Subrata Roy, the chairman of Sahara India Parivar, has said the company will not be rigid about its decision to sever ties with the BCCI. Sahara has withdrawn its sponsorship of the Indian cricket team and ownership of the IPL franchise Pune Warriors but Roy said he was open to negotiations with the BCCI, in particular to ensure the welfare of the players of the Pune Warriors.
"We are not rigid," Roy said when asked whether Sahara would be willing to reconsider its decision. He said he wanted to make sure the Pune Warriors players would play in the fifth season of the IPL despite Sahara pulling out as owners. "I am really worried about one thing: that my players should get to play. Money I'll take care of, I am not worried about money."
Roy did not specify, however, how he saw the Pune Warriors players participating in IPL 5. Sahara has asked the BCCI to search for a potential new owner for the team. Asked if Sahara would retain ownership if the players were not transferred and the team was not sold to someone else, Roy said: "It does not depend on me alone. It also depends on the BCCI. We are there to support them (the players). We are there to adjust many things."
The 11-year-old relationship between Sahara and the BCCI broke down because of several decisions taken by the board that Sahara felt were not fair on them. One among these was the board's refusal to add the amount of Yuvraj Singh's contract to the Pune Warriors' auction purse given his unavailability. Roy, speaking at a press conference at one of Sahara's hotels in Mumbai, said the reason Sahara waited till the day of the auction to announce their withdrawal was because he was hopeful of a last-minute change of tack from the BCCI.
"We were hopeful till this morning," Roy said. "I talked to the BCCI president last night and my son (Sushanto) had meetings with some of the BCCI officials in Bangalore last night that went on till as late as 10pm in the night. So we were expecting that they would probably consider our very, very genuine request just before the auction."
Roy said his decision was an emotional one and that he, himself, had called N Srinivasan, the BCCI president, to inform him of Sahara's withdrawal. "It was the first time I had spoken to him. I told him it was my responsibility, as the head of a company, to tell him, the head of the BCCI, of our decision."
Many of the grouses Sahara had with the BCCI originated before Srinivasan was president and, while Roy acknowledged that, he said he told Srinivasan that if steps were not taken to address those "difficulties", it would be tough for the relationship to continue.
While Sahara did renew their sponsorship of the Indian team last year, with the new term lasting till the end of 2013, Roy said the chasm between the company and the BCCI had been widening steadily since the inception of the IPL.
"There were so many of these small things. In 2008, when the tenders were open to bids for (IPL) teams we had to submit the paperwork 48 hours before the bid document would be opened. Due to some confusion we got the papers 24 hours before the deadline and our bid was rejected."
Another issue Sahara had with the BCCI was that the number of games to be played in the 2011 IPL - the Pune Warriors debut season - was reduced from 94 to 74. "We said at least give us our due, return our money," Roy said. Sahara, who had paid US$ 370 million for the Pune franchise, wanted the BCCI to return a percentage of that proportionate to the number of matches the tournament was reduced by.
Sahara also wanted all the players to be brought back into the auction ahead of the 2011 season in order to let the Pune Warriors and the Kochi Tuskers Kerala, the other new franchise, compete on a level playing field. However, the IPL allowed the existing eight franchises to retain four players each. "We started with a handicap: 16 of the best players were retained (in fact only 12 players were retained). Now where could I pick up big-name players from," Roy said. "We said at least give us the option to have an extra foreign player." But that too was turned down. The BCCI approach, Roy said, was "very stubborn, very one-sided."
Asked if he was worried that Sahara's image would take a hit because of the perceived impulsive nature of the decision - it stated its withdrawal in a media release without sending a written notice to the BCCI - Roy said he and his management team were in constant touch with the BCCI over the last month. "This discussion was on for more than a month. We wrote letters. I personally discussed issues with some of the BCCI officials." He said the impasse had even distracted him from his other businesses.
The BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla had said Sahara's decision was "unfortunate" but the board would only react properly once it got an official communique from Sahara. Roy said he was waiting for his advocate to prepare the letter to the BCCI, but would take a decision on that soon. He was unclear in his answer, though, when asked whether the fact that he had not yet formally informed the BCCI of Sahara's withdrawal meant he was still open to negotiations.