India’s new National Sports Code: problems with implementation and the effect on the autonomy of sport

Published 15 May 2014 | Authored by: Manali Kulkarni

This week’s Indian sports law update summarizes the issues surrounding the Delhi High Court’s decision to pass the National Sports Code.

Though currently suspended, both the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) and the Archery Association of India (AAI) are facing challenges when trying to incorporate the National Sports Code’s “age and tenure restrictions” into their constitutions; the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is also trying to resolve similar conflicts with the National Sports Code because of the International Olympic Committee’s regulations. 


The National Sports Code passed, complications arise for governing bodies

As “directed” by the Delhi High Court, all National Sports Federations (NSFs) and the IOA are now required to “follow the National Sports Code, formally known as the National Sports Development Code of India.

This decision is a response rejecting the IOA’s petition to the Delhi High Court “challenging the implementation of the sports code on sports bodies. In its petition, the IOA argued that by requiring sports bodies to follow the National Sport Code, the government would be infringing on the autonomy of sports bodies, and going beyond its own power.  

By citing entry 97 of the First List of the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution, the Delhi Court rejected the IOA’s petition. Justice Ravinder Bhat and Justice Nazmi Waziri explained that incorporating the Sports Code is “ 'neither arbitrary' nor does it 'violate any freedom under the Constitution'.” 

The Government of India passed the National Sports Development Code of India in 2011, when Ajay Maken was sports minister, to place “restrictions on the age and tenure of office bearers, besides envisaging free and fair elections and transparent functioning of National Sports Federations. Maken has openly voiced his support for the Delhi High Court’s decision by stating, “My stand on the Sports Code has been vindicated with the high court supporting the Code.”

The Sports Code set the “age limit” at 70 years old for all office bearers, with the “tenure regulations” only applying to the president, secretary general/secretary, and treasurer. As for the terms of the president, he/she “may hold office for a maximum period of twelve years (three terms of four years) with or without break,” the secretary general/secretary as well as treasurers can serve for two successive four-year terms, then a minimum four-year “cooling off period” in order to apply “to seek fresh election.” 

Additionally, all NSFs currently utilizing government funding through grants are “declared as public authorities,” placing them “under purview" of the Right to Information Act, 2005(RTI). Under the RTI Act, all public authorities are required to maintain complete transparency in their operations and related information. The RTI Act was established to promote “transparency and accountability” from all those considered “public authorities”. The National Sports Code also requires the “notification and implementation of NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) Anti-Doping Rules, and all regulations for “fair and transparent elections.

As a warning, the Sports Ministry had already informed all NSFs “to amend their constitutions in line with the Sports Code by December 31, 2013 or else face derecognition.

Though the National Sports Code seems like a straight-forward piece of legislation, implementing it is complicated for the IOA, because of International Olympic Committee (IOC) regulations, and for suspended bodies, IABF and AAI, who have implement the “age and tenure restriction” yet. 

The discrepancy that the AAI has pointed to is the difference in a decision it received soon after its suspension from the International Field Archery Association (IFAA), which told the AAI “to follow our own constitution and that's what we have been doing. Our constitution doesn't mention anything about age and tenure,” voiced the AAI treasurer, Virendra Sachdeva. The AAI treasurer further argued that because the AAI has not received any funding from the Sports Ministry since the AAI has been suspended, it does not have to follow the National Sports Code. Without funding from the government, in this scenario the Sports Ministry, the AAI is not considered a “public authority” under the Sports Code and thus it appears that the AAI would not be required to follow the RTI Act guidelines. 

Sachdeva further mentioned that the AAI  “will certainly challenge this verdict in the Supreme Court. The AAI is doing everything the world body has asked it to do. We're the sole authority to send Indian archers to any international meet.” AAI president, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, will proceed with further action after reading the High Court judgment.

The Indian Olympic Association senior vice-president, Virendra Nanavati, faces a similar situation as the AAI with the National Sports Code regarding a difference in the IOC’s international governance regulations. Nanavati explained that the IOA “has already incorporated the tenure guidelines of the Sports Code,” but the issue lies with the age limit clause in the National Sports Code, which does not agree with theInternational Olympic guidelines” on age; according the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Charter Sections 3.3 and 2.7.1, the age limit is set for 70 years old, except for “any IOC member whose election has taken effect before the date of the closing of the 110th Session (11 December 1999) must retire by the end of the calendar year during which he reaches the age of 80, unless he was elected before 1966.

Nanavati will discuss the Delhi High Court decision with the IOA office bearers after reading the HC ruling. 

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About the Author

Manali Kulkarni

Manali Kulkarni

Manali is the COO at LawInSport and executive contributor of the editorial board for LawInSport. She holds an LLM in Sports Law from Nottingham Law School (Nottingham Trent University).

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