KCA versus Kerala Blasters: row over missing Sachin memorabilia intensifies

Sachin Pavilion
An old photograph of the Sachin Pavilion at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
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Kochi: Adding a new twist to the controversy over the alleged neglect of the Sachin Pavilion at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here, an old video has emerged in which the former secretary of Kerala Cricket Association (KCA)  Jayesh George admits to being aware of the missing memorabilia of the legendary cricketer. 

In the video dated March 20, 2018, the ex-secretary says that some of the sports equipment and memorabilia that were on display at the pavilion have gone missing, but the association has no intention to create a controversy over the incident.

Meanwhile, the Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Kerala Blasters FC, the sole user of the stadium now, made it clear that they had no hand in disposing of the memorabilia. It also came to light that ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup held in 2017, the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA), which owns the stadium, had instructed the organisers to remove the photos and other items kept at the pavilion.

Interestingly, the KCA’s current stance contradicts the position taken by its former secretary during the U-17 World Cup and in the interview he gave a year after. Taking the matter further, the association issued a show cause notice to Kerala Blasters FC the other day, seeking an explanation on the missing memorabilia and threatening to initiate legal action against the club. However, it is evident that no person attached to the club was permitted to enter the stadium when the pavilion was cleared out ahead of the U-17 World Cup. 

A look at the timeline of events:

December 18, 2016: The stadium hosts the ISL third season’s final.

December, 2017: Kerala Blasters FC hand over the stadium to the Kerala Football Association (KFA).

January, 2017: A Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the U-17 World Cup is formed and renovation of the stadium and other preparations begin.

February, 2017: A FIFA delegation visits the stadium to assess the facilities.

March, 2017: The second visit of the delegation.

March, 2017: GCDA issues a directive to empty the pavilion and adjoining quarters of the stadium to set up the LOC office.  After clearing the area, the office of the LOC begins working from the Sachin Pavilion.

What happened to the memorabilia?

It is a fact that Kerala Blasters FC were not in any way associated with the stadium’s operations when the pavilion was cleaned out for the U-17 World Cup in March, 2017. Who emptied the pavilion, was it the LOC or the KCA? The members of the LOC confirm that no objection was raised when the office started functioning in the pavilion or when the memorabilia and other items on display were cleared out.

Also, when the LOC office was set up, scores of Tendulkar photographs, including his childhood pictures, continued to adorn the walls of the 1,000 sq ft room. When the pavilion’s sitting area was converted into a VIP lounge in the following ISL seasons, the officials of Kerala Blasters took special care to keep the photos. The items that went missing are jerseys worn by Tendulkar in his last Test match and signed bats and a ball that the maestro had used.

Unanswered questions

Tendulkar gifted the memorabilia to the KCA and it was up to the association to preserve and keep them safe. If the items were removed without the KCA’s permission, the action amounts to criminal trespass and theft. That being the case, why did the KCA not file a police complaint?

Sachin Pavilion
The Local Organising Committee of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 functions inside the Sachin Pavilion. File photo

In an interview given to an online media in 2018, the former KCA secretary can be heard saying that ‘there was no need to create a controversy’.

If the rare and valuable archival materials have gone missing, doesn’t the KCA have a moral and legal obligation to trace them down and restore to their original location? Why did they wait for three years? Several unanswered questions remain. Incidentally, it was Malayala Manorama who put forth the idea of naming a pavilion after Tendulkar.  

Jayesh George’s comments

In an interview published by a web portal in 2018, Jayesh George was quoted as saying: “A pavilion named after Sachin Tendulkar was a humble gesture by the KCA to pay tribute to the great man. We spent around Rs 12 lakh to set it up. The permanent pavilion has scores of Tendulkar photographs, a jersey bearing his signature, and photos depicting his journey from childhood among other items. It was inaugurated by former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Tendulkar’s bat was also on display there, but it is missing now. We kept silent because we genuinely wish to see the stadium hosting more football matches (sic). Let there be both football and cricket. Killing one sport to boost another is unacceptable. Football has our wholehearted support.”

Jayesh George
Jayesh George. File photo

According to club owner Nikhil Bhardwaj, Kerala Blasters have only a limited role in preserving the venue. “We handed over the stadium to the KFA at the end of ISL’s third season. We had no role in the renovation works carried out ahead of the U-17 World Cup. If the memorabilia kept at the pavilion are missing, the KCA should discuss it with the GCDA. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is the home ground of Kerala Blasters and it will remain so. Our commitment is to the development of football in Kerala.”      

Jayesh George, who is currently the joint secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said passing the buck was no solution and Kerala Blasters should own the responsibility for leaving the Sachin pavilion in a shambles.

“When the stadium was handed over to FIFA for the U-17 World Cup, the photographs and other valuable items that were on display at the pavilion had been temporarily shifted to another location. We hoped that once the World Cup gets over, the pavilion could be restored. That’s why we didn’t raise any objection then. The KCA has a 30-year lease agreement with the GCDA, but when the latter took a unilateral decision to offer the stadium to Kerala Blasters, our plan to restore the pavilion could not be fulfilled. It was Kerala Blasters who ruined the pavilion by breaking it down to three portions to set up a corporate box. They removed the wallpapers including Sachin’s iconic photographs and replaced them with their promotional merchandise. They have a moral responsibility to answer to the KCA. We still maintain that the stadium should be used for both cricket and football,” he added.

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