Looks like the BCCI is hoping that the short-term memory of Indian cricket fans will help it to conveniently avoid yet another sticky issue.
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his squad left Indian shores for the Champions Trophy after the conclusion of the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League, they did so under the dark shadow of the spot-fixing and betting scandal that rocked the Twenty20 league. At the time, Dhoni was also panned for his stoic silence and refusal to comment on the scandal.
But, to give credit where it is due, Dhoni and his team focussed on the task and were unbeaten in their successful Champions Trophy campaign and followed up that success by winning the recently concluded Tri-Nation Series in West Indies.
In the midst of the Twenty20 league scandal came the report that Dhoni owned a 15 percent stake in Rhiti Sports Management Private Limited, the sports management company that also manages him, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Pragyan Ojha. This put Dhoni squarely in a conflict of interest situation as he failed to make full disclosure of the fact that his commercial interests impair his judgement as the captain of the Indian national team, as my colleague AR Hemant explained in this hard-hitting article.
Dhoni now has a much-deserved break until the Australia series in October, and now that he is back in India, BCCI interim president Jagmohan Dalmiya would do well to make good on his promise about not covering up the Indian captain's involvement with Rhiti Sports.
In the first week of June 2013, Dalmiya had said the BCCI would take up the matter after the Champions Trophy was completed. “As far as Dhoni issue is concerned, you all have seen it in the papers and so have I. Let it come out… At this juncture, when we are in the midst of the Champions Trophy, we are not going to earn anything by disturbing the atmosphere. But at the same time, we are not going to cover it up. Please wait and see,” Dalmiya assured.
When the controversy broke, former cricketers were quick to criticise Dhoni over the Rhiti Sports stake issue.
Rhiti Sports, however, was quick to issue a statement that denied Dhoni held any stake in the company. However, there was a discrepancy in the dates on which the company claimed the shares were transferred to Dhoni. Rhiti had claimed that Dhoni held no shares of the company as of April 26 and that it had transferred the shares on March 22 only towards an outstanding amount it owed the cricketer. However, media reports indicated that the shares were transferred to Dhoni on May 22.
Rhiti has the marketing rights for Chennai Super Kings, the franchise that Dhoni captains in the Indian Premier League and is owned by India Cements, where the India skipper is a vice-president. Raina and Jadeja are also part of the same franchise.
Rhiti Sports also runs MS Dhoni Charitable Foundation which, in the company's own words, is "the concrete form of Dhoni's vision to bring resources at the threshold of thousands of young players all over the country", according to this Hindustan Times report. The foundation's activities also include "constantly rewarding young upcoming talent and help them realise their potential". With the foundation "promoting young talent", it could make for another conflict of interest scenario for Dhoni.
If Dhoni doesn't own any stake in Rhiti Sports currently, he should just make a statement to the effect, so that this monkey is off his back. However, if he was given shares for whatever length of time, as part of dues owed to him, Dhoni needs to confirm and address the fallout of that head on too.
Dhoni is a much-loved cricketer, a brilliant finisher and a respected captain, and for good reason, but if his motives for the selection of the playing XI are also dictated by his commercial interests, he is being unfair to the cricket-crazy Indian fans. Dhoni's supporters may argue that Raina and Jadeja have been successful in the shorter formats, and that Ojha struggles to get into the Indian team. But the long and the short of it is that Raina and Jadeja have got into the Test team despite the fact that neither of them have justified their inclusions in the longest format.
Indian cricket is riding a wave of success on the field, but there are plenty of off-field issues that need to be addressed by the administrators and it is the responsibility of the fans to exert pressure on the officials to ensure the damaged image of the game in the country, is rectified at the earliest.
The last word on this goes to BCCI treasurer Ravi Sawant, who told NDTV on June 11 that Dhoni cannot continue to hold shares in Rhiti Sports while he is captain, adding that the Indian skipper be "given a notice for conflict of interest if this was not part of his contract earlier".
Dalmiya and the rest of the BCCI need to walk the talk now and start taking decisions in the best interests of Indian cricket.