India news January 13, 2014

Maharashtra staff feel pinch of association's financial issues

While the Maharashtra team is being lionised, and rightly so, for dethroning Mumbai and reaching its first Ranji Trophy semi-final in 17 years, spare a thought for the support staff. They have been working under severe financial constraints this season, some of them having to accept a 20% pay cut, and that after a four-month pre-season period without any salaries.

The scenario, a fallout of the Maharashtra Cricket Association's financially crippling dispute with the Sahara Group over its new stadium, has left some of the 25 staff members disgruntled and testing their loyalty. The MCA, for its part, has sought to explain its position to the staff through a series of meetings and has made statements assuring a speedy resolution of the problem.

The players have also had to make a few sacrifices. For their match against Mumbai they stayed not at a posh Mumbai hotel but at the budget Sea Green South, where they coped with leaking basins, crammed rooms and lack of a restaurant to beat the defending champions.

That's nothing, though, compared to what the support staff - including coaches, trainers, physiotherapists, video analysts and managers of the various teams - have faced. Their problems began in the middle of 2013, when they were not paid from April to July. Before the start of the season, MCA president Ajay Shirke called a meeting of the support staff of all its teams, from the Under-14 level to the Ranji side. "I explained the situation to all the experts, about the state of finances, and requested them to cooperate with us and not let it affect the cricket," Shirke told ESPNcricinfo. "I am extremely thankful to them that all of us agreed to do our bit."

The contracts were then renegotiated for the period from August 1 - but there was more cause for alarm. The MCA's administrative committee worked out a formula through which the remuneration of some of the support staff members who were "overpaid", along with a few MCA staffers, was slashed by up to 20%. Those earning less than Rs 20,000 a month didn't suffer financially, while those paid between Rs 20,000-50,000 saw a 10% pay cut. Those earning more took a 20% cut.

"We didn't want those who aren't paid substantially to suffer, so those at the top of the ladder agreed to a pay cut and it helped us immensely since there was cash crunch," Shirke, a former BCCI treasurer, said.

While this helped the MCA cut down on the administrative expenses, it created a few disgruntled voices. "Obviously the MCA has tried to not let the cut impact our families much but when you look at the kind of rewards that are paid to our counterparts in other associations, you feel a little hard done by. Hopefully, as the president has said, it's a temporary situation and things will improve soon," one staff member said on the condition of anonymity.

"We understand the problem the MCA is in," he said. "But that doesn't mean you don't honour an annual agreement and not pay us for four months since they didn't plan any activities during that time."

In response, Shirke said the MCA would try and make up for that. "We just couldn't afford to pay them then. We have explained to them our situation and have also assured that the moment our financial troubles are over, our priority will be to make up for the financial hit that is borne by all the personnel in MCA."

Despite state associations being paid in excess of Rs 20 crores (approx. $3.2 million) annually by the BCCI, the primary cause of MCA's financial crisis has been the dispute - currently the subject of litigation in Bombay High Court - between the MCA and Sahara Group. The stadium in Pune cost approximately Rs 300 crores ($48 million) and was supposed to be offset by Sahara's 10-year title rights agreement, worth Rs 215 crores ($35 million). That fee would have helped the MCA pay off loans taken to complete the project but the inflow of funds from Sahara stopped after November 2011 - leaving an alleged outstanding payment of Rs 115 crores.

The MCA then had to utilise its entire savings to pay off the loans and, since it had already used about Rs 50 crore from its coffers for the stadium construction, the current account started facing immense pressure.

"At the moment, the amount that is not received is staggering and thus, the bank interest that is piling up is also huge," Shirke said. "We have to prioritise payments starting with creditors, bank loan, taxes, statutory dues and then the administrative dues. We have managed to get the outstanding principal from Rs 700 million down to Rs 400 million this year and as soon as our financial conundrum is resolved, we will reward the commitment of all our support staff who has stood besides the association through a tough period."

Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo