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Unsaddling The Unruly Horses- A Peek Into The Antitrust Enforcement Mechanism Against Mammoth Saddling Sportís Bodies

Sports, especially cricket in the Indian subcontinent is a religion, and cricketers are often worshipped and have almost demi god like status in India. The organizations which administer these sports are immensely powerful and enjoy huge earning's through advertisement revenue, ticket sale and merchandise sale.

The old adage-power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely rings true in the context of these sports bodies, and it often been observed, even in foreign jurisdictions that sports administrative bodies behave in a monopolistic manner, and in a manner which affects free competition in the market and affects the level playing turf.

This Article will endeavour to explain through the analysis of 3 case-Laws what kind of conduct will attract censure under The Competition Act, 2002 and what kind of conduct will be deemed not to attract censure under The Competition Act, 2002.

Hemanta Sharma Vs All India Chess Federation:

The Informants in the present case are chess players of the National level. They have alleged that the All India Chest Federation is engaging in conduct which is prejudicial to the Competition Act, 2002. They have alleged that they were made to sign a declaration that they will not participate in any tournament not organized by AICF.

Informants have also alleged that a condition was put on them that if they participate in any tournament not authorized by AICF they will face a ban of more than one year. Informants have also alleged that chess players all over the world are given ELO rankings, which is an international benchmark for all chess players. It is contended by them that AICF has arbitrarily withdrawn their rankings after that they participated in the chess tournament organized by the Chess Federation of India. It was also contended that AICF was picking players not based on merit and not as per Long Term Development Plan rather it was charging fees.

The first contention that arose before the AICF was whether AICF was an enterprise within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act? It was concluded by the Director General that AICF was an enterprise within the meaning of Section 2(h). AICF has opposed it by saying that they only regulate the game, and act without any profit motive.

The Commission noted that AICF has earned significant amounts of revenue through the charging of entry fees, sale of media rights and money earned through sponsorship. The Commission noted that absence of profit motive will not allow the AICF to not fall within the definition of enterprise and it is thus held that it is an enterprise within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act.

The next issue that arose for consideration before the Commission was What is the Relevant market in the present case?- It was concluded by the Commission that the relevant market was as follows-market for organization of chess tournaments in India?

The next question that arose before the Commission was whether AICF enjoys dominant position in the above defined relevant market?-It was noted by the Commission that AICF is the only national level chess federation which regulates the sport of chess in India, as it the only chess body in India recognized by FIDE. AICF has the power to control professional chess players in India. It is based on these factors that AICF enjoys a position of dominance in India in the relevant market.

The next question that arose for consideration was whether AICF had abused its dominant position?-It was noted by the Commission that when chess players register with the AICF they are made to sign a declaration saying that they will not participate in any tournament which is not sanctioned by the AICF. The restriction is absolutist is nature, and ELO rankings of players were arbitrarily removed who had participated in such unauthorized tournaments.

It has also been noticed that AICF wrote letters to the Bangkok chess club to discourage their participation. It was concluded by the Competition Commission of India that due to the impugned restrictions, chess players cannot participate in any other tournaments. AICF has also not put forth any document to show in what manner it decides what is an unauthorized tournament.

It was concluded by the Commission that such a blanket restriction by the AICF is in the nature of creating barriers for organization of other chess tournaments and amounts to denial of market access. AICF has also not been able to show how such a blanket restriction will preserve the integrity of the sport. Commission has also concluded that practise of AICF allowing entries under special fees category and not as per the methodology of the Ministry of Sports is a violation of Section 4(2)(a)(1) of The Competition Act, 2002. Cease and desist orders were issued.

Surinder Singh Barni Vs Board Of Cricket Control In India[2]

In this case the Informants challenged Rule 28(1) of BCCI rules as violating Section 4(2)(c) of The Competition Act, 2002, resulting in denial of market access. As per the said rule no player or umpire registered with the BCCI could play in any other domestic cricket league† other than the Indian Premier League, as per the informants it forecloses the market for organization of any other rival professional cricket domestic league.

BCCI first contended that it is not a enterprise within the meaning of Section 2 (h) of The Competition Act, 2002 as it does not work for profit. Commission concluded that the BCCI was an enterprise under the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act because the defining criteria is economic activity irrespective of the fact whether it is carried out for a profit motive or not. BCCI argued before the Commission that IPL can be substituted with other popular television serials which run regularly on television.

It was concluded by the Commission that cricket enjoyed vast popularity in India and it cannot be replaced by and any other programme or sports on television. Thus the Commission said that the relevant market is market for professional domestic cricket league in India.

Commission has concluded that due to the unique position of BCCI due to the pyramid structure of sports governance, and BCCI being the sole authorized regulator of cricket in India as authorized by the ICC and the widespread popularity of cricket and the large amount of money earned through endorsements, it is unequivocally concluded that BCCI is dominant within the meaning of Section 4 of The Competition Act, 2002.

The Commission said that Rule 28 of the BCCI rules which prohibit any player or umpire associated with the BCCI to participate in any tournament not sanctioned by the BCCI is a practise which amounts to denial of market access in terms of Section 4(2)(c) of The Competition Act, 2002 as it forecloses other bodies from organizing cricket tournaments.

Dhinraj Pillai Vs Hockey India:

It was alleged by the Informant in this case that Hockey India(Apex Body for regulation of hockey in India) that players who had participated in tournaments of rival hockey leagues were disqualified from Hockey India. It was also contended by the Informant's that Hockey India was not granting permission for organization of professional sports bodies. The Commission dismissed these allegations as it accepted Hockey India submission that the players were dropped because they did not participate in a compulsory national training camp. It was also concluded by the Commission that Hockey India was not the sanctioning authority for the tournament which was sought to be organized.

Conclusion:
The above mentioned Case Laws help us understand the judicial intricacies which the Commission and the Courts have to deal with when they are dealing with aspects of anti- trust Law. Sports Bodies have to a large extent become like mighty corporations and it is the need of the hour to regulate their activities in order to nurture a level playing field to ensure that sports men and women get equal opportunity and viewers of these sports enjoy the spectacle to the fullest extent possible.

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