In what could be a potential conflict of interest, Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli had invested in the parent company of Mobile Premier League in 2019, the same company that was signed on as BCCI’s official kit sponsor and merchandise partner recently. The Indian Express reported this on January 7.
In February 2019, Kohli was reportedly allotted Compulsory Convertible Debentures for ₹33.32 lakh in Galactus Funware Technology Pvt. Ltd., a Bangalore company which owns Mobile Premier League, an online gaming platform. Galactus is a subsidiary of M-League Pte Ltd, a company registered in Singapore in April 2018. Kohli was allotted 68 CCDs at a premium of ₹48,990, per the report. Virat Kohli could not be reached for a comment.
In November, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI), the apex cricket administration body in the country, signed on MPL Sports as the Indian team’s official kit sponsor and merchandise partner. MPL Sports is an athleisure and sports merchandise brand owned by MPL. According to the contract, India’s senior men’s and women’s, as well as the Under-19 teams, will wear MPL Sports branded jerseys for three years.
Kohli is also MPL’s brand ambassador; he was first named brand ambassador in March 2019, this contract was renewed in January 2020 for another year. Mobile Premier League is an online gaming company that offers fantasy cricket and football, as well as rummy, poker, chess, and pool, among others.
Kohli’s commercial relations with MPL do seem to raise flags, per the BCCI’s internal constitution which defines Commercial Conflict as: “When an individual enters into endorsement contracts or other professional engagements with third parties, the discharge of which would compromise the individual’s primacy obligation to the game or allow for perception that the purity of the game stands compromised.”
In November 2020, the Madras High Court issued notice to Virat Kohli, as well as BCCI chief and former cricketer Saurav Ganguly in a petition against online games in Tamil Nadu. The petition, which called for a ban on online gaming, raised concern around celebrities such as Kohli and Ganguly as well as other actors for promoting online games and gambling on TV ads, calling such promoting and endorsement “unethical” and “immoral”. It was among the two petitions before the Madras High Court that eventually led the Tamil Nadu government to prohibit online gambling in the state via an ordinance, while leaving fantasy games out of its purview.