Points to ponder

Rahul Dravid will be playing an active part in working out a compromise with the Board.-

It is a war of a different kind. Who controls the players more? The Board of Control for Cricket in India or the sports managers/agents? Vijay Lokapally on what the BCCI and sports managers say.

Just one bad day, one loss to Bangladesh, has caused upheavals in Indian cricket. The administrators have started flexing their muscles and the players' agents have taken the punches silently. The BCCI has now taken a fresh look at the commercial aspects of a player's contract.

The players' contracts stood cancelled as the Board took a hard stand after the team crashed out of the World Cup in the first stage itself. According to the Board's directive, not more than three endorsements were allowed per player. In fact, even some of the past players were appalled at the reaction of the Board officials. Former captain Kapil Dev, member of the BCCI's cricket advisory committee, slammed the Board for its knee-jerk reaction.

The BCCI was categorically opposed to the players endorsing more than three products. Its Executive Secretary, Prof Ratnakar Shetty, was candid, "We are not against the players making money or having agents or managers. It is also wrong to say that the contracts have been cancelled. They have been redrafted and the new contracts will suit every player." He insisted, "Please don't project a wrong picture. As administrators, we have the responsibility to ensure the players are not misguided or lose their focus. We are constantly engaged in giving the players the best of facilities and we only think of the players' interests."

Shailendra Singh, Joint Managing Director of Percept Holdings Pvt Ltd, countered: "We are here to promote the talent in the country. If we spot a talent and decide to handle his career, so that he can focus on the sport, isn't it the sport and country that is benefiting?"

Latika Khaneja, Director of Collage Sports Management, which represents Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Karthik among many other cricketers, noted: "The BCCI must accept that exceptional ability and hard work earns a player an India cap and like all highly qualified professionals, they must be paid for having had the persistence to achieve the highest echelon of sport in the country. Fundamentally I believe that the segregation of players into A, B and C categories was detrimental to team spirit and its operation as an integrated unit."

Seniors like Sachin Tendulkar can handle the pressures of both worlds but not the juniors feels the Board.-SHASHI ASHIWAL

Shailendra said, "About the advertising contracts, the BCCI is being harsh on the players. But I am sure that the Board will review and reconsider this decision, as it goes against the fundamental rights of freedom of the Indian constitution to restrict the earnings of an individual. Regarding the player's contracts, I think there is a fair balance in the payment system, because it rewards performances. While it may seem that the Board has reduced their pay system, the fact is that they will also be rewarded multifold if there are more wins under their belt."

But why curtail endorsements? Prof Shetty responded, "The seniors can handle the pressures but not the juniors. These agents are signing up even the new entrants and offering them 3 to 4 years contracts. At 17 or 18 years of age, a player, even before establishing himself in the team, earns a contract of 10 lakh. Can he handle such money matters at a time when he should be focussing on his cricket? Believe me, there is more to it because once the player signs the contract he is obligated to the agent. There are several issues and the BCCI is only trying to save the player from the agent's stranglehold."

In defence, Latika had a point. "Curtailing endorsements will appease all those who are jealous of the cricketers making relatively easy money and will give an enraged public succour when the team is down and out. It will, however, dilute the dream of thousands of young cricket lovers who aspire to grow up and become the next big star. It will dilute the glamour and fanfare that makes the game a religion by slowly moving corporate support out of cricket. It will no longer attract the best talent. It will be highly regressive sending cricket back to where other sports currently exist in the minds of the public. All great sport is driven by its heroes."

Shailendra supported Latika's views. "Curtailing contracts is not an alternative to improving the performance of the players. What they do on the field is completely based on their efforts and one cannot link it to the number of brands they endorse," he said. "Endorsements are just a means of having a financial backing. Unlike regular working people, cricketers or sportspersons have a shelf-life. They may play for say 8-10 years. They have a right to have a support system created. In any case, if the performance of a player deteriorates, it will also reflect on his endorsements. I don't believe that cricketers are distracted by endorsements. They may be spending say 1-2 weeks in a year shooting. How is that going to affect the performance of a cricketer and the game of cricket?" asked Shailendra.

Jeet Banerjee from Game Plan, representing Mahendra Singh Dhoni, argued thus: "We try and identify and support players much before they come into reckoning as even national players. We have never signed a star player. When we sign a player, there is no guarantee that he would become a star."

Prof Shetty questioned the very presence of an agent in a cricketer's profile. "The public perception can't be ignored. The public believes that the players only make money and do not concentrate on the game. We are not stopping the players from signing the contracts. Let them sign but not before getting a clearance from the BCCI. We will reply within seven days after studying the contract. We need to ensure there are no hidden clauses that are performance linked. We want to keep the captain out of it too."

Latika responded to this saying: "Cricket agents are business people and are guilty of trying to push their products even when they are not doing well. How are they corrupt? If they wrongly try to influence the authorities who are responsible for selection and retention then that makes the selectors/officials corrupt. If the system is strong there is no need to fear external influences. Cricket is high profile and with media gags on cricketers, agents are being constantly badgered (often against their will) to be insider mouth pieces. The media has made the agent visible in the most mundane of cricket controversies. Maybe that is why they are seen as self promoting."

The BCCI is keen to bring transparency even in selection matters. "There have been accusations of favouritism in the past but we have to have faith in the selectors. Even the selectors know there can be public outcry if they are not honest. If there is any hanky panky, the BCCI will act on it," assured Prof Shetty.

