Chandra charges Dalmiya, ESS of collusion

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Match-fixing charges reared its ugly head in Indian cricket today, but on a surface different to that of the playing field. Following the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) decision to go in for a fresh tender for telecast rights, an outraged Zee Group CMD Subhash Chandra today accused the cricket board and ESPN-Star Sports of being in cahoots.

"There is a collusion and conspiracy between BCCI's (chief) Jagmohan Dalmiya and ESPN Star Sports. The court could also see it clearly. But since the petitioner ESPN Star Sports, in collusion with the BCCI counsel withdrew the petition, the court had no option than to record the statement and pass no order," Chandra said. The Zee CMD confirmed that his company would be legally challenging BCCI's move. In fact, company sources say the company would be moving the Supreme Court on 22 September.

To recap the day's events, following up on a comment made yesterday during arguments in the India cricket rights case, the BCCI today gave an affidavit in the Bombay High Court saying that it is cancelling the tendering process for India cricket telecast rights and may go in for a re-tendering. Following this fresh twist to the cricket telecast saga, ESS, a joint venture between Walt Disney and Rupert Murdoch's Star Group, withdrew its petition against the award of the rights to Zee Telefilms.

Chandra maintained that had been awarded the contract by BCCI. "We feel we have a concluded contract with us," he said. He said after 14 members of the BCCI marketing committee decided to award the contract to Zee Telefilms, they were asked to submit $ 20 million. "We gave the money and they sent us the Letter of Intent (LOI). But it could not be progressed further due to the court proceedings," he said. "All 14 members of BCCI's marketing committee will be made respondents in the case," Chandra asserted in an interview to the business channel CNBC TV-18.

"Let me assure your (CNBC's) viewers and everyone else that on 6 October the cricket match will be telecast on Zee Sports." Chandra even drew upon mythological analogies while asserting, "'Hum dharm ki ladai ladh rahe hai aur woh adharm ki' (we are fighting for a just cause and they are fighting for an unjust one)." It needs noting here that Zee has announced plans to launch its Zee Sports channel from 2 October.

Later, an official spokesperson for Zee Telefilms explained that the BCCI is clearly seeking to contradict its own affidavit filed earlier in the High Court, thus clearly indicating a "joint conspiracy to keep us out and mislead the honourable court."

Pointing out that the BCCI has accepted $ 20 million and issued a letter of intent, the Zee spokesperson added, "How can anyone say that the rights do not legitimately belong to us? Even the BCCI marketing committee members have expressed shock and disbelief as they were not consulted. Zee Network will take whatever legal measures are needed."

That the Indian cricket board could take such a decision without consulting its members --- or that was what it was made out to be --- is strange. At about 4:35 pm, when got in touch with N Srinivasan, head of BCCI's marketing committee and member of the board's tender committee, the gentleman almost expressed his ignorance when he blurted out, "I am hearing this from you. I am about to take a flight now and I can only comment after I have spoken to other BCCI officials." Ditto for another committee member, Niranjan Shah, who said, "I am not aware of the details of the matter and so cannot offer any comment." Shah said he was only privy to what he had seen on television and would have to therefore discuss the issue with other cricket board officials before saying anything on the matter.

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