The Court’s appointment of a Committee of Administrators (“CoA“) to clean up the functioning of errant sports bodies is fast becoming the norm. In the past five months, table tennis, hockey and football federations have been brought under the ambit of the court-appointed Committee of Administrators, a move that critiques the state of affairs of these bodies. Additionally, most other federations face the probability of de-recognition for non-compliance with the Sports Code of 2011, which aims to establish a transparent and accountable governance scheme across the arena.
The Delhi High Court was the first to crack the whip on the Table Tennis Federation of India. Following the allegations of Manika Batra, a three-membered committee was constituted. On perusal of the committee’s report, gross discrepancies in the functioning of the federation were unveiled. The Court opined that the conduct of the federation prima facie reveals that it functioned solely with the purpose of ‘feeding into the whims of its officials’ and ‘went out of their way to undermine the efforts of the sportspersons.’
The committee’s findings were enough to substantiate a breach of the Sports Code, 2011. The Court stated that it would be failing in discharging its duties, not only towards the sportsperson of the country but also towards the general public itself if it did not proceed to appoint CoA to anchor the federation in accomplishing its duties towards the well-being of the sportspersons and the sport.
Earlier, in April 2022, the Supreme Court ended the tenure of Praful Patel as the President of the All-India Football Federation, following complaints of major inconsistencies in the election of its members. In its order, the Apex Court observed that “the state of affairs is not in the best interest of the federation“, thereby appointing the CoA, headed by Mr. A R Dave, to look after the everyday functioning of the federation and facilitate the adoption of a new constitution in alignment with the Sports Code.
Recently, in May, the Delhi High Court also held the Hockey Federation accountable for functioning in violation of the Sports Code. In line with the previously set precedents by the courts, it would not be surprising if the Indian Olympic Association faces the music following the recently levelled accusations against it for non-compliance with the Code.
The issues highlighted in these three organisations are not different from what the BCCI was charged with – administrators who held on to their positions and became so influential that the integrity and growth of the sport stood compromised. Even though the BCCI is an autonomous, self-sufficient body that does not rely on the government for grants, unlike these federations, it cannot be denied that the Supreme Court’s interference in that case did set a precedent in the sports industry.
Why is compliance with the Sports Code important for NSFs?
As per provisions 1.2, 3.17 and the Statement of Purpose of the Sports Code, it is clear that the National Sports Federations were envisaged to be autonomous bodies. However, government recognition is important for these federations to represent the country on international platforms, avail funding to conduct sporting events and be entitled to tax and custom duty exemptions and special dispensation to remit funds abroad.
Further, in the case of the Indian Hockey Federation, Civil Writ Petition No.7868 of 2005 categorically held that”… international sporting events are an essential part of diplomatic relations between the nations, and several considerations like security concerns of players, apartheid, and perceived human rights violations have guided nations in decisions to participate or not to participate in sporting events in different countries. Therefore, political and diplomatic clearances are required by the Indian teams before participation in the international tournaments and forums.”
As per provision 3.6 of the Sports Code, 2011, National Sports Federations that fail to comply with the criteria for recognition and other government guidelines issued time-to-time:
- Shall be unable to select the national teams or represent India in any international event or forum.
- Shall not be allowed to use the word “India” in its name since the inclusion of the word “India” indicates patronage of the Government of India.
- Shall lose its “All India” status and may be unable to regulate and control the relevant sports discipline in the country.
It is also important to note that non-recognition of an NSF can also prove to be detrimental to the sportspersons associated with it in the following ways:
- Participation in national and international events organised by NSFs that the Government of India does not recognise in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports shall not be considered for appointment to government jobs under the sports quota.
- Sportspersons of unrecognised NSFs may not be able to get admissions under the sports quota in schools and colleges.
- Sportspersons competing in national championships organised by NSFs not recognised by the Government of India in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports are not eligible for railway or other concessions.
