GAME PLAN: Conflict is what makes BCCI interesting

Jaideep Ghosh

File photo of BCCI President Shashank Manohar. Photo-PTI

File photo of BCCI President Shashank Manohar.

I have a question. If Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s cousin was to open a motorcycle repair shop called Mahi Motors, would that be in conflict of interest with the BCCI’s car pool?

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in its immense wisdom, appointed an Ombudsman to look into matters of Conflict of Interest (CoI) which encompasses everyone related to cricket – from players and former players to office-bearers, peons, bartenders, drivers, even the guy selling flags outside BCCI stadia (unless they are local municipal stadia, hijacked by BCCI).

Wisdom, because everyone, each and every member of the board, or its affiliates, has some conflict of interest or the other and if the BCCI really wanted to act on it, there wouldn’t be any BCCI left.

Right from pushing respective sons and nephews into age-group camps, teams and first-class sides, to sifarish for being bought by IPL sides, CoI is everywhere.

This whole drama about Harbhajan Singh owning an apparel company – or rather, not owning (his mother is the owner, on paper) – ‘Bhajji Sports’ and supplying uniforms to several first-class sides has become an issue.

There are mentions of players being partners, patrons or just shadows in many sports and event management companies, among other things.

Now, I’m a little confused about which is sillier, the BCCI objecting to Bhajji Sports’ business deals, or Bhajji denying to have anything to do with a company, named Bhajji Sports, and owned by his mother.

Sure, if I were to create a company called Virat Properties or Mahi Sports or Nehra Paan Bhandar, no one could have said anything, since I don’t have any conflict of interest with BCCI.

The same also applies to anyone who isn’t directly a cricketer. You cannot possibly expect, say, Dhoni’s wife to open a fashion apparel outlet at a mall near a cricket stadium and not put up a picture of her and MSD. She isn’t obliged to foot the Ombudsman’s CoI clauses.

It’s the same everywhere. MSD has relatives running Rhiti Sports, an event management company. Likewise, almost all players, in some shape or the other, are having some interests in companies which some way, direct or indirect, have interests in cricket.

I mean, look how the host broadcasters, Star Sports, are using Dhoni to promote hockey. We also see him promoting the veterans’ league that was played in the United Arab Emirates recently and broadcast on a completely different channel.

So how can he appear in ads which are not related to cricket, or not associated with telecast rights sold by BCCI? Isn’t that classic CoI?

The UAE event had many banners of Rhiti Sports. Coincidence? Most definitely not.

File Photo-PTI

File Photo-PTI

So what action did the BCCI take? Was Dhoni asked not to appear in such ads?

There is no end to CoI. What is baffling is how some former cricketers running a cricket academy makes for any great crisis in BCCI.

Now, academies have been run for decades, and not just by retired players. Some of the most famous names in Indian cricket were associated with the BCCI, doing commentary and running academies, all at the same time.

They even made money on the side, doing advertisements, with contracts from television channels, where they discussed BCCI events (some still do) and at times even criticise the board!

But to ask retired former players, who run academies, to simply give it all up or give up any affiliation with any BCCI body, is ridiculous. It is their years of playing cricket that they are imparting to youngsters, both inside BCCI and outside.

If the board is suggesting that these players can unduly influence team selection etc., then the fault lies with the BCCI, not them.

The fact remains that cricket in India will never be a sacrosanct entity. There are eternal undercurrents of interests, crossed connections between players playing for India, for IPL franchise and now, even for retiree tournaments (no wonder Virender Sehwag retired in a flash).

There are cricket leagues everywhere. The IPL, the Big Bash League in Australia, the Caribbean Premier League in the West Indies. Now even Pakistan has begun a league.

One notable point about all these leagues is that no Indian player is seen in any of them. So someone came up with a brilliant idea – a Legends’ League, only for retired players.

Voila! Viru retired in a flash and was made captain of one of the teams. So did Shivnarine Chanderpaul, not to mention Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

Mark my words, as soon as the ICC T20 World Cup is over and some players realise that they are not going to get better deals than warming benches, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Retd.) will gather serious momentum and I can foresee this becoming cricket’s next great exodus.

Don’t kid yourselves. Cricket is always going to have Conflicts of Interest. What the BCCI is doing is making things awkward for some older guys, who are just trying to get by. The younger lot, especially the ones playing now, will always find ways to bypass and make money. And cricket will go on.