Indians push ICC on back foot on contract row

Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2002, 19:41 [IST]
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New Delhi: India has rejected players' contracts for next year's World Cup, it was revealed on Tuesday, leaving the sport's world governing body facing a showdown with its corporate partners. The Indians will forego personal endorsements that conflict with official sponsors only during the February 8 to March 23 tournament in South Africa, instead of 30 days before and after the event as laid down in the contracts.

The cricketers will also allow their images to be used by sponsors for just two months after the event, instead of six as demanded by the International Cricket Council (ICC), sources said. With the Indians refusing to back down, the ICC faces the ire of its sponsors, who insisted on the ambush marketing clauses when signing a seven-year deal worth $ 550 million. The ICC can ill afford to displease both its sponsors and India, whose vast cricket- crazy television audiences have guaranteed the huge pay packet for the governing body. At least three of the four major World Cup sponsors - Pepsi, LG Electronics and Hero Honda - have major commercial interests in India.

Official sources said Jagmohan Dalmiya, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and Test spinner Anil Kumble, had told the ICC on Monday that the present contracts were unacceptable. The governing body was represented at the Calcutta meeting by Dave Richardson, ICC general manager, and Ahmed Ebrahim, a member of the ICC committee appointed to resolve the contentious issue.

A Calcutta daily said the BCCI's take-it-or-leave-it offer was likely to be accepted by the ICC, provided the official sponsors agree. "Though pen may not be put to paper for the next fortnight, indications are that the ICC will eventually accept the package where the contentious clauses have been suitably amended," the daily said. The issue almost led to Indian stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly boycotting the Champions Trophy in Colombo in September, before the ICC brokered a compromise by relaxing some of the conditions.

The Indians argue that the ICC cannot compel players to breach pre-existing contracts with individual sponsors. If challenged, the existing terms will not stand scrutiny in court. India's tough stand enjoys the blessing of the Federation of International Cricketers Association (FICA), which earlier this year pleaded with players not to sign what it called "one-sided" contracts. That the ICC is willing to concede ground - provided its sponsors agree - was hinted on Monday by Ebrahim, a retired judge from World Cup co-hosts Zimbabwe. "Everyone wants India to field its best team at the World Cup, and to this end the ICC is ready to show a certain degree of flexibility," he said.

India is the only one among the 14 nations taking part in the World Cup that has not named its preliminary 30-man squad even though the deadline set by the ICC was November 30. The Indians have also indicated they are unlikely to narrow down their 15-man World Cup team by the December 31 deadline. The BCCI is planning World Cup trials after the current tour of New Zealand ends on January 14.

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