Cricket needs legislation

While the ongoing IPL fiasco has assumed bizarre proportions, one is bemused to learn that the BCCI, despite claiming to be ‘the single national governing body for all cricket in India’ is, by its own reckoning, a mere private, autonomous entity with no public mandate or governmental control.

This position taken by the BCCI before the supreme court in the case of Zee Telefilms Ltd vs Union of India, and upheld by the court by a 3:2 judgement, intriguingly, was at loggerheads with the stand taken by the Centre before the court that the BCCI has always been subjected to de facto control and recognition by the ministry of youth affairs and sport.

It also contended that the team selected by the BCCI represented the country as the official Indian team, that the permission of the government of India is required, and indeed sought, by the BCCI for visiting foreign teams and that the BCCI performs a public function, being accountable to the government and to the people of India at large.
Rather than intervene in the functioning of the BCCI in a circuitous manner, as has recently been done through income tax raids, enquiries through the Registrar of Companies, etc, the Union government ought to vindicate its stand by enacting a law to deal with the establishment (or recognition, as the case may be) of such a national cricket body and its powers and functions.

This is all the more imperative as any international cricket match played in India brings into its fold various aspects, which collectively, have an uncanny resemblance to governmental activity. These  include (a) the regulation of the right of the viewers to witness the match on television and other media; (b) the right of the public to attend and witness the match in compliance with security protocols and the ICC Anti-Racism Code; (c) the provision of high-level security for the players and spectators; (d) the regulation of ancillary activities such as awarding of television contracts, team franchises, player endorsements, distribution of prize money and public relations.

Apart from the official economy of scale that the BCCI enjoys by way of whopping cricketing revenues, the government also needs to take cognisance of an organised black-market for betting on cricket as well as the menace of match-fixing and money laundering involved in the sport. All of these evils cry out for legislative correction.
There is, however, a constitutional conundrum involved as  ‘sports’ is matter falling under the State List contained in Schedule 7 to the Constitution of India. Hence, the Union of India lacks legislative competence to enact a central law on the subject.

In national interest
In these circumstances, one needs to resort to Article 249 of the Constitution whereby the Rajya Sabha could propose a resolution with a special majority that parliament legislate on the sport of cricket, being a matter of necessity and/or expediency in national interest.

Alternatively, parliament needs to resort to the more complex but oft-used option of amending Schedule 7 to introduce ‘sports’ as an entry in the Concurrent List, as was sought to be done by the 61st Constitutional Amendment Bill, 1988, which is now on the verge of being withdrawn. Indeed, the national sports policy 2001 itself provides for the “inclusion of ‘sports’ in the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India and introduction of appropriate legislation...”

While constitutional hurdles undoubtedly exist, they are not insurmountable. Sadly, when it comes to sport, there is still a perceivably apathetic approach on the part of the government despite the fact that cricket in India has reached proportions where it can no longer be left to the whimsical decision-making of private bodies.
While other prominent cricket-playing countries like England and Australia continue to be governed by non-statutory bodies — English and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia — the preeminent position that India enjoys in world cricket is reason enough for her to take the lead in legislating on the subject.

The more apposite comparison is to football in Brazil, where the sport is a veritable national way of life, just as cricket is in India. Brazil has had a formal sports law in place since 1941 and has more recently codified the ‘Zico Law’ in 1993 and the ‘Pele Law’ in 2001. Indulgent as the names may seem, the laws are far-sighted, dealing with matters ranging from players’ and spectator-insurance, players’ contracts, labour issues, formulation of leagues, et al.

Ultimately, the prevalent ad-hocism in the management of Indian cricket is unacceptable to a jurist and a cricket-fan alike, and the time is ripe for the Union government to rise to the occasion by propounding an original and exhaustive piece of legislation that addresses the issues facing India’s national pastime (though hockey still remains our national sport!).

Such a step would be a giant leap for the development of sports law in India and transparency in the conduct of the game, and would make us a torchbearer for the rest of the cricketing community worldwide.
(The writer is a practising advocate)

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