Fandom is tireless. Fandom is tiring. You wake up at odd hours. You kowtow to superstition. You endure fluctuating blood pressure, pulse rate and sanity. Rahul Mehra has exhibited many of these symptoms as an Indian cricket fan. But, added to this is one more drastic, albeit less common symptom: The sport has taken him to court.
For two decades Mehra, 45, a lawyer, has been a one-man battering ram bringing his frenzied passion for sports to his workplace, picking battles with officialdom and seeking to gut a corrupt and compromised system so as to reform it for fans and athletes.
Nearly 20 years ago Mehra fired his first salvo. He took the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), cricket's governing body, to court for its opaque functioning – and he won. Henceforth, the BCCI had to be answerable to citizens. In 2010, Mehra filed his next Public Interest Litigation, what he calls the “mother of all PILs”, an ambitious, sprawling petition against a clutch of Indian sports bodies, aiming to end malfeasance and political meddling in sport. He has brought nearly every federation to court, seeking age caps and tenure limits on those who hold power, and elicited orders to redo illegally-held elections and enforce existing rules. This PIL is a fight that is very much still in progress.
It seems almost foolish to ask him how much time he spends on his sports work, as if one could quantify love through metrics. “What is your passion in life? What is one thing you love to do?” he counters. “What if someone tells you why are you wasting your time [on it]?” He pauses. “This is my passion. I may be a professional lawyer, but I am a sportsperson at heart.”
We are seated in his drawing room full of bric-a-brac in a bungalow in New Delhi. Mehra is in a waistcoat, checked scarf, coat, and pinstripe trousers after a long day at work. He is tall and lithe, but a receding hairline presages the passage of time.
“I never worked towards this or ever thought I would take anything to court in a PIL, forget cricket,” he says. “But once the journey started, I couldn’t stop. I knew this is a calling, this is what I like, this is what drives me. Maybe [things happen] at a slow pace but the difference was visible. And I knew it’s worth making that kind of difference.”
Mehra has since become a familiar face on television having joined the India Against Corruption Movement and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Now, he is the Delhi government standing counsel in the Delhi High Court. But in the world of sport, he is still a notorious nuisance for administrators, with his persistent shrilling for reforms. “I don't have a single friend, only enemies, in administration,” he says. “People might respect me (I don't know if they do) but I do know that a lot of them would like to see the back of me.”
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About the Writer
Bhavya Dore is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist. She has written for various national and international publications. She usually writes about criminal justice issues, culture and sports. @BhavyaDore