The cricket telecast rights controversy is getting curiouser and curiouser. Under pressure from the two powerful media combatants, Zee Telefilms and ESPN-STAR Sports, and in the last few days from the International Cricket Council (ICC), the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) appears to be tying itself in knots. On Tuesday, BCCI submitted an affidavit in the Bombay High Court saying it was cancelling the tendering process for the telecast rights and might go in fresh bidding.
Following this new twist in the telecast rights drama, ESPN-Star Sports has withdrawn its petition against the award of the rights to Zee Telefilms. In a press statement, it said that keeping the assertion made in the High Court by BCCI that it would be cancelling the incumbent tendering process, “ESPN-STAR Sports, in the interest of cricket-loving consumers and with a view to arrive at an expeditious solution so that the forthcoming India-Australia series is not disrupted, has withdrawn the writ filed in the Bombay High Court”.
A visibly agitated Zee camp went on the offensive soon after the BCCI affidavit became known. Speaking to exchange4media, Ashish Kaul, Vice-president, Corporate Brand Development, said Zee would approach the Supreme Court on Wednesday. “We will take every legal remedy available. Tomorrow we will file a plea in the Supreme Court. It can’t be clearer than this that all along BCCI and ESPN were conspiring to keep Zee away from the telecast rights.” Kaul added, “We have already paid $ 20 million to the Cricket Board. We will contest any move by BCCI to go in for a re-tendering of the cricket rights."
In the afternoon, Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee Telefilms, went on the offensive on television, blaming BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya of being behind this controversy. BCCI, Dalmiya and ESPN were misleading the court, he claimed.
Kaul further said that ESPN has no case. “Its case is not maintainable under Article 19 (1-G) of the Constitution as ESPN is not an Indian entity by its own admission,” he asserted.
Even as the court battle was on, pressure had been mounting on the Cricket Board from ICC as well as Cricket Australia, both of which are concerned over the possibility that there may be no telecast of the series with Australia. The first Test against the visiting Australians begins on October 6.
Has the Cricket Board bitten off more than it can chew? While the legal battle begins afresh in the Supreme Court, the BCCI will have to find a way of telecasting live the India-Australia series simply to keep the ICC off its back. It’s a messy tangle that even the wily Dalmiya had perhaps not expected to find himself in. After all, Dalmiya himself had announced in Chennai on September 5 that the rights had been given to Zee Telefilms as its bid was the highest at $ 308 million for all international cricket played in India over the next four years.