Gymkana Club warns no games until debts paid August 2, 2004

TV deal leads to club-board showdown

Trouble at the Gymkhana © Getty Images
The announcement by Ten Sports in India that it would be televising live the forthcoming tri-series between Kenya, India A and Pakistan A surprised many, not least the officials of the Nairobi Gymkhana (NG) where the games are scheduled to be played.

The Nairobi Gymkhana ground is the only one of international status in Kenya, and was the venue for the 2000 ICC Champions Trophy. But the acrimonious dispute between various Nairobi-based clubs and the Kenya Cricket Association (KCA) meant that last year the Gymkhana authorities took the decision that it would not allow the stadium to be used for any KCA events.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Gymkhana ground is also home to the offices of the KCA, and that rent for those offices, as well as outstanding ground-admission fees, have apparently not been paid for at least three years.

The deal to televise the tri-series was done through Media Plus, a company controlled by Sharad Ghai, who also happens to be the chairman of the KCA. Media Plus is believed to take a 20% cut for handling such deals. And the KCA, which is broke, desperately needs the funds.

It soon became clear that without the agreement of the Gymkhana authorities there would be no television monies. Although Ravindra Patel, the Gymkhana Club's secretary, specifically forbade his board to deal with the KCA, it seems that while he was in London an agreement was struck between Ghai and Raj Thaker, the Gymkhana chairman.

When Patel returned he was livid that Thaker had acted without his - or his board's - consent, but the deal had been done. The KCA, however, still owed around 2.5 million schillings for back rent, and Thaker insisted that until this was paid, there would be no matches.

The word of the KCA that the monies would be paid after the event counted for little, as all previous attempts to get the debt settled had been answered with a wall of silence.

Ghai was in a corner as the KCA couldn't pay. So, in desperation, he gave the board his personal cheque for one million schillings as a part-payment, with the balance, which he disputed, subject to arbitration at a later date. What worried some was that Ghai insisted that the cheque was post-dated until after the tournmament. One Gymkhana official said that suspicions remained that once the tri-series was over that the cheque might be cancelled, but it is extremely unlikely that Ghai would act in that way.

And so the tournament will go ahead, and the television rights, which according to sources close to the KCA were sold for US$1.5 million, will give Kenyan cricket a much-needed financial boost - once Media Plus have taken their cut.