Arbitration in the Realm of Sports in India: An Analysis
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
This article has been authored by Aaditya Bajpai, a 3rd Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons. In Adjudication and Justicing) student at Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur.
The athletic history of India has been nourished by many significant events. Ranging from the “Mohenjo Daro” era to the Mughal Sultanate and then in the Colonial Era as well, the history of Sports in India is vast, and this field is still going strong in all spheres. Like any other field, there also exist numerous triggers in the realm of Sports which can raise issues and disputes amongst players, or against organizations. Traditionally, sports-related conflicts have been resolved via the regular channels of the legal system, i.e., courts, which often results in delay in justice and adjudication.
Despite the prolonged odyssey of sports in India, the jurisprudential development of the same is evidently bleak. Despite sports’ widespread cultural impact, the descriptor “sports law” is often derided as imprecise. The study of sports law, also known as lex sportiva, is on the upswing since it addresses problems that spring up in the performance of sports or in the planning and execution of sporting activities. It intersects with various other areas of law, including competition law, labour law, and constitutional law, among others.
Need for Indulgence of Arbitration in Sports Law
ADR methods offer flexibility, confidentiality, and preciseness in the decision-making. The adjudicators, in disputes related to Sports, have the responsibility of upholding the true text of the law, and arbitration offers the same because it entrusts the responsibility to the decision makers to be careful and not let their discretion lead them astray and cause them to render a decision grounded solely upon their own personal preferences.
As opposed to a judge in a court of law, who presumably does not have the same degree of experience in that sector, a person who has been affiliated with the sport and commands admiration from his colleagues is more qualified for deciding a sport disagreement. In addition, there is no opportunity for a reversal or appeal when a disagreement is settled using ADR approaches. This can be referenced by the ruling of the Delhi High Court in the case of Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India, wherein the court uplifted the fact that the matter at hand could have been better resolved by a court of Arbitration, but since there was no regulation in the National Sports Federation and also that the contract had no arbitration provision entailed in it, the same couldn’t be referred to arbitration as well.
The CAS Paradigm and its Relevance in the Indian Context
The Court of Arbitration for Sport is considered to be the primary authority, indulging in matters pertinent to sporting disputes, on an international scale. It is often referred to as the apex court for sports matters. The essence of the principles of CAS has been placed on a universal platform for different nations to adapt and grow; nevertheless, the same has been under-utilized in India.
The famous case of IAAF v. Athletics Federation of India & Ors. is, however, an essential example wherein the relevance of CAS, as a universal platform for dispute resolution in sports, was realized in India. In this case, four athletes from India were suspended on the grounds of drug violations, by the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel. This case showcased the importance of CAS, as in the appeal before NAADP, the World Anti-Doping Agency had cited several cases adjudicated by the CAS and argued for more severe punishment.
However, the aftermath of the landmark Venture Global Case caused detrimental damage to the embryonic state of Sports arbitration in India. This is because, in this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the arbitral awards adjudicated by international arbitration institutions can be overruled by Indian courts, subject to the particulars of the case. This ratio of the Supreme court sets a nationwide trend that international arbitral awards can be subjected to higher judicial scrutiny in India; hence the principle with which the Arbitration act was passed in India, i.e., to reduce litigation, is itself harmed. In a nutshell, it is possible to argue that the CAS’s prominence is evidently exposed to being compromised in India, and that, therefore, the finality of judgments made by foreign centres is uncertain in the Indian context.
CAS Award Enforcement
The CAS award in India is enforced in a similar way as any other foreign award. Arbitral decisions rendered by the CAS are fundamentally Swiss-seated arbitration awards that are enforceable under the New York Convention. Since Switzerland is also a signatory, India has informed it that it recognizes Switzerland as a reciprocating territory. In India, there have been instances wherein the Supreme Court has held that the awards of the foreign seated arbitration are of importance and that they should be adhered to as per the case.
The Supreme Court had also held in the case of Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano that the insertion of public policy as grounds to challenge the domestic awards could not be utilised against the foreign awards. All of this is the portrayal of how the enforcement of arbitral awards delivered by CAS is to be enforceable in India, with due procedure.
The awards passed by the CAS are not commercial. They are inter-connected with specific bits and pieces of sports, i.e., the disciplinary or administrative aspects of the Sports. The basic difference between the CAS award and any other commercial award is the specific nature of the CAS, which cannot be considered to be arising out of a relationship that is purely commercial in nature.
