Agreement on cricket row in sight , formal announcement expected Thursday

 NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: It is all about money, honey! Forget patriotism and all that blah blah. And since it has all boiled down to hard economics, a solution to the whole cricket controversy was arrived at in principle today. Though the deal is not signed and delivered as yet, it should be by Thursday, sources close to the negotiations said.

According to cricketing sources, the five top Indian players - Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Virendra Sehwag - together have reportedly sought a compensation of about Rs 50 million from the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) in lieu of signing on the dotted line. And while the finer points are still being discussed, the board has agreed to the terms.

The BCCI and Jagmohan Dalmia, the strongman of Indian cricket, are understood to have worked out a three-point formula for a face-saving solution to the vexed issue that has hogged the headlines these past few weeks.

The three-point formula includes a proposal that the cricketers will get a percentage of the money that the International Cricket Council (ICC) will give to BCCI, and that in future the players will be kept apprised of all such sponsorship deals being inked by the BCCI, the ICC and other stakeholders of the game.

And who are the other stakeholders? Some of the global partners who have paid through their nose to get sponsorship rights to the ICC tourneys. These parties have contested the ICC's reported stand that the global sponsors are ready to re-negotiate the terms and conditions of the sponsorship deals.

A senior executive of one of the global sponsors of ICC cricket today told indiantelevision: "We have read media reports from London where ICC has been quoted as saying that the global partners may re-negotiate the contracts. But as of today there has been no official intimation on this front."

Echoing a similar sentiment a senior executive for Pepsi Foods India Pvt. Ltd. said that there has been "no indication from the ICC on renegotiations of the contract." The executive further added that if any term of the contract is changed (as the binding on personal endorsement by players is only limited to the up and coming Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, for example) or is being sought to be changed, then the whole agreement has to be re-negotiated.

The global sponsors of the upcoming Champions Trophy and Next March's World Cup in South Africa, which include the likes of Pepsi, LG, Hero Honda, Toyota, South African Airways, United Breweries of South Africa, are reported to have coughed up close to Rs 2,000 million for a bunch of sponsorship rights which they are not ready to give up easily.

But ICC, though apparently facing an uphill task, has kept up its tough stand, including the fact that ICC chief Malcolm Speed when in Mumbai last week, was quoted by Reuters as saying the personal endorsement ban for a month before and after an ICC tournament will stay for the World Cup too.

Now that the stalemate between BCCI, one of the richest sports bodies in the world, and the top Indian cricketers has been breached, it remains to be seen whether LG will finally reach a deal with Sony Entertainment Television, which has the C&S telecast rights to the tournament.

Ganesh Mahalingam, marketing head of LG India, earlier today told "I am not going to freeze any deal with Sony Entertainment TV (scheduled to air the ICC cricket matches on SET Max) unless and until the BCII announces the full and final team for the Champions Trophy."

LG India had earlier rejected an offer from SET India for getting a certain amount of airtime for the matches of Champions Trophy and the World Cup for Rs 600 million. Reason: "The rates are preposterous and unrealistic," according to Mahalingam. Since then, SET is believed to have made another offer to LG India on which a decision has not been taken as yet. Now that a full strength squadis almost certain to be headed for the Emerald Isles next month, Sony will certainly have a much stronger bargaining position on the terms it has set.

The other two main India sponsors for the ICC cricket - Pepsi and Hero Honda - have already signed up, industry sources say.

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