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Lodha's 'Captain D' and Dhoni's resignation

By Sai Manish and N Sundaresha Subramanian
January 11, 2017 05:21 IST
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A potential conflict of interest situation could have played in Dhoni's mind when he decided to quit, report Sai Manish and N Sundaresha Subramanian.

Mahendra Singh DhoniFans, former players and the cricket community have been raving about Mahendra Singh Dhoni's decision to step down as captain of the limited overs team.

Some have wondered why, while others have said the question should be why not.

Dhoni's nature of putting team before self, that has been the hallmark of his decade-old captaincy, sure played a big role, but it might not be all.

On January 2, the Supreme Court sacked Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke -- the top two functionaries of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) -- based on recommendations by a panel headed by former chief justice of India R M Lodha.

Two days later, Dhoni said he would step down as captain of the cricket team.

The move has helped India's most successful captain duck a potential bouncer, which came his way two days later.

Explaining the term commercial conflict, the Lodha panel report made an interesting illustration, 'D is a team captain. He is also co-owner of a sports management agency which is contracted to manage other team members. D is hit by conflict of interest.'

It had also talked about intractable conflicts that cannot be resolved through recusal or disclosure, as against tractable conflicts.

'Several cricketers of impeccable repute were surprised when queried about what were obviously potential conflict situations, needing to be convinced that no wrongdoing was necessary for a conflict to exist.'

'The committee had to point out to them that the very holding of a position which could be abused to undermine the integrity of the game renders the occupant vulnerable to such a charge.'

Had he not resigned, Dhoni might have fit the panel description as he was to sit on a selection committee to pick the teams for the one-day international (ODI) series and the T20 series.

Rhiti Sports Management, owned by Dhoni's childhood friend and business partner Arun Pandey, manages several celebrities, including Dhoni.

The clientele includes several Indian team probables such as K L Rahul, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Pragyan Ojha and Mohit Sharma. Rahul and Kumar were selected to the one-day team.

For a long time, Dhoni was captain of a team that regularly featured Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina. It was well-known that both players were at the time managed by Rhiti Sports Management.

Raina stopped using Rhiti in 2015, while Jadeja is reported to have joined another sports marketing agency in October.

Ministry of Corporate Affairs filings showed that Rhiti Sports and Rhiti MSD Alamode, where Dhoni had the major shareholding, were linked through cross-holdings and related-party transactions, such as advances and fees.

Dhoni and Pandey floated Rhiti MSD Alamode in 2012. Dhoni held 6,400 shares, wife Sakshi held 100 and 3,500 were with Rhiti Sports Management.

As of 2015, when the company filed its latest annual report, though the number of shares had increased, the proportion was almost the same -- Dhoni owned 65%, while Rhiti Sports Management held the remaining.

Pandey, two of his family members and Sakshi were directors of this firm.

Rhiti MSD, majority owned by Dhoni, had significant shareholding in four companies. Sportsfit World Overseas (73%), Sportsfit World (53%), Rhiti MSD-N Motosport India (45%) and Inspired Entertainment (33.3%).

The latest balance sheet of Rhiti Sports Management stated related-party transactions under the head enterprises where control/influence existed with all the five companies.

While Rhiti Sports had investments in shares of Rhiti MSD Alamode, Sports Fit World and Inspired Entertainment.

Inspired Entertainment accounted for the largest related-party transaction, receiving an advance of Rs 11.84 crore (Rs 118.4 million) in FY15. The motorsport arm had a couple of transactions: An advance of Rs 1.17 crore (Rs 11.7 million) and services rendered of Rs 53.08 lakh (Rs 5.308 million).

Pandey, who also manages Dhoni's press matters, said, "I think you should know Mahi (Dhoni) first. His decisions are completely based on his cricketing acumen and have nothing to do with anything else."

While the Dhoni camp declined conflict of interest being a factor in the former skipper's decision to quit, there were apprehensions that the conflict situation might not have been fully resolved even now.

"There is a clear case of conflict of interest if Dhoni sat in the selection committee to select the ODI team," said Rahul Mehra, the Supreme Court advocate who had filed a public interest litigation seeking reforms in sports management, which culminated in the formation of the Lodha panel.

It is not clear whether Dhoni was part of the selection committee despite stepping down.

Mehra pointed out that Dhoni resigned on January 4 as captain of the ODI team and the selection committee met on January 6.

Kohli was officially appointed captain only on January 6.

So who sat in the selection committee -- was it Dhoni or Kohli?

Business Standard had on Monday emailed BCCI Chief Executive Officer Rahul Johri seeking comments on the conflict of interest situation. There was no response till the time of going to press.

"There needs to be moral code of conduct in place, not just for officials but for players as well. When players are included in the national team, their brand valuation rises significantly. They become more marketable and profitable for sports marketing companies," added Mehra.

Although the Lodha Committee gave its recommendations a year ago, the BCCI has dragged its feet on its implementation. But the move against Thakur and Shirke had sent shivers down the community's spine.

Weeks ahead of the Supreme Court move, Sharad Pawar had stepped down as president of the Mumbai Cricket Association.

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Sai Manish and N Sundaresha Subramanian
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