Lalit Modi: Too long in exile

For a little over a year now, Lalit Modi, has lived in exile, and is reluctant to make public his exact address, given how seriously he takes the threats against his life.

Updated: August 21, 2012 09:35 IST
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For any lover of sport, there was no better place to be in the world this summer than London. Just as the sheen came off Roger Federer's win over Andy Murray in an emotional Wimbledon tournament, the Olympics began. If you didn't get tickets to watch Usain Bolt run faster than any man ever has, and did not find the long-distance swimming at Hyde Park particularly enticing, there was more to come. South Africa were then engaged in doing their best to knock England off their perch as the No. 1 Test team in the world. For one sports fanatic, though, London wasn't his destination of choice. For a little over a year now, Lalit Modi, has lived in exile, and is reluctant to make public his exact address, given how seriously he takes the threats against his life. By all accounts he's not exactly slumming it, but there's only so much you can gild a cage. In this exclusive interview with Wisden India, Modi opens up on what it's like to go from being the centre of attention to an outsider.

It's been over two years since you were ousted from the IPL, suspended as its chairman. What has this time been like?

Firstly, I am a patriotic Indian and I miss my country very much. I look forward to the day when I can return and hopefully that moment won't be too far away. But it's been immensely frustrating because I have still to get answers from my accusers. I've responded to all the allegations, complied with every request for information and provided documentary evidence to support my position, but there have been no conclusions made and for some curious reason, no one seems to want to advance any of the Show Causes or hearings to the point of decision. Perhaps that's how it suits them. But although it all came to an abrupt and totally unjustified end, I would rather focus on what I achieved by bringing the tournament to life in the first place.

What has been the overriding emotion, when you hear of the IPL, since the time you were forcibly separated from what was essentially your baby?

The IPL was - and is - a tremendous tournament and there is an immense sense of pride at what I was a part of. Naturally, I miss being a part of the event but that is out of my hands.

Stories of how hands-on you were, the long hours you kept, the travel, are legendary. How do you now occupy your time?

Working with my legal team to prove that the allegations against me are completely unfounded is pretty much a full-time job! But I keep myself busy in London with other activities and projects and I've enjoyed watching IPL V, which remains a tremendous event - whatever anyone else might think.

More specifically, how do you keep your mind occupied? After all, you're not one to sit idle...

Yes, I'm always on the go. Anyone who worked with me or saw me when I was chairman of the IPL will know that doing nothing is not an option. And anyone who now works with me in London, knows that too! But as I've said, the fight to prove I've done nothing wrong and that the allegations are unsubstantiated and without grounds continues to occupy me.

What's the most difficult thing about having to live away from India, your home?

Well, I do miss my country enormously. I'm very happy living in London, which is a fabulous city, but it isn't 'home.' I have my immediate family around me but all the familiar surroundings and the members of my wider family, who I rarely get to see, are certainly the things that I miss. The simple 'human' elements of life are exactly the same, whether you're in the public eye or not. And I'm certainly no different, although people sometimes lose sight of that fact.

We've heard a lot about Lalit Modi, but know nothing about your friends. Who are your closest friends? How have they helped you in these tough times?

Over the last couple of years, I've certainly worked out who my true friends are. I keep in touch with many, many people, all of whom have been supportive and who are too numerous to mention. They've all supported me and consistently reminded me of what I've achieved with my career - and obviously, in particular, the IPL. If they had any doubts, they'd have probably distanced themselves, but they haven't. And for that, I'll be eternally grateful for their confidence and their love.

You were synonymous with the IPL, but there was lot of other things in Indian cricket you were involved in. What else do you miss?

The buzz. The Rajasthan Cricket Association was essentially where it all started, so the well being of cricket in the region is always close to my heart.

There must be a silver lining as well. What about being an Indian cricket administrator do you not miss?

The hassle. Actually, solving challenges was part of the fun. I'm very much of the school: "show me a problem and I'll show you the solution." and I suppose that's another element I miss. But as for what I don't - well I'm bound to say 'the politics' I suppose.

A lot of people, most notably Vijay Mallya, have spoken up in support of you. Have you drawn strength from something someone has told you?

I draw strength from the many people who have uttered kind words of support. And in Vijay, I draw strength from a man who was vilified but is the stronger for it.

This isn't the first battle you've fought in your life. Is it the toughest? Are you hopeful all this will eventually have a positive outcome?

I'm confident because I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. When I joined the BCCI, I took their commercial revenue to unprecedented levels within four years with contracts, including those for the IPL, totalling around US$ 10 billion. That sort of revenue supports development of the sport across the whole country, so I'm comfortable - and very proud of what I achieved for Indian cricket, not just the BCCI. The current situation is certainly a challenge but is it the toughest battle? I don't think so, because it's about reputation and not, for example, health or well-being and I've never lost sight of the overall perspective.

How hard has this period been on your family?

