he needs to ‘cool off’ for three years after July 2020.

 

Don’t ask me why this rule is there. It makes no sense, like many other aspects of the way cricket is run in India.

 

Many say it is because of democracy where there is one vote per state, regardless of whether it plays any cricket, like the hill states of the Northeast. Many have argued also for years that the real problem lies in the way democracy is practised in the running of the BCCI.

 

Really? Isn’t it the most successful board in the world in every sense of the term? What’s the problem then?

 

So, one warning: the term democracy should not be misused. If, by it voting practices are meant, that’s another kettle of fish altogether because voting is not always democratic, even when it appears so.

 

I don’t mean things like booth capturing or coercion or vote banks. I merely mean that bad outcomes are inherent in all voting, regardless of where it happens.

 

This has been pointed out by many economists who have studied the subject. The first to do so was Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, who said voting between alternatives involved problems that could lead to what he called the ‘dictatorship of the majority’. But that was for large elected bodies.

 

For small elected bodies like the BCCI, however, it’s not the majority that’s the main problem. It can be but not the main one. It’s actually what is called tactical voting.

 

This aspect was studied by the philosopher Alan Gibbard and the economist Mark Satterthwaite long ago. They said that it could happen, say, that members with a vote on a board vote against their own interests because they indulge in tactical voting.

 

This is the term used to describe a situation when the voting member does not reveal his true preferences but votes instead to prevent an outcome – for instance, if a state can’t get an ODI match, it will vote to prevent someone else from getting it.

 

In that sense it is a negative vote, not a positive vote. That’s the problem with it.

 

Tactical voting can also be said to have happened when a member did not vote on the basis of his or her own information but about what he or she thinks is the information that others have or, as happens many times, when he has been dictated to.

 

BCCI has been but one example of this. Cabinet decisions are also victims of this problem. The outcome is wrong too often for comfort.

 

This happens because not all committees that aggregate information do so efficiently, even though the purpose of committees or boards, etc, is in fact to aggregate information fully and efficiently.

 

An equally big problem is conflict of interest, which the Lodha Committee tried to address — unsuccessfully as it has turned out.

 

The key here often lies in the composition of a committee or a board. The Board of Administrators appointed by the Supreme Court to supervise the BCCI is a good example of this. It failed because of conflict of interest issues.

 

These conflicts exert pressure on the committees to reach unanimous decisions if only to look good to the public. But, you know what? Unanimity is almost always inefficient and often doesn’t happen.

 

One good thing, however, is that, as suggested by Gibbard and Satterthwaite — who said final decisions could not and should not be democratic if you want efficient outcomes — real power now rests solely with the captain of the Indian team and the coach. They run the game.

 

This is the big change that has taken place after all the contortions that the BCCI has gone through since the Supreme Court started intervening. In that sense the dynasty element that resurfaced now will not matter much.

 

As to the running of the board, as distinct from the game, that’s an administrative matter. It is not a matter for public scrutiny because no public money is involved. Only public attention.


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