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ESPN moves court over ‘unfair’ play

Calcutta, Sept. 6: ESPN-STAR Sports moved court today, questioning the tender process followed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India to award telecast rights and winner Zee Network’s eligibility.

“We moved a writ petition in Bombay High Court today,” said R.C. Venkateish, the managing director of ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd. The petition focuses on “the eligibility of Zee” and “the distortion in the bidding process”, Venkateish added.

Yesterday, after a meeting in Chennai, the BCCI said it had given Zee the first shot at bagging the telecast rights for international cricket matches to be played in India for the next four years. The rights are to be bestowed on Zee if it fulfils certain conditions, one of which is to deposit $20 million “in two to three days”.

Zee agreed to pay $308 million (Rs 1,417 crore) for the contract after ESPN-STAR revised its bid to that level.

ESPN-STAR had described the decision as “denial of natural justice and a violation by the BCCI of its own tendering process”.

Rik Dovey, the managing director of ESPN-STAR Sports, Asia, said: “Unfortunately, we are left with no other option but to resort to the law in an attempt to bring fair-dealing and justice to the process.”

He added that ESPN-STAR was the “highest eligible bidder under the rules of bidding specified by the BCCI” and that the cricket authorities had given “the competition an unfair advantage”.

The company also alleged that Zee does not qualify because it lacks “experience of broadcasting or producing live international cricket events as specified in the tender”.

Asked if the development would throw the telecast of the Test match between India and Australia beginning in Bangalore on October 6 in jeopardy, Venkateish said: “The matter is sub judice, so I wouldn’t like to comment on that, but we expect a fairly speedy movement.”

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the BCCI president, declined comment. Asked for his reaction to ESPN’s allegation that the bidding process was wrong, he said: “Anybody can say that.”

Zee officials termed ESPN’s move a “gimmick that they are trying out since there is no chance”. Zee will deposit $20 million to the BCCI tomorrow morning, according to the agreement, a spokesperson said.

The network’s sports channel, yet to be named, will be launched on October 2 and Zee is shortlisting partners for a venture that will need an investment of “around Rs 150 crore”.

Although Venkateish would not comment, sources added that the sports bouquet plans to raise another point of objection to the awarding process, claiming that accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers only tallied the bids and not checked the production credentials of the companies.

Following ESPN’s enhancement of the initial bid from $230 million to $308 million, the BCCI allowed Zee to match price since it had initially quoted the highest amount bid. Zee accepted the offer, after the number of cricket broadcast days was raised from 108 to 144.

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