Thursday, Aug 29, 2002
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By Vijay Lokapally
The players may have raised hopes of a compromise by claiming that they would request their sponsors not to use their images for advertisements during the Champions Trophy. The move is "in the interest of the game,'' the Indian team has claimed.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India does not think so. The Board, even as it accepts that the players' interests are being harmed by an adamant ICC, is convinced that the players are now worried of being isolated and hence this move to compromise. But the offer comes with a rider that the players will "back off for the period of 18 days during the Champions Trophy.'' They will, however, not sign the ICC contract which stops the players from endorsing advertisements that clash with the interests of the tournament's sponsors.
The stalemate remains. Even the "back off'' offer of 18 days will not work with at least one of the sponsors. The LG Managing Director, Mr. Ganesh Mahalingam, rejected the players' offer as "totally unacceptable.'' He had his reasons too. "Im not a philanthropist. I can't invest for someone else to reap the benefits. We, at LG, want the game to go on but not by harming our interests,'' he said. LG is one of the key sponsors roped in by the ICC.
Stressing his point, Mr. Mahalingam said "we're willing to support a second string Indian team if it comes to that. There's no dearth of talent in India and in any case, if the Board is not able to field its first team at the Champions Trophy, the losers are people of India.''
How would LG look at the Champions Trophy in the event of the top stars not being included in the Indian team? "I'll cut down the expenditure on the television advertisements. But we'll have no objections to a second string team,'' said Mr. Mahalingam.
Pepsi, one of the sponsors involved with the ICC, the Board and the players, was hoping the issue would be resolved. Having contracted almost all the top players_Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Ajit Agarkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Zaheer Khan, Pepsi was not really affected by the controversy. "We're hoping the matters will be sorted out amicably,'' said Mr. Deepak Jolly, the executive vice-president (Corporate Communication). But Pepsi's interests would be harmed if the Board decided to send its second-string team to Colombo. "Our tournament campaign involves the main players and it would go for a six if they don't figure in the team,'' said the Pepsi spokesman.
The players, meanwhile, reflected on the course of action, having won the third Test. The Board's objections have been directed mainly against the spokesman chosen by the players Ravi Shastri. The Board president, Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya, said "we'll not speak to Ravi Shastri under any circumstances.'' Mr. Dalmiya is understood to have taken strong exception to the crude language used by Shastri on television while challenging the Board president to a debate.
The Board, even as it welcomed the idea of the players to form an association, mocked at the players' claim of being united in this episode. "Let them not sign. Wait till we pick the second-string side and then see their unity,'' said a Board member, who hinted the Board was too united to deal with some self-promoting individuals. The Board members are livid at the stubborn stand adopted by the players. "They forget how the Board supported the players in South Africa. All this talk of seniors supporting the juniors sounds fine on paper. The reality would be much different. Will any of the seniors stand up tomorrow if the Board becomes vindictive,'' asked a former Test cricketer, expressing his support for those 24 players who have signed the contract for the Champions Trophy.
The offer from the players to request their sponsors has been made in the right spirit even though a few top Board members are of the opinion that the seniors have not shown any sense of responsibility by dragging the juniors with them. A senior player, however, told The Hindu "this fight is for the sake of the juniors. We want to establish their rights and we won't let them down at any stage. We are united.''
Even as the players and the administrators were locked in their battle, an official from one of the sponsors had an interesting poser. "How is Ravi Shastri, the official spokesman of the players, appearing in an advertisement (for LG) and yet supporting the players contracted by a rival (Samsung)!''
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