A Thought Leader – Football is Life


Does India need an independent sports regulatory body?

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has become the latest sports organization in India, which is hit by a governance issue because its constitution is not in full compliance with the Govt Sports Development Code. The question is whether this governance issue could have avoided the court battle if there was a sports regulatory authority dealing with sports governance in India.   

The matter of sports governance landing at the doors of civil courts isn’t a new phenomenon in Indian sports and this phenomenon will keep occurring as long as we don’t devise a framework of good governance through a regulatory approach. Even though BCCI initiated governance reforms only after court intervention, Lodha committee reform measures are still not away from the court scrutiny and inventions. Sports Federations cannot afford to go into a deep freezer because of governance-related issues, even for a day as it impacts the sport in many ways. The need of the hour is a sports regulatory system in India, which can resolve things proactively without putting the sport in limbo.

IOC on Good Governance in Sport

The IOC’s Agenda 2020 initiative in 2014 included a Working Group on Good Governance and Autonomy. Among the 40 recommendations adopted in December, five addressed governance and ethics.

“All organizations belonging to the Olympic Movement to accept and comply with the Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic and Sports Movement (“PGG”).”

Globally a number of principles of good governance have been produced, such as the IOC’s Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic and Sports Movement (2008), the EU’s Principles of Good Governance in Sport (2013), and the Universal Standards of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance.
In 2013, the European Union’s Expert Group on Good Governance produced its own version of the Principles of good governance in sports, which included this definition:

“The framework and culture within which a sports body sets policy, delivers its strategic objectives, engages with stakeholders, monitors performance, evaluates and manages risk and reports to its constituents on its activities and progress including the delivery of effective, sustainable and proportionate sports policy and regulation.”

Good governance principles should consist of the following areas:

  1. Organizational transparency
  2. Reporting transparency including financial management
  3. Stakeholders’ representation
  4. Democratic process
  5. Control mechanisms
  6. Sport integrity
  7. Solidarity

National Sports Development Code

It was a bold move by the government to implement the National Sports Development Code to promote good governance in sports. Initially, several NSFs were reluctant to follow the government’s 2011 National Sports Development Code guidelines for good governance. Eventually, almost all the NSFs started following the sports code, although there are gaps that still remain to be plugged. Most importantly, if the implementation role of the sports code is assigned to an independent authority as described here then we can expect full compliance. 

The government is making the best move to develop sports in India through multi-level interventions and there is a big change in the way sport is promoted in India. Sport is getting the government’s attention and to make the best use of this encouraging situation for sport in India, improving the governance of sports bodies must be one of the priority areas.

Enacting a Sports Law

As India just celebrated “Good Governance Week” and December 25 is earmarked as “Good Governance Day”, setting the ball rolling for an independent regulator, an authority consisting of a minimum of three members like the Election Commission of India, or the Telecom Regulator will augur well for the future of sports in India.

The government must consider enacting a sports law that would also cover the role of the regulatory authority. If sports law is not possible then through a policy tweak, a sports regulatory unit should be established within the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports involving highly acclaimed retired judges and retired generals from armed forces.

With the Indian sports industry expanding by the day, there are multiple stakeholders looking to nurture Indian athletes. Thus, the Indian sporting structure would require a much faster, more affordable, and appropriate governance redressal mechanism.  

Take for example the Pro Volleyball League that was launched in 2019. It was an excellent initiative, but the second season was in jeopardy due to a legal battle between the Volleyball Federation of India and the organizers of the Pro Volleyball League. Though the league is all set to resume in 2022 without the involvement of the NSF the whole episode surrounding the battle with the NSF presented a poor governance practice and these kinds of experiences certainly hit the investor sentiments and inflow of funds.

For sustainable growth of Indian sport, more and more investment from the private sector is a must. Good governance practices in sports must be a priority area for the all-around good of the sport and with good governance, we can expect a massive influx of funds from the private sector into Indian sports.

Engaging civil court

Civil courts will continue to play a role in resolving governance crises in sports in India. However, for sports sector, especially the governance part of sports should be better addressed outside the civil court by having a sports regulatory body or provision of sports arbitration or having a special sports governance dispute resolution chamber.

Faster resolution of the governance crisis, inexpensive, priority hearing, expert decisions, etc. can be expected from each of the governance crises in sports if there is a sports regulatory mechanism in place. In civil court, the sports sector cannot be a priority area as it already has tons of important cases from other sectors that demand faster redressal and resolutions. For sports federations, encroaching on the valuable time of the honorable courts is also not recommended.

The impact

Good governance will enable the sport to achieve its true potential, to benefit individuals and society. A sports regulatory body, if constituted, will ensure that cases are resolved as early as possible, which will benefit both the parties involved in a dispute. It will certainly save time and energy on both sides. More importantly, it will avoid wasting money that can instead be used for the development of sports. Court battles are increasingly draining the resources of the NSFs and when there are scarce resources, then crores going as legal fees must worry the sports fraternity because these monies should ideally be spent on players for their development.

For example, on the field of play, there is an instant decision by the match referee or officials. These days during matches there is also a third empire, video referrals, etc. to grant the most appropriate decisions.

When it comes to governance, most Federations are more reactive rather than proactive, seemingly only making improvements in response to a scandal or a crisis. Having a proactive approach would stop such crises from occurring in the first place. It is here where a sports regulator mechanism would help. With the threat of punishments, Federations would be more motivated to constantly reform, instead of only doing so once their leadership has been embroiled in a corruption scandal or hit with some other crisis.

In an ideal world, governance reforms should be an ongoing process, initiated within the organization or as stipulated by an independent regulator. But in the governance of the sport, proactive steps in the governance reforms are hardly coming from within, and thus, an oversight body or unit should be formed to impact timely reform.

Global Best Practices

Some individual sports organizations have embarked on governance reform processes, usually after encountering a crisis. FIFA, cycling (UCI), and athletics (IAAF) are among the sports bodies that have made significant changes to their constitutions in recent times, introducing term limits and involving more independent people in aspects of decision-making. However, the pace of reform and progress across the sports sector is still not satisfactory.

UK Sport and Sport England produced a Code for Sports Governance, which sets out the levels of transparency, accountability, and financial integrity that are required from those organizations that seek public funding (disclosure: the Founder of I Trust Sport worked on this project for UK Sport). In December 2017, UK Sport and Sport England reported that 55 out of 58 national governing bodies had met the requirements of the Code. There are several good examples from Iceland, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Switzerland, etc. which can be adopted by us.

There is no substitute for good governance, the sports sector must set an example of good governance and India can set an example of good governance to the world of sports by taking proactive measures. We are targeting to be top 10 in the Olympics and the route to the big medal tally can be bump-free if we continue to focus on adopting best practices in sports governance.

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