Indian Premier League December 3, 2010

BCCI protest 'too facile to cut ice'

The stay obtained by Rajasthan Royals against their expulsion from the IPL may constitute only temporary relief but it is an emphatic endorsement of its contention that it did not violate the ownership agreement and that the IPL was aware all along of the franchise's alleged violations that formed the basis for its termination. The order of justice BN Srikrishna, challenged on Thursday by the BCCI in Bombay High Court, also spells out why Rajasthan should be allowed to take part in the player auction.

The thread running through the 41-page order, a copy of which is with ESPNcricinfo, is Srikrishna's consistent assertion that the BCCI knew all along the composition of Rajasthan's ownership and by communicating with it for those three-odd years - including accepting the guarantee money - effectively approved of it. "At this prima facie stage at least, [it appears] that the Respondent [BCCI] was very much aware of who the original bidders were, who the ultimate controllers were, and the fact that the Applicant [Jaipur IPL] was a part of the group companies or entity controlled by the original bidders. The protestations to the contrary appear to be contrived and too facile to cut ice."

The BCCI's charge, Srikrishna said, was that Jaipur IPL had only two shareholders, Fraser Castellino and Ranjit Barthakur at the time of the bid; no documentation was provided to suggest any connection whatsoever between the bidder and the company deemed to hold the franchise rights. Both Castellino and Barthakur continued as the only shareholders till March 3, 2008 when Castellino transferred his 5000 shares to EM Sporting Holdings Ltd, Mauritius followed by Barthakur on January 27, 2009 - both constituting "change of controlling interest" unknown to BCCI.

It also alleged that Rajasthan had never disclosed that neither the said Mauritian entity nor the successful bidder had any interest in the franchisee entity holding the IPL rights, when the franchise was granted. CA Sundaram, the BCCI's counsel, reiterated the point that, by selling their shares, Castellino and Barthakur (mentioned as shareholders in the original bid document) violated the Franchise Agreement in respect of the controlling corporate structure.

However, Srikrishna disagreed, saying he was "unable to accept" that the BCCI was unaware of who the ultimate controllers of Rajasthan were, what the proposed corporate structure was or that there was any change in control as a result of the transfer of shares.

Srikrishna then noted that Harish Salve, Rajasthan's counsel, had provided evidence in the form of emails to show the BCCI had communicated with the "three branches" of the shareholders - Manoj Badale, Lachlan Murdoch and the Chellarams - and was well aware of the ownership structure. "It is inconceivable that the Respondent [BCCI] ... would address or endorse emails to these three persons if they were total strangers to the transaction and the Respondent had no knowledge of their existence or connection with the franchise."

Srikrishna also noted that the board had accepted the guarantee money at the IPL's inception from the "parent company", the contentious Mauritius-based EM Sporting Holdings. If the BCCI's stand was that Jaipur IPL was not a 'group company or an entity controlled by the bidder', he said, it should have flatly refused to accept the guarantee furnished by the Mauritian company which was the parent company of the Applicant [Jaipur IPL] and insisted upon a guarantee by Emerging Media (IPL) Pvt Ltd UK (the bidder).

In respect of the auction, the tribunal felt the franchise would be "seriously prejudiced" and its reputation and brand equity "irreparably damaged" if it was not allowed to bid for and pick up top-quality players.

Srikrishna said there was "no merit" in Sundaram's contention that, even if Rajasthan was allowed to participate in the auction, there was no guarantee the players they picked would be willing to enter into contracts with it.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo