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Online Registration System For Championships, Important Posts In Sports Bodies Exclusively For Sports Persons: Madras HC Issues Directions To Prevent 'Favouritism' & 'Nepotism'

Sebin James
20 Jan 2022 4:21 AM GMT
Online Registration System For Championships, Important Posts In Sports Bodies Exclusively For Sports Persons: Madras HC Issues Directions To Prevent Favouritism & Nepotism
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In the absence of eminent sportspersons' involvement in decision making, arbitrariness and extraneous consideration in selection will continue to cause injustice to be meted out to the deserving candidates, the court noted in the order.

Madras High Court has issued directions to streamline the functioning of Sports Organisations/ Associations/ National Sports Federations and its State Units/ National Olympic Association etc., including a mandate for an online registration system at all levels and laying down qualification requirements of functionaries at the helm of such Associations/ Federations. A single-judge bench...

Madras High Court has issued directions to streamline the functioning of Sports Organisations/ Associations/ National Sports Federations and its State Units/ National Olympic Association etc., including a mandate for an online registration system at all levels and laying down qualification requirements of functionaries at the helm of such Associations/ Federations.

A single-judge bench of Justice R. Mahadevan was adjudicating the grievance of a sportswoman who alleged favouritism and nepotism from the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association. The petitioner, S. Nithya, a Discus Throw Champion, accused the State Association of nit-picking the athletes of their choice for Open National Championships in 2017 & 2018, disregarding the petitioner and others who possessed the necessary qualification to participate in the National Level Event. The petitioner also contended that she was not given proper accommodation or allowances during the State Level Meet by the Athletics Association.

The petitioner counsel, S. Anil Sandeep, also argued that many athletes were made to sign on blank papers to make it seem like funds were allotted and spent on such sportspersons, in addition to altering the records to project that training camps were conducted.'While issuing the directions, the court also discussed elaborately the issue of persons not eminent in sports adorning the important posts in such sports organisations/ National Sports Federations.

"Unless the said President, Vice President and other important functionaries of the Federation are also persons of eminence in the particular field of sports, merit and accountability would be seriously compromised. It would be dangerous to imagine a situation, where a person who is completely unknown to the field of sports, is given the decision to appoint a national coach in respect of that particular sport, who in turn would be the decision-making authority to decide which of the sportspersons would qualify for participation in international events. While it is seen that even Joint Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries of NSFs and the IOA (who acts as liaison officer between the Government and the Federation, and who have been given administrative and financial accounting related powers only) are to necessarily possess the qualification…Such a requirement of possession of knowledge of the sport has to be made mandatory for the post of President of the Federation who has been empowered to decide the fate of the sports persons' entire career and the prospects of India in the international sports arena sports, including at the Olympics", the single judge bench noted in the order.

Directions Issued

Issuing directions on all the aspects brought to the court's attention by the petitioner, Madras High Court has asked the competent Sports Authorities/ Federations to formulate an online registration system for all district level, state level and national level athletic championships, competitions, meets and events, similar to the model followed in the Federation Cup Athletics Championships immediately. The court has also clarified that the amounts allotted and spent on each athlete for such events, including allowances, must be published online.

Another important direction pertains to the composition of such Associations. The single-judge bench has instructed that the posts of President, Vice President and Secretary of every sports Association/Organisation/NSFs and its State Units, as well as important functionaries of such organisations, shall be held only by sportspersons. According to the court, it must also be ensured that a minimum of 75% of the members of any such sports organisation shall be composed of eminent sportspersons who will possess voting rights. The court also mentioned that mere financial contribution does not entitle a businessman/ non-sports person to occupy the above-said offices.

For occupying important posts mentioned above, a 'sports person' would mean a person who has participated in sports at least at the State level, with preferable participation at the national level and winning of awards and accolades at the national level, clarified the court.

The selection committee with the exclusive decision-making power for the selection of athletes will consist only of sportspersons in the respective association as well as the sports Federation hereon, underlined the court.

