Many facets encompass sports ranging from organizing, infrastructural and financial requirements, access of necessary paraphernalia, sponsorship to participation, broadcasting, popularising, building camaraderie amongst groups, clubs, entertainment and reflection of the public fervour and national as well as international representation. The sports field is amongst the rapidly increasing and emerging fields of growth in terms of competition as well as contribution to the world economy amounting to 3%. Basic question of need for a sports law despite the existence of many influential sports federations and bodies, the state role in rendering conducive conditions for physical fitness to curb the exploitation and ignorance of the sports players and athletes and most importantly, incentivising sports players and other stakeholders, the government ought to creep in the sports arena and regulate the same.

In pursuance to enlivening dream of a sports law and render legal sanctity to the institutional field of sports, passionate efforts led by retired Chief Justice of India, Justice Mukul Mudgal culminated in the enactment and adoption of a recognizable number of sports oriented rules, regulations and laws. The National Sports Policy of 2001 which heavily based itself on the National Sports Policy of 1984 emphasised upon and covered varied points; broad-basing, mass participation and universalization of sports, resource mobilisation, infrastructural development, sports’ educational integration, training, paraphernalia requirement, scientific back-up and participation being some of its key features.

Similarly, The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharti) Act, 2007 was enacted with its prime objective to provide access of sporting events of national importance to largest number of listeners and viewers in the country. Furthermore, the adoption and acceptance of the World Anti-Doping Code by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) on 7th March 2008 to preserve the intrinsic value and the spirit of any sport. Internationally, the legal presence in sports is found in the form of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel, Glasgow Commonwealth Games Act, 2008 London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act, 2006 FIFA Regulation on the Status and Transfer of Players and the standardisation of the Participation Agreement between the players and clubs/organizations.

Coming back to the Indian scenario, legislature, despite the pessimistic show of agreement to the draft proposal of a National Sports law in 2011 due to politically and commercially explainable reasons, the National Sports Development Bill of 2013had been courageously invited by a few law-makers, the law and the sports ministry and it clearly states as its objective that “this Bill does not intend to transgress into the independence of the National Sport Federations and the National Olympic Committee. The Bill only seeks to imbibe the practice of good governance accepted around the world in the Indian scenario.” The Draft Bill, presented by the Chairman of the Working Group, (retired) Justice Mukul Mudgal and the then Union Sports Minister has also covered various aspects including the eligibility of sports persons to represent the country.

The draft bill lays down significant clauses, each of which, hold importance of their own such as the ineligibility of persons charged for a criminal offence and undergoing proceedings in a criminal court to contest elections of federations such as IOC and NSFC. The lack of international precedents, the lack of public support for what may have been perceived (perhaps incorrectly) as further government involvement in sports management, some tenuous clauses, a failure to distinguish between Olympic and non-Olympic sports and omissions of key stakeholders are amongst the few reasons why debates of non-acceptance of the sports bill and its roughshod pathway have affected the Indian government in legislating upon the sports law since late. The international protocols and norms of sports do not recognise limitless and undue governmental control and governance in the form of laws, rules and regulations, especially because the self-regulated bodies of sports have more or less their own internal dispute resolution mechanisms. In fact, the Indian government has had proposed to legislate sports law so as to regulate the internationally representative field of competition.

Considering the much bred corruption, scams and fraud in the sports field too, the legislation of the 2011 and thereafter, the 2013 bill seemed a theoretical necessity. As a matter of fact, a hung decision on certain matters such as scrutiny of sports governing bodies such as BCCI under the RTI Act and the dangerously hovering chances of refusal to align a de facto non-Olympic sports’ NSF and sports governing bodies BCCI and other non-Olympic yet self-sustainable sports bodies in case of strict legal regulations by virtue of the sports law, took place. Actually, the history of the trajectory of sports bill in India dates back to 2011 during which unanimous opposition by NSFs dashed the 2011 bill to ground and rejected by the Union cabinet. Thereafter, the 2013 National Sports Law Development Bill, in the form of diluted measures on influential bodies such as the BCCI and many revised recommendations, was feebly tabled before the Union legislature. Relevant features of the 2013 bill which need to be noted are that the usage of the word ‘India’ which is part of the ‘Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950’ may be made mandatory to be used by all the 66 National Sports Federations in India if the said legislation sees the light of the day. Also, too much direct governmental role in sports is only deemed as interference. Next, as proposed by the National Sports Development Bill of 2013, it is not wise for the general masses to be armed with the weapons of unchecked questioning authority over the governing mechanisms of the myriad of sports regulating bodies in India. Equally problematic is the idea that 25% of the members of executive committees in the NSFs ought to be former sportspersons.

There is a distinctly demarcating line between the management and administrative abilities and the sportsmanship. Neither can any of it replace the other nor can it substitute the other. Henceforth, debatable clauses such as the aforementioned require a revisit before their petrifaction into enacted law. Thus, this roughshod journey of bill drafting of one of its own kind requires broad, healthy vision along with learning the lessons of governmental role, recognition and status to sports from other nations. Many contentions on the clear approval and passage to this flagship bill have built humungous impediments in the smooth sailing of the draft bill. ‘Sports’ is a subject which comes under the State list in terms of Entry 33 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India and the Union created the Ministry of Youth Sports Affairs as per Article 77 of the Constitution.

The focus on sports from the legal perspective is sporadically discussed in cases such Zee Telefims Ltd. and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors[i] which highlights the need to raise standards of sports, M/s Narinder Batra v. Union of India[ii] which applied harmonious construction to decide ‘the question of inclusion of sports in the Concurrent list of the Indian Constitution and introduction of appropriate legislation for guiding all matters involving national and inter-state jurisdiction’, Vineet Kumar v. BCCI which popped up the issue of extent of monopoly and autonomy of the wealthy, independent and directly non-State funded sports bodies and federations namely the BCCI which is invariably one of the most prime issues of sports sector. As to the other legal aspects and angles which overlap with the general and recognised offences under the Indian laws such as the diseased doping, gender discrimination and sports betting, commercial, contractual and labour law aspects of agreements and contracts between players and organisers are concerned, a plethora of judicial decisions have developed the law on sports and helped much in bursting myths of the legal sanctity of sports and physical education and the penal consequences of the ancillary wrongs committed amidst sporting.

Few important Indian case laws are Indian Olympic Association v. Veeresh Malik and ors. which confirmed that the IOC and the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee were public authorities for the purposes of the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the case of Percept D’Mark v. Zaheer Khan[iii] which discussed the application of Section 27 of the Indian Contract Act to the sports contracts and the resulting vulnerabilities for the sports players, etc. In a nutshell, the sports law is only and only emerging as is its pace of emergence. The sports controversies and scams such as the IPL spot fixing controversy of 2012, Commonwealth Games scam, mode and manner of playing (action of bowlers in cricket), the undeserved negligence of the national game of hockey in India and the like require judicial interference after a certain stage and legal crystallization and backing to develop consistency in the dispensation of justice and ultimately, good governance of the sports along with improvement of the standards of sports. The sports bill of 2013, when once enacted as an act, would prove to be an asset for the country and a remarkable contribution to the law of sports in India.

[i] AIR 2005 SC 2677

[ii] ILR (2009) 4 Delhi 280

[iii] AIR 2006 SC 3426

By Mandavi Mehrotra, RMLNLU, Lucknow.