New Delhi: In a surprise development, the Indian cricket team's longtime sponsor Sahara India on Saturday ended financial ties with the BCCI and also pulled out of the IPL by withdrawing from Pune Warriors' ownership just hours before the players' auction.
Sahara, which has been the team sponsor for 11 years, signed a renewed agreement with the BCCI on July 1, 2010 till December 31, 2013.
Sahara was paying Rs 3.34 crore per Test match, one-day international and Twenty20 International under the new terms.
"...after an 11-year journey as sponsors, we can say with surety that cricket has become very rich. Many rich people are there to support cricket with a strong will to do so. So, with absolute peace of mind we can exit from cricket under BCCI and are exiting with a heavy heart," Sahara India said in a statement.
"It was an emotional decision for us to start this sponsorship but our emotions were never appreciated and many genuine situations were not given due consideration at all," the statement read.
Sahara, which entered the cash-rich IPL bandwagon last year along with the now-disbanded Kochi Tuskers Kerala, complained that several requests put forth by it with regards to players and the number of matches were not accepted by the BCCI.
"Our first entry into IPL was thwarted in 2008 when we were disqualified, owing to a small technicality on the whims and fancies of BCCI. Yet our Bid was not opened," the statement said.
"Last year, Sahara entered the IPL on the basis of information in the media and everywhere else that 94 matches will be played among 10 teams. The bid price was accordingly calculated, but only 74 matches were played. We are still pursuing continuously with the BCCI to refund the extra bid money proportionately. It has been denied on the basis of strict rules.”
"In the interest of the tournament, we repeatedly tried our best to pursue the BCCI for open auction of all players so that we achieve level playing field and all teams are equally balanced from the quality players' point of view. Again, as per BCCI's strict rules it was denied and again, we were deprived of natural justice. 12 of the best players were retained by the existing teams then," it added.
"The two new teams then requested for allowing us at least one extra foreign player but that too was denied, quoting rules."
Sahara's marquee player in the IPL is skipper Yuvraj Singh, who is currently recovering from tumour in the lungs.
His unavailability in the IPL this season prompted Sahara to ask the BCCI that the price of the batsman be added to their overall purse for the players auction but the request was turned down.
"Yuvraj Singh, who is truly like one of our family members, is, quite unfortunately, passing through a bad phase health wise, undergoing treatment for critical illness,
"Our duty is to take care of him, so Sahara has decided to pay him his full fee this year with condition as a Guardian that his priority should be health care and he should not play till he has fully recovered," the company stated.
"We requested the BCCI on the basis of the fact that we have only one Indian marquee player, that we be allowed to add price of Yuvraj Singh in our auction purse, during the February 4 auction because we had later taken Sourav Ganguly at 0.4 million.”
"Again, we have been denied on the basis of the rule book. Yet again, a case of being denied natural justice. We think this peculiar situation of Shri Yuvraj Singh is silent in the rule book because it probably talks only about players who are temporarily injured."
Sahara is apparently also unhappy with the fact that Royal Challengers Bangalore were allowed to buy replacement player Chris Gayle this season.
"The manner in which Gayle was bought was not liked by many franchises including Sahara," a Sahara official said on condition of anonymity.
Sahara said even during the Champions League Twenty20, an injury-plagued Mumbai Indians were allowed to field an extra foreign player due to the crisis in the team but such gestures were never extended to Pune Warriors.
"Incidentally, once during the Champions League, one of the Indian IPL teams had a lot of injured players so they were rightly, out of natural justice, allowed to break the rules and take one extra foreign player. We appreciated this natural justice," it said.
"We really feel such one-sided emotional relationship cannot be dragged any further. We are withdrawing from all cricket under BCCI," it added.
But the company said that it would pay its sponsorship free for the next few months giving time to the BCCI to find a new sponsor. It also promised to pay the dues of its IPL players and staff.
"We don't want to give any problem to the BCCI and we also feel that the players should not suffer. BCCI will definitely take 2-4 months to get a new sponsor and we will continue paying the sponsorship money till then," it said.
"All other IPL team players, coaches and other such associates will definitely get their due this year, in case they do not get a chance to play," it said.
Detailing what it felt were the BCCI's attempts at slighting the company, Sahara was also unhappy about the fact that its logo was removed from the team shirt during the 2003 World Cup and a couple of other tournaments on directives of the ICC.
"Once during a World Cup tournament, Sahara's name was not allowed because there was a clash of our Airline with a South African airline. In two major tournaments, the team had to play without the Sahara logo," Sahara said.
"It was ICC's decision so we could realise that it was for no fault of BCCI and we also did not want the players to suffer. As per the rules, we were not supposed to pay sponsorship money for those matches but we still paid the players share of the amount in entirety. Sadly, we never found BCCI believing in genuine give and take," the company stated.
Having withdrawn from cricket under BCCI, Sahara said it would put in Rs. 1000 crore in a welfare foundation.
"We are very happy to take a decision that the cricket money will be diverted to social work. We are declaring to put immediately Rs. 500 crore in Sahara Welfare Foundation, which will be run with the association of eminent persons of our country. For the programme as mentioned below, Sahara declares to put around Rs. 500 crore more in the next 1-2 years as per the need of all the programmes," the company said.
"We are working on various programmes including financial implications etc since we have taken this decision after continuous persuasion with the BCCI failed, meaning on the February 2, 2012. But we waited upto the auction day that our request to BCCI would be accepted. But again, there was no natural justice."
Sahara said it would develop "20 Rural/Semi Urban Sports Promotional Centres including Rural/Semi Urban Cricket promotional Centres."
"Centres will have diversified sports disciplines viz. cricket, hockey, soccer, formula1, tennis, golf, wrestling, boxing etc. One international standard sports academy shall immediately be developed at one point in India. All best selected students shall ultimately come to this International Class Sports Academy."
Sahara also announced that a support fund for old (retired) and present players who, at times, face "miserable days regarding medical bills, girls marriage, shelter etc."
"Every year minimum 10 crore will be distributed -- Rs 3 crore for cricketers. Rs 7 Crore for all other disciplines."
"We shall discuss with other federations where we are sponsoring different disciplines of sports and as per the genuine need for better promotion, we shall enhance the sponsorship amount."