With the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) bringing in unprecedented amounts of money into the sport, the possibility of corrupt elements trying to exploit the sport has also increased manifold.
With a wary eye on the corruption scandals that have engulfed a league like the Indian Premier League (IPL), where Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are serving two-year suspensions due to their officials’ involvement in a betting scandal, PKL organisers and teams have taken proactive, if not downright authoritarian, measures to keep anti-social elements at bay.
Take Telugu Titans for instance. The franchise has asked its players to delete popular messaging app WhatsApp from their cellphones before the league began besides asking players to submit their phone records since the day of them joining the training camp. These records are then handed over to the Integrity Officer assigned to them by the league. This officer, who has been tailing the team throughout the season, is accompanied by a security officer appointed by the Titans. The franchise has also given strict instructions to players against mingling with any fans, particularly females, apart from closely monitoring players’ Facebook and Instagram posts.
“Almost all the franchise owners run massive businesses. The money we invest in this league is very small compared to that. So we don’t want anything that happens here to sully our brand name or original businesses. That’s why we are so cautious,” Srinivas Sreeramaneni, owner of Titans told HT.
The franchise also has told players they must ask permission to go out of the team hotel to meet someone or to bring someone into the hotel -- a regulation other teams like Dabang Delhi have also implemented. Meanwhile, franchises like Bengaluru Bulls and Puneri Paltan have prohibited players from inviting anyone to their hotel rooms. In Bulls’s case, this includes players’ wives too. Players can entertain guests in the hotel lobby. Unlike IPL (and ISL teams to some extent), PKL outfits have two players sharing a room. Pune and Delhi regularly check CCTV footage of hotel corridors to keep a tab on who goes into players’ rooms.
U Mumba, which has given players a single-page guidelines manual, has asked them not to discuss the sport or team tactics with hotel staff.
“These measures are required to keep a clean sport. The stakes are very high. Lives are changing. There will be repercussions. We don’t want there to be negative repercussions,” U Mumba CEO Supratik Sen said. He added that the team would ask its players for their phone records only in case it was deemed necessary due to suspicion.
Kailash Kandpal, manager of Puneri Paltan, too, said they had no plans to ask for players’ phone records.”We live in a democratic country. We can’t have too many restrictions. They are players after all,” he said.
“Until now we haven’t started keeping track on people’s phones because we don’t want to intrude on their privacy. Besides, as a franchise we ourselves don’t know who is in a betting circle. Now, a very senior person has been put on the integrity board of PKL and they are going to start this. Because they have the numbers of people who are on a no objection list. As and when we will be requested for this (phone records of players), we will provide it,” said Saumya Khaitan, CEO of Dabang Delhi. Khaitan added that the team had been holding their pre-season training camps at isolated venues for the last two seasons to keep players from mingling with fans.
Accepting gifts from strangers has also been barred by Bulls. As is the norm in most sports leagues, teams take away all communication devices from players on match days. While most teams do this a few hours before the match, Titans players are asked to hand over their phones in the morning of match days itself.
On its part, the league too has taken stern measures. One franchise owner narrated how players had been warned by the league not to go into the crowd before or during matches for pictures or autographs with fans. Ignoring this directive could lead to suspension.
“As the scale of money coming into the sport increases, the risk does too. It’s reasonable to assume that there are people out there who are looking to set up betting rackets for PKL as well. We’re aware of the risk,” said a highly placed source.
South Africa-based firm Nicholls Steyn and Associates (NSA) has been working closely with the organisers for security as well as governance issues. NSA has had briefings with teams instructing players what they should look out for or be concerned about. NSA, which employs former South African policemen and ex-Interpol officers, has worked in major tournaments like the 2010 World Cup, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics apart from domestic tournaments like IPL.
After season 1, the league has restricted the movements of Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India officials during matches apart from asking owners to sit separately from the teams during matches.
In June the league appointed an Ethics and Governance Committee, which consisted of members like former Maharashtra DGP AN Roy and Justice (Retd.) AP Shah, who is also the Ombudsman appointed by the BCCI.
“We’d be fools not to learn from other sports. There’s a lot of money and prestige at stake,” said Charu Sharma, the brain behind the league. While teams have held sessions warning players of the perils of getting carried away, Sharma revealed that he had had a heart-to-heart with players from time to time.
“If we have erred anywhere, it’s in terms of excessive lecturing,” he said.