Policy and Governance

A Brief Overview of Sports Law and Policy in India – Existing Mechanisms and Need for Development

Image Source: prokabaddi.com

[From the Editors’ Desk]

Interplay Of Sports With Law

Neither is there a set definition for ‘Sport’ under the Indian laws, nor is it practically possible to define this term sufficiently in a few lines. In layman’s language, Sport or Sports means an experience, joy, recreation, diversion etc. which basically involves human activity along with specific administration of a particular set of rules and regulations which define the objective and limit the pattern of human behavior involving competition and a definite outcome primarily determined by physical as well as mental skills. However, in the contemporary times, this meaning has withered away far from just being an activity for amusement or recreation, and has engulfed into its ambit, a commercial and an economic approach due to the commodification and commercially motivated approach of sports, sportspersons, sporting competitions, sports management companies etc.  With the increased considerations of professional sportspersons, image marketing, media revolution, sport goods merchandising, intellectual property generation etc., sports has been revolutionized into an independent industry involving billions of dollars and numerous stakeholders. 

These advancements in sports and its commercialisation into  ‘Sports Industry’ has witnessed endless disputes and continued litigation in this arena in the past few years, which necessitated the recognition of a distinct discipline called ‘Sports Law’. In India, growing commercialized interest towards sports and emergence of professional sportspersons and other entities in the Indian Sports Industry has led to the unfolding of various opportunities and cumulation of leagues and tournaments like Indian Premier League, Indian Super League, Premier Badminton League, Hockey India League, Pro Kabaddi etc. India has stood out in the field of sports and has delivered numerous world-class sportspersons. Sports in India is no longer restricted to Cricket and Hockey; sportspersons in various other sports have waved the Indian flag high on the world front. India has also successfully organized major International sporting events such as the U-17 FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games etc. With such development of the Sports Industry in India, one can see major controversies and scams related to spot-fixing, illegal betting, anti-doping rule violations, corruption etc., which point towards the unsettled position and framework of Sports Law in India, at a steep increase.

Sports Laws And The Pyramid Of Sports Organizations In India- 

The Constitution of India gives the power of making laws related to sports to the Parliament as well as the State Legislatures [Entry 33- Concurrent List- III of Schedule VII]. The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs is in charge of framing rules and guidelines in this area and has been doing it in the form of a comprehensive code known as the “National Sports Development Code of India” (NSCI). By the way of various national policies, this code has been published 5 times in the past, in 1975, 1988, 1997, 2001 and 2011. Various states, for eg, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh have also exercised their legislative power with this regard to enact laws related to associations, regulations, registration etc. for their respective jurisdictions.

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) was set up under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in 1982 with the objective to further the cause of Sports in India and promote it. The idea was to create a body to regulate and enhance participation and quality of sports in India. The SAI undertakes a plethora of tasks and activities to realise this aim. These include finding sporting talents, training sportspersons, providing support in terms of performance evaluation and sports equipment, creating infrastructure, among its many other roles and functions. The SAI performs its functions under three major heads- Head Office, Regional Centres and Academics. These three heads cover infrastructural support, including stadiums that come under SAI, to the Sports Institutions established under it. It runs various schemes across the country to promote sports and adequate training. These include the restructuring of SAI Sports Promotional Schemes as ‘National Centres of Excellence’, the ‘Target Olympic Podium Scheme’ to support and prepare the best athletes of the country to excel in Olympics, and so on. As of now, SAI has 2 Sports Academic institutions, 10 SAI Regional Centres (SRC), 14 Centre of Excellence (COE/COX) and 56 Sports Training Centres (STC). 

However, there is an absence of central laws or policy for the regulation of sports in India; promotion of sports is mainly the responsibility of autonomous bodies called National Sports Federations (NSFs). The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports launched the Scheme of Assistance to National Sports Federations to financially support these organisations in training sportspersons, conducting national and international tournaments and sporting events, etc. by issuing guidelines with respect to financial assistance to these bodies as well recognition by the Ministry in 2001.  As per the guidelines of the NSCI, which subsumed certain principles of the Guidelines of 2001, the NSFs have to be registered as trusts which are non-profit organizations and the pyramid structure which they follow is District-State-National level with a top to bottom or a bottom to top approach. Once registered with the Sports Ministry, these associations become eligible for government funding. However, with the increase in commercial interest in the field of Sports, the Guidelines for assistance of NSFs were altered to allow these bodies to accept funding from corporate houses and not depend entirely on Government funding. Further, consistent adherence to these guidelines by the NSFs helps them restore their recognition and funding by the government and attaches a certain degree of accountability to these bodies.

NSFs are also responsible for the selection of players for national and international events, including the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Cups, etc as well as management and development of sports. Federations which are associated with Olympic Sports come together to form the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), a body responsible for selecting athletes to represent India at the Olympic Games, the Asian Games and other international athletic meets and for managing the Indian teams at these events. The IOA is recognised by The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, which is also responsible for setting eligibility criterias and providing assistance to the NSFs. 

