Kirti Azad reiterates Dhoni could be guilty of conflict of interest

New Delhi: Former cricketer Kirti Azad on Monday again suggested that Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni could be guilty of conflict of interest, as was the case with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president N.Srinivasan.

Azad, who has been at the forefront of the criticism over the functioning of the BCCI and the spot fixing that is taking place in the Indian Premier League (IPL), said: "I have come to know that Dhoni has a 15 percent stake in Rhiti sports, which has contracted some Indian players. He is also the vice president of Indian Cements, the company owned by N.Srinivasan. Now, we have to see whether it is a matter of conflict of interest."

Azad appeared to be reacting to an Economic Times report that raised the question of a conflict of interest between M.S. Dhoni the businessman and M.S. Dhoni the Indian cricket team captain?

Investigations undertaken by the business daily have revealed that Dhoni has bought a 15 percent stake in the sports marketing firm that manages him earlier this year.

It spawns a tangled web of business associations, raising issues of propriety and conflict of interest in at least two situations.

The first situation is in his position as the captain of the Indian cricket team in all three formats of the game. This sports marketing firm - Rhiti Sports Management, set up by Arun Pandey, a close friend and business associate of Dhoni - also manages four other current cricketers: Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha and R P Singh.

This puts Dhoni in the conflicting position where he has a 15 percent share of the profits earned by Rhiti Sports from managing these four players, even as he opines or votes on them in team selection meetings as the Indian captain.

"There is definitely a conflict of interest in this case," says former cricketer Kirti Azad, who was also a selector in 2002-03.

Dhoni did not respond to an email questionnaire sent to him on May 31, while Pandey declined comment.

"I have heard it for the first time," says Anurag Thakur, joint secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

"If there is a concern, we may look into the matter," he added.

The second situation is in Dhoni`s position as the captain of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), the Indian Premier League franchise for which he, Raina and Jadeja play and whose team principal Gurunath Meiyappan is currently in custody on charges of illegal betting and sharing team information with bookies.

So far, Dhoni has maintained a conspicuous silence on the spot-fixing and betting scandal, raising whispers that his position is perhaps compromised by the ties that bind Rhiti and him to CSK and its ownership.

Back in January 2012, after eight consecutive Test losses suffered by India, Srinivasan reportedly used his veto powers as president to stop a 3-2 vote in the selection committee to remove Dhoni as captain and player from the Test team.

Srinivasan is also the owner of India Cements, the company that owns CSK and in which Dhoni is a vice-president. And Rhiti, riding on its prized client Dhoni, markets CSK.

"Dhoni is part of the corridors of power," says Rahul Mehra, a lawyer who has been railing against sports management in India.

"Which selector will oppose Dhoni when he is a part of the think-tank in CSK, which is owned by a company of the BCCI president, and he himself is a vice-president in that company?" Under BCCI rules, the 15-member team for a tour is picked by a group of five selectors. The captain and coach have a say in the selection meeting, but they don`t have a vote. "The captain gives inputs to selectors," confirms Thakur of BCCI.

On tour, the playing 11 is picked by the captain, vice-captain and coach. "The players managed by Dhoni`s company will have an unfair advantage," says former India cricketer Maninder Singh.

Rhiti Sports today probably has the best portfolio of cricketers among sports management firms. Dhoni is a factor in building that portfolio.

Shailendra Singh of entertainment marketing firm Percept, which has managed cricketers Kapil Dev, Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh in the past, feels, in principle, there`s no problem in the arrangement Dhoni has with Rhiti, but adds it needs to be seen in the current context.

Former BCCI secretary Jaywant Lele also endorsed Azad`s views, saying there definitely appeared to be a conflict of interest in Dhoni`s case.