Harbhajan Singh, others land in conflict zone

Ombudsman AP Shah wants Harbhajan Singh to distance from apparel company, also warns those with intertwining cricket roles.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Updated: February 18, 2016 11:58:26 am

India cricket, cricket india, india cricket team, harbhajan Singh, Harbhajan, Sourav Ganguly, Anurag Thakur, BCCI, BCCI cricket, bcci india, bhajji sports, cricket news, cricket, sports news, sports Harbhajan Singh’s apparel company sponsors Punjab cricket team in domestic tournaments. (Source: File)

The BCCI Ombudsman AP Shah, who is investigating the conflict of interest issues plaguing Indian cricket, has delivered a strong recommendation in his first order. The order ostensibly deals with the case of Harbhajan Singh but Shah uses it to make a larger point about the need for all individuals – players,selectors,administrators – to disclose their affiliations in the context of conflict of interest. And if the disclosures do confirm an association, the Ombudsman recommends that the association should be either terminated or the individuals should resign from their position in Indian cricket.

The Ombudsman has listed out some of the potential conflict of interest roles in his order. It ranges from cricket coaching/training academies, sports management companies, sports apparel manufacturers. This is likely to affect a host of individuals in the cricketing fraternity. Some former players like Brijesh Patel, Dilip Vengsarkar, Arshad Ayub, and Chetan Chauhan and others who run cricket academies and have a position in affiliated associations of BCCI will have to chose one over the other. Administrators like Ajay Shirke who have a cricket academy and are with a cricket association too will hit by this. Other cricketers who have sports management companies that manage players also will come under the purview of this order.

“The Ombudsman recommends that all concerned individuals (cricketers, selectors, coaches, and administrators) should be required to make standard disclosures about their affiliations in the context of the conflict of interest rules (which may pertain, for example, to cricket coaching/training academies, sports management companies, sports apparel manufacturers, etc). If the disclosures reveal that an individual does have such an association, they may be asked to either terminate their association with such companies/academies, or asked to resign from their position as cricketer/selector/coach/administrator, as covered by the conflict of interest rules.” Retired Justice AP Shah writes in his order. Shah was appointed in December by the BCCI, which was under pressure then with the ongoing Lodha committee probe. He had received many complaints about players ranging from Sourav Ganguly to Harbhajan Singh, even on the administrator Anurag Thakur, and selectors Vikram Rathour and Rakesh Parikh – and this is his first order.

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In his order, the Ombudsman details the allegations against Harbhajan Singh. The complaint, filed by Niraj Gunde, against Harbhajan said that he owned an apparel company called ‘Bhajji Sports’ which provided kits to at least six Ranji teams. In his response to Ombudsman, Harbhajan had stated that the apparel company wasn’t owned by him nor was he a beneficiary, and said it was owned by Mrs Avtar Kaur.

Shah further notes that the company appears to be run not by Harbhajan but by his mother (Avtar Kaur) and writes that . He also raises the issue that while the company was owned by someone else, it was named after cricketer in question. The order also acknowledges that Bhajji Sports was started before Harbhajan’s present contract with BCCI, and before the present rules of conflict of interest were framed. He goes on to recommends that BCCI take an undertaking from Harbhajan that he won’t be involved in the management of the apparel company and won’t associate himself with it as a sponsor until his contract with BCCI runs out. “However, given the facts and circumstances of the case, the Ombudsman believes that the best course of action may be that the BCCI take an unequivocal undertaking from Mr Singh that he will no way be involved in the management of the company, Bhajji Sports, and that under no circumstances will he be associated with the company’s products (including by way of sponsorship),so long as his contract with the BCCI is alive,” Shah writes in his order.

Former cricketer Dilip Vengsarkar, who has been running an cricket academy in Mumbai for the last couple of decades and produced several internationals, was critical of the Ombudsman’s recommendation. “This is most absurd thing I have heard because cricketers will run cricket academy. Whatever experience he has got, whatever he has learnt from his cricketing career, he will like to pass on to the young cricketer of the state and to the country. He can’t run a hockey or a kabaddi academy because that is not his expertise. The cricketer who work hard not only in cricket but through cricket administration, if they are asked to choose one, first of all cricketers who won the election and are in administration you can count them on finger tips. Will they be there? At one side you say that more cricketers should come into administration and whatever handful cricketers are there in the administration, I think you want to get rid of them. Most of the cricket academies are run by cricketers, they have trainees between 8 and 15. Than how it becomes conflict of interest?” he fumed.

Another former cricketer Chetan Chauhan, who also owns an academy, couldn’t digest the observations. “Hum kya bhooke mare? What will we cricketers do? To sustain our families. I have a TV contract but not all of them do. Cricket is a skill set we have, why shouldn’t we use it? I don’t get paid for my services to DDCA, and even my academy is charitable in nature. We don’t charge boys who come and train with us. I personally oppose this and feel interest of cricketers should be kept in mind. There are no jobs nothing, what do we cricketers do then? How will he sustain our families? This (cricket) is what we know and what we have done all our life. How can someone take it away? I’m sorry but I don’t agree to all this,” he thundered.

Agreed Ajay Shirke, former BCCI treasurer and a member of the governing council. “I don’t own the Cadence Cricket Academy. The academy, started by David Tryst, is part of a charitable trust. It doesn’t charge anything from the trainees. My academy is run by Surendra Bhave who took charge when he retired from playing cricket. I’m happy to close it tomorrow, but if I do that then hundreds of underprivileged young cricketers and their parents would come to me saying they are at a loss. I don’t want to comment anything on the Ombudsman’s order until I read it, but if a former cricketer is running a cricket academy then that benefits the game,” he stated.

However, Harbhajan is just the tip of the iceberg as the Ombudsman uses his case to recommend a sweeping change in the way administrators and players, both current and former, operate with regard to conflict of interest.

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