Where is it heading, Mr. Skipper?

The start of ACC T20 Cup could not have been on a more appropriate day than Holi, the festival of colours. There is something about colours and T20 format of cricket that blends so well. For, this version is about freedom, audacity, and gay abandon that other version rarely provide.

However, one colour was missing in the festivities. That of the sponsors’ logo from the jersey of Nepali cricketers. Nepali players had intentionally blacked out (read: covered with a tape) the sponsors logo from the apparel they had been provided to play for the country.

Talking to the press, Nepal captain Paras Khadka said that it was players’ decision. His version is that players have got nothing out of Nepal Cricket’s sponsorships. He said, “We endorse the brand, and sponsors have to allocate certain amount for the players for doing that.”

Nepal Coach Pubudu Dassanayake faces media, after win against Maldives in the first match of ACC T20 Cup on 26 March 2013.
Nepal Coach Pubudu Dassanayake faces media, after win against Maldives in the first match of ACC T20 Cup on 26 March 2013.

Now there is certain truth in that. Players are a part of branding exercise that the sponsors (in this case Wai Wai and Standard Chartered) undertake and without them, the entire process would be a failure. The sponsors’ brand equity would amount to nothing (expected from investing in sports), if not supported by the cricketers’ (in this case) success at the international level. For their part, Nepali cricketers have proven their mettle, winning the World Cricket League Division 4 and climbing up to Division 3, as well as winning the ACC Trophy Elite in 2012. And there is no question that they deserve some reward in return, along with pat on their back (which has come in plenty).

At the same time, I would take this opportunity to criticize the skipper, Paras Khadka, in this entire fiasco. I feel he has not handled it well. One can understand his situation, constantly being pressured by his fellow players, while leading them. Perhaps he doesn’t have answers when he’s asked by a fellow teammate, “What did we get from performing at our best, in these tournaments?”

Yet, yours truly feels that players’ and the captain’s reaction in the whole episode has been ill timed. Whether it is by choice or chance, Nepali cricketers, in recent past, have become role models for many youngsters. In a country that has been searching for heroes during the transitional times, constantly fighting political parties have made it sure that heroes come from other sector. And cricket has risen to the occasion lately. And blacking out of the sponsors’ logo, by these very cricketers, doesn’t send a very good signal to the private sector (the sector that is expected to push in money to develop the game). At best, this reaction has been irresponsible. These are the same players who help the U-12 players that turn out at the National Cricket Academy in Kirtipur every weekend, in several hundreds. Can somebody explain what will these boys (and girls) learn, who are involved in this tournament as ball boys, witnessing their idols blackmailing the sponsors in presence of media and several thousand spectators? It is difficult to explain. There are several who say that unless blackmailing is done, Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and sponsors won’t act in their favor. However, blackmailing cannot and does not need to be justified at all.

Apart from the skipper, this episode has also raised questions on how CAN has handled the issue. Some of the officials brushed it aside saying there would be bigger sponsors coming in, so there is no need to worry. The issue cannot be whether the sponsor is big or small, but the way how it is handled. One should remember here that Nepal Cricket was bereft of sponsors for almost two years (after the exit of Carlsberg in 2004).

And in any case, sponsors do not need to negotiate with the players on what rewards to provide in case of the players’ success, unless it is personal endorsement. The issue has to be settled by CAN officials and the private sector. However, there is no denying that players deserve something for their effort. For that, the players need to talk to CAN.

Paras Khadka has been praised for his leadership skills in these columns in past. And one would not want to remember him as brash individual or a bully. For that, it is advisable that Mr. Skipper remembers that leadership is not only about playing to the gallery (just to be populist), but it is about doing the right thing. And for now, playing at his best would be the right thing to do.

PS: This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 30th March, 2013.

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