A day after Sahara decided to cut its ties with the BCCI, withdrawing its sponsorship of the Indian team and ownership of the Pune Warriors India IPL franchise, it has emerged that Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance
Industries Limited (RIL) could fill the void.
“Assuming that Sahara’s decision stands, watch out for RIL... There’s a very good chance that it will extend its association with cricket in India,” a top source told The Telegraph late on Saturday.
The Ambanis own the Mumbai Indians, one of the top teams in the IPL, which is captained by Sachin Tendulkar. Moreover, the Ambanis are on excellent terms with the Board of Control for Cricket in India brass.
On Saturday, Sahara said the decision to end their partnership comes over long-standing business grievances with the BCCI and the IPL governing council's handling of Yuvraj Singh, who is the captain of the Sahara-owned IPL team, Pune Warriors.
'Rules were broken for other teams'
Yuvraj, who was bought by Pune in 2011 for USD 1.8 million, will miss the IPL this year as he seeks treatment for his lung tumour. Pune had asked the IPL governing council to let them increase their auction purse to help them seek replacement players. The council turned the demand down.
The timing of Sahara's announcement was critical. It issued a media statement about their disassociation with the BCCI only minutes before the start of the 2012 player auctions for the IPL in Bangalore. Pune were not represented at the auction.
Sahara has asked the BCCI to pass the Warriors set-up, and the Indian team sponsorship rights, on to any interested parties. It did however say that it will continue sponsoring the Indian team "for the next 2-4 months, till the BCCI finds a new sponsor."
Sahara had paid Rs 400 crore in 2005 for a four-year deal to sponsor the Indian team. In 2010, the deal was renewed at approximately 490 crore till December 31, 2013.
Sahara's contention is that it has been flexible in its dealings with the BCCI and the ICC, but the courtesies have not been reciprocated. It cited the 2003 World Cup as an example (see graphic).
Can't make amendments for one team: Raman
BCCI vice-president and IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla, who fielded questions at a presser for the IPL auction, did not react to Sahara's decision saying the BCCI has not received any official communication to the BCCI.
“Unless we get an official communication from them, the BCCI cannot react to (the development),” Shukla said adding that the IPL will continue as per plan this year.
“The show will always go on. The auction is already on. The show will not stop,” he said.
IPL chief executive Sundar Raman was more forthcoming saying that Sahara’s demands for amendments to the IPL’s rules and regulations suited them. “They were the team with the biggest purse. It is not fair to the other teams that these amendments be made for Sahara alone,” Raman said.
BCCI to meet Sahara
BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale said the board would meet Sahara officials soon and will clarify the issues.
"We understand that Sahara Adventure Sports Limited has issued a statement in which it indicates an intention to withdraw from its involvement in Indian cricket, including as regards the Indian Premier League. We intend to contact Sahara Adventure Sports Limited as soon as practicable to clarify its intentions," Jagdale said in a statement.
On the confusion surrounding Yuvraj, Jagdale said: "During the last few days, Sahara Adventure Sports Limited has requested that IPL vary its Player Regulations by allowing it to increase its Auction Purse from $1.6m to $3.4m in the light of Yuvraj's unfortunate illness."
"Whilst all within IPL and BCCI have a huge amount of sympathy for Yuvraj Singh and wish him all the best for a speedy recovery, it is unable to vary the Player Regulations," Jagdale said.
'One-sided emotional relationship'
“We requested the BCCI on the basis of the fact that we have only one Indian marquee player, that we be allowed to add price of Shri Yuvraj Singh in our auction purse, during the 4th February auction because we had later taken Shri Sourav Ganguly at 0.4 million. Again, we have been denied on the basis of the rule book,” Sahara’s statement read.
“We think this peculiar situation of Shri Yuvraj Singh is silent in the rule book because it probably talks only about players who are temporarily injured.”
“We really feel such one-sided emotional relationship cannot be dragged any further. We are withdrawing from all cricket under BCCI/ However, we don't want to give any problem to the BCCI and we also feel that the players should not suffer. BCCI will definitely take 2-4 months to get a new sponsor and we will continue paying the sponsorship money till then. All other IPL team players, coaches and other such associates will definitely get their due this year, in case they do not get a chance to play.”
Looking at the larger picture, Sahara has made its move at a time Indian cricket's stocks are at a low and its era of unprecedented success is coming to an end with the impending retirements of its ageing greats. The period also coincides with diminishing crowds at stadia, dipping TV viewership and corresponding withdrawals by other major sponsors.