Banerjee does not like the term agent. "We are sports managers. Worldwide, top sportsmen are represented by managers. Every top soccer player, boxer, tennis player, golfer, athlete has a manager, who don't just get endorsements but also negotiate playing fees."

There have been accusations that too many endorsements caused distractions. Banerjee refuted this. "Endorsements are of some significance but please remember that only four or five players enjoy this privilege. You have to be among the top 15 players of the country and then, if you are a batsman, you have to be among the top five. If you are a bowler, you have to be among the top five. It is hard competition because we have a large pool of players and only a few can achieve it. There are so many who don't make it."

In Latika's opinion, a cricketer needs an agent to promote himself. "Your average cricketer is a young boy in his 20s with very little exposure to commerce and business. He is suddenly propelled into superstardom with very little idea of how to cope with it. He is surrounded by sycophants who promise him the world and is witness to how others have benefitted financially by being cricket stars. They would not be human if this did not play on their mind. They would then be concerned with how to get these for themselves, using free time to do some networking, tracking instalments and coping with the onslaught of press and commercial appearance requests. We free the player from these concerns. We filter through the chaff and see his limited time goes to the right cause. We ensure he is not being cheated and he is getting his due from the market. They trust us because we become an extension of friends and family."

The agents would like the BCCI to follow the Australian model to the core. "We want to play like Australia but why not adopt their administration too. Once in a year, Cricket Australia meets the managers of the players and discusses all the issues. Here there is never a dialogue between the agents/managers and the BCCI," said Banerjee.

Banerjee also pointed out: "An agent does not only help a player get endorsements. We also enable many of them to get some income by helping them acquire a contract to compete in the English league cricket in summer. Please remember that the playing span of a cricketer is limited. For every person who makes it, there are hundreds who don't."

The BCCI Executive Secretary, Prof. Ratnakar Shetty is of the view that the public perception can't be ignored.-VIVEK BENDRE

That is one reason why the BCCI has redrafted the contracts. "Everything is now related to performance and we are offering win incentives so that the players can be motivated to win more and more. The BCCI will give Rs. 3 lakh for every ODI win and Rs. 50 lakh for every ODI series win at home. If the team wins an ODI series away, it will earn Rs. 75 lakh. For Tests, the incentive is Rs. 4 lakh per win and Rs. 3 lakh per draw at home and Rs. 6 lakh per win and Rs. 4 lakh per draw in an away match. For a Test series win at home the team gets Rs. 75 lakh and for an away win Rs. 90 lakh. The match fees is not discriminatory now. Each player gets Rs. 1 lakh per ODI and Rs. 2 lakh per Test," said Prof. Shetty.

What would be the best way out? Latika suggested: "The board should understand the cricketers' concerns as very gifted sportsmen with limited shelf-life trying to maximise their careers. The Board should understand that by giving the companies opportunities to tie up with individual stars we are actually propelling them towards the game. The Board makes its money from corporates who choose to associate with the game of cricket. By banning cricketers from endorsements, you are reducing their communication options and repulsing them from cricket."

Shailendra concluded: "The Sports Managers will always want their players to do well for the country. When the team is winning nobody complains. It's when the team starts losing that you try and point fingers or the blame-game begins. Most of the sports managers are in talks with their clients, players and the Board to come out with an amicable solution."

The Board, meanwhile, will work out a compromise with skipper Rahul Dravid playing an active part. "We just want to ensure that the young stars of the future keep their focus in place."

The sports managers/agents are keeping their fingers crossed.

MANAGERS

Collage Sports Management has represented the following stars: Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik.

Game Plan: M. S. Dhoni.

Percept Holdings Pvt Ltd: Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, S. Sreesanth.

Iconix : Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh.

Twentieth Century Media: Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Kaif, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Parthiv Patel.

PLAYERS & THEIR ENDORSEMENTS

1. Sachin Tendulkar: TVS, MRF, Adidas, Pepsi, Sunfeast (ITC), Pantaloons, Cannon, G Hanz and Nazara Technologies, Audemars Piguet; Annual earnings: Approx Rs. 45-50 crores.

2. M. S. Dhoni: Exide, Videocon, Brylcreem, Reebok, Mysore Sandal Soap, TVS, Siyarams, Reliance Communication, Seagram, GE Money, Titan Sonata, Castrol, Orient Fan; Annual earnings: Rs. 5-7 crores.

3. Rahul Dravid: Bank of Baroda, Hutch, Pepsi, Reebok, Britannia, Citizen, Sansui, Karnataka Tourism, Skyline Real Estate, Castrol, Max New York Life; Annual earnings: Rs. 10-15 crores.

4. Sourav Ganguly: Idea, Puma, Hero Honda, Pepsi, Sahara, Chirag Computers, Pratidin, TCL; Annual earnings: Rs. 5-7 crores.

5. Yuvraj Singh: Westside, Pepsi, Hero Honda, Marico, Seagram; Annual earnings: Rs. 3-4 crores.

6. Virender Sehwag: Boost, Pepsi, Britannia, Sahara, Nazara Technologies, Boost, Adidas and Hero Honda; Annual earnings: Rs. 5-7 crores.

7. S. Sreesanth: Air India, Mather Group, Nike, TCL; Annual earnings: Rs. 80 lakh-1 crore.