When Ranchi Rays won the Indian Hockey League title in February, its players were on top of the world. They had triumphed on debut, and had the financial backing of India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and major sponsors, Sahara Adventure Sports Limited, the co-owners.
Three months on, team members still await their outstanding dues, said to be between Rs. 2 crore to Rs. 3 crore. Ranchi players are not alone in this frustrating wait. Uttar Pradesh Wizards, co-owned by Sahara and India batsman Suresh Raina, have also reportedly not settled dues amounting to a similar sum.
Clearing the dues shouldn’t be a big problem if one takes into account the fact that the teams are partially bankrolled by Dhoni and Raina.
Ranchi Rays made their debut this year and the financial issue is poor advertisement for a league projected as the world’s most lucrative hockey tournament. Rohan Mehan, an official of Rhiti Sports, which manages Dhoni’s business interests, wasn’t available for comment. Abhijit Sarkar, director of Sahara Adventure Sports, also did not comment.
Each HIL team is allowed to sign up 24 players, including 10 foreigners. Payments are made in phases and the final instalment must be cleared before the team’s final match, or within a week after that. Being an event sanctioned by the global body, FIH, the franchises have to follow its rules. However, it is learnt even some foreign players of Ranchi have dues outstanding. The coaching staff has got only 50% of the dues.
India’s Dutch high performance director Roelant Oltmans — he was the Wizards coach — admitted he was owed money, but said he wasn’t worried about the dues. “The team owner would pay sooner or later,” he said. However, he wasn’t aware that players were yet to get their dues. Ranchi coach Harendra Singh refused to comment.
The players, fearing repercussions, haven’t sent a written complaint to the federation or team owners. “No one is speaking about the money due to fear of losing their place in the national team,” said a player bound for Belgium to play in the Hockey World League semifinal.
Narinder Batra, Hockey India president and HIL chairman, said he wasn’t aware of the problem. “No one has complained to us,” he said, adding that HI has made all payments due to the franchises.
The league, started in 2013, has had a rough run. In 2014, two franchises — Ranchi Rhinos and Mumbai Magicians — quit the league, quashing plans to expand the league from six teams to eight. The financial problem has added to its woes.