Harbhajan Singh faces conflict of interest allegation

Harbhajan reportedly owns an apparel company called ‘Bhajji Sports’, which provides kits to at least six State teams (Punjab, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Railways, Services and Jammu and Kashmir). Incidentally, Harbhajan turns out for Punjab in domestic cricket.

Harbhajan Singh launched the brand in 2013.   -  V. Ganesan

Close on the heels of receiving a conflict of interest complaint against Sourav Ganguly, Board of Control for Cricket in India ombudsman Justice (retd.) Ajit Prakash Shah has received one in the name of Harbhajan Singh.

Harbhajan reportedly owns an apparel company called ‘Bhajji Sports’. This company provides kits, such as match jerseys, practice jerseys, kit bags, etc., to at least six State teams (Punjab, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Railways, Services and Jammu and Kashmir). Incidentally, Harbhajan turns out for Punjab in domestic cricket.

Mumbai-based activist Neeraj Gunde has taken up the matter with the ombudsman. In a letter dated January 14th, Gunde points out to the rules laid out by BCCI on conflict of interest pertaining to cricketers. Sportstar is in possession of the complaint.

When contacted, Justice Shah told Sportstar, “Yes, my office has received the complaint. We will follow the due process.”

A few hours later, his office wrote to BCCI President Shashank Manohar and General Manager (game development) Ratnakar Shetty, asking them to reply by January 30th.

In his letter, Gunde cites Rule A, which states that “current cricketers shall declare the name and details of his/her player agent or the player management company”; Rule B, stating that “current cricketers shall not have any business interest in a player management company”; Rule C, that reads “current cricketers shall not have any conflict arising with the BCCI sponsors including the apparel sponsor”; and Rule D, which says “current cricketers shall not accept any controlling position in any commercial organisation having a contract with the BCCI or its State unit(s).”

“It is very clear from the above context that Mr. Harbhajan Singh is conflicted in C and D of the code. I request you to initiate appropriate action,” Gunde concludes.

A Supreme Court lawyer said on condition of anonymity that Harbhajan is in “serious and direct” conflict.

“He can’t very well have a commercial relationship with his rival teams(s),” said the lawyer who deals with sports law. “He can interfere with their preparation by suddenly withdrawing their kit (sponsorship),” he added.

Harbhajan launched the brand in 2013.

“I like wearing good clothes. Some of my friends who are into making clothes told me since I was already playing with my own brand of bat sticker, I should make a foray into fashion,” he was quoted as saying by a news channel. “The idea has worked very well. Today you demand what you want; Bhajji Sports will provide it.”

Vikram Sidhu, who identified himself as the director of Bhajji Sports, said: “Actually, Bhajji paaji and I are friends for more than 15 years. I am the owner of this company. Bhajji paaji has nothing to do with it. He is just my brand ambassador.”

When asked about the terms of the company’s contract with Harbhajan, the Jalandhar-based Sidhu said: “Actually, I don’t pay him anything. He is just doing me a favour. He is just helping me out with this business. It’s a small-time company, you see.”