NEW DELHI, April 22- The crisis in the Indian Premier League (IPL) intensified Thursday as a growing rift between cricket chiefs threatened the future of the money-spinning tournament.At the centre of the controversy is Lalit Modi, the high-profile boss of the IPL, which is facing a tax probe amid allegations from the political opposition that the league was a front for money laundering and illegal betting.
The Indian cricket board (BCCI), which owns the IPL, has called a meeting of the tournament’s governing council on Monday to discuss what the media says is the biggest crisis in the sport since a match-fixing scandal of 2000.
Modi, fearing the axe from his own tournament, on Thursday said he would not attend the meeting, saying it was unauthorised and that he wanted a further five days to reply to the charges levelled against the league.
"If the meeting does go ahead on 26th April instead of 1st of May as I have asked, it will… be unofficial," Modi wrote to the BCCI in an e-mail that was made public.
"I do not propose to attend any unauthorised meeting."
BCCI president Shashank Manohar, a noted lawyer, took Modi head-on, saying Monday’s meeting in Mumbai would go ahead as scheduled and claimed the support of the majority in the 14-member council.
"The meeting will be held," Manohar told reporters. "If some member does not wish to attend, there is nothing we can do. But we need to take action as quickly as possible."
Former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, a member of the IPL governing council, said Modi would face serious consequences if he did not attend.
"Modi is being difficult," Pataudi told NDTV. "The only thing that may save him is if he came for the meeting and asked for a few days to answer the allegations against him."
Modi is the driving force behind the success of the IPL, which has seen its brand value surge to 4.1 billion dollars in just three years.
The tax probe began after junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor was forced to resign over claims that his girlfriend was given a free stake worth 15 million dollars in a new franchise.
Details of the ownership of the team, in the southern city of Kochi, were leaked on microblogging website Twitter by Modi.
The IPL, which began in 2008, features the world’s top cricketers playing the popular Twenty20 format of the game for eight franchises owned by India’s wealthy businessmen and film stars.
Two more franchises are to be added for the 2011 season.
As the third edition of the tournament neared its finale with the second semi-final on Thursday and the final on Sunday, fears arose among the franchises on the IPL’s future.
"If the tax probe gets messier, anything is possible," a senior figure from one franchise told AFP when asked if the existence of the tournament was at stake.
"I wish I could say I am not worried, but I am very, very worried," he said.
Tax officials questioned Modi in Mumbai on Thursday and also continued to search the premises of franchises across the country as part of the investigations, the Press Trust of India reported.
On Wednesday, raids had been conducted on the Mumbai offices of Multi Screen Media and World Sports Group, the two companies handling the IPL’s television rights.
Former cricketer Kirti Azad, a member of India’s World Cup winning team in 1983, hoped the government probe would not be confined to Modi.
"They are all nude in the public bath," said Azad, quoting a Hindi proverb. "The whole system needs to be cleansed."
Cricket analyst Ayaz Memon cited a conflict of interest in BCCI secretary N. Srinivasan’s company owning the Chennai Super Kings franchise.
"The national chairman of selectors (Krish Srikkanth) is a brand ambassador for the Chennai Super Kings," said Memon. "People cannot be blamed for thinking he may be favouring players from his franchise."