India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and businessman Mahendra Singh Dhoni seem to be caught in a serious conflict of interest.
A player management firm, Rhiti Sports Management Private Ltd, has Dhoni as one of its clients. By its own admission, till a couple of months back, the skipper even held a chunk of its shares. It meant that Dhoni stood to gain financially every time more and more players signed by Rhiti played for India or their T20 league franchise.
Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, who play for Chennai Super Kings (CSK), a team led by Dhoni, are also managed by Rhiti as is left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha. All the three have played for Team India as well. Rhiti also has the marketing rights for CSK and the T20 League's logo holds the pride of place on its homepage.
The ministry of company affairs (MCA) filings show that in a board meeting on March 22, 2013, Rhiti approved the allotment of 30,000 shares, or 15.1% stake, to Dhoni.
“In this case, there is a clear case of conflict of interest as Dhoni was a shareholder and had a stake in the company. If the players he is promoting plays he stands to gain,” said Latika Khaneja, head of Collage Sports Management.
“Even in cases where he is tweeting that Jadeja is a superstar and if people start believing, it reflects a conflict of interest. If he weren't having any stake, then it would have been different.”
During the recent T20 league, Dhoni often heaped praise on “Sir Jadeja”. Though Rhiti said Monday that Dhoni no longer held any share, there are reasons to be sceptical. When the Mumbai Police arrested Gurunath Meiyappan, the India Cements management was quick to change his position from that of team principal of CSK to just a member.
It is true that Dhoni does not have a vote in team selection, but it will be naïve to think the skipper doesn’t really have any influence. “The captain gives inputs to selectors,” confirmed BCCI joint secretary Anurag Thakur.
Rhiti Sports is owned by Arun Pandey, a close friend of Dhoni. In 2010, Dhoni signed up with Rhiti reportedly for Rs. 210 crore, an average of Rs. 70 crore a year, the costliest deal in Indian cricket. Rhiti’s denial notwithstanding, Dhoni is all over its homepage. The main image is in India blazer and cap, and there are others of him holding the 2011 World Cup and a group picture of the CSK. Then there are special pages on MSD Charitable Foundation and Mahi Racing. It is clear Mahi is its face.
When contacted, Pandey forwarded a press release. “Shareholding was allotted to MSD on 22-03-2013 only to secure some old outstandings, which were due for more than one year. The payments were cleared in April 2013 and the shareholding was transferred back to promoter of the company on 26-04-2013,” it read.
N Srinivasan was quiet when the media asked him about Dhoni’s captaincy soon after India’s 0-4 routs to England and Australia. He reportedly used his veto powers as president to stop a 3-2 vote in the selection committee to remove Dhoni as captain and Test player. Dhoni’s decision to call RP Singh, then with Rhiti, to England in 2011 had raised eyebrows. Singh, like Team India, had a forgettable outing.
This year, Dhoni was named vice-president in India Cements.