Dubai: The business of ‘Fantasy cricket,’ thanks to cricketing legends acting as brand ambassadors of the online gaming companies and a few of them turning big-time sponsors of the T20 franchise leagues, has kicked up quite a bit of heat and dust in India. Ramachandra Guha, a cricket historian and an erstwhile member of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by Supreme Court, has added fuel to the fire by singling out Sourav Ganguly for his ‘‘greed’’ as the former Indian captain and Indian cricket board president endorses one such company.
Earlier last week, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court expressed their displeasure at the gaming companies cashing on the brand value of Ganguly and current Indian captain Virat Kohli following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Mohammad Razvi against online gaming involving real money transactions. There have been unconfirmed reports of quite a few suicides across the country committed by youth after losing money in online betting in cricket.
‘‘Look at Sourav Ganguly today - head of the Board and representing some cricket fantasy game. This kind of greed for money among Indian cricketers is shocking,’’ Guha said in an interview to promote his new book. ‘‘Why should Ganguly be doing all these things for a little extra money? Ethical standards go down if the president of the Board behaves like this,’’ said Guha, who had resigned as a CoA member within six months of taking charge in 2016.
While Guha has trained his guns on Ganguly, who has been the brand ambassador for My11Circle, his erstwhile teammate and Little Master Sachin Tendulkar also endorses the same company. Kohli is seen appearing for ads for Mobile Premier League (MPL) while the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and several members of the Indian cricket team had been figuring in promotions of Dream11 - the title sponsors of Indian Premier League 2020.
The bench of Justices N, Kirubakaran and Justice B, Pugalendhi wanted to know last Thursday if celebrities should be held liable for endorsing gaming brands that involves real money transactions. Justice Kirubakaran raised an ethical question when he observed: “For the ordinary common man, what does it mean when a star or film star appears? They will try to follow. Virat Kohli and Sourav Ganguly have so many followers.”
Much of the spotlight on the online gaming companies were focused ever since Dream11, who were already one of the partners of the BCCI, jumped onto the IPL bandwagon to become title sponsors of the IPL at the eleventh hour when Vivo, the Chinese mobile phone major and existing title-sponsors, withdraw their sponsorship following the frosty Indo-China relationship earlier this year. Dream11 had reportedly bid Dh 111 million for the sponsorship bid and wanted to be in the running for next two seasons.
MPL Sports, meanwhile, has just become the kit sponsors of the Indian cricket team and Ganguly’s brand has become the title sponsors of the Lankan Premier League.
In India, betting or gambling is a state subject, although loosely governed by the Public Gambling Act of 1867 which is obsolete in modern times. Most Indian states don’t allow gambling or betting, including lotteries. According to the 2019 Consumer Protection Act, responsibility is thrust upon celebrities when it comes to advertising products.