ICC clarification

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

CRICKET could have avoided this controversy, triggered by the ruling body of the game. The crass commercialisation was seen in full view as the ICC was on a collision course with the players, who did not want to take things lying down.

The bone of contention was a clause which prevented a player from endorsing products which are in conflict with the interest of the main sponsors of the Champions Trophy, a tournament conducted by the ICC. In its anxiety to make the most of this event, the Champions Trophy, and the World Cup to follow next year, the ICC signed a deal with a firm which guaranteed big money but in the process got itself entangled in a controversy and revolt from the players.

Once the controversial clause was spotted, the players refused to sign the contract. And rightly so. If anything, the ICC contributed immensely towards uniting the players as they responded from all corners. The Indians took the lead and the support came in phases from member countries. The ICC stood isolated on this issue.

Cricket has seen many controversies, but rarely have the players stood united as on this occasion. Even players not affected by the contract refused to bow and for once the ICC was made to accept its mistake. The matter ought to have been settled in quick time, but the ICC allowed it to grow and it snowballed into an issue that only exposed the lack of vision among the officials.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India put the blame on the ICC with the earlier regime of A. C. Muthiah being held responsible for signing the contract. Muthiah was quick to clarify that the said clause was introduced at a much later stage. "When we signed the contract, this clause was not part of it," he said.

Former Board Secretary, J. Y. Lele supported the players. "They can't be called greedy in this matter because they are right. How can the ICC expect any self-respecting individual to sign such a contract. Why should a cricketer be denied?" Lele asked.

"No player should sign such a contract. Let the ICC rectify its mistakes so that such a situation doesn't confront the game in the future. In my opinion, the ICC has looked so silly in this entire episode. I back the players in their stand," Lele said.

The crux of the matter was not money but an individual's rights. The players, understandably, were not willing to sign a contract that would have cost them a huge loss even though the sponsors, at least on paper, were ready to back the players.

The arrangement might have worked on a one-off basis for the Champions Trophy but the players, not trusting the officials, were bent on settling this issue once for all.

Among the first to support the players was Kapil Dev, who had once championed the cause of the players. "The interest of the players shouldn't be compromised," was how Kapil reacted to the Board's efforts to browbeat the team into signing the contract. In agreement was former Test wicketkeeper Kiran More who said "why should people grudge a cricketer making money. The players are justified in not signing the contract."

In his playing days, Kapil, along with Sunil Gavaskar, had many a time stood up against the officials who believed the players could be whipped into submission. "If only the players had remained united," Kapil had remarked a few times. He should know... because he had suffered in 1989.

On the eve of a tour to Pakistan, the Indian team, led by K. Srikkanth, had rightly demanded increase in match fee. Kapil, Mohinder Amarnath and Srikkanth led the revolt but the unity factor let the team down. The result was that Mohinder never played for India again and Srikkanth was stripped of the captaincy despite a good show in Pakistan.

"I felt let down by some seniors," Mohinder had recalled on one occasion. And Srikkanth too had a bitter experience when he was sacked for the subsequent series. Mohinder was shattered and Srikkanth learnt a few things about his colleagues but it was too late in his career.

The Board patted itself for the task it had managed - to break the unity of the team and the players signed the contract even as an alternate combination was picked by the National selectors, quite similar to the situation now. It is a matter of shame that some of the players who fled in 1989, letting down Mohinder and Srikkanth, today advocate team unity to fight the officials.

With ICC engaged in saving one of its premier tournaments, cricket was pushed to the background as the Indian team, in the middle of a Test series, was locked in a needless controversy with the Board. The Board President, Jagmohan Dalmiya, used his good offices to try and work a compromise. The team was prepared to fight to the end as it dared the Board to act against its interests.

The fact that even Parthiv Patel refused to sign the contract was a major cause for concern for the Board. One of the senior players conveyed the feelings of the team, when he said the controversy brought the players together. Sourav Ganguly, with little to lose, backed his players. Rahul Dravid had always championed the cause of unity and on this occasion too he played his role perfectly, roping in Anil Kumble to lead the fight. And Sachin Tendulkar formed the protection umbrella.

It is another matter that some players like Dinesh Mongia, Mohammad Kaif, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Kumble will be marked men. Some of the senior Board members were livid at their role in the controversy.

The seniors in the Indian team could have kept the newcomers out of it. At least Tendulkar ought to have remembered what happened in 1989 when he, Salil Ankola and Vivek Razdan were not included in the fight against the Board because they had just made their entry into the team. Times have changed no doubt and there were to be no exceptions this time as the players decided to take on the Board in unison.

Even as the controversy raged, one man - Bishan Singh Bedi - stood pained at the developments. "What have things come to," he wanted to know. Treating his knee in London, the former left-arm spinner sounded disappointed at the sorry state of affairs in both the camps.

"How can we have such a controversy in the middle of a Test series. In what frame of mind will the players be when they take the field. They should have been spared this agony. I'm sure the cricket administrators could've handled this issue better," said Bedi.

