Sports Law 2021

Last Updated March 31, 2021

India

Law and Practice

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ALMT Legal is a dynamic and progressive full-service Indian law firm that provides high-quality Indian expertise with an international capability. With approximately 70 lawyers and 20 partners across offices in strategic commercial centres such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, ALMT has an established reputation as one of India’s leading firms. Its practice areas encompass all aspects of Indian law, ranging from corporate and commercial to tax, employment, dispute resolution, shipping, aviation and even immigration law.

Doping-related regulations in India are predominantly governed and controlled by National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA). The Anti-Doping Bill, 2018 mandates imprisonment for up to four years and/or fines of up to INR1 million on any sportsperson involved in doping. This particular clause is now been removed after it faced serious objection from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). NADA made certain amendments to the Anti-Doping Bill and tabled it before the ministry and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for clearance. The reason for the amendment is that there are certain substances which may be prohibited for consumption by an athlete which may be legally purchased. The criminality extent of the offence will be invoked only in extreme and exceptional circumstances wherein the intent and the motive are proven beyond doubt.

Prohibited Substances

NADA follows the same list provided by WADA with respect to prohibited substances. This is divided into substances:

  • prohibited at all times;
  • prohibited in-competitions; and
  • prohibited in particular sports.

The Role of NADA

NADA was formed on 24 November 2005 under the provisions of the Societies Registration Act, 1860. The prime motive of the Agency is to ensure a sporting nation free from the clutches of doping. Its primary objective is to ensure that it

  • lays down and puts in place anti-doping rules as per the WADA Code and regulations;
  • regulates doping-control programmes in various sports across the country at various levels;
  • promotes research to create nation-wide awareness about doping and its ill effects;
  • runs drug testing programmes at various levels; and
  • ensures that all sporting organisations comply with the anti-doping code.

Its headquarters are located in Delhi, India.

NADA works and functions in accordance with the Code and regulations of the WADA. India is a signatory to the Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping and the UNESCO International Convention against Doping.

In the recent past, many sportsperson – in the fields of bodybuilding, weightlifting, wrestling, athletics and even cricket – have been alleged to be involved in consuming banned substances for performance enhancement.

Match-Fixing

Match-fixing has haunted the global sports industry for years and is one of the most pressing issues and concerns in the world of sport. Incidents of match-fixing gives rise to mistrust in the mind of audiences and hence the loss of interest and the viewership of the sport. It also creates a massive negative impact. The Indian cricket world was rocked by a wave of match-fixing allegations in the years 1999–2000. It was one of the most disgraceful periods in Indian sporting history. Cricket is the most-loved sport in India and cricketers are worshipped. The news of match-fixing in cricket matches left a black mark in the hearts and mind of millions of sports lovers across India (and the world).

In 2013, the Indian government presented a draft bill for the prevention of sporting fraud; however, this bill never become a statute. The draft bill did cover the definition of sporting fraud, the accused, and the punishment involved for such offences. The punishment as prescribed in the draft bill can extend to five years of imprisonment, a fine of INR1 million or five times the benefit derived from the sporting fraud.

In 2016, the RM Lodha Committee told the Supreme Court of India that the Law Commission of India (LCI) should look sternly into criminalising match-fixing in sport. The LCI later agreed and concurred that match-fixing of any kind in sport should be a criminal offence carrying stringent punishment. India is yet to implement a stringent sports law regime for illegal and unregulated betting and match-fixing. In most cases, such situations are dealt with under certain sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to cheating, fraud and criminal breach of trust. The need to have a regulated sports law dealing with all these aspects is an immediate requirement.

Betting

In India, the legal status of betting is not yet dealt with by the judicial courts. To legalise it, the competent courts must first determine the requirement of whether betting is a game of skill or a game of chance. There are many judgments from various courts across India laying down the principle regarding what may amount to a game of skill and what may amount to game of chance and, accordingly, what may fall under which ambit. The Public Gambling Act, 1867, which is the current prevailing specific statute pertaining to gambling and betting, does not specifically provide for regulation relating to online betting. Each state in India has its own specific rules pertaining to betting. A specific statute to cover online betting is also the need of the hour in India.

