Sports Minister wants probe; Digvijay, Shukla say fixing charge ‘biased sensationalism’
Former cricketer Vinod Kambli’s allegation against Congress MP and his then captain Md Azharuddin of possible match-fixing of the 1996 India-Sri Lanka World Cup semi-final acquired political connotations on Saturday and exposed the chinks in the Congress and UPA Government’s armour. In the process, the ongoing turf war between the Sports Ministry and the BCCI was also at display.
Ahead of the crucial Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and the minority card in mind, the issue saw Congress general secretary incharge of the State Digvijay Singh taking the field to defend Azharuddin, the Congress MP from Moradabad. This, after Sports Minister Ajay Maken minced no bones in calling for a thorough probe by the BCCI into Kambli’s match-fixing allegations and threatening to step in if the board failed to do so.
Support to the former Indian skipper came in promptly also from Union Minister and BCCI vice-president Rajeev Shukla besides Agriculture Minister and ICC president Sharad Pawar — both at odds with Maken on the issue of bringing the cash-rich cricket board under the RTI ambit.
Maintaining that the BCCI should investigate Kambli’s allegations, Maken said, “When a player of the team has made a charge, it should be thoroughly investigated. People of the country have the right to know what exactly happened. Whether the accusations made by the player are true or false, the people have the right to know.”
Opposing any such probe, Digvijay Singh termed Kambli’s allegation against Azharuddin as “biased sensationalism”. “Why did he have to wait for 15 years? Azhar has been a great cricketer, a great skipper and above all is a great human being,” he tweeted.
Though Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi steered clear of the allegation saying his knowledge about cricket is very limited and he did not have much information, a senior Congress functionary said the party leaders were rallying behind Azharuddin due to the fact that he is a Muslim and a party MP from UP which is facing election next year. “Muslims constitute a crucial vote bank in the UP elections,” he said.
In the midst of the controversy, Azhar visited the AICC headquarters here. Sources said he had come to meet Digvijay Singh. However, he made a hurried exit after finding that Singh, who was there to attend the party’s Central Election Committee meeting to decide UP candidates, had already left. Azhar later went to meet Singh at another location. While leaving, Azharuddin, reiterated, “Kambli is talking rubbish.”
Kambli’s charge also once again brought to fore the simmering differences between the Government and the BCCI. It further signaled that the turf war between the two will be played out in future too.
Earlier, the BCCI had opposed the Ministry’s move to bring it under the purview of RTI through the National Sports Bill. The Bill was later rejected by the Cabinet and the Ministry had to redraft the Bill.
Taking a dig at the BCCI, which is against the Bill even in the revised form, the Sports Minister said any federation which was using the name of the country is a public body and has to come under the RTI Act.
Maken’s stand, however, found support from BJP MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad who said the decade of 90s was marked by various instances of match-fixing and, therefore, Kambli’s allegations should be examined. He also said the BCCI should provide details of the investigations conducted against players over match-fixing.
But Shukla did not attach any importance to Kambli’s charges. “If a person wakes up after 15 years and makes some allegations, that is not worth taking note of,” Shukla said.
Coming to Azaharuddin’s rescue, Shukla sought to give the impression that BCCI has never spared corrupt players. “Many of the boards have forgiven players after they were found to be involved in corrupt practices but BCCI has never forgiven such players,” he said.
Supporting Shukla, Pawar termed Kambli’s statements as irresponsible. “If he is honest and committed cricketer, he should have informed all. Even if he knew something, he kept quiet,” he said, adding that he honestly felt that the allegations were an irresponsible statement.
“I would rather go by what Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar or Ajit Wadekar say. Had he (Kambli) focused more on his game, he could have been an asset for the team, just like (Sachin) Tendulkar,” Pawar added.