Sahara's withdrawal a fresh crisis for Indian cricket

India’s series against England and the West Indies saw a very poor crowd turnout throughout the country

Kolkata: Feb 4, 2012

Facing tough times following the Indian team’s dismal performance, poor crowd response in home internationals, and challenge from Formula 1 racing, the Indian cricket board suffered a fresh setback with Sahara India’s decision to end its sponsorship of the Indian team, despite optimism from some quarters that the matter could be resolved through negotiations.

Just hours before the IPL 2012 auction in Bangalore, Sahara dropped the bombshell, terminating its 11-year-old multi-million dollar sponsorship of Team India and also walked out of the Pune franchise of the cash-rich league, contending that they have been denied natural justice yet again.

Officially Sahara said the BCCI’s refusal to accede to its request that the Pune Warriors be allowed to add price of the ailing Yuvraj Singh in its auction purse during Saturday’s auction was the immediate cause.

Company chairman Subrata Roy also referred to its bid for one of the first eight IPL franchises in 2008 being disqualified “owing to a small technicality”, the BCCI’s refusal to settle the issues through arbitration and the board going back on its promise of 94 matches in the 2011 edition of the league which was limited to 74 matches.

However, cricketing circles felt the company’s decision could have been prompted by the dwindling crowds in domestic grounds during recent international matches.

During India’s series against England and the West Indies, the attendance dropped alarmingly, shaking cricket buffs and even the BCCI.

Even Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, famous the world over for its large crowd, saw such small turnouts that former England captain Tony Greig compared it to a “morgue” during the India-West Indies Test match in November.

The cricketing circles were apprehensive that the whitewash in Australia could further alienate the spectators.

“I think they were looking for a chance to get out of it, with cricket matches being played on near-empty grounds in India. Cricket is going through a crisis. The only hope now is that those who had got associated with the game because of the money will leave, and the genuine people will be drawn to the game,” said a former administrator.

However, another high level source said it could well be that the company had calculated that it was putting too much money in a sport which was now likely to yield diminishing returns.

“Whatever they might say, it is still not clear what was the last straw. And if the Yuvraj factor was the real reason, then there could still be a possibility that the matters can be sorted out through discussions.

“Who knows whether things will not dramatically change tomorrow after negotiations away from the public eye. This may be a pressure tactics to force the board to accept the company’s demands,” the source said.

“The coming days could be interesting,” he added.

Sahara’s decision to pull out has also come at a time when BCCI is without any official broadcaster, after having scrapped the deal with production house Nimbus, over alleged non-payment of dues, in December last year.

Nimbus had been reportedly failing on payments for several months. Indicating troubled times for the game in India, the company’s revenues were reportedly dropping much below what it projected while inking the deal.

The Sahara withdrawal has also coincided with the advent in India of Formula 1 racing, which has attracted corporates like magnet, providing a fresh, and according to many, better option to reach out to the target consumers. (IANS)