It has been whispered in cricket circles for some time now. On Friday, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Sharad Pawar said it publicly. In an interview to CNN-IBN, Pawar said companies which sign on a large number of cricketers for endorsements try and use undue influence to keep them in the team.
Replying to a question accusing the BCCI of preventing players from signing endorsements, Pawar said: “If eight-nine players sign a contract with XYZ company, the company wants the players to be always in the team. It is not an official complaint but on the surface it looks like this. There is a feeling like this among the younger players. A young player said this to me but for the sake of his future I will not talk much about this. I have asked some trusted people to look into this. There will not be an official investigation but we are looking into this.”
This was the first acknowledgment from a high-ranking board functionary of the player-agent nexus and its role in team selection.
Predictably, top agents shied away from reacting. Lokesh Sharma of 21st Century Media, which manages several top-rung cricketers’ dealings with corporates, said he did not know what this was all about. “So I have no comment to make,” he told HT.
A national selector responded similarly: “I wouldn’t like to talk about it unless I hear what he (Pawar) says.”
Former selection committee chairman Kiran More said he had not faced this kind of pressure. But he added: “Agents could be using the media to promote their clients.”
Another high-profile player agent said there was little truth in Pawar's allegation. “I have never faced any pressure from any company to accommodate players,” he said.
“It would be very difficult to judge the seriousness of Pawar's comment unless a specific instance of a player and a company is pointed out.”
In the interview Pawar also made a vague reference to another “unofficial complaint” about a player who had an endorsement contract that gave him “more incentives for more time spent at the crease”. But Pawar's subsequent statements indicated he had no proof of this.
The BCCI president also said the board had not serve the alleged notice on Sachin Tendulkar for speaking to the press, but “simply asked him” about it. “Many a times reports come in a newspaper, which are far from the truth,” he said. But the BCCI itself had termed their communication to Tendulkar a “notice”.
On April 7, after their Working Committee meeting, board treasurer N. Srinivasan had said: “Notice will be issued to Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh under Rule 38 of the Memorandum and the Rules and Regulations of the Board, asking for an explanation for their comments made to the media.” A press release issued later by the BCCI also used the word “notice”. Srinivasan, however, wholeheartedly supported Pawar on Friday. “There's no question of my reacting to what our president has said,” he said. “Once our president says something, that's followed by nothing but a full stop.”
Asked why no action was taken against BCCI officials who spoke to the press, Pawar said he did not have the power to do so. But Srinivasan's remarks show Pawar has the final say in all matters.