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Analysis of the Sports Arbitration Centre of India

Introduction

The contemporary era of rapid globalization has witnessed a significant increase in the introduction of exotic sports in India. However, this influx of sports has brought with it a set of challenges that are legally complex in nature. Even sports that are prevalent in India have become highly intricate, calling for early dispute resolution. This is due to a sudden surge in the field of media, sportsman rights, international sports bodies’ regulations, and other related factors. As the popularity of sports continues to grow, so does the occurrence of disputes, which are often highly technical and require a swift and effective solution.

The Indian courts are already overburdened, leaving no viable option for binding dispute resolution in such a scenario. Though arbitration has become increasingly popular in India, resolving sports-related disputes requires a unique blend of sports expertise and legal knowledge, which is not easy to find. In response to this challenge, the government has recently established the Sports Arbitration Centre of India (SACI) to address disputes arising in the sports industry and facilitate a smooth and prompt resolution.

This blog aims to investigate and analyze the impact of the SACI and sports arbitration in India. By examining the role of the SACI in resolving sports-related disputes and the challenges and benefits of sports arbitration, this blog will provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of sports dispute resolution in India. Ultimately, it is hoped that this analysis will help to shed light on the way forward for sports arbitration in India and how it can be leveraged to support the growth and development of the sports industry.

Evolution of Sports Arbitration

There are several institutes to deal with complex law of arbitration which includes sports organization constituted nationally, international sports federations (IF’s), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympic Committees (NOC’s), the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) and Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), and other regionally formed institutions.[1] The major ones which are internationally recognized and reputed are the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) and its sanction-reviewing institution, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) formed by the CAS Statute of 1984 and by under the 1994 reform of the ICAS was born for looking after the management and financing of CAS. The CAS addresses certain major issues such as adequacy of protection for individual athletes during drug testing, breaches of contract between an athlete and sports organization, suspension and eligibility of athletes, nationality of athletes for purpose of competition, and validity of contracts for the sale of sports equipment.[2] CAS is known for its independent and impartial arbitration and can be challenged if any legitimate doubt arises.[3]

When it comes to India, any such dispute can be referred to the courts but it is a very exhausting and time-consuming process. Indian Olympic Association constituted the Indian Court of Arbitration for Sports in 2011 under the chairmanship of HMJ (Retd.) Dr A.R. Lakshmanan along with seven other members. [4] But as per the reports, no progress has been made by the concerned board constituted.[5] Recently, the government has recently inaugurated the Sports Arbitration Centre of India (SACI) in which the Ministry of Law and Justice will provide all the necessary legal backing.[6] Prior to this, India did not have any legal mechanism to tackle sensitive sports-based legal issues. All the issues either had to be routed through the litigation system of the courts or through international arbitration mechanisms which proved to be very costly and the issue of its legal bindingness has always been subject to question. Although India has Arbitration and Conciliation Act introduced in 1996 in which under Section 34[7] of the said act any foreign award can be challenged in the Indian Courts.

Prospect and Role of Sports Arbitration Centre of India (SACI)

As it is already an established fact that arbitration is a time-tested and cost-efficient method, any legal mechanism which can reduce the burden of the courts and can resolve a complex specialized legal issue in a time-bound manner, which is also of a binding nature would be great treat and success for Indian Legal System. SACI can be very influential considering the entry of major sports in the Indian market and their growing popularity. It is still yet to be seen that what kind of alternative dispute resolution mechanism in exact terms, they will apply for resolving the matters. ‘Sports Arbitration’ being a very exotic concept has an evolving branch of alternative dispute resolution which can accommodate creative thoughts and mechanisms to oblige the one-of-a-kind necessities of sports disputes.[8] As per the section 48(1)(e) of the Arbitration Act[9], a foreign award could be set aside in the country in which or under the laws of which the award was made and the same goes with the award by an international arbitral tribunal, that can be set aside by the Indian courts under section 34 of the Act[10]. Thus, there is a need to relook at the provisions of the Arbitration Act, especially in the context of the implementation of foreign awards. Here SACI can play a decisive role where in it can investigate the merits of foreign awards made and make them binding on the parties without going to the Indian courts.