In this entire controversy, Dalmiya was seen in a very different light. His usual aggression was missing as he pleaded with the team to sign the contracts. He shifted his stance gradually though, adopting tough postures even though he insisted that the Board stood behind the Indian team. "We won't let the players down" he announced publicly. In private, he fumed at the team for defying the Board.

Former Test opener W. V. Raman backed the players. "You can't blame the players for not signing the contract. The players are right. The ICC can't bind the players by signing a contract with the Board." Incidentally, the players were presented the contract, signed by the Board more than a year ago, less than 45 days before the event. The players responded through a carefully-worded prepared statement. This also pushed the Board on the defensive for a change.

In the opinion of Srikkanth, the team was justified. "I won't hold the players responsible for this situation. They aren't at fault at all. I think the Board and the players should've got together and sorted this matter. How can you stop a player from doing modelling assignments. I can understand if you don't allow him to sport a certain logo on the clothes during a tournament but how can you say he can't be a model. It'll be like infringing human rights," said Srikkanth. At the same time it would do the players a world of good if they cared to remember that they are cricketers first and 'models' later!

Kapil backed the players but then he wanted them to play and make their point.

Even as he supported the players in their fight for individual rights, the former India captain wanted the team to remember that their priority was to play for the country. "The players shouldn't slam the door on the Board.

They must play the tournament because the Board has assured them of a solid backing. In 1989, we fought the Board officials but never said that we won't play. In my playing days, we never got any support from the Board. Today the players should thank their stars that they have to deal with officials who are willing to listen to them," said Kapil, who, however, agreed that the players were right in protecting their commercial interests.

There was, however, a section of the Board which believed that Dalmiya was using the platform to get even with the ICC. The parent body had hounded the Indian Board on the issue of Mike Denness, who had been unfair in punishing six Indian players and slapping a one-match ban on Virender Sehwag.

The Indian Board, which backed its players, was targeted by the ICC officials then. Dalmiya was said to be now using the situation to his advantage by backing the ICC stand. In the process, it was ICC which stood to lose because the Indian Board has supported the ICC as well the players.

The fact that cricketers from England, Australia and South Africa initially came in support of the Indians showed the ICC in poor light. But later they struck a compromise with their respective Boards. This highlighted the healthy rapport the administrators shared with the players. It is so different in India where most of these officials expect the players to be servile. The unity of the players on this issue meant that the ICC's authority was threatened like never before.

The sore point in the players' response was the choice of Ravi Shastri as the spokesman. The Board was justified in rejecting him for the simple reason that it was always better to deal directly than through a middleman, even if a well-meaning one like Shastri. The former India all-rounder had never held the officials in great esteem and was branded an anti-establishment cricketer in his playing days. It will be another matter if Shastri now uses this opportunity to form a Players Association and wants to be the official spokesman of the Indian cricketers.

The players may have antagonised a few Board officials at the end of it but there was no lack of support for them. The defiance of the team may have shocked the Board, but such an act was on the cards.

The ICC termed the Indians "stubborn" and called upon the cricketers to make a quick distinction between playing for the country or playing for cash. With so much money at stake, a guarantee money of more than 40 crore, the Board truly was acting as an extended arm of the ICC. Neither were the players in a mood to accommodate because they rightly felt that the administrators had not taken their interests into account at all.

At the end of it, Sachin Tendulkar continued to be the most influential factor in Indian cricket. He would have been affected the most by the ICC contract and the team rallied around him. The joint statement gave a strong message to the Board - not to mess up with the icons of Indian cricket. Player power came to the fore and for once the team looked united, much to the chagrin of the cricket administrators who claimed to have formed a second string of players willing to make up the team. One may not have heard the last on this subject which many in the Board feel was directed against the Indians because they were the most affected.

The ICC wanted to assume the role of a master but the players are not going to bow. A refreshing change in the attitude of the administrators towards the players may well be the gain from this misadventure of the ICC, which did back down from its high pedestal to save its honour. Without India and its sponsorship support, world cricket stands to lose a lot.

THE International Cricket Council (ICC) moved to clarify the protections that were in place for cricketers to ensure that ICC event sponsors were not be able to use images of players to suggest a personal endorsement.

ICC Chief Executive, Malcolm Speed, said that following a number of contradictory reports and public statements made by various people, it was necessary to ensure that the facts were made clear.

"The fact is that the ICC has in place a strong system to deal with this issue," said Speed. "These protections are well established and have been a part of the agreements from the outset and were also in place at the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1999. They ensure that ICC sponsors will not be able to claim any personal endorsement by any player," said Speed.

He said the provisions in the sponsor agreements would limit an ICC sponsor to promotions only in connection with the event or in connection with exploiting the commercial rights it had been granted for the event.

Speed said that there was also a system in place to enforce this provision of the contract.

"Before any ICC sponsor can commence any promotional campaign, it must first obtain the approval of the ICC", said Speed.

He said,"To get this approval, it must be able to demonstrate that the promotion it is planning is in connection with the event or with exploiting the commercial rights it has been granted for the event. This obligation will be strictly adhered to."