A cohesive statute for sports law regulation is very important to curb the unregulated betting sector and prevent match-fixing. Several attempts have been made in the past to find a way to tackle these burning issues. The most prominent of these occurred in 2013, when the draft Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill was introduced into the Parliament with an intention to curb match-fixing, fraud, cheating and other illegal activities around the sporting world. It proposed stringent punishment and fines for such activities.

Betting or gambling is illegal in most of India. But there is no law that makes online betting an illegal activity. It is also difficult to catch internet gambling offenders if the websites are hosted by servers located in countries where betting is legal. See 1.2 Integrity (Betting) for further details.

Fantasy Sports

The most regulated form of betting India is that of fantasy sports, which are determined to be a game of skill. The court has directed all online fantasy sports platforms must ensure that they provide all the correct disclaimers and acknowledgements to all participants as the same may have huge financial implications for each participant.

The information available on such fantasy sports platforms are mainly individual player statistics and are the ones commonly available in public forums. Certain competent courts of India have passed judgment detailing what amounts to game of skill and what is a game of chance. Accordingly, they have allowed fantasy sports operating as games of skill to continue, subject to certain terms and considerations.

Doping

NADA in India has an Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel and also an Anti-Doping Appeal Panel.

Typically, the process works as follows.

  • "A" samples are collected from each player and sent to the lab.
  • If the samples test positive for a banned substance, the name of the athlete is decoded as per the adverse analytical finding of their "A" sample.
  • NADA will commence its internal review on whether the substance used is banned, what sort of substance was consumed and under what circumstances.
  • If the review concludes that there is no positive finding of consumption of a banned substance, the athlete and all other respective bodies and organisations shall be duly informed.
  • If the review reveals the consumption of the banned substance, the athlete shall be provisionally suspended by NADA pending the hearing panel.
  • An athlete has the right to request the analysis of their "B" sample within seven working days of receiving the notice concerning the adverse analytical finding.
  • If the athlete requests "B" sample analysis, NADA contacts the laboratory to schedule a time and date and notifies the athlete of this.
  • If there is no request by the athlete to witness their "B" Sample, NADA informs the laboratory to conduct the analysis in the presence of an independent observer.
  • If the "B" sample analysis by the laboratory proves negative, the entire test will be considered negative and the athlete and all other respective bodies and organisations shall be duly informed.
  • If the "B" sample Analysis confirms the "A" sample adverse analytical finding, a second notice will be served by NADA to the athlete along with a copy to all other respective bodies and organisations asserting the anti-doping rule violation; the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be also notified along with all documents relevant to the assertion, for disciplinary proceedings to be conducted in the positive case as per the WADA-compliant anti-doping rules of NADA.
  • The athlete will be advised to present their case before the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel on the date and time fixed by the panel for hearing.
  • During the hearing process, the athlete is given an opportunity to be represented by counsel and interpreter (at their own expense) to establish a basis for eliminating or reducing the sanctions.
  • The athlete will have the right to appeal against the decision of the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel by lodging a notice of appeal with the Anti-Doping Appeal Panel within 14 days of the decision of the Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel.

Betting

India has yet to implement a stringent sports law regime for illegal and unregulated betting and match-fixing. See 1.2 Integrity (Betting) and 1.3 Betting for further detail.

Sports-related rights in India are mainly restricted to sponsorship rights, broadcasting rights, image rights, merchandising rights, copyrights, trade mark rights, design rights, publicity rights, ticketing rights, hospitality rights, travel rights and data/content rights.

Secondary Ticket Sales

Secondary sale of tickets in India is mainly governed through the official ticketing website for a particular sporting event, though, people do tend to offer and purchase tickets through many secondary websites, when the official ticket domain is sold out. In India, there is no legal restriction against reselling match tickets. There is a restriction on the transfer of certain types of tickets but not all of them are non-transferable

There have been instances of arrests made by police, notably during the 2011 Cricket World Cup in India, wherein, there were many instances of people selling tickets on various platforms for huge sums. The same was construed by the police to be an offence of black marketing, cheating, misrepresentation and fraud.

However, there have been cases where the police have alleged that reselling of a ticket through an online platform amounts to cheating and fraud and the courts have considered otherwise. This is because the person dealing in the ticket clearly informed the buyer which ticket was being sold and the buyer was aware of the actual price of the ticket and that the seller was selling it for a higher price. The same will not amount to cheating, misrepresentation and fraud.

In India, there are certain states who have taken the steps of implementing state-wide statutes regarding the reselling of tickets through unauthorised platforms.

Sponsorship and marketing of brands through sporting events and sporting teams is very prominent in India. The common practice is to be either a sole sponsor or be collectively involved in an event as a joint sponsor, event sponsor, title sponsor, hospitality partner, travel partner, etc.

In most cases, the sponsor for a sporting event will have to approach the respective sporting body governing the sport and/or the event to get access to the sponsorship rights for any event, in the manner applicable.

The key terms will be as follows:

  • duration;
  • details of the event;
  • extension of the sponsorship;
  • commercials;
  • role and responsibilities;
  • scope of services;
  • restrictions;
  • representations and warranties;
  • type of sponsorship;
  • territory;
  • indemnity;
  • limitation of liability;
  • jurisdiction and governing laws; and
  • other standard boiler plate clauses.

Broadcasting rights are awarded to a particular direct-to-home (DTH) channel service provider or to an over-the-top (OTT) platform by the respective sporting body, governing the sport and/or the event. The exploitation of a broadcasting right to derive profits is mainly through advertisements of brands, using the respective time slot and space and also through viewership and subscription models.

Mostly, the sports rights-holder enters into a fixed-term contract (eg, for three, five or seven years/seasons) with the broadcasters on an exclusive basis for a fixed amount, depending on the discussion and negotiations. In India there are currently just two to three big broadcasting houses for sports and most of the broadcasting rights relating to sport revolve around them.

Typically, the accessibility of venues for the purpose of broadcasting is covered under the agreement entered into between the sporting body and the broadcaster. As a part of the fixed exclusive broadcasting arrangement, accessibility to venues is compulsory.

The intellectual property rights over the content/event in the broadcast lie mainly with the sporting bodies in most cases, with a licence given to the broadcaster to telecast the same. This is the typical arrangement; however, the same may differ from sport to sport.

There are proprietary rights attached to any sporting event and the same is owned by the association or the sporting body organising/conducting the event. The broadcasting rights are granted to a broadcaster through a specific exclusive agreement for a certain period; however, the rights attached to the footage and the telecast are mostly with the organiser of the event. The footage is mainly obtained from the broadcaster and archived with the sporting body for future licensing and exploitation.

Sporting events in India are typically organised in a very systematised manner.

  • Fix the dates as per the available schedules.
  • Decide the format and the fixtures.
  • Call for various sponsorships and partner arrangements.
  • Block (book) the venues and infrastructure requirements.
  • Schedule the travel plans.
  • Enter into the broadcasting arrangement.
  • Arrange for all regulatory and local requisite permissions.
  • Ensure adequate security arrangements.
  • Schedule the ticketing arrangements.
  • Appoint event managers, if required.
  • Arrange for press releases and announcements.
  • Conduct the event.

Participation in a sporting event is mainly governed by the eligibility criteria, rankings, schedule, conflicts in participation, and adhering to the applicable rules and regulations of the event.

Any sports organiser hosting and organising an event owes a duty of care towards the sportspersons and their audience. This duty of care may be with respect to security, health hazards, violence, racism, catastrophes, stampedes, vandalism, terrorist attacks and anything that can be dangerous to the sportsperson and/or their audience.

