Sport has always been an integral part of Indian culture and tradition. In recent decades, with growth of professional sports leagues and events in India, sports law and governance have gained more importance. The legal and regulatory framework surrounding sports in India has evolved over the years but still remains a work in progress.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the sports law landscape in India. It covers the key governmental policies and legal frameworks governing various aspects of sports in India - from governance of national sports federations to broadcasting regulations, employment contracts and dispute resolution mechanisms. Issues like the regulation of sports agents, the legality of fantasy sports and legal challenges for sports infrastructure development are also examined.
The overview of sports law and policy provided in this article will help shed light on the current status, evolution and future direction of the sports law environment in India. It aims to serve as a useful reference for sports lawyers, administrators and enthusiasts interested in understanding the legal and regulatory issues surrounding sports in the country.
## National Sports Policy
The National Sports Policy was first established in India in 1984 by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. It aimed at improving the overall sports performance of the country at national and international levels.
The policy was updated in 2001 and more recently in 2011 to expand the overall objectives. The key objectives of the 2011 National Sports Policy are:
- Improve India's standing in international sport competitions like the Olympics.
- Make sports more accessible to all segments of society, especially women, disabled individuals and those living in remote rural areas.
- Upgrade sports infrastructure across the country by building more playing fields, stadia and academies.
- Support sportspersons by providing them with the best possible infrastructure, equipment, coaching and sports science support.
- Promote participation in sports like soccer, hockey, cricket, tennis, boxing, wrestling, etc. with high participation but low achievement levels.
- Improve employment prospects of sportspersons by providing government jobs and promoting employment in private sector.
- Regulate sports agents, associations, and other sports related entities to prevent exploitation of athletes.
- Curb doping, match fixing and other ills afflicting sports in India.
The policy aims to achieve these objectives through initiatives such as Target Olympic Podium Scheme, opening of Khelo India academies, and partnerships with the private sector. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is the governing body responsible for overall implementation.
## Key Sports Law Organizations
India has several major organizations that govern and regulate sports. Some key sports law and regulatory organizations include:
### Sports Authority of India (SAI)
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is the apex national body for sports in India, established in 1984 under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. SAI is responsible for providing infrastructure, equipment, coaching and other facilities of excellence for various sports. It also promotes sports in rural and tribal areas. SAI operates various training centers and stadiums across India.
### Indian Olympic Association (IOA)
The IOA is the National Olympic Committee for India and the governing body for Olympic sports. It is responsible for selecting athletes to represent India at the Olympic Games and other international athletic meets and competitions. The IOA works towards the development of Olympic sports and serves as the Indian constituent of the International Olympic Committee.
### National Sports Federations
Every major sport in India is managed by a National Sports Federation (NSF) recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Some major NSFs include the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Badminton Association of India (BAI), Hockey India (HI), All India Football Federation (AIFF), etc. These federations govern their respective sports, select national teams, organize competitions, and manage the development of infrastructure and training facilities.
### Other Organizations
Some other organizations involved in sports law and welfare include the Sports Law and Welfare Association of India, Athletic Federation of India, Paralympic Committee of India, Special Olympics Bharat, etc. There are also various state-level sports authorities and infrastructure development organizations.
## Sports Broadcasting Laws
India enacted the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act in 2007 which mandates sports broadcasters to share feeds of sporting events of national importance with Prasar Bharati to enable public access to these events.
As per this act, no content rights owner or holder such as sports federations or private broadcasters can carry a live television broadcast of sporting events considered of national importance, unless they simultaneously share the live broadcasting signal with Prasar Bharati.
This act was passed by the Indian Parliament to ensure that citizens get free access to significant sporting events of national importance on Doordarshan channels instead of only on private sports channels which have limited accessibility.
Some key provisions of this act are:
- The sports broadcaster must provide live feed to Prasar Bharati on a mandatory basis and free of cost.
- The shared signals can be broadcast on DD National and DD Sports channels of Prasar Bharati.
