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May 22, 2000


The Rediff Interview/ Mark Mascarenhas

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'I have never got a cricket tournament for free from any friend. I have always paid the highest amount of money'

Mark Mascarenhas From Bangalore to Connecticut, and doing commentary on All India Radio, to founding WorldTel, Mark Mascarenhas has come a long way. The bespectacled, beefy bossman of the sports telecast and marketing firm which promotes batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar left India in 1976 at 19 and went to America to do his Masters in communication. As a student of Christ College, Bangalore, he played alongside players like Brijesh Patel, who was playing for India at the time.

After staying away from cricket for 16 years, he got into the thick of things once again when he learnt that India was to stage the 1996 cricket World Cup and the organising committee was looking for someone to buy the television rights of the tournament. That was in April 1993. Four months later, after the bidding was over, WorldTel had won the rights for the tournament, jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Today the man, who started WorldTel in 1989 after brief stints with radio broadcasting stations in the US, including WCBS, which was CBS's number one news radio station in America, is in the eye of the storm, accused of allegedly depriving Doordarshan of $ 4 million in respect of telecast rights for the International Cricket Council knock-out tournament in Dhaka in October 1998.

In an exclusive interview with Faisal Shariff, Mascarenhas, who has an amazing ability to remember dates and figures, attempts to clear the air about any wrongdoing by his company and himself. He explains his relationship with Jagmohan Dalmiya and staunchly supports the ICC chief.

What was the vision behind WorldTel?

When I started, I really wanted to be on my own. Then my wife also felt I was too highly motivated to work for a company. So, I used to do a lot of different chores. I used to syndicate a lot of children's shows; rock-shows. One of my early shows was the International Rock Awards, which I did with Granada television. We distributed it for Coca-Cola around the world.

Then it just happened that I got involved with J Walter Thomson in a soccer show called Soccer Stars and Legends, which was a lead-up programme for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. That's how I got involved in sports. Then I did boxing and then cycling. Then I got heavily involved in soccer in the USA leading up to the '94 World Cup. Four others and I constructed the Alpine Ski World Cup and we controlled the rights of Alpine skiing which was a big sport in Europe.

Finally, got involved in cricket in 1993, and all I do now is cricket.

Why are WorldTel and Mark Mascarenhas always viewed with suspicion? Why is this company shrouded in mystery?

India is a mystery in itself. Everything is mysterious. Anyone who does anything, anyone in the limelight, is suspect. Recently we have been faced with these allegations from various publications, based on the report by Arun Aggarwal. All I have to say is that they are all untrue and none of that is right. The facts are on record. Both the ICC knock-out and the Independence Cup. All our dealings have been straightforward and clean with DD.

We have nothing to hide. All the documentation is available. We welcome an investigation agency coming in and taking a look at them. We are happy to co-operate.

I have never got a cricket tournament for free from any friend. I have always paid the highest amount of money. Now if there are detractors, then the records will speak for themselves.

You say you have never got a tournament for free. But that is not the argument. The claim is that you have got rights at dirt-cheap rates. How do you counter that allegation?

Absolutely not! Arun Aggarwal says that I got the rights for a pittance of $ 3 million, and then I sold it for $ 4.5 million. That's not true.

I got the rights for $ 3.5 million, for the international cricket knock-out. I came so close to losing $ 2 million on that event if it wasn't for Australia and the market changing for one month in Australia, where I was able to sell it for $ 1.75 million. Every single contract is on file with DD and evidently with the RBI.

I sold it for $ 4.177 million. There is a gross profit of $ 677,000. My net realisation was about 10 per cent on the $ 3.5 million guarantee. Where is Aggarwal getting $ 3 million from? Where did Aggarwal get $ 4.5 million from? How did Aggarwal put in writing that TWI offered $ 5 million when the TWI letter offered $ 3.25 million for the same rights which I have paid $ 3.5 million? Where is all this coming from? Who? Where? How?

Do you have facts to back your statements?

Why on earth would I be countering you like this if I didn't have any documents? What is this? Is this a talking match? This is a serious business. They are such wild and baseless allegations. There is not an iota of truth in the fact that WorldTel got anything for a song, and neither anything in the fact that WorldTel exploited anyone or used any of its personal contacts to advance itself. I'm sorry!

Are you saying that all the documents produced by Arun Aggarwal are baseless and untrue?

