It had roped in an established sports channel for live telecast, tied up with a popular cricket website for real-time ball-by-ball updates and obtained recognition from BCCI’s affiliated state unit. The organisers of the Twenty20 Rajputana Premier League (RPL) had it all covered. Until the Jaipur police, acting on a tip-off from the BCCI, exposed the match fixing rot beneath the cricketing glitter. Investigators say tie-ups with broadcaster Neo Sports and sports website cricbuzz.com, and a letter from a Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) official gave the organisers legitimacy — and helped them broadbase their betting racket.
Neo Sports was once the rights holders for Indian cricket. A majority stake in Cricbuzz is held by Times Internet, a digital venture of the Times of India Group. When contacted by The Indian Express, Neo Sports and cricbuzz.com said they didn’t find anything amiss when they committed to a collaboration with RPL. Harish Thawani, non-executive chairman of Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt Ltd, put the onus on BCCI administrators to monitor such micro leagues. Pankaj Chhaparwal, CEO, cricbuzz.com, said they signed up with RPL after the organisers showed them a letter from the RCA endorsing the league.
RCA honorary secretary R S Nandhu acknowledged that he had written the letter following a request from the organisers but said the sanction was withdrawn after they saw “something was amiss”. On April 6, The Indian Express reported that Rajasthan Police’s CID wing, which is probing the league, was investigating business links between the syndicate’s mastermind and a former India player who was part of the 2011 World Cup winning team. The CID wing took up the case after 14 people, including players and match officials, were arrested by Jaipur police’s crime branch for spot-fixing in the RPL.
Asked about Neo Sports tying up with RPL, Thawani said, “There was corruption in the IPL but can you hold Sony responsible for it? The broadcaster can’t be held responsible for any hanky-panky because we don’t even have the mandate to police such leagues… The BCCI must come down on them with a heavy hand. If there is corruption, they should be banned completely.” Cricbuzz’s Chhaparwal said, “The organisers of the Rajputana league wanted us to cover the games and these games were also being shown live on Neo Sports. We asked them if the league was an official one or not and they forwarded us a letter from RCA… on a RCA letterhead. We were not keen to cover it as there were no big players. The letter from RCA, which approved the league, gave it credibility.”
Chhaparwal said the organisers proposed that players would wear jerseys with the Cricbuzz logo printed on it, “as a sweetener”. Cricbuzz was contracted to give live updates which were done by watching the games on television. “The moment the news broke about the arrests of players we pulled out the coverage. Since then we are not covering such leagues anymore,” Chhaparwal said. The RCA letter from Nandhu, which was examined by The Indian Express, is addressed to the president of the Jaipur District Cricket Association president Mohd Aslam.
Nandhu wrote: “Rajasthan Cricket Association grants permission to Jaipur District Cricket Association to organize ‘Rajputana Premier League’ under its guidance.” He goes to instruct Aslam that “only registered players from Rajasthan Cricket Association can participate in the league … as per the guidelines of BCCI.” Nandhu said, “I had written a letter to the Jaipur district association sanctioning the league but after the first couple of games, when things seemed amiss with regard to the cricket being played, I wrote to the BCCI informing them that we were withdrawing the sanction.” Of late, at least half-a-dozen “dubious” domestic T20 leagues, with modus operandi similar to the RPL, have seen the BCCI and police joining hands in investigation.
According to investigators, these leagues resemble TV reality shows with virtually everyone involved — organisers, players and umpires — colluding with bookies who decide which way the matches would swing. Rajan Bodh, vice president (ad sales), Neo Sports, said that due diligence was done before the RPL was telecast live. ”We are not aware of what happens in a cricket league because we are just telecast partners. We get the signal in our Mumbai studios and we uplink it. Before that we do due diligence with regard to checking the documentation, including stadium bookings, related to the tournament. Depending on the stature of a tournament we take a call on the financials involved,” Bodh said.
Incidentally, the Ajman All Stars tournament, which came under a cloud early this year, was also telecast on Neo Sports. The ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit has launched an investigation into that Twenty20 tournament in the UAE. Recently, the ICC got in touch with the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit to probe a suspected Indian hand in the alleged spot-fixing during the Ajman league. “For Ajman, the ICC had approached us and we have given them information… whatever we had, and the ICC was happy with it,” Bodh said.