The National Sports Ethics Commission Bill, 2016

In the first half of 2016, the National Sports Ethics Commission bill was introduced in Lok Sabha as a private member bill by MP and BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur. It was tabled seeking to bring about legislative reform to help improve and uphold ethical practices and integrity of sports in India.

BACKGROUND

Need for sports ethics commission bill

The integrity of sports in India is in crisis with a series of scandals and corrupt practices.

Rise in unethical practices

Match fixing, event manipulation, illegal betting, age fraud, doping and sexual harassment is reported every now and then and their presence has been increasingly felt not only nationally but also internationally. For instance, in 2015 alone 58 Indian weightlifters were found to be guilty of doping charges. As a matter of fact, Indian athletes regularly rank among the top 3 in the annual doping report released by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA). It is not unusual to find the issue of age fraud in the popular sports like cricket and Badminton among others.

Involvement of huge money

Indian sports environment has seen a rise in activity in the recent years. This fact is evident from the following data:

  • According to the estimates released by the American Appraisal, a Division of Duff & Phelps, the brand value of IPL was US$3.5 billion in 2015.
  • According to BCCI, the 2015 IPL season alone contributed Rs.1,150crore to the GDP of the country.
  • Sports sponsorship in India is steadily increasing and was estimated to be Rs.5,185.4crore in 2015.
  • The broadcast rights of IPL are currently valued at over Rs.900 crore, which is likely to double when the current rights deal expires.
Increase in investment

Of late, private investment in sports has been increasing. Proliferation of new private sports league is steady in every nook and corner of the country. These developments has brought forth the issue of participant-integrity to the forefront of legal discourse, and the need to uphold the public trust in authenticity of results.

Unsuccessful prosecutions

At present, there is no clear law to frame the sportspersons who indulge in unethical practices in a court of law. The sportspersons are currently charged under inappropriate sections of Dishonesty and Cheating under Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as under the Prevention of Corruption Act in the courts. As a matter of fact, the players could dismantle the case against them as these laws are not effective to frame them. It is no wonder that Match-fixing is a victim less crime.

Mohammad Azharuddin, for instance, was served a life ban in December 2000. But he managed to win the case against him in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2012.  Although the Court did not pronounce that he was not guilty but it did declared that the life ban served to him as illegal. It came to this conclusion as the case against him was not properly framed and he was not given a proper hearing.

Similarly, S. Sreesanth was tried under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (the dreaded MCOCA) as there is no clear law under which he could be tried. The accused are tried under MCOCA on the basis that they have conspired with the underworld. As expected, nothing could be proved under MCOCA asSreesanth was not a terrorist.

In this context, the new bill aims atcreating a set of new criminal offences and penalties pertaining to participant-integrity in sports. It seeks to put in place a formal mechanism for adjudication of sports disputes through the establishment of a national commission.

Earlier attempts

Although, the Prevention of Dishonesty in Sports Bill was prepared as early as 2001, nothing substantial could be achieved.

The National Sports Development Code of India, 2011 required national sports federations to satisfy certain conditions in order to receive government funding and recognition. The conditions required the federations to establish mechanisms to comply with anti-sexual harassment laws, administer anti-doping procedures, check age fraud etc. However, the main drawback of this code was that the alleged offences had neither legislative statusnor punishments..

The Draft National Sports Development Bill, 2013 (“National Sports Development Bill 2013”) aimed to improve the governance structures of all national sports federations. It also addressed the issue of sports ethics. It had provisions limiting the age and tenure for office bearers. It also aimed to ensure transparency in the functioning of sports federations. It mandated all of the national sports federations to put in place and enforce a Code of Ethics for their sport. In addition, it also had proposals to establish an ethics commission to enforce the Codes of Ethics. However, the bill could not make any progress and was abandoned later.

Dishonest Practice in Sporting Event (Prevention) Bill, 2013was drafted by Law Ministry after the IPL 2013 spot fixing incident. The Draft Bill proposed to create “sporting fraud” as a special category of offence.

 Lodha Committee was appointed by the Supreme Courtto address the issue of match fixing which is seen as the most prominent integrity issue. The recommendations are expected to alter not only the governance of cricket but also other sports in India

From the above attempts it can be held that in the past, the law that would punish the guilty was largely ignored. The countries like Britain have stringent laws which imprisoned the guilty, whereas India is yet to pass a similar bill. In this context, the National Sports Ethics Commission Bill introduced by Anurag Thakur in the Lok Sabha has assumed importance.