Impact- Appointment of CoAs and the Players
Non-recognition of an NSF strips it of the power to regulate the sport nationally and gain access to government grants and incentives. It also prevents the federation from selecting teams and representing the sport at international events. This year, the Delhi High Court held that Taekwondo India is not a recognised federation for the sport in the country, thereby having no authority to hold trials for the selection of teams for the upcoming Asian Championship. SAI (Sports Authority of India) was directed to step in, following which trials were notified to take place from May 22nd in Lucknow. However, World Taekwondo, the International Federation governing the sport, issued a letter stating that the world body shall not recognise the teams selected by SAI.
Intriguingly enough, the International Federation went on to specify that Taekwondo India was the only recognised authority as per its rules to select and dispatch teams for the international events. Teams selected by a non-member of World Taekwondo are not permitted to compete in the tournaments, nor are the players awarded ranking points.
Hence, amid administrative turmoil, players face the actual consequences of the non-competence of the authorities.
The same fate hit the Indian football players, with FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) issuing a ban on AIFF (All India Football Federation) due to “third-party intervention.” FIFA had published a Manual on TPI (Third Party intervention) to promote ‘integrity‘, ‘ethics‘ and ‘fair-play’ in the football sporting regime, all of which India clearly violates. The ban means that all the country’s football-related activities stand at a standstill. India shall lose the opportunity to host the Under-17 Women’s World Cup, which was scheduled for October this year. Further, the Indian team may also lose the chance to play in the AFC Cup Qualifier in 2023.
The fate of hockey and table tennis may play out in a similar fashion. The membership affiliation terms of the International Hockey Federation (FIH), under provision 6.1(d), clearly state that a member shall remain affiliated only if it is the sole authority for the governance of hockey in the jurisdiction (in this case, India). Therefore, if the Indian Hockey Federation manages to get de-recognised, the sport and the teams will have to pay a heavy penalty. Even though FIH continues to have full trust in Hockey India’, it emphasises that the member countries must abide by the law of the land. IFH’s stand on the issue is very lenient and accommodating compared to the other international sports federations.
However, the fate of the table tennis players may not be so convenient. The International Table Tennis Federation and World Table Tennis reserve the right to accept or reject an entry for international participation if it is not sent through the affiliate members. Further, per provision 1.2 of its rules, a body must be the sole authority to regulate the sport within its jurisdiction to be eligible for membership in the federation. Currently, the Table Tennis Federation of India is suspended, and its operations are delegated to the CoA, who were made responsible for sending entries. The officials hope the international federation will keep the players’ interest at the forefront. Otherwise, the players will continue to remain the victimsof the incompetence of the governing bodies.
Further, in an embarrassing development for the sport, Diya Chitale (World Number 3) has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court seeking a stay on the Commonwealth Games 2022 Table Tennis selections, citing inconsistencies in the selection process, bringing the Indian table tennis regulatory body (at present, CoAs) into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Following the orders of the Delhi High Court, the Ministry of Sports revealed that out of the fifty-nine recognised NSFs (National Sports Federations), forty-four submitted amended constitutions intending to comply with the Sports Code, out of which only six constitutions were found to be satisfactorily in line with the 2011 Code. Hence, CoAs are instituted to allow these federations to get their ducks in a row without jeopardising their everyday functioning for the welfare of the respective players. In the absence of a strong legislative and political will to straighten things out within the NSFs, judicial intervention appears to be the only viable option. There is also an urgent need to outline guidelines that not only enumerate what the CoAs must do but also keep a check on what they are doing to ensure they don’t intensify the problems they were appointed to solve. This will not only expedite the process of streamlining the NSFs but also protect the players from the consequences of such administrative incompetence.
In the absence of a strong legislative and political will to straighten the affairs within the NSFs, judicial intervention seems the only logical strategy. There is also an urgent need to outline guidelines that not only enumerate what the CoAs must do but also keep in check of what they are doing to ensure they don’t intensify the problems they were appointed to solve.