The spectre of corruption will continue to hang over cricket selection matters in the North-East as the six new teams in the region prepare for their maiden domestic season. This after the board’s anti-corruption chief Ajit Singh Shekhawat put the onus on the state associations themselves to deal with the issue of bribes being offered by unknown individuals for picking players recommended by them.
As they, along with the other new teams from the region, try to finalise their rosters, the Sikkim Cricket Association (SCA) has reportedly complained to the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit about being approached by strangers lobbying for certain players to be selected while others advertise on social media promising selection to their teams.
Shekhawat, though, told The Indian Express that state selection doesn’t come under “BCCI’s jurisdiction”. And this paper has learnt that Sikkim have decided to play it safe by not employing the services of any “professional (outstation)” player this season.
“Selection process is the state board’s responsibility. If they want to take any action against those offering them bribes, it’s their call and they can take it themselves,” Shekawat added. The former Rajasthan director general of police also expected some clarity when the board’s new constitution is put in place, as it’s expected to provide for a “corrective mechanism”.
“That constitution provides for corrective mechanism in form of an ombudsman. He/she will look into it and he/she will take corrective action,” Shekhawat explained.
The issue came to light last week when an SCA official received a few WhatsApp messages from an individual offering them around “Rs 5-6 lakh” as “token money” if they agreed to pick a certain player. It was around that time that a page emerged on Facebook “dedicated” to offering “vacant seats” in the nine new teams -which include Puducherry, Bihar and Uttarakhand in addition to the six northeastern states-across all age-groups. SCA chief Lobzang Tenzing referred to these individuals as “dalals” or brokers, and lamented about the worrying surge in their numbers of late. He revealed to have even received offers up to Rs 3 lakh for a place in the junior team, and also about how these miscreants were cashing in on the new teams’ inexperience in the selection process. “Sadly, a lot of dalals are hovering around in this part of the world. We have no experience in picking players. Chances of corruption seeping in are very high. It’s a kind of tsunami that we can’t handle. We are a virgin land, and it seems like all the exploiters are eying their opportunities here,” he said. Tenzing also defended his association’s stance against the inclusion of overseas professionals, despite “the BCCI pressuring us to do so”. “It’s a good concept but in such a corrupt environment, I fear we might end up with 7-8 of them in our dressing room. It’s better if we stick to our players and they get thrashed. At least they’ll come of age,” he added.
Shekhawat denied having received any official complaint yet and said the ACU was still only examining local media reports. He added that the state associations could refer these cases to the police or take corrective actions themselves, while lauding Sikkim’s decision to stick to home-grown talent. When asked about the Facebook post, he said, “If it is a fraud post, it’s counted as an offence under the IP Act and police can take action. So, the state association should approach the local police. It is a legal matter, and we are not enforcement agencies. We can take action if there is something against a BCCI official or a player, who is in violation of the code. We cannot step into the jurisdiction of the police.”
It’s not always just a simple money transaction that’s dangled in front of these state associations as bribe. Arunachal Pradesh Cricket Association secretary Tado Kohli revealed how he’d received offers from around the country, ranging from sponsoring the entire team to sponsoring their complete kit. “I’m getting calls from Mumbai and Delhi with people saying we’ll do this and that for the team, and then they move on to how in return, we could pick the player they want us to. We are all very stressed but are pulling through,” Kohli said.
A couple of “young” players, meanwhile, took it upon themselves to approach the Mizoram Cricket Association without a middleman and said they’d pay money to play for the team. “Because they were young boys, I’m not revealing their names. One of them is originally from Bengal, but now he is a Hyderabad resident. The other guy was from Bihar. The first one contacted us over phone. The other boy, from Bihar, directly arrived when the trials were on and made the approach. I just showed him the door,” Mizoram association secretary Mamon Majumdar recalled. “I told them we would report this to the ACU. But since they are very young, I didn’t do it,” he added.