How effective is India’s new Sports Integrity Unit in tackling corruption?

Published 04 April 2016 By: Manali Kulkarni

Indian_Rupees_spread_in_hand

In April 2014, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)1 created a Sports Integrity Unit (SIU) under the Special Crime Branch in Delhi.2 The objectives of the SIU include investigating sports fraud,while simultaneously working with legal bodies and sports federations to help develop robust preventive measures to protect against corruptive behavior.3 For example, a month after its creation, Justice Mudgal mentioned that it could provide assistance in the IPL 6 investigations.4 In the long-term, the SIU will also coordinate with the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs (“Sports Ministry”)5 to help develop overarching legislation to address sports fraud in India.6

This article explores how the SIU has performed to date (by looking at the first case it investigated concerning age manipulation in table tennis), how it is able to help affect prosecutions, and how it compares to integrity units in other countries.

 

First investigation: age fraud violations in table tennis

The SIU’s investigatory efforts publicly began with the age fraud violations in Indian table tennis. On January 17, 2015, the SIU was at the forefront of uncovering that multiple table tennis players had committed age violations by submitting incorrect birth dates.7

After investigating the issue, the SIU concluded that there was a likelihood that the players (and their respective parents or guardians) failed to comply with Article 13.38 of the Registration of the Births and Deaths Act 1969 (“1969 Act”),9 which requires a magistrate of the first class or a Presidency magistrate to verify the accuracy of the birth date if registered after more than a year.10

This allowed players to manipulate their birthdates to appear younger than they were, allowing them to compete with younger players and maintain a competitive advantage with their advanced skills. This not only brought them tournament wins, but led to scholarships and tournament prize money (which were likely the key motivating factors).

Three of the four11 table tennis players implicated by the SIU had secured substantial prize money from national and international tournaments and scholarships from the Indian government from 2009 to 2013, which they would have not been eligible for if their true age had been documented.12

 

Can the SIU’s investigations lead to a prosecution?

The SIU is formed under of the Special Crimes Division (Delhi Branch13) of the CBI.14 Accordingly, it falls under the investigative limits of Article 1.2415 of the CBI Constitution, which states that the purpose of the any unit within the Special Crimes Branch is:

…to provide support to the regular Branches/Units especially in the field of collection of intelligence relating to incidents of corruption in the higher echelons of Central Government and Public Sector Undertakings. These Units also provide intelligence related support to investigating Branches in investigation of cases.

What this means in practice is that when the SIU is interacting with Indian states in undertaking an investigation,it does not possess the authority to directly charge any player involved without each State’s permission. This is pursuant to Entry 33 of the Seventh Schedule (Article 246)16 of Constitution of India, which stipulates that State law governs sport in India.17

Accordingly, the extent of the SIU’s actions are limited principally to registering cases (for example, against the parents and athletes in this age fraud case above) with relevant State authorities, i.e. their remit is limited undertaking the investigation and then making recommendations accordingly to the relevant authorities, who will decide if and how to proceed with the case.

For example, in relation to the table tennis case, the SIU notified the authorities in the relevant states, as well as the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI)18 Also, due to the table tennis players possibly failing to comply with the 1969 Act, the SIU also notified the Registrars under the 1969 Act.19 Finally, they wrote to the Sports Ministry advising for further action to be taken, although the specifics of their recommendations are not public.20

However, despite the notifications, theSIU decided not to formally register a case to proceed. Very little information has been publically released to explain this decision, which seems strange in light of the reported weight of the evidence and scale of the problem. The Times of Indiaexplained:

Despite concluding that the parents had allegedly manipulated date of birth of players using fake affidavits, the much-hyped Sports Integrity Unit of CBI has decided to only recommend suitable action against them without giving any substantial reason for not registering cheating cases...

Asked why the agency did not register a criminal case of cheating against the parents despite a central PSU being the victims and limit itself by just the recommendations, CBI said since cheating was by individuals of West Bengal and the case was not of corruption it decided not to register FIRs.21

This could illustrate the potential limitations of the SIU and its ‘investigatory-only’ powers.

 

How does India’s approach to sports integrity compare to the US and the UK?

It is interesting to note that neither the US nor UK has a specific sports integrity unit comparable to India’s SIU.

