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Cricket business

Asking all state cricket associations and players to sign an undertaking on Conflict of Interest, preparing Code of Ethics to curb corruption among its officials and bringing in FIFA-like system of player agent accreditation, are some of the corrective measures which Indian board is taking but in a haste. The entire system shows how almost everyone is involved in the game of conflict of interest one way or the other.

‘Conflict’ persists over ‘interest’
The BCCI recently wrote to all cricket associations to sign an undertaking on the issue of conflict of <g data-gr-id="269">interest,</g> and plans to get the players to sign up too. Holding the associations to the undertaking, however, may be easier said than done, with several retired international cricketers likely to find it tough to continue in their BCCI posts. If Roger Binny’s three-year stint as national selector may end – his son Stuart was given a Test cap under him – other past stalwarts such as Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have lucrative contracts with IPL franchises, or have connections with firms managing players etc, that clash with their BCCI duties. 

Admitting that there is a big challenge to curb this problem, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur said in a media interaction last week that the last few years had been turbulent, “We respect the Justice RM Lodha committee’s verdict. In the last four months, we have taken many steps to bring more transparency and accountability.”

The BCCI’s undertaking, that stops members of cricket associations from having any commercial interests associated with the game, comes at a time when the Justice Lodha committee is looking into organisational reforms in the body. Surprisingly, at one hand the board is mulling changes while on the other hand India’s Test skipper and current ODI skipper have <g data-gr-id="264">glaring</g> conflict of interests. Virat Kohli, who now has a big say in deciding the India’s test playing XI, is associated with a sports management company which manages five other Indian cricketers; the skipper also has business links with the company. After Kohli replaced M S Dhoni as skipper last year, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav signed up with Cornerstone, an agency that already had Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan in its stable, apart from the captain.

According to some media reports the company is also in “advanced talks” with Mohammad Shami and as per the company’s claims there are many others who have expressed interest in associating with his firm. At the same time, Kohli has launched a chain of fitness centres under the brand name Chisel and a clothing line, <g data-gr-id="251">Wrogn</g>, in collaboration with CSE consulting, which is a sister concern of Cornerstone. Despite the fact, the board is pretending to leave no stone unturned in assuring credibility and transparency in the system, no board official has come to comment so far on India’s Test skipper’s conflict of interest issue.

Earlier, Indian ODI skipper M S Dhoni had also faced allegations of “conflict of interest” when it was reported that he had a 15 <g data-gr-id="244">per cent</g> stake in Rhiti Sports Management, a company that managed him. At the time, <g data-gr-id="245">Rhiti</g> had under its wings Dhoni’s <g data-gr-id="246">team mates</g> Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha and R P Singh. Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly, who was named in the BCCI advisory committee <g data-gr-id="247">alongwith</g> Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, has backed BCCI in its clean-up act.
“They (BCCI) have extended to everyone who is associated with cricket and I don’t see a problem with it because it is just a declaration that you give to the board,” 

Ganguly had said. “I really don’t keep a track as to who is signed by whom. It will really be difficult for me to say anything on this. And if there is anything to it then I am sure BCCI will deal with it,” he added.

It was reported in the media that current and former Indian cricketers will not be immediately required to sign ‘Conflict of Interest’ <g data-gr-id="278">undertakings</g> but they may have to do so in future. There was speculation that current and former players will also be asked to sign the undertakings, just like the BCCI members who have been asked to declare that they do not have ‘conflict of interest’ while holding functionary posts in their respective cricket associations. No players have yet been sent any ‘No Conflict of Interest’ undertaking yet. This is right now only <g data-gr-id="279">mailed</g> for presidents and secretaries of the state associations. After that it will be for the various committee,” a member of the BCCI Working Group set up to examine the Lodha Committee verdict said on condition of anonymity to a news agency. “Gradually we will bring everyone but that’s a long way to go. As of now, no player or <g data-gr-id="274">ex player</g> has been sent any document. It is still some time before players are <g data-gr-id="281">bought</g> in the ambit,” he added, without giving any <g data-gr-id="282">time frame</g> as to when the players could be asked to sign the undertaking.

A more tricky issue is the terms of conflict of interest for former players. While it is desirable to utilise their experience in cricket administration, some former players have stakes or responsibilities in commercial concerns linked to cricket. For example, former players Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have been criticised for assuming roles as broadcast commentators despite being on the payrolls of the BCCI. It was noted that Gavaskar and Shastri could not take an independent position on cricketing issues if they were beholden to the BCCI. It is also argued that cricketers cannot be blamed for being more closely associated with the sport in financial roles, unlike politicians and industrialists who enter state cricket associations eyeing the prestige and influence that the Board and the sport commands. Ultimately, the Board owes the reasons for its existence to cricket, cricketers, and the cricket-watching public. The mindset of maximising profits for the game and its stakeholders have led to pernicious practices and corrupting influences.

Code of Ethics: work in progress
Adding to the steps they have taken in recent times to try and clean up the game, the BCCI have now started the process of preparing a Code of Ethics for all board officials. In the wake of the 2013 IPL betting and fixing scam, the board is preparing the code for its officials to avoid issues of Conflict of Interest and corruption in future. “BCCI is concerned and determined to safeguard its integrity. The Code of Ethics when formed would define important core values for behaviour and conduct within the BCCI. It would be a good way of ensuring that administrators and officials refrain from anything that could be harmful to BCCI’s aims and objectives,” BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya was quoted as saying. “The code would describe the minimum requirements for conduct and behavioural expectations. To ensure transparency, BCCI would get the draft ethics code vetted and finalised by an eminent senior lawyer with impeccable credibility and reputation,” board secretary Anurag Thakur has said.

Player Agent Accreditation
Continuing its efforts to clean up the game, the BCCI on last Sunday said it will put in place a Player Agent Accreditation System to ensure that those handling the cricketers’ commercial interests are bound by a code of conduct. “In order to make the structure thorough enough and to ensure that player agents are bound by the set of laws and the code of conduct, a thorough and extensive Player Agent Accreditation System would be in place soon,” BCCI chief Dalmiya said in a statement. 

 “Discussions and consultations involving all stakeholders would be held shortly in order to achieve a high degree of acceptance and to propose a new system that is transparent and easier to administer,” added board secretary Anurag Thakur.

Two years ago, when I was the interim head of the BCCI, I had drawn up a 12-point programme to clean up cricket, which included the conflict of interest issue of players. I saw several players had off-the-field ventures. I also wanted the players’ agents to be accredited with the BCCI. Somehow, those clauses were not put into effect. - Jagmohan Dalmiya, President, BCCI

I don’t see a problem with it (declaration) because it is just a declaration that you have to give to the board. I really don’t keep a track as to who is signed by whom. It will really be difficult for me to say anything on this. And if there is anything, I am sure the BCCI will deal with it. - Sourav Ganguly, BCCI advisory panel 

Cricket is so popular in India, so you have to be careful as every act of yours is under scrutiny. There should not be any conflict of interest or individual interest involved. Once you are above that, everything will fall into place. Every act of yours thus creates a right or wrong perception about BCCI or about cricket. It’s very important that every step we take is in the right direction. - 
Anurag Thakur, Secretary, BCCI

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