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“IPL just couldn’t keep me away, so I’m back.” Raj Kundra flashed a smug smile as he opened proceedings with this line. It wasn’t the only time that the uncanny similarity between his previous venture and the latest one popped up, either deliberately or otherwise, as he launched the Indian Poker League (IPL) on Tuesday.
It wasn’t the only time the former co-owner of the Rajasthan Royals, flanked by Bollywood actress and wife Shilpa Shetty, played on the identical acronym to introduce his latest project either.
As the afternoon progressed, it was clear that all parties involved in promoting the poker league had one agenda on their priority list: to shake off the gambling stigma intrinsically associated with the card game. It was ironic that the man leading that charge was one who was banished by the IPL (cricket) on proven allegations of betting.
Not surprisingly, Kundra couldn’t avoid being asked about his views on the IPL he used to be associated with even if he seemed adamant on only answering those about the IPL he now wants to be associated with. So when asked about the cricketing version of the IPL, the British national took the liberty of picking the tournament he wanted to talk about. “This is an ideal opportunity to put India on the global poker map,” said Kundra. “The winning team here will play as Team India at the World Cup.”
The new venture, which has been recognised by the International Federation of Poker (IFP), has secured a spot for the Indian team in the Nations Cup, to be held in Oxford, England, in December. This will be the second time an Indian team will feature at an IFP event, after their sixth-placed finish at the 2013 Asian Nations Cup in China.
The two-day event, which will be held in Mumbai in October, is Kundra’s third business venture involving sport. His first came to an abrupt end, after the Lodha Commission banned him from the IPL (cricket) while suspending the team he then owned for two years in 2015.
“As part owner having 11.7 per cent of the franchise, Kundra should have conducted himself in accordance of his stature. Betting is a crime punishable in India and it is corrupt practice against BCCI constitution. It is difficult to accept that as an UK citizen, he did not know that betting was against the law in India,” Justice RM Lodha had observed after the verdict was passed on Kundra regarding his betting links to the 2013 IPL scandal.
Funnily enough, the one line Kundra repeated the most on Tuesday was that poker, the IPL in particular, ‘is not about gambling’.
Kundra is no stranger to the business of sport having tried his hand at mixed martial arts in the past while he still co-owned Rajashtan Royals.
The Super Fight League, that he had started in 2012 along with Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, though hardly garnered much attention and is now co-owned by British businessman Bill Dosanjh and 2004 Athens Olympics silver medal winning boxer Amir Khan. And now comes his third foray, fuelled by an ominously familiar acronym.