Mohammed Shami and the Disrepute Clause

In a case that had been closely followed by a milieu of cricket fans in India, last evening, Mohammed Shami was exonerated by the by the BCCI’s Anti Corruption Unit after investigation into match fixing and harassment charges levelled by his wife Hasin Jahan.

Mohammed Shami’s BCCI contract was withheld after his wife levelled charges, primarily of domestic violence and adultery against him (along with allegations that he accepted money from a figure known only as Mohammed Bhai through a Pakistani woman named Alishba in Dubai as part of a match fixing attempt).

Shami has maintained his innocence throughout. The ACU has cleared him of match fixing, but the other charges, including domestic violence, remain a matter for the police and the courts. This was enough for the BCCI, though, to award Shami a Grade B contract.

However, while Shami’s BCCI contract is safe, his contract with the Indian Premier League‘s Delhi Daredevils is still in peril.

Here’s what the Delhi Daredevils management had to say during the course of the deliberations (source: TOI):

“Look Daredevils management can’t take any unilateral decision in this matter. All players who play in the IPL have a tripartite contract involving the franchise, BCCI and the player’ There is a clause about any player bringing disrepute but it is for the lawyers to interpret it.”

Things aren’t going to be so simple with Delhi Daredevils and GMR, which hold a majority stake in the franchise.

When entering into a contract with a team or board, or even whilst entering a tournament, a player agrees to abide by a certain code of conduct (for instance, IPL players agree to the BCCI’s Anti Corruption Policy, Anti Doping Policy, and Anti Racism Policy, along with any additional conditions given in their respective contracts), and breaching these conditions will result in the termination of his contract.

These misdemeanours or offences are generally spelt out (a player may not indulge in match fixing, may not act violently towards other players or officials beyond what is allowed under the rules of the game, may not endorse a brand that is a rival to those sponsoring the tournament, etc.), but no one can contemplate every act which may be damaging to the continued relationship between player and team / organiser.

A ‘disrepute clause‘ or ‘morals clause‘ is standard in contracts with sportspersons and other celebrities, part of whose value comes in the form of brand value or goodwill. Such a clause is typically worded widely to permit a party to terminate the contract when the other party does, or is even accused of doing, an act (including making a statement) that brings ‘disrepute”. This disrepute may be brought on themselves, or on the sport they play.

For instance, Nike invoked disrepute clauses to end contracts with Tiger Woods (for cheating on his wife), Lance Armstrong (for admitted doping), and Manny Paquiao (for bigoted statements against the LGBTQ community) and, in a rare case of the celebrity making use of the clause, it appears that Priyanka Chopra terminated her endorsement contract with Nirav Modi Jewels’ for alleged fraud by the company.

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As a company having business interests across the world, GMR may hesitate to associate with an alleged wife beater, even if the BCCI was satisfied with his not being guilty of match fixing.

Whether Mohammed Shami is or isn’t guilty of domestic violence is irrelevant. It is enough that the accusation by his wife is creating bad press for the BCCI and for the sport, and unless there was such little evidence of the act (for example, if it was only a rumour lacking any credibility whatsoever and not a well-publicised accusation), that no rational person would believe it, Shami has no recourse.

Shami may be convicted or acquitted years down the line, or perhaps the complaint will be withdrawn, but the BCCI and Delhi Daredevils invested in him not just for his sporting prowess but also his brand value or goodwill he brings, which will be irreparably damaged in the short-term.