New Delhi: Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) on Monday appointed Sundar Raman, former chief operating officer (COO) of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, to head its sports unit.

Raman’s appointment comes less than two weeks after he resigned from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). He was IPL’s COO since the 2008 inaugural season of the popular league, which includes the Mumbai Indians team, IndiaWin Sports Pvt. Ltd, a group company of RIL.

“Sundar Raman is joining Reliance as its CEO-Sports. He will be responsible for consolidation and integration of RIL’s sports portfolio, including its Foundation activities in sports. In addition to the existing sports properties of RIL, Sundar will be driving newer avenues of growth in this area and also integration with digital services of Jio," the company said in an emailed press note.

Jio is a reference to Reliance Jio Infoccomm Ltd, the telecom unit of RIL, which is preparing to launch its 4G high-speed services.

“The opportunity to be engaged in integrating the entire sports portfolio and make sports an integral and important element in RIL’s growth will be an exciting journey," Raman said in a statement.

Raman resigned when his continuance in BCCI looked in doubt after the board’s new president Shashank Manohar publicly expressed his displeasure in July over him continuing in office despite being censured in a report submitted by a panel, headed by former judge Mukul Mudgal, that probed the 2013 spot-fixing and betting scandal.

“Raman should have gone immediately after the Mudgal Committee report found him prima facie guilty of wrongdoing. He ought to have stepped down immediately at that time. Now, to restore the faith of people in IPL and the game, Raman needs to go," Manohar said.

In November last year, the Mudgal Committee said in its report that Raman knew “a contact of a bookie and contacted him eight times in a season", but claimed to be “unaware of his connection with betting activities".

It added that Raman had received information about suspended Chennai Super Kings team official Gurunath Meiyappan and Rajasthan Royals co-owner Raj Kundra, but did not act on it.

Raman later filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in response to the Mudgal Committee’s report, denying allegations of misdemeanour.

Sports marketing professionals are divided on whether Raman’s new role at Reliance could be a possible conflict of interest in the context of RIL’s ownership of Mumbai Indians.

“It depends on how involved he will be with the Mumbai Indians. While he was at the BCCI, it was evident that he was a puppet in the hands of then president N. Srinivasan. Individually he is a very able administrator. Operationally, IPL has never had any issues and he was an operations guy. So maybe that’s the reason Reliance has hired him," said a sports expert on condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, Hiren Pandit, chief operating officer at TransStadia, a sports infrastructure firm, is confident that there is no conflict of interest involved. “He’s moved from one job to another. I think he will prove to be very good for Reliance. Sundar is very passionate about sports. IPL is just one of the investments Reliance has made in sport," he added.

RIL has so far invested an estimated 1,000 crore in sports through direct ownership, joint ventures and as part of the Reliance Foundation, its philanthopy arm.

The Indian Super League, a football tournament modelled on the IPL, is owned by IMG Reliance—a joint venture between billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s RIL and IMG, a global sports, fashion and media business—and Rupert Murdoch’s Star India Pvt. Ltd.

Five years ago, IMG Worldwide and RIL inked a 30-year deal with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) for all commercial rights to the sport in India, including sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising and franchising rights, and advising the BFI on managing school and college leagues. It is also the organiser and promoter of the Chennai Open, an annual badminton tournament.

In 2010, IMG Reliance joined hands with the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), the official body for professional golfers in India, to develop golfing talent in the country.

“Over the course of the last few years, RIL has invested in a variety of sports properties and is now positioned as one of India’s leading sports businesses. RIL is involved in multiple sports (cricket, football, basketball, tennis, golf) either on its own or through its joint ventures. In addition, the Reliance Foundation has several initiatives such as the Junior NBA (National Basketball Association) programme (to spot young talent in basketball) and Young Champs (to do likewise in football)," the company said.

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