- Certain major international tournaments like the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games are automatically deemed events of national importance.
- For other domestic tournaments, the sports ministry notifies specific events like the FIFA World Cup and the Cricket World Cup as events of national importance under this act.
This law has enabled Doordarshan to provide free live telecast of popular sporting events like the Cricket World Cup, Olympics, etc. to a wide audience across the country. By making sports broadcasting accessible to the public, this act serves an important purpose of promoting sports in India.
## Dispute Resolution in Sports
Dispute resolution is a key aspect of sports law in India. Many sports law disputes are resolved through arbitration rather than litigation.
Each National Sports Federation has its own arbitration procedures to resolve disputes related to their respective sport. For example, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has its own mechanisms for arbitrating disputes related to cricket. Using arbitration allows sports federations to quickly resolve disputes related to selection, discipline, and other issues in a cost-effective manner.
Some sports disputes do reach the courts when arbitration is unable to provide satisfactory resolution. However, litigation in courts can be time-consuming and expensive. Arbitration is generally preferred for sports disputes due to its relative speed and lower costs compared to traditional litigation. Arbitration also allows disputes to be heard by arbitrators with expertise in sports issues.
Overall, arbitration facilitates effective resolution of conflicts in Indian sports. The specialized arbitration mechanisms adopted by sports federations complement India's wider legislative framework for arbitration. This system aims to promote swift justice and minimize disruptions to sports from prolonged disputes.
## Employment of Athletes
Most athletes in India are employed on a contractual basis, either by national sports federations, private entities such as leagues and teams, or government organizations. The National Sports Policy aims to provide athletes with enhanced job security and other benefits to support their athletic careers.
The policy states that national federations should ensure satisfactory arrangements for employment of sportspersons under their jurisdiction during their active sporting career as well as after retirement. It recommends government organizations and PSUs to have a certain quota for employment of sportspersons.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports runs several programs focused on providing employment opportunities and financial security to star athletes after their retirement from active sports. Some key initiatives include:
- The Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay National Welfare Fund for Sportspersons - Provides lump sum monetary assistance to outstanding performing sportspersons living in poverty.
- Scheme of Pension to Meritorious Sportspersons - Offers a monthly pension to champion athletes after retiring from competitive sports.
- Promotion of Indian Sportspersons to Group A, B & C Services - Reserves certain government job vacancies in Groups A, B & C categories to appoint meritorious sportspersons.
- Arjuna Awardees Scheme of Life Insurance Cover - Provides life insurance cover to Arjuna and Khel Ratna awardees to overcome problems relating to premature death during active sports career.
Through such programs and employment-friendly policies, the government aims to provide athletes, especially underprivileged ones, with job security and financial benefits that allow them to pursue sports professionally. However, implementation remains a challenge.
## Regulation of Sports Agents
The regulation of sports agents in India is currently inadequate. There is no comprehensive law that oversees the activities and conduct of sports agents.
The National Sports Policy has emphasized the need to regulate sports agents to prevent the exploitation of athletes. However, beyond a few basic guidelines, no concrete regulations are in place.
At present, self-regulation through industry associations is the main method of oversight for sports agents. But membership in these associations is voluntary and their guidelines are not legally binding. This allows many unscrupulous agents to operate outside any regulatory framework.
Experts have recommended reforms to regulate sports agents more effectively:
- Enactment of a comprehensive law to govern sports agents, requiring mandatory licensing and registration. This would weed out unqualified individuals.
- Clear rules on conduct, transparency and accountability must be defined for agents. This includes limits on fees and commissions.
- Athletes must be informed of all contractual terms in the vernacular language before signing. Standardized template contracts can safeguard athletes' interests.
- A grievance redressal mechanism to report agent misconduct should be instituted. Breach of regulations must carry deterrent penalties.
- Background checks, educational qualifications and training requirements for licensing agents should be implemented.
- Awareness programs to educate athletes on protecting against unscrupulous agents need to be conducted.
