Friday, October 15, 2010

Indian Premier League cancels two franchises

India's cricket board has cancelled two Indian Premier League franchises partly owned by leading Bollywood actresses, deepening the turmoil in the country's highest profile sports league.
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The league has attracted the world's best players and leading multinational advertisers, including Citigroup C and Vodafone but has been in tumult since the auction of two new franchises early this year led to accusations of interference in the sale by Lalit Modi, the founder and then head of the league, against a government minister.

Both men were subsequently forced to leave their jobs and last month Mr Modi was banished from all posts at the Board of Control for Cricket in India amid allegations of financial irregularities during his tenure at the league when more than USD 4bn in sponsorship, advertising, team franchise and other commercial deals were signed.

The cricket board, a non-profit trust, late Sunday announced it would cancel the franchises of the Rajasthan Royals and the Kings XI Punjab, partly controlled by actresses Shipla Shetty and Preity Zinta respectively, over ambiguities in their ownership. The Royals won the league's first tournament in 2008.

"In both these cases, the initial bid was made by one company, but the agreement with the IPL was entered into with another company," said Shashank Manohar, the board's president.

The board did not indicate why the discrepancy had become of such import since the two 10-year franchises were sold almost three years ago, but local media tied the expulsion to Mr Modi's own ouster. The board declined comment.

The board though also warned the investors who won the franchise for Kochi - whose sale in March set off the league's tumult - that they would need quickly to resolve internal disagreements over the ownership structure for the new team. The Kochi and Pune franchises sold for a combined $703m, more than the combined price paid for the original eight teams.

The latest controversy, after a string of others involving politicians, players and cricket barons, could lead some big sponsors to reconsider their affiliation with the six-week annual league tournament.

Shane Warne, the Royals' Australian skipper and a three-year veteran of the squad, expressed shock at the expulsion of his team.

"Just woke up to news that Royals and Kings out of IPL4, don't know anything yet,'' he wrote on his Twitter feed. "It's a big shock for Royals, will hopefully get to the bottom of it all. I hope the BCCI come to their senses, fingers crossed."

Based on the abbreviated made-for-TV Twenty20 format of the game, the Indian Premier League is counted as one of the proudest symbols of a modern India.

Vijay Mallya, the flamboyant industrialist and owner of the Bangalore Royal Challengers team, came out in support of the ejected teams. "This is downright ridiculous and raises serious questions on the attitude of the BCCI towards IPL franchisees," he said in a Twitter message.

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