Nonetheless, the enforcement mechanism of any foreign award in India, be it one from the CAS or be it any other commercial award, is the same. The enforcement of foreign awards in India has been discussed by the Supreme Court recently in the case of Vijay Karia v. Prysmian, wherein the court stressed that it would only intervene with a decision that recognizes and enforces a foreign award in the most extreme cases, such as a flagrant violation of section 48 of the 1986 Act.
Strengthening the Pro-Arbitration Endeavor
The stringent framework established by the Global Venture Case, wherein the Supreme Court had based its reasoning on the ratio given in the case of Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading SA, was definitely a major blow to the future prospects for the development of Sports Arbitration in India. However, this trend was overruled by the Supreme Court itself, in the landmark case of Bharat Aluminum Co. v. Kaiser Aluminum Technical Services Inc. This case sets a precedent for establishing the jurisprudence that it is imperative that Indian courts respect and enforce legitimate international arbitration agreements between parties and refrain from interfering with the international arbitration process.
This wasn’t it; the judicial intervention of the Supreme Court has further stressed the fact that Indian courts should definitely consider and uphold the valid international arbitral awards, in order to establish an arbitration centric regime, with the view of speedy redressal of disputes, in the landmark case of Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano Spa. This judicial intervention by the supreme court has evidently laid down the importance of arbitration in India, and hence, this is a major step in achieving a pro-arbitration endeavour.
Sports Arbitration Centre of India – The Way Ahead
Kiren Rijiju, Union Law Minister, inaugurated India’s first “Sports Arbitration Centre of India” in 2021, which shall entirely be dedicated towards dispute resolution in sports and related events, and will be an independent body to serve as a Fastrack redressal mechanism. This is definitely a major boost with regard to the development of Sports arbitration in India, for the SACI will be very influential, and it shall also have legal backing from the Union Law Ministry.
However, this isn’t the foundational stone in this field, as the same was laid almost a decade ago by the Indian Olympic Committee, when they had laid the establishment of the “Indian Court of Arbitration for Sports”, as an eight-member body for settling disputes related to Sports. However, this step turned out to be a stone left unturned, for it is unclear if the aforementioned body is operational, whether any proceedings have been held, whether specific provisions have been imposed, or whether any judgments have been made by such a board during the past decade. It is widely believed that no significant progress has been made in establishing this board since 2011, when word first circulated that it would be formed.
Hence, the establishment of the SACI also raises serious questions about the credibility and working efficiency of the same. Nevertheless, in a span of 5-6 years, a clearer picture of its performance will be available. Therefore, it can be said that this step will definitely be a turning point in the field of sports arbitration in India.
Creating an atmosphere that is friendly to the growth and improvement of sports requires envisioning the requirements of the sports community in every respect, including the rapid settlement of potential disputes. Even if the sports sector seems to be developing in India, it is still not as regulated as it is in the European Union and other western nations. In the past, the Indian judicial system was hesitant to accept an increase in the use of arbitration. However, the Supreme Court’s attitude towards arbitration has strengthened as of the latest trends in India. The discipline laid down by the CAS can definitely be very helpful, if the same is taken into consideration by the SACI, in furthering the development of Sports arbitration in India.
 Vikrant Pachnanda, Lex Sportiva: The Importance of Arbitration in Sports in India, 1 NSLJ 115, 116 (2012).  Manvi Bhandari, Arbitration in Sports Dispute Resolution in India, 1 IJRESM 482, 482 (2018).  Yash Gupta & Tanya Sinha, Dispute Resolution Mechanism in Sports, 1 GSPR 29, 29 (2020).  Rajiv Dutta v. Union of India & Ors., 2016 SCC OnLine Del 265.  Devyani Jain, Judicial Trend of Intervention in Sports Arbitration and its Future in India, 1 IJAL 36, 37 (2012).  International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) v. Athletics Federation of India (AFI) & Ors., CAS 2012/A/2763.  Venture Global Engineering v. Satyam Computer Services Ltd. and Anr., (2010) 8 SCC 660.  World Sport Group (Mauritius) Ltd. v. MSM Satellite (Singapore) Pte. Ltd., AIR 2014 SC 968.  Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano, (2014) 2 SCC 433.  Vijay Karia v. Prysmian, (2020) SCC OnLine 177.  Bhatia International v. Bulk Trading SA, (2002) 4 SCC 105.  Bharat Aluminum Co. v. Kaiser Aluminum Technical Services Inc., (2012) 9 SCC 649.  Shri Lal Mahal Ltd. v. Progetto Grano Spa, (2014) 2 SCC 433.  Ananya Bhardwaj, Sports’ Disputes and Arbitration Introduction, 2 Sports and Legislature 116, 137 (2018).