Even though the Ministry, the SAI and the NSFs aim to achieve the same objective and work in coherence with each other, they have a clear distinction of roles among them, as laid down in the Guidelines of 2001. With the increase in corporate participation in sports and corporate funding of NSFs, the government funding has shifted weight, with NSFs receiving lesser government funding and SAI receiving more funding. Furthermore, the focus has shifted yet again and there has been a shift from SAI to Khelo India, with a reduction in funding of SAI and increase in that of Khelo India. SAI has also significantly contributed and funded the Khelo India games which could be the flagship programme for the overall development of sports in India. 

Khelo India is a National Programme for development of Sports in India and for reviving the sports culture in the country at the grassroots level. This initiative was introduced in December 2017 by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. On January 31st 2018, Khelo India School Games, one of the programme verticals of Khelo India was launched to showcase India’s young sporting talent and its sports potential. The Khelo India Games has attracted massive participation and viewership in inauguration as well as concluding ceremonies, and has been organized in a world class manner, along with merchandise, broadcasting, mascots etc. . The Khelo India Youth Games are currently being held for two categories, namely under 17 school students and under 21 college students. 

As discussed, these federations or associations which oversee their respective sports in India are registered as NPOs which are generally set up under the law of societies and are autonomous private bodies which may get recognition from the government for the purpose of funding and further electing the national federations. However, these private bodies are obligated to discharge their public duties just like any other government or public authority (Indian Olympic Association Vs Veeresh Malik and Ors.) 

Another non-profit national organisation which works for the advancement of sports law in India for promoting sports is the Sports Law & Welfare Association of India (SLAWIN). SLAWIN provides consultancy on various matters including regulation of sports governing bodies, general sport and law issues, intellectual property issues in sport, online advocacy in legal disputes of sports in courts on behalf of sports persons and sports bodies, etc. It aims to discuss at length, various perspectives in sports from a legal lens. 

There is yet another autonomous body, the National Anti Doping Agency (NADA) which has been established directly by the central government and includes various government and non-government agencies, scientists and experts and members from IOA as well. This body is engaged in the functions of planning, coordinating, implementing, monitoring and advocating improvements in Doping Control for the purpose of having dope free sports in India. 

Foul Play And Issues In The Indian Context- 

In the Indian context, sports has been an area where the application of law is still not satisfactory; unsurprisingly India always finds a spot in top positions when it comes to Anti-Doping Rule Violations or the Adverse Analytical Findings by the World Anti Doping Agency. There are many other impediments in the form of continuous litigation battles such as inter alia, contractual violations, intellectual property violations, conflicts within and between sports bodies, which often force the judiciary to step in as an umpire.  

One major issue in the realm of sports in India is the lack of transparency and accountability of the sporting federations and associations, which although are monitored by the Government of India, but nevertheless have unfettered and monopolistic control over the respective sports they control. The immediate need for a stringent law in sports is felt due to scandals and controversies in past years, for eg- IPL Scam, Olympic games bidding scam, sexual harassment cases in  women’s hockey team and in many other sports as well, use of prohibited performance enhancing substances etc. 

The root causes for the alarming lack of legal mechanism for the benefit of sports and sportspersons are the lack of Sports Jurisprudence in India and lax attitude towards creating effective legislation. First, up until recently, the courts would contribute little to nothing towards Sports Jurisprudence and litigation has been largely unsuccessful in fulfilling the requirements of an efficient redressal system. Thus, such disputes, being technical, are often sought to be resolved internally. However NSFs, the primary facilitators of sports in India, unimpressively lacked such mechanisms to internally address these disputes which led to litigation in national courts. Therefore, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports laid down guidelines for Effective Grievance Redressal System in the Constitution of National Sports Federations in 2016 to ensure the presence of such mechanisms in the constitutions/ bye-laws of the NSFs. While this was an important step, dispute resolution in Sports continues to be an issue. The bodies for grievance redressal established by NSFs often fail to deliver justice to aggrieved sportspersons in cases of disputes between the NSFs and the sportspersons because of an existing bias of these bodies towards the NSFs. Therefore, there is an imminent need for independent Dispute Resolution Bodies, specializing in the field of Sports, in order to deliver just solutions to the many hurdles faced by sportspersons which fail to be addressed internally.
Second, the shelving of essential legislations like the National Sports Development Bill, 2013 and the  Prevention Of Sporting Fraud Bill, 2013 has acted as a hurdle in the development of Sports Law as an independent discipline. There is need for the legislature to create efficient and comprehensive laws with respect to Sports, not only because the field has achieved an important place in the globalised world, but also to safeguard the interests of those sportspersons who are the victims of the lack of such legal mechanisms and suffer at national and international levels due to the paucity of legal support. The most important stakeholders of the Sporting Industry, the sportspersons, must not be isolated due to the lax attitude of the legislators towards this cause.

*For any query, feedback or discussion, the Editors could be contacted at [editor@sportslawandpolicylawreviewreporter.com]

PREFERRED CITATION: Ria Mishra & Aakash Batra, A brief overview of Sports Law and Policy in India – Existing Mechanisms and Need for Development, SLPRR, <https://sportslawandpolicyreviewreporter.com/2020/07/28/a-brief-overview-of-sports-law-and-policy-in-india-existing-mechanisms-and-need-for-development/> July 28th, 2020.

2 comments on “A Brief Overview of Sports Law and Policy in India – Existing Mechanisms and Need for Development

  1. Tarun Kumar

    Good read, informative!!


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