Absolutely baseless. Arun was appointed with a specific purpose by his uncle Kejriwal, who was the acting Prasar Bharati CEO at that time. The documents were reviewed by DD before they were thrown out. They are absolutely baseless. There is no calculative energy to it. Here is a man who is an MBBS, who has no financial background. I don't need to judge those documents; ask DD about those documents.

What about your relationship with ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya? There has been a lot of speculation about your links with him in getting WorldTel exclusive rights.

Jagmohan Dalmiya No, I have a relationship with Dalmiya. He appreciates the work that I have done. I came in single-handedly in 1993 and gave the organising committee an upfront payment of $ 2.5 million. Was there any one else who wanted to do that? There was TWI, my competitors, did they do that?

No! Nobody wanted to put any money. But I wanted to take the risk. I executed the project to perfection. I have got a track record. There are few people in the world who can do it. I have a track record with him (Dalmiya). I have a relationship with him; with Dennis Rogers, chairman of the Australian Cricket Board. I have a relationship with several other cricket administrators. It's on the basis of performance.

It's got nothing to do with hogwash. There are jealous people who attribute it to that. One can come and look at the record. There is not one instance.

People talk about Sharjah. What happened in Sharjah?
I got the rights in 1998. I have held the rights since 1993. Why did I get the rights in 1998? I outbid my rivals. TWI bid a staggering amount; I outbid them. I knew what the value was. Examine it. Go elsewhere.

TWI was given the Indian Board rights in 1994, by the president of the Board, I S Bindra, without a tender. They earned a 30 per cent commission. They grossed $ 14.625 million on the production and television contract. The Board got $ 9 million. Now you answer me on that.

TWI became a partner of the Indian Board with the help of Pakistan and did the Sahara Cup. No tender! Gross sales over $ 20 million. TWI kept a third of it. Now you tell me.

What are you planning to do now?

I am not taking this lightly. I am going to set the record straight. The facts will speak for themselves. I am going to file criminal complaints, which will be done in the next two days. And I will take these gentlemen to task. I want them to come forward and challenge me on the documents. I have no problems. I have nothing to hide.

Are denying all the allegations made about the ICC knock-out?

The allegation by Aggarwal, first, that I bought the rights for a paltry sum of $ 3 million and then sold them for $ 4.5 million is wrong. I didn't buy them for $ 3 million, but for $ 3.5 million. Secondly, DD entered into it of their own cognizance. If somebody enters into a sale agreement with someone, then they sell you a house for $ 20 million and then realise that they could have got $ 22 million if they had waited five more days or 10 more days, then that is the seller's or the buyer's prerogative.

In this particular incident, DD engaged Stracon as a member of the consortium to go out and seek bids. Was Stracon a private company interested in losing money? Ask yourself that question? Stracon sought out bids for this.

How does Aggarwal get away with the fact that he says TWI bid $ 5 million for the same rights that I purchased for $ 3 million? I paid $ 3.5 million and TWI paid $ 3.25 million. Look at the facts.

The Independence Cup! Swindle! Swindled money? (fuming) How dare he say that?

Do you know what I did for the Independence Cup? My involvement was that I won the bid. I paid Rs 6 crores. And then DD came back desperately to me and said they had to be involved in the telecast of this tournament because it was to celebrate the 50 years of independence. So, I said, 'Fine!' I had a good relationship with DD since the time I started in cricket. I have always been a supporter of DD.

Mr Sharma, at that time, said that he had to be involved. So I set up an arrangement. They took over the exclusive domestic rights, which prevented me from selling the rights to ESPN or anyone else who would have paid me money. I decided to produce it for them. Then I gave them a guarantee of Rs 14.4 crores. At that time it would have been $ 5 million. We sold Rs 19.23 crores. It was a record for a single event. Out of the Rs 19.23 crores, DD collected Rs 17.96 crores. DD's costs were Rs 10 crores, including the alleged income tax which was not an income tax.

But they paid on my behalf. Now check with DD and ask them if they ever made a profit like that in their cricket history.

And I swindled them? People are manipulating these facts to their own advantage. Fine with me! It has damaged my reputation. I built my business the hard way and I brought it to this level. Now I am not walking away. Let the perpetrators of this misinformation come to task.

Do you know DD has condemned and disavowed the Aggarwal report in a document issued on April 28 this year? Do you know that at the end of March it was being circulated to members of the cricket world?

PART II: 'The prejudice of the white man against the Asian is staggering'


Cloud over DD's sports telecasts
'It is apparent that Dalmiya's friend got a profit out of the deal'


Mail Faisal Shariff