Salient Features

National Sports Ethics Commission

The bill proposes to set up National Sports Ethics Commission consisting of judges and eminent sportspersons to frame guidelines and rules for ensuring ethical practices in sports bodies. The Commission is to be constituted of six members appointed by the Central Government. Out of which at least four members appointed should invariably be the Judges of the Supreme Court or a High Court, and they have to be appointed in consultation with the Chief Justice of India or his nominee.

Ethics committee and codes of ethics for sports federations

The new bill requires each sports federation to constitute an internal Ethics Committee of members having a maximum term of four years andineligible for re-election. Also, each sports federation is mandated to frame a Code of Ethics as per the guidelines established by the National Commission.

Powers of national commission

The National Commission has been empowered further. For instance, it can order the sports federations to reframe Code of Ethics if it is not in consonance with the proposed Act. Also, the civil jurisdiction of the national commission has also been increased. It can now hear and adjudicate civil matters related to sports federations. All the civil cases in which sport federations are party and are pending adjudication before any court other than Supreme and High Court will be transferred to the National Commission.

Other salient features
  • The bill proposes to award stringent punishment to those sportspersons indulging in match fixing. It has recommended a life ban along with 10 years of jail term and a fine of 5 times the bribe amount received by the sportsperson.
  • It has created a new offence of ‘Sports Fraud’. The offence of sexual harassment, match-fixing, doping, age/gender fraud, failure to comply with national commission’s directions will invite penalities and punishments.
  • The bill recommends a jail term of 6 months along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh for those persons indulging in fraud of age or gender.
  • The bill proposes to shift sports from State list to the concurrent list to ensure uniformity throughout the country.
  • National Sports Ethics Commission Bill is a version of two important bills (Draft National Sports Development Bill and the Prevention of Sports Fraud Bill) piloted by Justice MukulMudgal. Justice MukulMudgal studied elaborately the system existing in 22 countries and had proposed to set up an ethics commission and punishment for those who violated. The biggest opposition to his proposals came from the BCCI which wanted to safeguard its opacity and lack of accountability then.
  • The bill has also proclaimed, striving towards elimination of doping practices, match fixing and fair play, fraud of age, gender and sexual harassment of women in sports as one of its objectives.

Drawbacks

Jurisdiction

The bill is not clear whether the jurisdiction is based on a sports event being held in India? Or will it also include sports eventsheld outside of the country? It is widely felt that theacts committed outside the country also needs to be considered.

Unclear definitions

The bill has defined ‘sportsperson’ as ‘a person who participates in sports’. Similarly, the definition of sports federation and references to international federations rather than national and state federations has created confusion and ambiguity in many issues especially in those associated with jurisdiction. An overbroad approach followed in the bill may not stand up to scrutiny, especially with respect to criminal offences. Further clarity is needed to ascertain the applicability of the various terms of the Bill.

Adjudication of offences

The new Bill has come up with a number of new criminal offences, with penalties and punishments including life bans, fines and even incarceration. But the bill did not offer safeguards or powers of a criminal court to the National Commission. So it is unclear who will try some of these offences and what role National Commission will play in adjudicating these offences.

Substance of offences

Many people have questioned whether some of the proposed offences are appropriate for criminalization. The absence of defences is also a matter of concern. In this respect, science, ethics and jurisprudence have to play a role to determine of offences. Also, they need to suggest appropriate defences for each of the listed violations.

Obstacles

The proposals in the bill such as limit on the number of terms, the retirement age of office bearers as 70 and various other provisions are likely to affect the interests of politicians and businessmen alike as it is likely to threaten their power, privileges and prestige.  Most of them have large stakes in sports due to the incentive of funds, visibility and free publicity offered by the sports. Similarly, sports associations are also likely to oppose.

What is the way forward?

The National Sports Ethics Commission bill is a step in a right direction as it proposes to curb unethical practices in sports. Having said that it is essential to clearly demarcate the areas of authority especially where doping or age-fraud is concerned as the bill proposes to punish also the coaches and officials in case of violation. In the first instance, the bill’s jurisdiction can be limited to international, national and state-level events. Then, once a culture of compliance has been created, it can be extended to include more local events such as inter-district, inter-school and inter-collegiate competitions.

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