In a season of suspicion in Indian cricket, conflict of interest concerns have deepened over national skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s connection to Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited, a player management firm run by his close associate. It is no secret that the company, founded in 2007, was established essentially to cash in on the rising brand image of Dhoni as an India player and captain. It was a well-known fact — and considered undesirable — that team mates Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, both Chennai Super Kings players as well and another India player, Pragyan Ojha, are also managed by Rhiti. What is disturbing is the news of the company admitting that it did transfer 15% shares to Dhoni in March-April, making him officially a co-owner. While many feel the legal aspects will have to be more thoroughly examined as far as the share transfer is concerned, what stands out is the alliance between Dhoni and N Srinivasan, who himself was caught neck deep in conflict of interest and has ‘stepped aside’ with great reluctance. Srinivasan’s company India Cements own Chennai Super Kings, and employ Dhoni, the team and India captain, and Rhiti has strong commercial ties with the Twenty20 league franchise.
But these strong links between Srinivasan and Dhoni also raise questions about decisions taken in the last two years. After the Test series routs in England and in Australia, there was a clamour to axe Dhoni as Test skipper, but Srinivasan would have none of it. With the fresh questions being raised about the captain’s commercial interests, the decision to back Dhoni now will be seen as much more than an administrator’s conviction about the player’s leadership qualities. Money, and more money, makes Indian cricket go around, and this has led to many leading players looking to maximise their commercial value. This can often lead to conflict of interest. However, it is the responsibility of the administrators to rein in players and ensure they stay focused on the game. Thus, with the BCCI president himself seeing nothing wrong in holding on to his chair despite his son-in-law being investigated over suspicion of links with illegal bookies, players can’t be expected to lose sleep over being above board in letter and spirit on such issues. Those open to convenient commercial deals will also be in danger of coming under the influence of dubious characters that hover around the national team and players.
Dhoni may not be alone in this. Former skipper Anil Kumble too may have to do some soul-searching. He is the Karnataka State Cricket Association president and heads the International Cricket Council’s cricket committee. But his company, Tenvic, also mentors players, which means eyebrows will be raised everytime a player from his stable is selected. Not an ideal situation at all.