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Harbhajan Singh under the scanner for conflict of interest

Dilip Vengsarkar, Anurag Thakur and Brijesh Patel also mentioned in BCCI ombudsman's report

Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan is part of India’s squad for both Asia Cup and the World T20

AP Shah who was appointed as BCCI’s ombudsman has listed Harbhajan Singh among others in matters related to conflict of interest. Indian Express reported the former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court coming hard on several high-profile names associated with Indian cricket for not disclosing their other affiliations.

The recommendation asked cricket players, selectors, and administrators to distance themselves from business interests which may come in conflict with their primary roles. The report also deals with conflicting interests in coaching academies, sports management companies and sports merchandise manufacturers.

After receiving numerous complaints on office-bearers like Sourav Ganguly, Anurag Thakur and Vikram Rathore, the ombudsman prepared his first order to address the problems. In the case of Harbhajan, Shah pointed out that his apparel ‘Bhajji Sports’ supplied kits and other merchandise to over six Ranji teams.

In response, the off-spinner had mentioned that the company was not owned by him but by his mother, Mrs Avtar Kaur. Even though the business venture was started before Singh's current contract with BCCI as well as the conflict of interest rules materialized, Shah ordered the BCCI to take an undertaking from the 35-year old that he would not participate in the enterprise’s affairs as long as he is contracted by the board.

The ombudsman noted, “However, given the facts and circumstances of the case, the Ombudsman believes that the best course of action may be that the BCCI take an unequivocal undertaking from Mr Singh that he will no way be involved in the management of the company, Bhajji Sports, and that under no circumstances will he be associated with the company’s products (including by way of sponsorship), so long as his contract with the BCCI is alive.”

This is the most absurd thing I have heard: Vengsarkar

Apart from Harbhajan, those surrounding the issue are former cricketers such as Dilip Vengsarkar, Brijesh Patel, Arshad Ayub, Chetan Chauhan alongside administrators like Ajay Shirke. The retired players run training academies which coincide with their positions with the BCCI while Shirke too could face issues as he operates a cricket academy conflicting with his role as President of the Maharashtra Cricket Association.

Shah wrote, “The Ombudsman recommends that all concerned individuals (cricketers, selectors, coaches, and administrators) should be required to make standard disclosures about their affiliations in the context of the conflict of interest rules (which may pertain, for example, to cricket coaching/training academies, sports management companies, sports apparel manufacturers, etc). If the disclosures reveal that an individual does have such an association, they may be asked to either terminate their association with such companies/academies, or asked to resign from their position as cricketer/selector/coach/administrator, as covered by the conflict of interest rules.”

Vengsarkar was critical in his riposte to the ombudsman’s recommendations. The former middle-order batsman asserted, “This is the most absurd thing I have heard because cricketers will run cricket academy. Whatever experience he has got, whatever he has learnt from his cricketing career, he will like to pass on to the young cricketer of the state and to the country. He can’t run a hockey or a kabaddi academy because that is not his expertise.”

He added, “The cricketer who work hard not only in cricket but through cricket administration, if they are asked to choose one, first of all cricketers who won the election and are in administration you can count them on fingertips. Will they be there? At one side you say that more cricketers should come into administration and whatever handful cricketers are there in the administration, I think you want to get rid of them. Most of the cricket academies are run by cricketers, they have trainees between 8 and 15. Then, how it becomes conflict of interest.”

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