They have been very supportive and I cannot begin to express how much strength I have taken from them, both collectively and individually. I am sure they would have preferred that the issues were not there, but they have helped me confront them with a strength that I could not have achieved alone. I know the truth of all outstanding matters and that I have done nothing wrong and I take great comfort from the fact that my family are fully behind me and are supporting me in whatever it takes to prove it.

Has relocating been a major disruption for your wife, children?

I think relocation is disruptive for anybody but if you are a strong unit and believe in what you are doing, you will always make it work. We are strong, we believe and we have made it work. I couldn't have kept going as I do without them.

When you were on a high, people queued up outside your door for a minute of your time. Now they're wasting little time in going after you. What has this taught you?

It's taught me it's the way of the world. I'm still the same person I was when I was in office at the IPL, but some people have changed their attitude. The sort of people you're talking about have chosen to believe what's been said by those who they'll never have the courage to challenge. But that's just a part of life. As I've said, I'm confident I've done nothing to be ashamed of and I value the support of those who believe in the truth.

In hindsight, were there some things that you could have done differently?

I'm sure we would all do things differently if we had the chance to do everything twice. The minute you consider that you don't need to learn anymore, is the minute you will fail. Every project, every event, every tournament, is a learning curve and successful people are the ones who understand they are never too old to learn. Yes, of course I would do things differently but importantly - and with the benefit of hindsight - I'd like to think they would be 'better' rather than 'different.'

You seem to have rubbed some people the wrong way with your behaviour. Is this because you were misunderstood, or did you perhaps get carried away with all the success?

The IPL was successful and I was in the public eye, which some people didn't seem to like. We had created a successful product and they wanted a piece of the front-line action. There were definitely certain people using their status within the Indian game to make life difficult when, instead, they should have been enjoying the moment. You'd have to ask other people why they didn't.

Your relationship with the media is a complex one. On one hand you seem affable, professional, on the other, you're cutting and disparaging about the work the media does. What do you have to say about how the media has treated you?

I've never been afraid to offer my opinion in any situation and sometimes people - not just the media - don't like that. But I would consider my relationship with the media to be a good one. I've always tried to make myself available when I can be but even that has been misinterpreted in some quarters, at times. The media has a job to do and right now that job, from my personal perspective, is to ask why the BCCI is dragging its feet on the issues it has against me. They (the BCCI) won't substantiate or progress with their claims, and they won't drop them either. Someone should be asking why? But, in general, I have no issues with how the media have treated me.

So much has been written about you since your fall, but so little new information has emerged. Have you been amused by some of the comment?

I think that question is reflective of my last answer in that the absence of new information is because there has been no progress at the BCCI end of things. I've answered all their Show Cause notices by providing irrefutable proof - all of which is replicated on my website for all to see. I've even offered to fly people to London at my own expense in order to answer their questions and present original documentation but for some reason, these offers have been declined. So from my perspective, there's not much more I can say. The ball is in their court.

What about you has the media not understood?

I think the fact that I've complied with all requests and answered all allegations, hasn't been translated into questions aimed at my accusers is the one I find most unusual.

Is the image of Lalit Modi in the public eye different from the real Lalit Modi? If so, how?

I think you could probably say that about most - if not all - people in the public eye. I think my public persona is that of an energetic, determined and unrelenting individual. Away from that I'm nothing more than a husband and a dad.

At what point did you realise that the tide had turned irrevocably within the BCCI?

I'm not sure there was ever any one moment, but the greater the success with the IPL, the greater became the levels of personal animosity that I found astonishing. It probably didn't help that I pushed back at certain issues in direct opposition to Mr. N. Srinivasan because he certainly wanted things done his own way - and by all accounts still does. I pushed back on some important issues because of his ownership of the Chennai Super Kings. I considered that certain demands such as trying to hand-pick the umpires list in 2010, was a conflict of interest and not in the interests of the league as a whole. It was absolutely the right thing for me to do to retain the integrity of the tournament, but it probably didn't help my position!

What will it take for you to come back to India?

Well, the return of my passport would be a start. That's another issue that is forever being delayed by red tape and try as we might, we haven't been able to speed up proceedings in that direction. Apart from that, issues about my personal security - and that of my family - are well documented and would need to be addressed with the relevant authorities.

Do you still harbour ambitions of returning to cricket administration in India?

You never know what might be around the corner, but I consider myself to be a sports administrator at heart.

In the last year, have you been approached by other cricket boards or other sports authorities to share your expertise?

I've been approached by many people, from a number of different areas, but it wouldn't be right to discuss them right now.

If you could change one thing about the way Indian cricket is run, what would it be?

I think the ability for the regions to govern themselves and develop cricket within their jurisdiction as they see fit. I don't think it's appropriate for a central body, in such a vast country where facilities and requirements are very different across the locations, to dictate policy. State associations need a stronger voice to develop their own assets, which, in turn, can only be good for the national game and the national team.

* This interview was conducted over email.

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