On July 21, 2015, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur wrote a letter to his colleagues, asking them to address the conflict of interest issue in Indian cricket by signing a declaration promising ethical integrity. Following week, India’s cricketers were be asked to sign a similar undertaking. This, for many, will be easier said than done.
Five years later on July 5, 2020, BCCI ethics officer said he was examining a conflict of interest complaint against India captain Virat Kohli from Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association life member Sanjeev Gupta, who has levelled similar charges against other players in the past which were deemed “infructuous”.
In his latest complaint, Gupta has alleged that Kohli is conflicted as he occupies two posts — captain of the Indian team and director of a venture which has co-directors linked to a talent management company that has on board, several of his teammates.
As Indian Express reported in 2015, at least five of those players are associated with an agency that not only manages Virat Kohli but also has business links with the Indian Test captain, who has a big say in deciding the playing XI.
After Kohli replaced M S Dhoni as skipper last year, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav have signed up with Cornerstone, an agency that already had Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan in its stable, apart from the captain.
The company is also in “advanced talks” with Mohammad Shami. According to Cornerstone CEO, Bunty Sajdeh, there were 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, Wrogn, in collaboration with CSE Consulting, which is a sister concern of Cornerstone.
Asked to comment on the possible “conflict of interest” involving the Indian captain, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya said he needed to go into the details of the deal.
“If there’s any conflict of interest on the player’s part — financial or otherwise – we will look into it. But rest assured, guidelines for the players will be out soon,” he told the The Indian Express.
The BCCI’s clean-up assumes significance in the backdrop of the Supreme Court setting up the Lodha committee to suggest reforms to ensure good governance in Indian cricket.
Sajdeh, however, said he did not see anything wrong with partnering his star client in a business venture.
“We have invested in Chisel… we have put in time, effort and manpower and structured the deal. We are also looking at four or five other similar business models, along the lines of Chisel and Wrogn, where the athlete has ownership and does not promote it like a model but like an owner. Tomorrow after he retires he has royalty coming to him,” Sajdeh told The Indian Express.
He stressed that there was no conflict of interest in the link that connects Cornerstone, CSE and Kohli.
“If Virat had ownership in the agency it would have amounted to a conflict of interest. In this case, he has no ownership in the agency. Virat is a client of Cornerstone and if CSE has any business interests with Virat or Rohit or Shikhar, I don’t see a conflict of interest. CSE is a licensing company and we are doing licensing business with him. It is a legitimate business, plus I am not getting into any cricket business with him or any BCCI-related business with Virat,” Sajdeh said.
Previously, Indian ODI skipper M S Dhoni had faced allegations of “conflict of interest” when it was reported that he had a 15 per cent stake in Rhiti Sports Management, a company that managed him.
Sajdeh said that Cornerstone would sign up only those players with whom there was a “value in working with”.
“Just because Kohli is the captain and we promote him, it does not mean that we are going to sign up with all Indian players. Virat was our client even before he played for India. The Indian team is in a transitional phase and we are looking at players who have a potential for the future. When it comes to fast bowlers, Umesh and Ishant, we are in uncharted territory because everybody wants to sign up with batsman. But we are seriously looking at promoting bowlers,” he added.
Dalmiya, meanwhile, insisted that he was keen to put checks and balances with regard to players’ off-field ventures. “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,” he said.
(This story was originally published on July 25, 2015. With inputs by Shamik Chakrabarty/Kolkata)
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