With the onset of 21st century, India has emerged as a prominent participant of multiple sports at the national and international level, witnessing significant growth in sports. The sports industry in India has expanded itself from the erstwhile limits of cricket, to other up-and-rising sports such Javelin Throw, Kabaddi, etc.
Through sports, the nation often unites to stands in support of an Indian sportsperson, irrespective of the sport. For the past several years, sports has received unprecedented love and support. The rise of sports in India has also led to the development of other domains associated with sports, such as sports medicine, legal regulations, media and telecommunication, and so on.
Notably, the most crucial domain to be taken into consideration within the sports industry is the holistic compliance and adherence with all applicable laws and regulations. Additionally, the industry is also prone to major challenges arising during the short span of a sportsperson’s careers, where they receive huge sums of compensation but are also subject to significant underlying risks, which can trap them in the web of litigation.
Sports disputes may range from purely commercial contractual disputes, to regulatory non-compliances or quasi-criminal issues. In such a scenario, it is beneficial for all concerned parties to resolve disputes associated with sports through an efficient and speedy dispute resolution mechanism. However, sports laws and the dispute resolution mechanism for sports dispute in India are at a nascent stage.
From a global perspective, countries often rely upon Arbitration as the successful mode of sports dispute resolution. Various sports institutions provide for the resolution of disputes through some form of Alternate Dispute Resolution (“ADR”). This Blog intends to throw light upon the dispute resolution mechanism in sports, analyzing its need, development, global perspective and the way forward.
NEED FOR DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN SPORTS
The sports industry often finds itself embroiled in unwanted disputes. Once any sportsperson gets involved in any sort of dispute or controversy, irrespective of his/her innocence he/she would have to bear the cost of it affecting his/her primal years of career.
Therefore, it becomes essential that such disputes are solved as speedily and efficiently as possible. As discussed above, sports disputes are usually either commercial, contractual, or regulatory which may at times be quasi-criminal. However, irrespective of the nature of the dispute, its career impact can be quite detrimental and therefore timely resolution becomes essential.
At present, sports disputes in India are generally resolved either through the National Sports Federations (“NSF”), or through litigation in courts. However, if the matter goes into litigation, it is likely to take a substantial amount of time to reach a conclusion irrespective of its gravity. In such a situation, use of ADR mechanism may be beneficial to the sportsperson.
With the increased reliance on ADR for resolution of disputes in almost every domain, the same can also be applied to the sports industry to resolve disputes in a faster manner. ADR allows timely hearing, privacy of the proceedings, reduced costs as compared to litigation along with a positive success rate.
ADR FOR SPORTS DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN INDIA
The Indian Government is currently taking steps for the inculcation and development of ADR as the preferred mode of sports dispute resolution. Recently, the Central Government established the Sports Arbitration Centre of India (“SACI”) on 26.09.2021 to provide an adequate ADR system for speedy dispute resolution and to address other issues and concerns of the sports sector in a transparent and accountable manner.
The foremost objective of SACI is to provide ample access to justice for sportspersons in India, taking into account the time factor. The SACI intends to provide successful dispute resolution within the shortest time span possible. Another notable aspect of SACI is that all such disputes would be referred to specialized Arbitrators having knowledge and experience in the field of sports, and the concerned national and international sports law regulations.
The NSF has also established internal dispute resolution procedures for the settlement of sports disputes. However, the NSF’s ADR body has not been able to successfully resolve such disputes due to the lack of inherent powers and measures to prevent biasness in decisions.
In 2011, the Indian Court of Arbitration for Sports was established by the Indian Olympic Association for the resolution of sports disputes based on the draft Sports Tribunal of India Act, 2010. The Indian Court of Arbitration for Sports was headed by retired Judge of the Supreme Court Dr. A.R. Lakshmanan. However, the Indian Court of Arbitration for Sports has been unable to establish itself as a preferred dispute resolution body within the sports industry.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (“the Ministry”) in 2011 introduced and implemented the National Sports Development Code, 2011 (“the Code”), which remains in force till date. The Code requires the NSF to conduct in a manner compliant with the Olympic Charter, and to issue express provisions for internal sports dispute resolution. However, the same has not yet been complied by most NSFs.
In 2016, the Ministry issued the Guidelines on Safeguarding the Interests of Sportspersons and Provision of Effective Grievance Redressal System in the Constitution of National Sports Federations (“Guidelines”). The Guidelines emphasize on arbitration of sports disputes in a manner similar to that of the International Court of Arbitration for Sports (“ICAS”), and aimed to establish a fair and transparent grievance redressal system.
The ADR mechanism in India is supported by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“A&C Act”) wherein a matter is allowed to be settled outside the courts through an alternate mechanism of Arbitration or Mediation. The judiciary, in accordance with the A&C Act, has restricted its intervention once such disputes go into ADR and has encouraged ADR by issuing directions in this regard from time to time.
The Delhi High Court in the case of Sushil Kumar v. Union of India, [2016 SCC Online 3660] declined to interfere with the decision of the NFS as the NFS was an autonomous institution acting within its jurisdiction.
In the case of Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India, [2016 SCC Online Del 265], the High Court of Delhi emphasized on the need for Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) Arbitration clauses in the contract signed with sportspersons. The Delhi High Court directed the NSF and the Government to incorporate such clauses and to also include a provision to appeal to the CAS.
Across the world, various countries have successfully adopted ADR for the resolution of sports disputes. The prominent international body for the resolution of sports disputes is the CAS. It was established in 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland and focuses on resolving sports disputes through ADR.
A sports dispute may be referred to the CAS only in the present of an agreement between the parties to refer the dispute to CAS. However, the Olympic Charter provides for all disputes associated with the Olympic Games to be referred to CAS. The CAS has been successful in the speedy resolution of disputes and their enforcement.
In the United States, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (“USADA”) is the primary body to resolve sports disputes and is involved in the training of Arbitrators to be appointed in CAS. In the United Kingdom, even though no formal legislation exists on the issue, different models of ADR are available for resolution of sports disputes in accordance with the common law system.
Specific sports disputes are also referred to the Sport Resolutions in United Kingdom, which is an independent, not-for-profit dispute resolution service for sports through arbitration, mediation and other ADR mechanisms.
In Australia, the National Sports Tribunal Act, 2019 was enacted recently which provides for the resolution of sports-related disputes. In Canada, the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada has been established which functions on similar lines as CAS and adjudicates upon domestic cases.
The International Cricket Council (“ICC”) also provides for ADR mechanism of Arbitration, facilitated by its Dispute Resolution Committee (“DRC”). The DRC appoints a Dispute Panel to hear and resolve disputes between members as an Arbitral Tribunal, constituting Arbitration proceedings. The Dispute Panel consists of neutral Arbitrators not affiliated to ICC, and the award of the Dispute Panel is final and binding.
Similarly, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) also provides for settlement of disputes through ADR. The FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber is a quasi-Arbitral tribunal, resolving conflicts arising in the footballing world. Their jurisdiction is restricted to disputes between a club or an association, or conflicts related to the transfer of a player to another club/association.
As India witnesses rapid growth in the sports and allied industries, India is taken slow yet steady steps for the resolution of sports disputes through ADR in consonance with the global developments.
Although India is on the correct path of implementation of ADR for sports dispute resolution, certain lacunae need to be addressed by the lawmakers. Express provisions for the settlement of sports disputes through ADR and enforceability of the awards coupled with a strong commitment toward their implementation are the need of the hour.
Taking into consideration the recent legal and regulatory challenges concerning the sports industry, the legislature is expected to address the concerns surrounding sports disputes and provide some direction for the development of ADR in sports disputes.
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