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Unauthorised cricket league in UP using Virat Kohli image blocked

BCCI’s anti-corruption unit stopped the league, which was to have YouTube streaming and had pushed for fans to pick fantasy league teams

Updated: Aug 13, 2020 12:31 IST

By Rasesh Mandani, Hindustan Times Mumbai

Unauthorised cricket league using Virat Kohli image. (Facebook/Screengrab)

If you are inviting entries for a small-time cricket league in the middle of the pandemic, what can be better than using India skipper Virat Kohli’s image for promotion. ‘NCR Cricket League’ organisers used the image of Kohli flashing the victory sign, inviting participants to make teams on Mobile Premier League (MPL), the gaming platform he promotes.

The league has now been blocked by BCCI’s Anti-corruption Unit (ACU). “We intercepted them at the stage of team selections. We sent out an advisory to all our registered players not to participate,” said BCCI ACU head Ajit Singh.

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But for the intervention, the first delivery in the league would have been bowled on Aug 11 at Hapur town in Uttar Pradesh. As has been the case in unauthorised leagues, the matches were to be streamed on YouTube, which is seen as facilitating illegal betting.

The matches were to be organised by a man based in New Delhi under the umbrella of NCR cricket association. The league’s social media page had invited ‘India players, Ranji players and board players’ to participate.

Many such local leagues, as well as fake ones with no professional cricketers in it, have proliferated during the Covid-19 lockdown to make up for the absence of live cricket, on which there is heavy betting.

BCCI steps in to monitor, and intervene, only when its players are targets. “If they get our registered players and they get exposed to corruption at an elementary stage, it is not good for their careers or the game,” says Singh. “But if someone stages cricket with mohalla (street) cricketers, we can’t do anything.”

The NCR cricket league’s social page has videos of player auctions held over snacks and tea in a small hall—players going for a few thousand rupees each—across six teams. The league is said to have been postponed, pending permission from the local administration. “Initially, they claimed to have Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association’s permission,” the ACU chief said.

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The same organisers put out videos of ‘Hapur Premier League’, held earlier this year and promoted using the images of Kohli and the MPL brand. It was advertised as ‘the biggest tournament in Uttar Pradesh’. MPL denied having any contracts. “We have no contracts or deals with these leagues,” a MPL spokesman said.

With the fantasy gaming industry flourishing—a study expects entry fee for various contests to touch R16,500 crore this year—officials want tighter self-regulation.

Each leading platform has popular Indian cricketers as brand ambassadors, who are often not sure which leagues use their image. Recently, Dream Sports’ streaming website, Fan Code, came under scrutiny for tying up with Uva league, which turned out to be dubious. Fan Code claimed to be an aggrieved party, and a police probe is on.

“Fantasy platforms and streaming platforms should do due diligence,” says Singh.


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