The court has also observed that there is a dire need to effectively implement National Sports Development Code, 2011 & National Sports Policy, 2001. The court requires the State of Tamil Nadu should consider initiating steps for a legal framework that imposes statutory regulation on the functioning of every such sports organisation, including the state unit of the National Sports Federation in respect of every field of sports, till the passing of such a statute by the state legislature.

The High Court has also directed every Sports Association/organisation to list details including its constitutions, members, sportspersons registered with the association. The High Court also wants the organisations to keep a report on its financial status as well as the contributions/funds received by the said association and the number and details of events conducted by the Association, ready to be submitted to the state government on demand. These details must be furnished in the respective Association's Website as well.

The court has also asked the State Government and State Units of NSF of every sport to create grievance cells meant for sportspersons aggrieved by discriminatory treatment by recognised sports Associations/affiliates in participation at a national event and a mechanism for speedy disposal of the complaints so made. The court has also indicated that penal action/ blacklisting measures can be taken by the State Government against the Organisation acting against merit in the selection of candidates.

Another important direction was given to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Sports Authority of India, and Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu in respect of constituting a Panel/ Committee for the development of sports in the State of Tamil Nadu which will have a sitting/ superannuated judge of Madras High Court as the Chairman. The committee envisaged would also have retired IPS and IAS officers connected to Sports and Sports Department in the past, eminent Sports Persons including meritorious women athletes/ sportswomen, eminent advocates etc. The suggestions as to the composition of the Panel were made by the petitioner herself. In light of the above, the court has directed the respondents specified to consider creating such a Panel and to submit a compliance report within three months.

Court's Observations

"…This case is suggestive of the fact that it would not suffice, if the National Sports Federations (NSFs) alone are regulated. Rather what is essential is, every representative body which is in any way responsible for the selection of athletes on the basis of their merit and performance alone, is made accountable for their actions as well as for the financial aid received by them by the state", the court observed at the beginning of its analysis about the issue at hand.

The court noted that the Tamil Nadu Athletics Federation is the sole representative at the State Level that usually selects the athletes which is later considered by the Athletics Federation of India. The court pointed out the repercussions if the aspirations of talented sportspersons are nipped in the bud even by the State Athletics Federation.

"…It is therefore seen that the rot lies not just at the highest echelons of the pyramid of power, but has travelled down to the base of the said structure. This reminds one of the analogy that taking a superfluous view on the matter by only making external changes without looking into the problems, which are the real reasons for such ignorance of merit, and the issues of favouritism and nepotism, in the system of selection of athletes, would be like using the skills of dermatology to cure the deep-rooted cells of cancer", the court added.

The court noted that the issue is only 'a tip of the iceberg' and the 'level of unbridled discretion' is evident since the selection of sportspersons are carried out by non-sports persons having no direct stakes in the talent they endorse except the financial stakes involved. In the absence of eminent sports persons' involvement in decision making, arbitrariness and extraneous consideration in selection will continue to cause injustice to be meted out to the deserving candidates.

After acknowledging the list of non-sports persons adorning the posts of Presidents/ important posts in State Athletics Federation and other Sports Associations given in the memo filed by the petitioner, the court relied on Board of Control for Cricket in India v. Cricket Association of Bihar & Ors,  (2015) 3 SCC 251 to establish that sports organisations/ Associations at all levels carry out functions akin to that of a state (recognition of 'public functions' discharged by sports bodies). Therefore, the court held that such associations are amenable to the court's jurisdiction under Article 226.

"In the background of the extensive powers given to the NSFs & IOA in the area of selection of athletes/sportspersons for participation in international events, including the Olympics, it is essential that howsoever autonomous they may be, they must be made accountable to the Government…", the court further added.

On the power to legislate, the court observed that 'Sports' falls under Entry 33 of List II (State List), however, residuary powers and actions within the parameters of Entries 10 and 13 of the Union List allows the Union to legislate on 'sports' at the national level.

