In response to the release of new film Death of a Gentleman, Sahil Dutta says it’s clearer than ever that the way in which cricket is run must change.
Scandal is seductive. It is the news investigative journalists long to unearth, and punters long to consume. In sport, scandal means fixed matches, doped athletes or bribed officials.
Cricket might have elements of all three, but that’s not what Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber discovered in Death of a Gentleman. What they found instead was far more sinister and endemic: the legal, almost banal, corruption so familiar to many powerful institutions today.
The “biggest scandal in sport” doesn’t involve many secrets. It lurks not in the shadows but in the stark desert sun of Dubai, and it doesn’t need brown envelopes and briefcases of cash to function. Instead it’s written into the constitution of the International Cricket Council. It’s a scandal that hides smack bang in the foreground.
The Big Three takeover, the shrinking of the World Cup and the continual denial of cricket’s Olympic participation were the headline problems raised in the documentary. Each works to fill the coffers of the boards with the most already, while at the same time making it harder to share cricket with those countries still developing a love for the game.
As Kimber pointed out after the film, Afghanistan’s rise is the best story to come out of cricket in the last 20 years, but it’s possible they may never be permitted to compete in another World Cup. It’s devastating and maddening. But not illegal. And therein lies the problem. Legal malpractice, eventually, can be exposed and justice served. Ethical malpractice – brought to light so brilliantly in the documentary – can carry on indefinitely.
This everyday corruption, the corruption of a broken system, is the most insidious. Its power comes precisely from the fact that everybody already knows it exists. Told the game is run for the good of elite members, elite sponsors and elite broadcasters, people shrug their shoulders.
That is the corruption of our age. Where we know what happens, see what happens and carry on as if it’s not happening. It’s the special kind of submission only absolute power provokes. When nobody is equipped with the means to challenge those in charge, we choose not to bother.
So in cricket, while the BCCI, ECB and Cricket Australia continue to capture (not generate) the majority of cricket’s riches, the game’s administration is theirs to abuse. Nothing we – or the MCC World Cricket Committee – say can change that.
Cricket’s revolution won’t come from a change of attitude. It will only come when outsiders find a weapon to blast open the closed shop. That’s what Kerry Packer had with the World Series and that’s what Lalit Modi (borrowing from the ICL) found with franchise 20-over cricket: an alternative source of financing that left the establishment with no choice but to compromise.
Today’s cricketing landscape feels more barren, but potential exists. The Associate and Affiliate nations could dump the ICC, join forces and pitch for Olympic participation, unlocking government and Olympic committee funds that would loosen the ICC’s grip on the game.
Eventually the seven smaller nations could join them too. It may sound fanciful, but so did the IPL before it happened. And we know the Essel Group recently played with the possibility, at least, of a breakaway cricket league.
When change seems possible, even the most apathetic stand up and take an interest. The beauty of Death of a Gentleman is to remind us why we have to.