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The advent of technology and increase in access to the internet mean that sports has been able to reach a wider audience. This has led to the stakeholders drawing more revenue from a wide array of sources – ticket sales, advertisement revenue, broadcasting rights, jersey sales to name a few. Sport constitutes a significant portion of world trade. India is on course to become the most populous country in the world, with 65%of its population being below the age of 35. Also, India has a strong sporting culture with cricket being the most popular sport in the country. This automatically makes it an attractive market for the sports industry and commercialisation of sports. The Indian Premier league was one such effort towards commercialisation and one that has been very successful. The IPL was followed by the setting up of Pro – Kabaddi league, Premier Badminton league, Indian Super League (ISL), Pro wrestling league (PWL), Hockey India League (HIL).
To mark immense potential of India in terms of commercialisation of sports, recently, the broadcasting rights for the Indian Premier league (IPL) were sold to Disney Hotstar and Viacom18 among other for a humongous Rs. 48,390.50 crores, with the value of each IPL match reaching up to Rs. 107 crores. The setting up of these leagues, marketing and commercialisation of these sports have changed the lives of players, who have got the opportunity to learn from the best and at the same time earn money and be popular. However, with stakes so high, some players resort to unscrupulous means to gain an unfair advantage through doping or earn more money through match fixing. India ranks third in the global ranking of world’s biggest doping violators. To cater the set up of all these leagues, to look after the administration of sports in India and to regulate the conduct of the athletes, we need a discrete body of sports law.
This article aims to examine the framework of sports law in India, the systemic issues that plague Indian sporting governance system and the importance of sports law in eradicating the issues in governance.
FRAMEWORK OF SPORTS LAW IN INDIA
Sports law is an amalgam of laws such as labor law, competition law, tax laws, antitrust law, contracts, intellectual property rights, tort or criminal law that apply to athletes, agents, sporting bodies or government regulators and therefore the sports they play. Sports is listed under entry 33, i.e. the state list, which means that only the state can legislate in the matter of sports and the central government has no locus standi to pass laws related to sports.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs and the Indian Olympics Association are the two independent organizations in charge of governing sports in India. According to the Olympic charter, the IOA should be a self-governing organization, free from administrative control by the Indian government. The organisation in charge of choosing the athletes who would represent India in the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and other international competitions is the Indian Olympic Association. 38 National Sports Federations (NSFs) that are in charge of the growth of their various sports in the nation are among its members. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and other organisations under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) are encouraging sports training. However, the MYAS supports the National and State Sports Federations financially and indirectly controls these federations via political representations.
An analysis of the laws regulating sports in India would reveal that they are highly inadequate. The Commonwealth games fiasco and the match fixing/spot fixing scandal in the IPL in 2013 are a case in point. The buck does not stop with these high profile events. Issues such as lack of transparency, corruption, administrative failure, discrimination and favoritism, lack of funds are some of the issues that have plagued the sports governance system. There are no checks and balances against these sporting bodies. Creating an adequate sports infrastructure involves scouting, grooming through adequate training facilities and selecting the ones that are most capable. The sporting bodies in India have failed to do this as there are systemic issues in the governance structure.
IMPORTANCE OF SPORTS LAW IN GOVERNANCE
India lacks comprehensive legislations which can regulate the governance of sports federations and authorities in India. Poor governance and lack of reforms can be attributed with India’s poor performance at the Olympics and global sport such as Football. However, India made a failed attempt to raise the standard of sports in the country through the introduction of the National Sports Policy in 1984. The same was amended in 2001 to bring the Central government together with the state government, The IOA, The NSFs. The policy aimed at efficient and effective integration of sports and physical education with the education curriculum.
The CWG fiasco in 2010 revealed the gaps in the Indian sporting structure. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports introduced the National Sport Development Code, 2011 in order to compile all notifications and directives about effective governance of National Sports Federations. It includes some features such as age and tenure norms, timely submission of annual accounts, transparent and timely elections, timely submission of Long-Term Development Plans and the annual calendar to be posted online and open selection processes. NSFs became signatories to the code but didn’t bring the necessary changes to their constitution, until rebuked by the courts to do so.
