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ICC threatens to shift 2021 T20 World Cup from India over tax issues

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The ICC has told the BCCI it reserves the right to take away the 2021 men’s T20 World Cup from India, after the BCCI failed to secure a tax exemption for the tournament from the Indian government.

In a flurry of blunt e-mails over the past two months, seen by ESPNcricinfo, the ICC told the BCCI it was to provide an “unconditional confirmation” by May 18 this year that a solution had been found to a longstanding issue in coordination with the Indian government. Instead the BCCI wants the deadline extended at least until June 30, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as reason for invoking the force majeure clause in the agreement. The ICC has rejected the request.

“In light of the BCCI’s notification of force majeure, we would highlight the obligation on the BCCI… of the Host Agreement and that IBC (ICC Business Corporation) is entitled to terminate the agreement with immediate effect at any time from 18 May 2020,” Jonathan Hall, the ICC’s general counsel, wrote to the BCCI on April 29.

“The BCCI has clearly had many years to arrange the tax solution… which is why the agreement asks for it to be provided ….no later than 18 (eighteen) months prior…. and why the BCCI was required to provide it by 31 December 2019. In such circumstances IBC is not prepared to agree to the requested extension to June 30, 2020 or 30 days after the lockdown is lifted whichever is later.

“In the meantime, all of IBC’s rights are reserved in full including the right to challenge whether or not a valid force majeure exists.”

The issue

This is the not first time the ICC and BCCI have sparred over this matter. It has been an ongoing issue since the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, in which the ICC suffered between US$20-30 million losses after the BCCI could not secure a tax exemption. In February 2018 the ICC board first warned the BCCI they could lose out on hosting the 2021 T20 World Cup as well as the ODI World Cup in 2023 because the global cricket body could potentially lose US$100 million if it did not get a tax waiver in India.

In 2016 the issue was resolved when the Indian government eventually asked Star India, the ICC’s broadcaster, to pay 10% of its income from the tournament as tax. The subsequent shortage in revenue given to the ICC by Star was taken out from the revenues the ICC paid the BCCI. Unhappy with that solution, the BCCI raised objections and the matter was sent to the ICC’s Dispute Resolution Committee this March, where it currently remains.

‘This letter constitutes a notice of Force Majeure’

As a result, this time the ICC has been in constant correspondence with the BCCI administration, with the ICC chief executive Manu Sawhney writing to the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly at the end of January before Hall sent another email to board secretary Jay Shah in early April. Hall told Shah that as hosts, the BCCI had an “obligation” to “deliver a ‘tax solution'” where the tax “will be minimised, effectively waived or zero rated” in favour of the ICC.

Hall also reminded the BCCI that at a February 2018 meeting the IBC board had “resolved” that the BCCI would find a solution by December 31, 2019, a deadline the BCCI had “failed” to meet.

The BCCI was then given an extension until April 17 this year, 18 months from the tournament as stipulated in the host agreement. On April 13, after the Covid-19 lockdowns had been imposed, the BCCI told Hall that the deadline could not be met because they couldn’t approach the government as “sports events and permissions and approvals in relation thereto” were not “classified” as “essential services”. The lockdown began in India on March 24 and is set to continue to May 31 at least.

“While BCCI has been making all efforts to get a ‘tax solution’ for the event, in view of the current situation, which is beyond the control of the BCCI, it is not possible for BCCI to obtain requisite permission/consent from the Government of India before April 17, 2020,” the BCCI said. “In light of the above, the BCCI hereby requests IBC to grant an extension of time till June 30, 2020 or 30 days after the lockdown is lifted, whichever is later.

“For the avoidance of doubt, this letter constitutes a notice of Force Majeure under …Host Agreement.”

‘Alleged deadline of 31 December 2019 is of no relevance’

Since then, communication has become more tense. Hall asked the BCCI to provide evidence that it had made efforts towards a tax solution; earlier this month, the BCCI responded to Hall, that in the “spirit of cooperation” it was attaching evidence of its correspondence with the Indian government since 2018 requesting a tax exemption.

Four of the six letters attached were sent in 2018 – on February 27, July 12, August 24 and December 18; Two more were sent in 2019 – on July 3 and August 16. “As these actions will demonstrate, BCCI has been pressing for and continues to press the Government of India for a tax solution,” BCCI said.

The BCCI contested Hall’s claim that it was in breach of the December 31, 2019 deadline. “BCCI denies that it was required to procure a tax solution by this date,” arguing that Hall himself had noted in his previous email that it had to provide a solution by April 17 this year. “Therefore, the alleged deadline of 31 December 2019 is of no relevance.”

The BCCI also disagreed with Hall’s claim that the ICC could challenge the force majeure being invoked. “We disagree the BCCI could have avoided the effect of the FM (force majeure) event. As should be evident from the correspondence enclosed with this email… BCCI has been making efforts to procure a tax solution from the Government over a period of time. These efforts were ongoing at the time when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and have been interrupted by the significant restrictions imposed by the Government of India.”

What happens now?

