20 Dec 2007

Need for a full-fledged sports law in India

Cricket, a semi-religion of India; Football, the pride of Bengal; Hockey, legendary and high-esteem links with the game; Tennis, growing sensation; Golf, here to stay; ... With a population of more than 1 billion, sports in India have come to hold a prominent position not as a part-and-parcel of entertainment industry alone but as a professional league of its own. Gone are the days when sporting leagues were dominated by part-timers who had the resources to indulge themselves in the not-so-respectable-by-itself sporting arenas. Today are the times when sporting activities are a profession in themselves, requiring constantly being informed and updated of the changing times, involvement of technology and carrying with it all facets and dimensions which any other self-governing profession requires.

I am a firm believer of the fact that law most-often-than-not is remedial, following society and bringing into force regulation to influence the human interactions. To employ this for asserting the need for a sports law is not counter-productive.

It has been two years since the Supreme Court declared that BCCI was not a public body (technically 'State' within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution). The result; its actions could not be challenged on the grounds of public interest or otherwise. But does this dissuade the fact that this BCCI not only tinkers but controls what is the heart of public interest in India; cricket??? In fact, this has been declared by this Hon'ble Supreme Court itself that cricket is a matter of public interest in India, when it allowed the government to infringe the rights of Ten Sports for broadcasting cricket matches in India and otherwise. (The debate that public-policy-issues should not be allowed to interfere in purely private law matters, as invoked by this decision, is a separate one and I would deal with it elsewhere).

The thrust of the matter is that sports in India lack a principle based regulation and the control of sporting interests in India is spread across public-private associations of random diaspora. The Central Government does boast of a 'Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs', but the lack of lucrative portfolio has led the Ministry to allow itself to be confined as an award-granting institution, cut-off from the ground-realties and unconcerned with the proper-planning, development and professional regulation of sports in India.

It has a National Sports Policy (last updated in 2001) but there is little empirical evidence as to how far it has translated into practice. No doubt it has been giving a lot of financial assistance to the professional bodies for the development of sports but I believe it is not sufficient. I think a lot needs to be done to organize the games on a more professional basis.

Initially, I had also thought of the option of a national sporting academy/institution to regulate all sports in India but carrying the doubts of whether it would be able to survive the aftermaths of bureaucracy and red-tapeism, I dropped that idea. I find that it is better to having a national sporting regulation to govern, finance, nurture and organise the sporting leagues in India. These leagues may be self-sustaining or state sponsored [like the case with most sports associations in India today] but would in any case be regulated under a central law, which would require financial assistance and autonomy to players, thus allowing them to fully concentrate on sports as a professional rather than an investment without returns.

The questions of how I leave again to the vagaries of political-will but the need for an immediate stock-taking of professional-sports regulation is imminent and requires consolidated and long-term game plans, if India has to succeed in promoting itself as a strong world-games-champs country.

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