The courts have intervened in several cases relating to malfunctioning of NSFs, including the latest one, Rahul Mehra vs Union of India, 2022, whereby the court ordered that the NSFs that don’t comply by the code shall be suspended. Further, Aslam Sher Khan vs. Union of India & ors, 2022, the court while scrapping the administrative setup in Hockey India stated that “The Government of India cannot grant recognition to a NSF whose constitution is not in consonance with the Sports Code.” Moreover, in Manika Batra vs The Table Tennis Federation of India, 2022, Manika Batra, the table tennis ace questioned the functioning of the Table tennis federation alongwith her coach who she alleged that pressurized her to concede a match, so that a player that was part of his private coaching academy could qualify for the Olympics. The court held that “the way TTFI is functioning is not what is expected from an NSF which has the duty to work for the welfare of sportspeople in the country. The report goes on to highlight that TTFI has been taking all possible steps to shelter its own officials, as opposed to promoting the interest of its players.”
Also, the government tried to pass the National Sports Development Bill in 2011 and 2017. The draft includes provisions such as banning politicians from being office bearers in NSFs and national Olympic committees, including athletes in the decision-making process and setting a limit on the age of the elected officials in NSFs at 70 years old, putting a limit to the periods of officeholders to two terms, each lasting four years, and setting a threshold that athletes hold 25% of the membership and voting rights in NSFs. However, the draft has been shelved due to lack of consensus amongst the shareholders. The Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill 2013 which sought to deal with the issues of match fixing, spot fixing and illegal betting were also shelved.
The aforementioned section reveals how badly we lack laws to regulate governance of sport governing authorities such as NSF and IOA. The IOA claims autonomy on the pretext of an International Olympic charter that provides for no government interference. However, that autonomy hasn’t been put to good use.
OTHER ASPECTS OF SPORTS IN INDIA THAT REQUIRE REGULATION
There are some aspects of sports that need regulation. One is sports betting. Sports betting is illegal in India. The law commission in 2018 in its report titled ‘Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting Including in Cricket in India’ stated that the efforts of BCCI have been inefficient and ineffective to curb illegal betting and has called for legalization of betting and gambling activities in sport so that it can be regulated. The law commission further states that failure in enforcing a complete ban on betting activity has led to a boom in black money generation and hence, effectively regulating it remain the only alternative. It must be noted that gambling industry in India is worth Rs 3 lakh crore and it is only going to increase. The government must regulate gambling in order to earn revenue through taxes and at the same time curb black money.
Second are image rights or personality rights. Image rights have been defined as “Access to the services of the personality for the purpose of filming, television (both live and recorded), broadcasting (both live and recorded), audio recording; motion pictures, video and electronic pictures (including but not limited to the production of computer-generated images; still photographs; personal appearances; product endorsement and advertising in all media; as well as the right to use the personality’s name, likeness, autograph, story and accomplishments (including copyright and other intellectual property rights), for promotional or commercial purposes including, but without limitation, the personality’s actual or simulated likeness, voice, photograph, performances, personal characteristics and other personal identification”.
Image rights have been so far governed by judicial pronouncements. The provisions under Article 21, i.e. right to privacy govern them. Similarly, under the Copyright Act, 1957, moral rights provide the Authors or the Performers the right to be given credit or claim authorship of their work and have a negative right restraining others from causing any kind of damage to their work which consequently disrupts their reputation. As the internet gets more powerful, the litigation on image rights is only going to increase. There is no specific provision or legislation in India that deals specifically with image rights. Hence, the Government must think in this direction and pass an amendment to the IP laws and introduce provisions that deal specifically with image rights.
Reports suggest that India is eyeing to host the Summer Olympics games of 2036. If that is to be true, India would need to build stadiums, sporting facilities and develop infrastructure adept for hosting the Olympics. However, reforms would be required as far as governance in sports federations and authorities is concerned. India would surely not want a repeat of CWG as well as the more recently conducted FIFA U-17 world cup, in the latter case, it was alleged that water was being sold for Rs 80 per bottle and complaints of inadequacy of infrastructure were raised.
Sport is part of the state list. The author is of the opinion that sports should be made part of concurrent list so that the Government can pass laws relating to sport.
A comprehensive legislation that deals with systemic issues of governance should be passed. An election commission should be constituted specifically for sporting federations and authorities that ensure fair and consistent elections. Similarly, a sports tribunal should be set up to deal with disputes arising in the field of sports. Moreover, the legislation should introduce provision to deal with matters such as doping, age fraud, gender-based discrimination and favouritism. Also, a structure should be out forth as to how the different federations and authorities should be funded. Lastly, efforts should be made to include Panchayati Raj institutions and educational institutions in order to improve sports infrastructure at the grassroots level.
Author: Manish Kumar (Legal Intern) and Ajay Kacher – Legal Associate, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email firstname.lastname@example.org. or at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.