New Delhi – Cricket’s Indian Premier League was thrown into turmoil Tuesday when a Supreme Court-appointed panel suspended two of the eight teams after officials were found guilty of illegally betting on matches.
India’s board said it would respect the verdict and pledged to clean up cricket after the shock decision to ban the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals for two years to protect “the integrity of the game.”
CSK, led by India’s one-day international captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and the Royals, skippered by Australian star Steve Smith, had hoped to escape with heavy fines but the panel was in no mood for leniency.
It also banned Gurunath Meiyappan — the son-in-law of Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the Chennai franchise owner and the current boss of the International Cricket Council — for life from cricket-related activities.
And a similar punishment was handed down to Raj Kundra, co-owner of the Rajasthan team and husband of Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty.
“Their conduct has affected the image of the game, the players and others associated with the tournament,” the panel’s chairman Rajendra Mal Lodha told reporters while announcing the verdict in the capital New Delhi.
Asked about the financial losses of players, Lodha said: “We did not consider financial losses to players and teams. That is not significant.
“The integrity of the game is what matters,” added Lodha who is a former chief justice.
The outcome could have major financial consequences for the glitzy Twenty20 league which draws some of the biggest names in world cricket and raises questions over the future of the two franchises which are both former champions.
It was not immediately clear whether the two franchises can be sold, thus allowing the cricketers to continue to be part of the IPL which is overseen by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Jagmohan Dalmiya, president of the BCCI, said the board would give its full observations after reading the entire report but was “committed to honour and respect judicial decisions”.
“The BCCI is committed to ensuring transparency, accountability and cleansing the sport in order to restore the faith and confidence of millions of cricket loving people in the glorious game of cricket in general and IPL in particular,” Dalmiya added in a board statement.
– ‘Fans feel cheated’ –
Lodha said that “huge injury has been caused to the image of cricket which is a passion for millions of people”.
“The purity of the game has been affected. Fans feel cheated and doubts abound if the IPL is clean.”
Lodha was appointed head of the sentencing panel in January after the Supreme Court had found Kundra and Meiyappan guilty of betting on the outcome of matches in 2013.
“Meiyappan was an integral part of the team,” said Lodha. “By regularly placing bets he acted in gross violations of the rules of the game. He suffered a loss of 6,000,000 rupees (more than $94,700) in bets.”
The hugely popular Chennai Super Kis are the most successful team in the IPL, having won the tournament in 2010 and 2011. They finished runners-up in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Rajasthan Royals won the inaugural event in 2008 under the captaincy of Australian spin legend Shane Warne, but have failed to make the final since then.
Royals’ co-owner Kundra expressed shock late Tuesday with the decision taken against him.
“Many inaccuracies…Have requested for a copy of the judgement – obviously very shocked and disappointed… #Faith,” he posted on Twitter.
Cricinfo editor Sambit Bal however hailed it as a “massive decision and positive one” on the micro-blogging website, saying “the judges have done what the BCCI should have done long ago”.
The 2013 IPL season was mired in controversy after police launched legal proceedings against several officials and three Rajasthan Royals players, including former Test fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, for illegal betting and spot-fixing.
The IPL, which is broadcast around the world, is hugely popular in India with its mix of sport and showbiz, with a number of teams fronted by big Bollywood names.
But it has been continuously dogged by corruption allegations and on Monday Hiken Shah, a first-class player from Mumbai, was suspended over an approach he made to an unnamed team-mate before this year’s tournament in April-May.
International news organisations including Agence France-Presse have suspended on-field coverage of matches hosted by the BCCI since 2012 after the board imposed restrictions on picture agencies.