Stronger regulation of sports agents through legislative and administrative action is essential to protect athletes in India. Self-regulation has proven inadequate. A comprehensive regulatory framework with mandatory licensing, conduct rules, transparency norms and deterrent penalties for violations can address this issue.
## Fantasy Sports
The legality of fantasy sports in India has been unclear due to the country's strict gambling laws. However, in recent years, courts have recognized the legality of fantasy sports platforms that require skill over pure chance.
The Supreme Court of India ruled in 2017 that fantasy sports are games of skill and protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, which guarantees citizens the right to carry out any profession or occupation. The Supreme Court held that fantasy sports involves substantial skill in picking a fantasy team and goes beyond a simple game of chance.
Some High Courts have also recognized fantasy sports as involving the skills of superior knowledge, judgment and attention. The High Court of Bombay ruled in 2017 that fantasy sport is a 'game of skill' based on several factors like selection of the team, skill of the players and whether the same skilled player repeatedly wins on a platform.
However, the legality of fantasy sports continues to evolve. Some states have enacted laws to regulate fantasy sports while others prohibit it entirely. The fantasy sports industry has called for a single centralized regulator to provide clarity on legality across India.
There are also calls for greater consumer protection measures and restrictions against gambling on fantasy platforms. The Consumer Protection Act 2019 gave the government power to ban fantasy sports but this power has not been exercised yet.
The fantasy sports sector in India is growing rapidly but its legal status remains fluid. With better regulation, fantasy sports has the potential to grow as a professional sport that requires skill and strategy. However, concerns around addiction and gambling will need to be addressed through appropriate consumer protections.
## Other Legal Issues
In recent years, sports has been introduced as a part of school education in India through initiatives like the Sports Authority of India's Annual Calendar for Training of Sportspersons. The aim is to develop sports skills and foster interest in sports starting from a young age. However, much more needs to be done to improve sports education across all schools in the country.
Lack of adequate sports infrastructure and facilities is a major challenge. The National Sports Policy aims to upgrade existing infrastructure and provide access to sports facilities across India. But funding constraints have hampered development in this area. Legal issues also arise regarding land acquisition and environmental clearances for new infrastructure projects.
**Regulation of Sports Science**
The sports ministry has emphasized the need for quality sports science support for athletes. However, there is very little regulation of sports science practice in India currently. Using performance enhancing drugs and unscientific training methods remain risks for athletes. Clear regulations are required for certifying sports scientists and trainers.
Making sports inclusive for all genders and all segments of society remains an issue. Specific policies and programs are required to promote women in sports, provide access to sports for the disabled and marginalized communities. Legal measures for inclusion and non-discrimination in selection are also necessary.
- Challenges in implementing policies across different states
- Role of public and private sector in sports promotion
- Issues in selection process transparency
- Requirement for comprehensive sports law
India's sports law and policy landscape has seen significant developments in recent decades, but still faces many challenges. Key issues like regulation of sports agents, fantasy sports, dispute resolution and sports infrastructure remain works in progress.
The National Sports Policy of 2011 and establishment of organizations like the Sports Authority of India have aided the development and promotion of sports across the country. Legal frameworks like the Sports Broadcasting Signals Act have facilitated public access to major sporting events.
However, the sports agent industry lacks comprehensive regulation. Dispute resolution heavily relies on arbitration by sports federations rather than courts. The legality of fantasy sports continues to evolve. Issues like match-fixing, doping and gender equality need ongoing attention.
India aims to improve its standing in global sports and make sports participation more inclusive. The future outlook depends on strengthening sports infrastructure, supporting athletes through their careers, enforcing robust regulations and updating policies for the digital era. Effective implementation of laws and policies by sports governing bodies, government agencies and the legal system will shape the sports law landscape.
With apt focus on ethics, equality and athletes' welfare, India can create a supportive environment where sports thrive with integrity.
Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate
Supreme Court of India & Delhi High Court
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