Ombudsman asks Harbhajan to dissociate from Bhajji Sports
The BCCI ombudsman, Justice AP Shah, has asked the board to take an "unequivocal undertaking" from spinner Harbhajan Singh that he will no longer be in the management of the sports apparel company, Bhajji Sports, and will not be associated with the company, even in terms of sponsorship, for the duration of his contract with the Indian board. Shah also took the opportunity to tell the BCCI that he had received a lot of allegations similar to the complaint against Harbhajan, especially from the state associations, and suggested that players, coaches, selectors and administrators make prior disclosures of similar associations with companies or academies.
Shah's decision came after a conflict of interest allegation was filed last month questioning Harbhajan's links to a sports apparel company that sponsors various state teams in domestic cricket.
In a complaint filed against Harbhajan in January, Mumbai-based activist Niraj Gunde stated that Bhajji Sports had reportedly sponsored six Ranji Trophy sides. Shah's ruling noted that the company was owned by Mrs Avtar Kaur, Harbhajan's mother, and the company was started before the spinner's current contract with the board came into effect and before the present rules regarding conflict of interest were framed. Harbhajan was given a Grade C contract by the BCCI in November for the 2015-16 period.
"The Ombudsman notes that this company appears to be run, not by Mr Singh, but by his mother," Shahs said in an e-mail sent to Harbhajan, Gunde and the BCCI on Wednesday. "It must be mentioned that several cases have been brought to the attention of the Ombudsman where companies associated with cricket management or sporting apparel, or cricket coaching/training academies, are run in the names of relatives of cricketers, with which the cricketer is also associated or connected. In many of these cases, although the company is owned by someone else, it is named after the cricketer in question. In the present case, the Ombudsman notes that the two news reports submitted by the applicant show Mr Singh's association with Bhajji Sports. The veracity of the news reports is not challenged by Mr Singh."
According to Shah the only course of action he would recommend for Harbhajan was to dissociate himself from Bhajji Sports completely as long as he had a BCCI contract. "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," Shah said.
Making a broader point in his ruling on similar conflict of interest situations, Shah stressed the need for players, coaches, selectors, administrators at both national and state levels to disclose any conflict in context of the rules laid down on the issue by the BCCI.
"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.)," Shah said.
"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."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo