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Board puts ball on sponsors’ pitch
- BCCI wields stick to get relief for players in World Cup terms

Calcutta, Dec.25: Avoiding an all-out confrontation with the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the time being, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has turned the heat on the principal sponsors of the 2003 World Cup.

Specifically, the BCCI has called upon the “Indian sponsors” to “grant dispensations” to the players, thereby confirming their participation in the quadrennial showpiece.

The “Indian partner (World Sport-Nimbus)” of Global Cricket Corporation (GCC), which holds the marketing rights of ICC events till the 2007 World Cup, has also been targeted by the BCCI.

The sponsors and World Sport-Nimbus should “rise to the occasion by foregoing pecuniary considerations in the larger interest of the country and its cricket”.

Announcing this after today’s Emergent General Meeting (EGM), which spanned around four hours, BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya warned that if the “sponsors” and the GCC’s “Indian partner” didn’t “look after the interests of the country and its cricketers”, the BCCI would “review” its own commercial relations with them. Predictably, the ICC’s so-called “final offer” on the Player Terms was rejected. Unanimously, at that.

Though Hero Honda is the sole strictly “Indian sponsor”, the BCCI’s call is directed at Pepsi and LG as well, both of which are driven by the Indian market. The other principal sponsor, South African Airways, isn’t a big player in these parts. While all three, logically, will now be under pressure to offer the (terms) concessions sought by the BCCI, LG has already reacted aggressively.

An agency report from New Delhi quoted Ganesh Mahalingam, the general manager (marketing), as saying: “He (Dalmiya) should be making this appeal to the companies who have contracted the players… We will be ready to dilute our rights if Mr Dalmiya ensures that we are offered $15 million as compensation, which is 50 per cent of the money we have invested…. We haven’t pumped in so much money to forego our rights.”

Actually, LG’s ire is understandable as six key players — vice-captain Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble, Jawagal Srinath, Harbhajan Singh and Mohammed Kaif — are contracted to Samsung. Even Dinesh Mongia.

Hero Honda, too, feels the terms “should be binding” on the players. Its concern is over Sachin Tendulkar (TVS-Suzuki).

At the same time, senior vice-president (marketing and sales) Atul Sobti has taken a softer line. The same agency has quoted him thus: “I think all the sponsors need to sit together and discuss the problem. It’s a very delicate matter.”

Mahalingam’s initial views notwithstanding, not one sponsor can risk being labelled a villain in the terms drama being enacted for five months. In fact, quite a few at the EGM made the point about the sponsors “using” cricket to settle business scores.

As a well-placed source of The Telegraph put it: “The image-factor is going to come into play in a big way and there could be hell to pay if the intransigence of one or all three eventually leads to a situation whereby a Sachin or a Dravid or a Sehwag has to be omitted.

“As cricket is the most visible promotion vehicle, beyond a point, nobody will risk antagonising the BCCI. Additionally, the government may step into the picture…”

For the time being, of course, the BCCI will be picking its best 15 for the World Cup on Monday, a day ahead of the ICC’s deadline. The terms, however, have to be signed by January 14 --- so, enough breathing space is there.

As with choosing the 30 probables last week, the selection will be in Calcutta with Brijesh Patel and Co. being “briefed” by Dalmiya before the Sourav Ganguly-led 15 is shortlisted.

With Dalmiya “authorised” to continue doing the needful, he is expected to formally open a dialogue with the sponsors --- irrespective of their current position.

Essentially, the BCCI is looking at three concessions: That the no-conflicting-endorsements restriction should be operational during the February 8-March 24 tournament only; imaging for two months and players with (competing) pre-existing contractual agreements not being called for that.

The sponsors, as of now, are firm on the no-conflicting-endorsements clause being enforced from 30 days before the event till five days after the final. As for imaging, they want the right to use all players for three months.

Significantly, compelling the players to sign the terms (with the existing conditions in place), thereby encouraging them to renege on their own pre-existing contracts, will be patently unlawful. This has been confirmed by Justice (retd) R.S. Pathak, whose opinion was placed before the EGM.

Former Union law minister Arun Jaitley, a special invitee, said much the same.

“The ICC is not correct in its present stand,” is what the high-profile Jaitley told representatives of the BCCI’s affiliates, which included the likes of Amitabh Choudhary (Bihar), who made his EGM debut.

Should the controversy reach a stage where lawyers have to hold fort, the International Arbitration Tribunal in Lausanne will come into the picture.

One hopes that distance won’t have to be covered.

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