A LEADING Indian sports marketing firm which is in talks to stage a lucrative Twenty20 tournament in Zimbabwe has distanced itself from any match-fixing activities, saying the event’s launch is likely to go ahead next August.
Infinity Sport’s name was dragged into the dirty dealings due to its association with an Indian businessman who allegedly tried to influence Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer to throw the Test series with the West Indies through a local cricket official, Rajan Nayer.
Infinity has however tried to clarify its links with the wealthy businessman, Gaurav Rawat—who is not new to match-fixing allegations against him.
Gautam Sharma, owner of Infinity Sport, said this week he was hopeful that the tournament, in which an initial US$1.5 million will be injected, will go ahead despite the setback brought about by the fixing fears.
“The concept is to organise the Zimbabwe Premier League, the country’s own version of the popular Indian Premier League (IPL),” said Sharma.
“The reason being that I have fallen in love with the beautiful country of Zimbabwe and also realised that the Zimbabwe cricket board has been struggling with finance. There are opportunities here for everyone. The idea is to promote cricket in Zimbabwe, to promote both national and provincial cricketers and give them international exposure.
“Zimbabwe used to have good quality cricket players, now that quality is gone because of finance issues. We just want to help Zimbabwe basically. We are pretty determined the tournament will go ahead.
I’ve visited the country and saw the players and the facilities. I’ve seen the fire in the players. The Zimbabwe board is excited. We are excited. We want to show the world that Zimbabwe should be given a chance again. It’s such a beautiful place to play cricket.”
Meanwhile, Rawat, who has also been accused by banned former Bangladesh captain Mohammed Ashraful of match-fixing, has been heavily implicated in the plot to snare Zimbabwe’s skipper Cremer in his fixing network.
This paper can disclose that Rawat, who sometimes works from match-fixing haven Singapore, was in Zimbabwe in October, where he is said to have attempted to influence Cremer to fix the Test series against the West Indies this month for a payment of US$30 000.
Rawat tried to gain access to the team through Zimbabwean cricket official Rajan Nayer, a former ZC board member of Indian origin.
Nayer is currently under investigation by the International Cricket Council (ICC) so declined to comment yesterday, but a source close to him said while he is not necessarily a match-fixer, he had “naively and innocently” fallen into the trap of Rawat, who comes from his place of origin in India.
Sources said Rawat, who is the CEO of Bangladesh franchise Dhaka Gladiators, stayed in Zimbabwe for a week, trying to infiltrate the national side ahead of the West Indies series.
Ex-Bangladesh skipper Ashraful was in 2014 banned for nine years after admitting to fixing matches in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) while playing for his team Dhaka Gladiators.
The ban was later reduced to five years.
Ashraful said he had met with Rawat in Sri Lanka when he played in that country’s Twenty20 league. He added that Rawat had been in the company of an Indian bookie, whose name he could not recall.
Ashraful admitted that the same bookie had asked him to fix matches when he was still captain of the Bangladesh team between 2007 and 2009.
Ashraful claimed that he rejected the offers and instead revealed this to the media in 2009. He claimed he was certain that both Rawat and the bookie were match-fixers.
In Zimbabwe’s case, suspicion emanates from the fact that Rawat visited Zimbabwe at the same time when the Infinity delegation was in the country for negotiations with ZC officials.
Sharma, however, said Rawat had come to the country on his own personal trip, having offered to be co-sponsor of the Zimbabwe tournament.
“As Infinity, our role is to secure sponsorship for tournaments like the Zimbabwe Premier League, so when he heard we were planning to launch the ZPL, he told us he wanted to be one of the sponsors,” said Sharma.
“At that point in time he came to Zimbabwe on his own when he heard that we were coming here. Remember this is a guy who is also a team co-owner in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He was very much interested in being a sponsor in Zimbabwe.
When he came here he wasn’t part of the meeting with ZC. He came to Zimbabwe and went about his personal business. I left Zimbabwe on October 9 and was supposed to reach India on the 10th. There wasn’t contact with him after I arrived back in India. As far as match-fixing is concerned, whenever it happens and if it has happened, I’m sure the ZC and ICC will deal with such cases diligently.”