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Indian top court orders removal of BCCI president – Shock ruling cites failure to enact series of recommended reforms

NEW DELHI, Jan 2, (AFP): Judges ordered the dismissal Monday of the Indian cricket board’s president over the failure to enact a series of recommended reforms, plunging the game’s most powerful body into turmoil.

In a shock ruling, a panel of Supreme Court judges said Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Anurag Thakur and its number two Ajay Shirke must stand down immediately.

Thakur said he would respect the decision, while voicing bitterness at the court for siding with a retired judge who had been demanding the shake-up in the BCCI’s governance.

“The Supreme Court passes an order directing the BCCI president and secretary to desist from any board functions from hereon,” said the ruling.

The order comes after judges slapped restrictions on the BCCI’s accounts last year over its failure to implement a series of reforms recommended by a panel headed by a former top judge, Rajendra Mal Lodha.

Cricket’s massive popularity in India has helped the BCCI become by far the wealthiest of all of the sport’s national boards, netting massive money from sponsorship and TV deals.

But it has also been embroiled in a series of scandals, including accusations of corruption and match-fixing that tarnished the Indian Premier League (IPL) — the board’s lucrative Twenty20 competition.

A corruption and match-fixing scandal in the sixth edition of the IPL in 2013 brought about the downfall of the board’s then-president Narayanaswami Srinivasan after his son-in-law was accused of betting on matches.

The elevation of Thakur and Shirke had been seen as representing a break with the past.

But the board’s reluctance to implement Lodha’s recommendations, which included age limits and term limits on office-bearers, had triggered a number of legal battles.

The recent series against England was nearly cancelled on the eve of the first Test as a result of the funding restrictions. In a video message posted on social media, Thakur indicated he would abide by the verdict while expressing bitterness at the decision.

“For me, it was not a personal battle. It was a battle for the autonomy of the sports body,” said Thakur, who is a lawmaker for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“I respect the Supreme Court as any citizen should. Supreme Court judges feel that BCCI could do better under retired judges, I wish them all the best. I am sure Indian cricket will do well under their guidance.”

Lodha said Thakur’s removal was an inevitable consequence of the board’s foot-dragging.

“One should understand that when the order of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the land, has come, it has to be obeyed by all. It is the law of the land. Nobody can escape it,” Lodha told reporters.

The judges also ordered Thakur to explain why he allegedly lied on oath about seeking a letter from the International Cricket Council stating that Lodha’s recommendations amounted to government interference. They threatened to charge him with perjury and contempt of court.

Thakur, who has until Jan 19 to reply to the contempt notice, only took over as head of the BCCI in May 2016.

But he had been effectively running the board for much of the previous year as secretary as a result of the illnesses and absences of his superiors.

Thakur said the game’s administration and development had been at “its very best” under his stewardship.

“India has the best cricket infrastructure, built and maintained by the state associations with the help of BCCI,” he said. “India has more quality players than anywhere in the world.”

India, the world’s number one-ranked Test team, is in the middle of a busy season, with England due to play a one-day series later this month ahead of tours by Australia and Bangladesh.

Veteran commentator Ayaz Memon said the turmoil should not have an impact on the field but important issues would remain up in the air until a new leadership team is put in place.

“It’s not just hosting of the IPL but there are broadcast rights and so many other things,” he told AFP.

Cricket writer Prem Panicker agreed that the players would be unaffected.

“They will go about their business as usual,” he said.

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