A Bridge Too Long
August 31, 1998
A Couple Like Kapil
November 23, 1998

That’s A No-Ball

IT has it all. Dope, bloated egos, money, moves and countermoves. The ongoing feud between the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) symbolises all that is wrong with Indian sports. Warring bodies with conflicting interests trying to sandbag each other while the real sport suffers. Peeved that the BCCI still hadn’t submitted the list of players for the 16th Commonwealth Games happening in Kuala Lumpur during September 11-21, IOA president Suresh Kalmadi told a press conference: “If there is any further delay in selecting the team and sending the names to the Commonwealth Games Federation, the team might be disqualified.”

The bone of contention is the BCCI’s three-year contract with IMG to send the Indian team to Toronto. With the Commonwealth Games falling on the same dates, the BCCI is torn between violating a contract (that will result in loss of money and attract legal proceedings) and sending a second-string team to Kuala Lumpur. Something the IOA says it is unwilling to accept because it would dilute India’s medal-winning chances, India being in the same group as Australia, which is sending a full strength team.

The resultant free-for-all between the two organisations has resulted in a media blitz with newspaper headlines screaming, ‘Money vs medal battle turns into war’. Spicing the whole story have been some rather bizarre posers by BCCI secretary J.Y. Lele.

The secretary wanted clarifications from the IOA on the use of ‘logos’, on whether the matches were ‘official’, and whether there would be drug ‘tests’. He also picked on sundry other technical details—like whether the Indian cricket team was being called upon to participate in the games under the ‘IOA banner’. The BCCI’S highhanded attitude has only ended up sending the message that it’s beneath its dignity to allow players under the board’s contract to march along with their fellow athletes in other game disciplines.

According to Lele, neither the BCCI nor the players are aware of what constitute “banned substances” and claims this could lead to an “embarrassing” situation. But, quips IOA secretary Randhir Singh: “If the Indian cricketers do no wrong why should they be afraid of drug tests?” Adds Kalmadi: “There are no separate rules for cricketers. Rules will be the same for all.” Dismissing Lele’s statement that cricket would have nothing to do with the IOA, Kalmadi hits out: “Where will the cricket team stay in Kuala Lumpur? At a five-star hotel? Even Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi stayed at the village during the Olympics. I am surprised at the BCCI’s stand.”

Lele’s being even more difficult about logos: “Our Board is bound by contract with ITC Ltd for team sponsorship and, as a result, it is imperative for our cricketers to wear Wills logos on their shirts during the matches in the games and will not sport Reebok or any other logo.” Reebok, incidentally, is the kit supplier to the IOA squad and Olympic charter rules allow only for the manufacturers of the official apparel to splash their logos. A sacrosanct rule—even the great Michael Jordan, when he played in the basketball dream team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, wasn’t allowed to sport the Nike logo.

Besides, the International Cricket Council has refused to confer one-day international status on the Commonwealth matches, citing the entry of Antigua, Jamaica and Barbados as separate teams and even Malaysia, which are not even affiliate members of the ICC. With matches being deemed “unofficial” the logo question doesn’t arise.

Asks Singh: “The BCCI knew it was to participate in the Commonwealth games four years ago. They knew the dates as well. If they went and contracted to send their main team somewhere else on those dates, is it our problem? We are only concerned with increasing India’s medal prospects. We aren’t even sending P.T. Usha as she doesn’t measure up to Commonwealth standards.” But says WorldTel president Mark Mascarenhas: “The ICC can’t afford to dilute its properties. They are having the mini-world cup in Dhaka in late October, and the World Cup in England in June. If all the boards send full strength teams to the Commonwealth Games, it will end up being another world cup. Three world cups within eight months.”

With Lele saying that the BCCI will announce the team only on September 4 (that is, 22 days after the deadline and only after the completion of the training camp at Chennai) it looks like the BCCI is letting matters drift so that the team gets disqualified by the game organisers and saves them from the embarrassment of sending a B team. Says Kalmadi: “The onus is on the BCCI. They are bringing matters to a head.”

Perhaps, if both side sat together with the interest of the sport and country their prime concern they might discover the simple fact that there is enough talent to send two teams of about the same quality.

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