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High court plays hardball with ICC

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Delhi High Court today ruled that no foreign exchange would be allowed out of the country, either through sponsorship or damages imposed on the cricket board by the game’s world governing body, if India is barred from next month’s World Cup.

The interim ruling by a division bench came on a PIL filed by N.K.P. Salve, ex-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Kapil Dev, Madanlal, former Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and former international umpires Ram Babu Gupta and S.K. Bansal.

The PIL sought removal of hurdles towards fielding the best Indian team following the controversy over the Player Terms contract. Indian players had objected to the terms that restrict them from endorsing non-official sponsors during as well as specific periods before and after the World Cup.

Acting Chief Justice Devinder Gupta and Justice B.D. Ahmed asked the International Cricket Council to file its reply so that further hearings could be taken up on February 18.

In its order, the court said:

n No foreign exchange to the ICC, either through sponsorship or damages by the BCCI, if Indian players are barred from playing in the tournament

n No telecast of advertisements featuring official World Cup sponsors — namely Pepsi, LG Electronics and Hero Honda — from India if the national team is not allowed to participate

n If the ICC takes action against Indian players for non-acceptance of the terms of the ICC contract, the Government of India and the Reserve Bank would not release any foreign exchange

n If the BCCI is penalised by the ICC for not honouring its commitments under the Participating Nation Agreement, then also the government and the RBI would not allow release of foreign exchange

n Seven days’ time to respondents (the ICC, the BCCI and the others) to file replies on the petition

The high court had made the Union government, the RBI and eight sponsoring companies — Pepsi Foods, Hero Honda Motors, LG Electronics, Nimbus Communications, TVS Motors, Coca-Cola, Samsung Electronics and Sahara India Financial Corporation — parties in the case as “sponsors, advertisers, telecasters” and/or having “some relationship with the event”.

Senior counsel for the ICC, Anil Divan, told the court that through a PIL, “a proxy war” was being fought on behalf of the BCCI. Divan contended that the petitioners had no “locus standi” and, as per the participating nations agreement signed by the BCCI, any dispute arising in the contract has to be settled by arbitration.

LG Electronics said it was planning to appeal in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court order barring outflow of foreign exchange. “We are planning to move the Supreme Court to seek redressal of our grievances,” LG India general manager (marketing) Ganesh Mahalingam told PTI.

The LG official termed the public interest litigation a “private interest litigation” and said “we have been made victims in a commercial battle between the BCCI and the ICC”.

Mahalingam said the issue of players participating in the World Cup was the job of the Indian cricket board, which has contractual obligations with them. “The players must take the BCCI to court for not agreeing to their obligations. Unfortunately, that has not happened,” he said.

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