In the US, at federal level, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the FBI) has taken the lead in investigations for sports related fraud. For example, in Tim Donaghy’s case in 2007,22 the FBI inquired into Donaghy’s corrupt actions involving match fixing and point shaving, which lead to his arrest.23

US Congress has also heard select sports law related cases, for example when deciding how to proceed with the Ray Rice case in 2014.24

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also capable of dealing with sports integrity related matters. In 2015, there were the high profile arrests of FIFA officials in Switzerland that resulted from US Attorney general, Loretta Lynch, announcing 47 corruption charges against nine officials and five marketing executives. In her statement, Lynch highlighted that the indictment “alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States”, and further that these actions by DOJ demonstrate that it “intends to end any such corrupt practices”.25

Besides the FBI, Congress, and DOJ, State governing sports commissions are active in this area and able to decide proportionate sanctions for their relevant sports.

In the UK, there are different types of public/quasi-public organizations with designated responsibilities with the aim to maintain integrity in sport. Kevin Carpenter, in his article ‘Tackling match-fixing: a look at the UK’s new Anti-Corruption Plan’, mentions five regulatory units to address sports corruption in the UK:

As for legislation, much of the current legislation focuses on betting or match fixing, as well as reports on sports betting. In particular, the report written by the Sports Betting Integrity Panel31 further details the process to effectively regulate sports betting.

Another related development was the Anti-Corruption Plan32 from December 2014, established to expose “the breath of the UK’s current anti-corruption activates”, which explains how the government can assist in tackling corruption, and create priorities for “raising international standards” against corruption.33

To highlight a sports specific unit, the Sports Betting Integrity Forum34 was officially launch in November 2014.35 The Forum is composed on participation from various governing bodies, betting companies (such as Betfair), sport and betting trade associations, as well as law enforcement organizations. The National Crime Agency is also involved in the Forum. The Gambling Commission is also a member of the Forum as the regulator.

Stepping outside of sports and local police, it is important to note the presence of Interpol36 and Europol37 as additional actors/stakeholders with an interest in the integrity of sport. Interpol aims at assisting in identifying criminal acts globally, with Europol playing a similar role but only within the EU.

 

Comment

The UK’s and US’s approaches to fighting corruption in sport could offer the SIU and India some insights and strategies to implement moving forward.

The US system demonstrates a collaborative approach by organs of the state towards fighting sports corruption, allowing different levels of the government to interact effectively with each other to strengthen the levels of governance.

India could take note of this, as at present the relationship between the SIU and the states is not as effectively intertwined with the investigation and prosecution processes operating separately. The SIU is limited to providing investigatory support, which the relevant State can choose to act on or not. Although this is a step in the right direction, drawing on the US’s collaborative approach could strengthen the India’s system if the SIU and the states work more closely together to address sports corruption.

In the author’s opinion, UK has a more sophisticated approach to fighting corruption when compared to India’s current methods. Its well-developed anti-corruption legislation binds together a variety of anti-corruption organizations, allowing for the effective and efficient delegation of responsibilities to the relevant unit to maintain sports integrity.

By creating the SIU to investigate corruption in sport, India has shown an effort to follow these methods and, although it may be a little way down the line, consider creating formal legislation for effective and sustainable regulation and allocation of responsibilities.

 

Final Thoughts

The climate of corruption in sport is not unknown to India. With the recent history surrounding the high profile IPL 6 spot fixing case in 2014 and the table tennis age fraud case in 2015, establishing a body such as the SIU is a helpful measure in preventing such corruption from recurring within Indian sport.

It is worth briefly noting that for the 2016 ICC Twenty20 World Cup, the International Cricket Council (ICC) was considering entering an agreement with the CBI to combat match fixing and corruption in cricket. With the SIU in place, it could have been the unit working with the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit for the 2016 T20 World Cup. The Memorandum of Understanding was sent to the sports ministry for approval. Specific details of the agreement and MoU are not yet public nor was it confirmed whether the sports ministry approved the CBI’s involvement in this year’s T20 World Cup.38

As India is still relatively young when it comes to sports law and governance, it is still establishing its own internal systems of legislation and organizations for sports. It seems that, even beyond the aims of the SIU, the burden still lies on the Indian government to give more holistic recognition to sport as being more than just play, and give it the proper attention it deserves as a legitimate profession.

Drawing on the sports anti-corruption strategies and frameworks in the US and UK will help the Indian government to develop its long-term sporting culture. The author hopes that there will be a gradual evolution in thinking that will, ultimately, result in enhanced enforcement powers for units like the SIU, whose efforts in turn, although limited by State laws, will help supplement effective sports governance as the Indian states make clean sport a priority.

 

Related Articles

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).

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.