Despite the ICC’s stance, officials believe it will remain open to discussions with the BCCI. The BCCI remains unperturbed. “The ICC can only do brinkmanship,” a BCCI official said. “The Star contract says the ICC has to deliver two events in India,” the official added, linking a resolution to the forthcoming change of chairmanship at the ICC – Shashank Manohar, the incumbent who has had a spiky relationship with the BCCI, is expected to step down in July.



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Can Jay Shah attend BCCI Apex Council meet on July 17?

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Alka Rehani Bharadwaj, the representative of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG,) has asked the BCCI to “ensure” that only “eligible” office bearers attend the board’s Apex Council meeting on July 17. Although she has not spelt out any names, Bharadwaj’s letter puts a question mark over the participation of BCCI secretary Jay Shah, whose tenure has reportedly come to an end under the provisions of the current board constitution

In an email sent on July 4, Bharadwaj has asked BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and joint secretary Jayesh George to check the eligibility of all those attending the July 17 Apex Council meeting. Bharadwaj pointed out that any office bearer whose tenure (six years) is complete would need to provide legal backing to justify their participation.

“The President/ Joint Secretary BCCI (who would be presumably officiating as Secretary after vacation of Secretary BCCI post) need to also ensure that 4th Apex Council meeting is attended by only members, el(i)gible as per the Constitution,” Bharadwaj said in her email, accessed by ESPNcricnfo. “Any decision on this matter may please be backed by facts and endorsed legally. This is being reiterated only to ensure compliance with Honourable Supreme Court approved Constitution.”

Bharadwaj was responding to an email from Shah on July 3, where he had listed the agenda for the July 17 meeting, which would be held over video conference. There is expected to be a discussion on finalising India’s domestic and international calendars for the 2020-21 season and another on the tax exemption issue for the 2021 men’s T20 World Cup. The ICC had threatened to take the 2021 T20 World Cup away from India if the BCCI does not secure a tax exemption from the Indian government.

Along with Shah, Ganguly and George are due to finish six years as an office bearer soon. In April, the BCCI filed a second request with the Supreme Court, following the first one last December, asking it to consider a few radical amendments to the board’s constitution. Among them is a proposal to allow office bearers to continue for six years at one place (BCCI or state) which would ensure Ganguly, Shah and George remain in their posts until 2025, effectively bypassing the mandated cooling-off period.

The court, which is currently in recess, has not yet heard the matter.

Bharadwaj said that with five out of the nine members being office bearers, the Apex Council needed to be “reconstituted”. In fact, the Apex Council has been reduced to eight after Mahim Verma stepped down as BCCI vice-president recently. “In view of pending Honourable Supreme Court hearing on cooling-off period clause, the reconstitution of Apex council warranted due to ending/ coming to end of tenure of Vice President/Secretary/President BCCI needs to be kept as an Agenda item.”

The Apex Council is the second-most powerful wing of the BCCI after the general body and governs all cricket-related activity in India. The Lodha Committee had recommended the Apex Council replace the working committee, which comprised representatives from state associations who could be vulnerable to the power politics in the board. The presence of the CAG official in the Apex Council, the Lodha Committee had said, would provide transparency and accountability in the world’s richest cricket board.

Ganguly entered cricket administration at the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) in 2014 as a joint secretary under the late Jagmohan Dalmiya. In 2015, he became the CAB president after Dalmiya’s death and was re-elected for a second term last September before taking charge at BCCI. At the time, Ganguly had said he had 10 months as BCCI president until July.

As far as Shah is concerned, it is not yet clear when his cooling-off period should begin. He was elected as joint secretary at Gujarat Cricket Association in September 2013. ESPNcricinfo has written to Shah twice in the last two months to check on when he would finish six years as an office bearer, but has got no response.

As for George, who was the secretary at Kerala Cricket Association, his six-year term as an office bearer is due to end in August.



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Ngidi says South Africa must take BLM stand like the rest of the world

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South Africa’s cricketers will discuss how they will join the Black Lives Matter movement when they have the opportunity to meet as a group according to Lungi Ngidi. The fast bowler, who was named Cricket South Africa’s T20 cricketer of the year on Saturday, indicated he would be in favour of supporting the anti-racism cause, especially given South Africa’s history of segregation.

“As a nation, we have a past that is very difficult, with racial discrimination, so it’s definitely something we will be addressing as a team and if we are not, it’s something I will bring up,” Ngidi said, at a virtual press engagement on Monday afternoon. “It’s something that we need to take very seriously and like the rest of the world is doing, make the stand.”

Issues of race are ever-present in South Africa, a country with a history of colonialism and Apartheid, and have been hot-button topics in sport since readmission in 1991. Prior to South Africa’s isolation in 1970, national sports teams were made up of white players only, effectively excluding people of colour from participating at the highest level. In the last 29 years, that has changed, but questions of representation remain. To date, only nine black Africans have played Test cricket for South Africa and Ngidi is the most recent. There remain concerns over the pace of transformation and especially the continued occupation of senior positions by white men.