Lamenting about the lack of legislation regulating Sports/ Sports Bodies, the court noted as below:

"The Government of India externally regulates these sports bodies, importantly the National Sports Federations and unless the Federations are in need of monetary assistance and incentives, they did not adhere to these guidelines and regulations issued by the Government until after the coming into force of the National Sports Development Code, 2011 which made annual recognition of the National Sports Federations mandatory. Only a few states like Kerala, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and recently Haryana, have come up with legislation that establishes Sports Councils at the Block, District and State level, which have been given the power and authority to register and recognise sports organisations, including State units of the National Sports Federations recognised by the Union Government. These legislations deal with the regulation of sports bodies, associations and federations, establishment of sports councils at the District as well as state-level."

The court also recalled that the validity of the National Sports Development Code, 2011 & National Sports Policy, 2001 was upheld in Indian Olympic Association v. Union of India (2014) by the Delhi High Court.

"…While the Code broadly specifies certain criteria on the basis of which recognition is granted by the Government to the sports federations in the different fields of sports, there is no specific law governing the NSFs. The constitutions of the different sports federations at the national level, which in turn are composed and constituted from amongst the different sports associations and sports clubs in each district and state, remain largely unregulated and are only loosely governed by the general principles of law regulating societies registration", the court opined.

The bench also warned about 'unbridled discretion at the hands of a few' in this backdrop, who are neither eminent sportspersons nor connected to sports.

Currently, NSFs grant recognition to Associations and Clubs based on points acquired by them via conducting and sponsoring events. NSFs themselves, on the other hand, are granted recognition based on the events conducted and other criteria like the number of associations affiliated to them, its members and technical criteria specified by Government.

The court observed that the guidelines pursuant to the notification of National Sports Policy, 2001, have regulated International Olympic Association, National Sports Federations and National Olympic Committee. These guidelines are legally binding if such organisations intend to regulate and control sports in India. Adherence to the guidelines is also mandatory if they want to use the name of 'India' while representing India within or outside India. Compliance with the guidelines also comes into play if they want to avail various benefits and concessions, including financial benefits such as customs duty exemption or income tax exemption that are available to NSFs, including the NOC.

…the Code, 2011 brought in certain new initiatives like restoring the limits on duration of tenure of office bearers of Indian Olympic Association and all recognized NSFs, issued guidelines for good governance in the context of 'basic universal principle of good governance' of Olympic and sports movement, an annual recognition of NSFs, measures to combat fraud in age of players, prevention of sexual harassment of women in sports et cetera, notifying the Indian Olympic Association and the National Sports Federations as public authorities under the Right to Information Act, guidelines for efficient management of coaching camps, selection of coaches, selection of athletes et cetera, representation of Indian nationals only at national teams et cetera…", the court concluded.

However, the court pointed out that the Sports qualification of the President/ Vice President/ Secretary of such organisations have not been mentioned anywhere, either in the guidelines under the Code or in the few state legislations establishing State Sports Councils.

The court also reasoned as to why such a provision would be necessary to uphold the talent in the country:

"The significance of this need lies in the fact that if such a requirement is not satisfied, it would mean that persons of merit may well be left out and commercial activities may go unchecked even if they hamper the interest of the sport concerned. While a lot of discretion and decision-making power has been given to the national coaches concerned in respect of selection of participants/athletes, the President of the NSF plays a pivotal role in the selection of the National Coach as would be apparent from the guidelines envisaged in the Code.", the court noted.

In the order, the court has also harshly criticised the lukewarm approach adopted and the lack of accountability shown by all respondents including the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. While concluding, the court also vouched for the establishment of Statutory State Sports Council for making decisions of selection of sportspersons in competitions at the national level.

"…Functioning under the regulation of such sports councils which are statutory bodies and registration with them on the terms and conditions set out by such councils under a statute, would be an important step in ensuring transparency and accountability in the functioning of these associations", the court observed before issuing directives.

Case Title: S. Nithya v. The Secretary to the Union of India, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports & Ors.

Case No: WP No. 3447 of 2019

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 24

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