New Delhi: Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has come under sharp attack from some former cricketers for his alleged conflict of interest for having stakes in the sports management company which handles him and three of his Indian team-mates.
Dhoni found himself in a controversy when it came to light that he had 15 per cent stake in Rhiti Sports, which also manages Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha, besides the Indian captain.
However, the firm has made it clear that Dhoni was a shareholder only for a brief period, and currently has no stakes. But former Indian cricketers and sports management executives feel that Dhoni should not put himself in such a position where questions could be raised about a possible conflict of interest.
"Obviously, the documents that have come out indicates that it has been a conflict of interest as far as Dhoni's involvement with Rhiti Sports is concerned," former Indian cricketer Kirti Azad told PTI.
"I don't mind if an ex-cricketer is acting as an agent for a living. But when I see Pragyan Ojha being relegated to second choice left-arm spinner suddenly and Ravindra Jadeja being valued at USD 2 million after being banned for trying to cut underhand deals in IPL, I guess something is wrong.
"Also if the company didn't have sufficient money, how did they issue shares and paid it back," Azad pointed out.
Latika Khaneja of Collage Sports management said there was an obvious conflict of interest and also raised questions about Rs 210 crore deal that was struck between the captain and the company.
"Obviously there is conflict of interest. The first question that crops up is Rs 210 crore minimum guarantee money which is huge. Ravindra Jadeja was managed by my company from 2006-2011. But if a player comes and wants to join another firm, you can't stop him and especially if the firm is also managing the Indian captain," Khaneja said.
Another former cricketer Maninder Singh also felt if the captain indeed had shares it was a clear case of conflict of interest. "But who do you expect to stop the rot when the BCCI president has gone against everyone who has stood up for the game...basically the President has been saving the captain who is also vice-president in his company," he said.
Former India opener and currently DDCA vice-president Chetan Chauhan said ethically it was not correct for Dhoni to have stakes in the company which manages him. "Ethically this is not correct. It seems to be trickling down from the President. The board officials need to take some harsh decisions and make it clear what business the players and officials can float of their own," he said.
Another former Indian player Madan Lal said that it was not proper for Dhoni to have stakes in the company but did not think he could manipulate team selection. "There is no question that if it is true, there is a conflict of interest," he said.
VVS Laxman, Dhoni's team-mate till recently, felt that the Indian skipper should sell off his shares, if he had any, as it could drive him into a compromising situation. "When such a problem arises, stakeholder should come out of the company by selling his shares off. I think that can solve all the problems at one go," he said.
Rhiti Sports management was set up and run by Dhoni's long-time friend Arun Pandey, who played three first-class matches. According to reports, Rhiti decided to allot 30,000 shares of Rs 10 each to Dhoni, amounting to a 15 per cent stake in the company, along with allotment of 120,000 shares of the same value to Pandey.
All along, Dhoni had a potential conflict of interest, with his close friend Pandey managing his endorsements and those of a few cricketers who played under the India and Chennai Super Kings captain. The company said that shares were alloted to Dhoni for a very brief period and the Indian captain currently had no stakes at all.
"As on date, MSD holds no shareholding in Rhiti Sports Management (P) Ltd. However, it is made clear that shareholding was allotted to MSD on 22.03.2013 only to secure certain old outstandings which were due for more than one year.
"Further, the payments were cleared in April 2013 and the shareholding was transferred back to promoter of the company on 26.04.2013," Rhiti Sports chairman Arun Pandey had said in a statement.
In 2010, Dhoni signed up with Rhiti Sports reportedly for Rs 210 crore, an average of Rs 70 crore a year, the costliest deal in Indian cricket.
Interestingly, two of these players - Raina and Jadeja - are part of the same IPL franchise, Chennai Super Kings, which is also captained by Dhoni. Ojha had joined Rhiti Sports during Australia's last tour of India.