Senior Advocate Aruneshwar Gupta on Sports Law, the BCCI & more

Senior Advocate Aruneshwar Gupta
Senior Advocate Aruneshwar Gupta

Senior Advocate Aruneshwar Gupta has been practicing law since 1976 in the Supreme Court of India. He was the chief architect of the Sports Acts enacted by the States of Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and defended them successfully before the respective High Courts and Supreme Court which led to the successful introduction of the Indian Premier League.

In this interview conducted by our Campus Ambassador Avantika Shukla, the senior counsel discusses the challenges of sports law, the Supreme Court's involvement in the BCCI, and a whole lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

You have worked on the drafting of the Sports Act, which lead to the IPL. What have been the biggest challenges faced while drafting these laws?

I have always been enthused and stimulated about sports since childhood. What really thrilled and stirred me was the sportsperson spirit, team co-ordination, potentiality to develop meticulous accuracy and the wow factor.

As Secretary of the SCBA during 1995-96, the First Sports meet was organized at National Sports Stadium, where all the Judges and Bar of Supreme Court joined with great enthusiasm.

What really enthused me was statistics and what really pained me was the miserable performance on India in international competitive sports. In 2000, the then Additional Solicitor General V.R.Reddy and I came out with a soul searching advertisement ‘Bronze for a billion’ when India got just one Bronze medal in 2000 Sydney Olympics.

I always felt that something was fundamentally flawed with the structure of Sports Industry. India with such large youth power, must have some good reason for such dismal performances.

Within weeks of my appointment as Rajasthan’s AAG for the Supreme Court in 2004, I met with the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. While I was briefing her on interstate water disputes between Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab, the issue of meaningful use of youth energy came up. I was waiting for such an opportunity and immediately told her that the same could be achieved by employing it to sports, which was the largest growing industry in the world.

Rajasthan at one time was a leader in basketball and volleyball and it could lead again by enacting its own Sports Act. She not only agreed to the idea, but unreservedly supported it. With my experience on several pioneer projects, I told her that any such progressive legislation will upset so many, both at national and international level, particularly those who are uncomfortable with India’s empowerment and glorification.

The [Rajathan] Sports Ordinance was signed by the Governor on 17th August 2004, the same day Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore got a silver Olympic medal in the Rome Olympics.

Elections to the RCA and the BCCI followed thereafter and the rest is history.

The challenges while drafting the Sports Act was firstly the bureaucratic mind set and secondly the unbending opposition by those who have deep vested interest in the existing status quo. In fact the bureaucratic resistance was also fuelled by those who were in control of the Sports Industry for decades and they never wanted to allow the control to get unbundled. Almost all senior bureaucrats in Rajasthan, asked the same questions.

I told them that I was not disturbing the status quo, I was just contributing my best towards the detoxification of the system. If we put proper agreements in place supported by clear and firm legal structure, money will flow to those who are the creators of it i.e. the players, who are the most exploited lot.

It is simple logic and not rocket science.

You previously mentioned in an interview that there is a need for a National Sports Law, how do you think the legal fraternity can do to enable the Government to come up with that?

There is certainly a need for the National Sports Act. The compilation of several orders or the existing loose structure under National Sports Development Code of India, 2011 is wholly insufficient and incapable of dealing with future of the Sports Industry. Without a National Sports Associations (Registration, Recognition and Regulation) Act, the Sports Industry in India will not expand ever.

This Act must deal with all issues relating to competitive sports in India from schools to international competition and not get obsessed or enamored with the Olympics as is apparent with the existing draft sports Bill.

Sports has to come out of the control of a single Sports Association run by a handful of people. The real issue is the objective way of determining the best, which is totally missing in India, because of vested interest of a few.

I think the legal fraternity alone can make it all possible, particularly because they can see objectively and from all angles. Of course there will be serious resistance by advocates who represent those who have vested interest in the status quo. But everything is possible if the will of a few and the Government is activated. If the civil society and the Government wills, nothing can stop it from happening.

Advocates must help in the working of sports associations, teams, players and organizing of more leagues and sports events. More leagues means more players, more teams, better opportunity for talent to excel and surface at International arena and more money for advocates in advising players, teams, associations and league owners.

Government and Advocates must help leagues to come free from the control of Sports Associations.

Sports Associations may take their pie in the cake, but they must not kill the leagues or the players. That is what is happening today. Every time a coach, player, referee, ground staff and other stake holders wishes to participate in leagues not run by Sports Association, they are threatened to be excluded from the national team. Globally there are multiple leagues for each sport in a single country. We are stuck with one sport, one association, one league.

Strictly speaking, IPL with a revenue 0.980 billion Euros, is not a league in the true sense, as it does not follow the league pyramidal structure. Look at National Football League (NFL) 267 matches 11.394 billioneuro, Major League Baseball (MLB) – 2467 matches, 9.780 billion euro, England Premier League (EPL)– 380 matches 6.020 billion Euros etc.

And look at the team’s valuation, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, and the Golden State Warriors are worth billions!

Considering that senior advocates are uneasy in sharing their knowledge, what according to you are the ways in which this legal knowledge based industry can be expanded?

That is an incorrect presumption. Senior advocates are always ready and willing to share knowledge with their young associates and that is how this profession has continued to evolve all through the ages.

Those who use seniors as stepping stones or play Brutus in due course become prey of their own associates. That is the law of nature, but it all damages the institution. Everyone is entitled to grow and make mark in the profession, but not by kicking the ladder.