There are certain concrete elements which can be adopted by SACI to make a reliable alternate dispute mechanism:

Arbitration clause – Such clause in sports contracts which is to be dealt by SACI can be a moving factor which can attract investors, shareholders, stakeholders, and sportsmen. It will provide a trust factor to all the related investors of the sport.

Time Bound Manner Resolution – A specific time limit to resolve a dispute explicitly mentioned in the constitution of SACI can prove to be very influential and can reduce major impediments to the proper functioning of the sports.

Confidentiality – SACI must provide liberty to the parties whether they want the arbitration to be confidential or not. It will create a safe space around the parties to the dispute and issues could be solved in an amicable manner without attracting any hue and cry of the media.

Appeal Mechanism inside SACI – An appeal mechanism must be made under the umbrella of SACI so that a minute space for doubt can be eliminated to the satisfaction of the parties.

The suggestions are not exhaustive and many more features can be added to make SACI a reliable alternate dispute mechanism.

Conclusion

Such an organization is a need of an hour for a country like India where global companies and sports organizations are sneaking in for future investments and the introduction of major international sports. This could prove to be very effective because it will boost the confidence of international sports organizations to step their foots in India. In the case of Rajiv Dutta vs. Union of India[11] due to the absence of an arbitration clause, where a dispute can be arbitrated in the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS), the respondent (Boxer) suffered against the banning decision of the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) because there was no further appeal against the decision of AIBA. Such issues do arise in the legal arena and in such a scenario SACI can become a breather for all the concerned parties. The recent tussle between table tennis player Manika Batra and the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI)[12] is a great example that how tedious a process can become when it goes through the traditional court system of India and the time taken by it. When major international popular sport like Formula 1 entered India in 2011, it turned out to be a huge success but later in 2013 they had a tax exemption dispute with the State of Uttar Pradesh[13] and since then we could not witness any Formula 1 race in India, had this dispute been solved by an easy mechanism, it could have brought a lot of fame and investment to India. There are several such examples which compel us to bring a change in legal dispute resolution in sports and therefore, the establishment of SACI can change the course of sports in India.  

Author(s) Name: Saawarni Sharma (Faculty of Law, University of Delhi)

References:

[1] James A. R. Nafziger, ‘Dispute Resolution in the Arena of International Sports Competition’ (2002) 50 The American Journal of Comparative Law, 161–79

[2] Ibid at 1

[3] Code of Sports-related Arbitration of Court of Arbitration for Sports, Rule 33 and 34

[4] ‘IOA Constitutes Indian Court of Arbitration for Sports’ (Times of India, 25 July 2011) <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/others/IOA-constitutes-Indian-Court-of-Arbitration-for-Sports/articleshow/9360502.cms>  accessed 09 April 2023

[5] Ananya Bhardwaj, ‘Sports Disputes and Arbitration’ (2020) 2(1) GIBS Law Journal <https://www.indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:gibsl&volume=2&issue=1&article=008> accessed 09 April 2023

[6] ‘Kiren Rijiju inaugurates country’s first sports arbitration center, says it will have far-reaching impact’ (Times of India, 26 September 2021) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/others/kiren-rijiju-inaugurates-countrys-first-sports-arbitration-centre-says-it-will-have-far-reaching-impact/articleshow/86532956.cms> accessed 10 April 2023

[7] Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1966, s 34

[8] Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1966, s 5

[9] Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1966, s 48(1)(e)

[10] Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1966, s 34

[11] Rajiv Dutta v Union of India (2016) MANU/DE/0072/2016

[12] Susan Ninan, ‘Manika Batra vs. TTFI: Timeline of events after Delhi High Court suspends board’ (ESPN, 11 February 2022) <https://www.espn.in/olympics/tabletennis/story/_/id/33268079/manika-batra-vs-ttfi-line-events-delhi-high-court-suspends-board> accessed 10 April 2023

[13] ‘SC asks UP to hold enquiry of organiser of Formula One race collected entertainment duty’ (Times of India 21 January 2021) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/racing/top-stories/sc-asks-up-to-hold-enquiry-if-organiser-of-formula-one-race-collected-entertainment-duty/articleshow/80389882.cms>  accessed 11 April 2023