The national team has been largely silent on race, apart from Temba Bavuma, who found himself at the centre of a storm mid-season, when he was dropped from the Test squad. South Africa’s then-Test captain Faf du Plessis said the team does not “see colour,” and that Bavuma, who had been through a lean patch, needed to force his way back into the team through “weight of runs”. Du Plessis suffered from poor form himself, which earned the wrath of Bavuma supporters, and then stood down as captain. Bavuma was back in the team by the end of the summer and spoke openly about the pressures that came with his skin colour.

For that reason, Ngidi asserted that the team is “well aware” of race dynamics but he explained that they have not had the opportunity to discuss recent events as a group. “I feel we are not together so it’s hard to discuss but once we get back to playing that is definitely something we have to address as a team,” he said.

That may not be for a while with South Africa’s calendar shrouded in uncertainty as they await the ICC’s decision on the T20 World Cup and the rescheduling of their two-Test, five-T20 trip to the Caribbean, which was due to get underway this month. West Indies are currently in England for three Tests ending on July 29 (and both teams will wear the Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts) so the earliest South Africa could hope to play against them could be in August. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic expected to peak in South Africa around the same time, and the players having only just returned to training, it is likely the visit will be delayed further.

A high-performance squad of 45 players was given the greenlight to resume training last week and are currently practicing in groups of no more than five players at their domestic franchise grounds. Next Saturday, 24 of them will play in an exhibition match featuring three teams in the same game, but Ngidi explained they have not had much time to connect, given the restrictions in place.

“We have to book sessions now so there are certain groups of guys that come in at a certain time and when they are done, another group comes in,” Ngidi said. “As the bowlers, we each have our net. We each have our balls. There is no touching and hardly any communication as well. Before going to gym, you have to let them know so they can sanitise the area before you come in and sanitise once you leave for the next group. There’s temperature checks at the gate, there’s hand sanitisers, we fill out forms, it’s a whole process before you can actually bowl a cricket ball. It’s very frustrating but also very necessary at this point.”

Much like England’s Mark Wood, who likened training to a “sci-fi movie,” Ngidi said the situation is taking some time to get used to, not least because he feels like he is playing a group sport, on his own. “It feels like some bio-hazard kind of event has happened. There’s no touching, you barely ever take your masks off other than when you are within a certain distance of people. We no longer go into the change rooms. You get changed in your car and you go straight to the field or straight to the indoor nets. We don’t gather in groups anymore and it feels weird since it’s a team sport. You’re playing by yourself but everyone is still there. It is very different.”

And for bowlers, it will stay different as they are no longer allowed to use saliva to shine the ball. Ngidi and the rest of the pack have yet to strategise how they will counter that, but he has a few ideas. “Once they said there’s no saliva, a few of the batsmen posted on the group that now they are going to be driving on the up so already we can see what type of mentality the batsmen are coming with so now we have to find a game plan to get the ball to swing. Probably a damp towel is the best thing but you’ve got to find something somehow, to shine it.”



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ECB confirms schedule for Pakistan, Ireland visits

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England have confirmed Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl as the venues for fixtures against Ireland and Pakistan this summer. Ireland will visit later this month for three ODIs, while Pakistan have already arrived in the country ahead of Test and T20I series.

The ECB has been working to salvage as much of its home international programme as possible after the Covid-19 shutdown, and said that discussions remained ongoing about the possibility of Australia touring, and a proposed women’s tri-series featuring England, India and South Africa.

Ireland had been due to play their series, part of the World Cup Super League, in September but agreed to move the games forward, with all three ODIs to be held behind closed doors in Southampton from July 30 to August 4.

The first Test against Pakistan will begin a day later in Manchester, with the teams then moving down to Southampton for the second and third matches at the Ageas Bowl, starting on August 13 and 21. They will return to Manchester for T20Is at Emirates Old Trafford on August 28, 30 and September 1.

“Confirmation of these matches against Ireland and Pakistan is another important step for our game as we begin to safely stage international cricket again, but also to minimise the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had, and will continue to have, on cricket at all levels,” ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said.

“It has taken significant effort and expertise to allow us to reach a position where cricket is now ready and able to return to the field of play from the elite level to recreational cricket.

“We owe a significant debt of gratitude to the players, staff and administrators of the Cricket West Indies, Cricket Ireland, and the Pakistan Cricket Board for their willingness and co-operation to get international cricket back up and running and allow these matches to be staged.

“Sports fans across the world will benefit as international cricket returns to our screens while it will also provide much-needed financial aid at all levels of cricket in England and Wales as we aim to withstand the challenges in front of us.

“It must be reiterated that there is still much work for the ECB and the cricket network to do as we try to plot a path through this pandemic. Chief amongst our priorities is to build on our commitment to support and grow women’s cricket and at the elite level discussions continue to progress to determine the best and safest way to host a tri-series against India and South Africa.

“We also continue to explore options for our England men to play white-ball series against Australia this summer and hope to have news on those series soon.”

The majority of Pakistan’s 29-man squad flew to the UK in late June, despite disruption caused by a number of positive Covid-19 tests. Ten players did not take the initial flight, but all but one have now returned the two negative tests required to participate in the tour.

Like West Indies and Pakistan, Ireland’s players are expected to given an ‘opt out’ by the selectors in case any have concerns about Covid-19 in the UK.



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