A key principle of the relationship between an athlete and his agent is that there should be no trace of a conflict of interest, whether directly or indirectly. This holds true regardless of whether the conflict of interest is real or just perceptively so.
The Indian cricket captain (and fourth most marketable sportsman in the world), Virat Kohli, is currently under investigation by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for breaching its conflict of interest rules. An official complaint was lodged against Kohli in July this year, and the BCCI’s investigation is ongoing.
These are the facts: Kohli is a director in two Indian companies, Virat Kohli Sports and Cornerstone Venture Partners. His fellow directors in these two companies are also directors of another company, Cornerstone Sport and Entertainment (CSE). CSE is a leading Indian talent management agency which manages Kohli as well as several current Indian cricketers, including the likes of KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Umesh Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav. Kohli’s close business relationship with the directors of CSE, the agency which also manages certain mainstays of the Indian cricket team while he is captain of the team in all three formats, is therefore the crux of the complaint.
The current dispensation in India is that the national captain is not an official member of the national selection committee. However, it has become standard practice for the selection committee to ask the captain for his opinions on team members. Even though he has no voting rights, Kohli can still influence team selections.
The key issue facing the BCCI is whether it could benefit Kohli personally to have his fellow CSE clients as a part of the Indian cricket team on a regular basis? If he gives them the thumbs down in his opinions to the selectors, it in turn has a direct influence on CSE’s ability to develop the players’ commercial potential, and that might lead to tension between Kohli and his fellow directors. The important point here is that it is not necessary to prove that Kohli has actually exploited his official position, but that no perception of him having done so should exist. No company or public organisation can tolerate a situation where a person’s ability to carry out his official responsibilities can be affected by his private interests.
As can be expected, CSE has denied any wrongdoing. According to several media sources, CSE claims that there is “no possibility of a conflict of interest”. Well, wrong, there is.
Kohli might yet be found not guilty of violating the BCCI’s conflict of interest rules, but he and his agent are unnecessarily skating on thin ice. As much as they had sound business reasons for setting up the structures they did, out of ignorance or arrogance they surely did not reckon with a real or perceived conflict of interest. Their predicament serves to highlight that an athlete and his agent must make sure that their business dealings are always squeaky clean and above board.