NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The head of India’s $4 billion cricket premier league was removed from his post on Monday after a scandal that has ensnared top politicians and strained the ruling coalition.
Tax authorities are probing the three-year-old Indian Premier League (IPL), the game’s most lucrative tournament, after a junior government minister resigned following allegations of improper influence.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) axed IPL chief Lalit Modi immediately after the final match of the 2010 series, past midnight, saying he had “brought a bad name to the administration of cricket and the game itself.”
The widening scandal has sparked off tensions between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a key ally whose chief is seen close to Modi, ahead of a possible confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday over high fuel prices.
While Modi has not been formally charged and denies any wrongdoing, newspapers have said authorities were investigating reports of improprieties in bidding for teams and in negotiating television broadcast rights for the matches.
“The board looked into the allegations and took a decision to issue a show-cause notice to Mr Lalit Modi and pending inquiry, decided to suspend him,” BCCI president Shashank Manohar told a news conference in Mumbai.
The board’s probe would be dropped if Modi convinced them of his innocence within two weeks, Manohar said.
Ahead of his suspension, Modi reiterated his stand.
“We have had some off-field unpleasant dramas only based on innuendos, half-truths and motivated leaks from all types of sources,” Modi told the crowd that had come for the IPL final on Sunday night.
“I assure you all decisions have been jointly taken by the governing council and approved by the general body in both year one and two of the IPL.”
Modi was replaced by a BCCI vice president, Chirayu Amin, a businessman who is also on the IPL governing council.
THE GAME’S HUGE POPULARITY
The IPL helped revolutionize cricket with its short, television-friendly format combined with lucrative advertising and cheerleaders in packed arenas, but it upset many of the sport’s traditionalists.
Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and head of Reliance Industries, Vijay Mallya, who controls United Spirits, the world’s second largest maker of alcohol, and Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan all control teams who play in the league. They have paid astronomical sums for franchises and players.
At the top end, West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard was snapped up for a reported $2.75 million by Ambani while rights for a team in the western city of Pune went for $370 million.
The distraction over cricket imposes further difficulties on a government struggling to capitalize on its re-election to promote policies that would boost investment and ailing infrastructure, as well as reform welfare and subsidies.
Parliament has been disrupted on several days as the opposition demanded a probe into the IPL, with some lawmakers demanding both the BCCI and the IPL be taken over by the state.
The enormous popularity of the game in India has made the BCCI one of the richest sporting bodies in the world and brought to its board politicians, businessmen and royalty.
Farm Minister Sharad Pawar, who is also the head of the NCP, skippered the cricket board for three years till 2008. Arun Jaitley, who leads the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the upper house of parliament, serves as a vice president.
Pawar’s links to the game and his earlier support for Modi have caused frictions with the Congress, especially after Junior Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor was forced to resign after Modi accused him of using political muscle to influence team bids.
Bond and stock markets have so far been unaffected by the scandal, with most watchers anticipating the government will survive Tuesday’s vote on prices.
Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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