Every stake holder in the sports industry needs the help of an advocate in negotiating the deals, drafting of agreements and protecting the interest. Advocates can play a major and expand their base, if they can keep strict watch on conflict of interest. In India a single advocate or a law firm having developed domain knowledge, undertakes every activities on behalf of all. They bring in proxy advocates for the others, who never come to know about the total picture and don’t make meaningful fees.

The way to grow as advocate in the sports industry is to hold on to your own integrity, continuously watch the way the sports industry is growing and developing globally, stay updated with the judgments of courts and tribunals – that is the only way to understand the nature of disputes that are arising, help stake holders to make sports India-centric, and attract money from overseas.

Sports advocates grow only if the sports industry grows in India.

Do you think the Supreme Court should have waded into the control and day-to-day operations of the BCCI? How do you gauge the eventual outcome of the given issue?

Interference of the Supreme Court was primarily because of the facts brought before it about mismanagement of the mega funds which had suddenly started pouring into the BCCI. Such large funds has never been handled by any sports association or those manning them in India.

Also there were issues of match fixing, which deeply hurt sentiments of the common man’s love for cricket. The Supreme Court had no choice, but to take over control of operation of BCCI.

But, the result of this internal fight has led to disastrous consequences. The BCCI and the stakeholders have lost substantial revenue for ever. A US$ 15 billion league is still lingering at about US$ 1.2 billion and team valuation is almost insignificant.

Some historic background to understand the issue. Sharad Panwar became president of the BCCI in 2005, and the IPL was founded by BCCI in 2007. Prior to 2006, the total revenue of BCCI was about 16% of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) revenue. During 2006-2007, there was serious rejigging of revenue sharing agreements between BCCI and ICC, courtesy Lalit Modi, who along with I.C.Bindra understood International Cricket and their economic politics.

After the IPL took off and India established it as fore runner in revenue collection, BCCI peaked ICC revenue to 76%. This was unthinkable and unacceptable by those who held monopoly all these years. After the exit of LK Modi, the revenue model were reworked in 2013 and again in 2017 and again in 2020 and it has come down to back to 26% in 2020. The plans are to slash it by another 10% and BCCI will be back to 16% within a decade.

Those who make the rules of the game are alone able to control deep pockets of money. This is what needs to be learnt by advocates. Help in creation of money and asset management, get out of deep insecurity, end internal infighting, establish co-ordination and understand how Indians are exploited by international federations, association and equipment manufacturers.

Advocates and firms should sit across the table and resolve how to make more money and not to kill the hen laying the golden egg.

How can one get an insight into the Sports Industry and grow as a sports advocate?

One fundamental mantra of every successful advocate is ‘if you wish to help your clients, know the business of the client’. Every advocate who wishes to be a sports advocate must have complete understanding and domain knowledge of the Sports Industry. They need to understand the rights and interests of all the stake holders.

There are 206 countries who will be participating in 33 sports registered participants in Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020 (now 2021) and 7 sports to be played in Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, totalling to 40 sports. Behind all these Sports are International Sports Federation and below them are National Sports Federations, State Sports Associations, District Sports Association. Clubs, Universities, Colleges and Schools apart from military, police and PSUs where professional sports persons are given employment

There are about 8,000 sports and 150 International Sports Federations in the world. Each National Level Sports Association has to be Associated to an International Federation to get recognition by Ministry of Youth and Sports. Each sports survives on sports, equipment, teams and leagues. Leagues survive on brands and viewership.

There is a serious need of understanding the league structure and also how the player’s interest can be meaningfully watched throughout his career.

What is the status of Sports Arbitration in the Indian context? When it comes to Sports Arbitration and bodies like ICAS and CAS, what qualifications should one possess to be a part of such Institutions?

Arbitration is another forum of dispute resolution. Disputes and litigation in all forms must be reduced to minimum in sports for it affects the career of the sports person and that is not acceptable at any cost.

If any dispute arises, it should be resolved at the fastest possible speed and arbitration is the best way of moving forward. The majority of sports litigation in India relates to elections of sports association, player selections, drug abuse, and sexual harassment.

There is great scope of Sports Arbitration, Conciliation and Mediation and must be pursued as much as possible. In the 2005 Rajasthan Sports Act, even the issue relating to elections of Association has to be referred to Arbitration.

The strength of ADR is the integrity, honesty, uprightness, maturity, expertise and domain knowledge of the independent third party. The more matters are referred and decided quickly by the Arbitrator, s/he will gain experience, expertise and make a mark for own self in the field of sports Arbitration.

Reference of disputes to an Arbitrator or becoming member of Arbitration Institutes at national or international level, is all about contacts, relationship, rules of the institute and marketing one’s own self, which grow over the years as one continue to be in the field.

It’s like any other profession.

Is Sports law an area to look out as a career? If yes, how can one develop a career in Sports law from law school?

Sports law is a great career for advocates. Even if there are Sports Law Universities or specialized courses of Sports Law, they will teach students about Sports Law but they cannot help advocates to establish link with players, sports associations and other stakeholders.

That is not the job of the University

The link with the client or access to the client can be made by attending and making presentation in national and international sports law conferences. Writing articles on legal issues relating sports.

By developing meaningful acquaintances, associations, connection and links with stake holders in the sports industry and making your presence felt in the sports industry, by developing own Unique Selling Point (USP)

There are no short cuts in legal profession. Sports has a professional span from the age of 15 to 35 years, an advocate has it from 35 to 75 years. The classic statement by Justice Oliver W. Holmes (Jr.) is “The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.”

As one continue to mature and make a name, s/he develops relationships with the stakeholders and grow in the legal profession.

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