There have been instances in the past wherein cricket matches have been called off as the pitch was considered to be dangerous, match was called off as there was a suspected terrorist attack because the bus of the visiting team was attacked, audiences involved in drunk, abusive and racist behaviour have been fined and removed from the ground in many instances, audiences have started a riotous behaviour and obstructing the game. One classic example is 1996 Cricket ODI World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, wherein the match was called off due to the behaviour of the crowd.

Liability of the Organiser Towards Sportspersons

Generally, under the law of torts, to extend liability to the organiser in the event of an injury to a sportsperson the latter would have to prove the following:

  • the sporting organisation owed a duty of care towards the participant;
  • the organisation breached that reasonable duty of care; and
  • the injury sustained by the participant was a result of that breach of duty.

The competent court may hold the organiser liable if it fails to observe the duty of care it owes towards the players with this being the direct cause of the injury sustained by such player.

Liability of the Organiser Towards the Audience

The duty of venue owners to provide a safe environment to spectators/viewers was laid down by the High Court of Delhi in Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy v Union of India (2003 ACJ 1631), wherein the negligence of the venue owners of a cinema hall resulted in a stampede which caused 69 fatalities. It was held that the venue owners were duty bound, in the interest of society, to provide a safe environment to spectators or viewers. Spectators/viewers who survived the tragedy mentioned that it could have been avoided by the owner of the venue by taking certain necessary precautions.

Duties of the BCCI

The Supreme Court of India in one of its judgments observed that the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) is responsible for mitigating injuries to players and promoting and ensuring the safety of the sport. “The Board which represents a nation with or without a statutory flavour has duties to perform towards the players, coaches, umpires, administrators and other team officials. They have a duty to create safe rules for the sport, if by reason thereof a physical injury to the player is to be avoided and to keep safety aspect under ongoing review.”

The judgment has opened up the requirement of liability being attached to the organisers of sporting events in the case of an injury to a player or a spectator in such events, especially if that injury is attributable to negligence or omission in rule making or organising by the organiser. Generally, the duty of keeping a sporting event free from violence and disorder is on the organiser. The organiser needs to ensure a thorough check and have security in place to curb such incidents.

Sporting bodies in India mostly take the form of a federation or an association formed as a trust or a society under the applicable Indian Trust Act, 1882 or the Societies Registration Act, 1860.

In the year 2017, the government of India formed an expert panel to draft the National Code for Good Governance in Sports 2017 (NCGGS 2017). The Code is yet to come into force as there are disagreements among many members regarding it.

In recent years, there have been many instances where national sports governing bodies were derecognised for not complying with the requirements and the rules laid down by the National Sports Development Code of India, 2011 (NSDC).

The NSDC was notified by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India in 2011.

The NSDC largely governs the functioning of national-level sports governing bodies, officially termed National Sports Federations (NSF). NSFs under the NSDC are fully accountable for the management, direction, promotion, and sponsorship of their federation at all points. Any entity that seeks to attain recognition as an NSF in the future also needs to abide by the rules and regulations laid down by the NSDC. The NSDC also regulates the functioning of the Sports Authority of India (SAI). The NSDC lays down various regulations and eligibility conditions for the recognition of NSFs, and detailed process regarding the same.

An application has to be made to the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports in the form prescribed by the NSDC for recognition detailing all the requirements. Renewal of recognition for NSFs is automatic on a yearly basis provided all necessary documents and compliance is in place as prescribed. Also, it is imperative for a federation pertaining to a new sport to be in existence for three years and show credibility and popularity to attain recognition from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

The conduct of NSF officers is codified under the rules and policies of the NSDC and also of the relevant NSFs and each member need to adhere and abide by these.

Sports in India is funded through a variety of means. Charity, donations, trusts, sponsorships, grants and so on and so forth.

The National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) was established in 1998 under the Charitable Endowments Act, 1890. It was duly notified by the government of India in November 1998. The NSDF helps sportspersons excel by providing them with platforms, funding and proper opportunities to train under coaches of international repute so that they can prepare themselves with the right techniques and knowledge for international competitions and gain proper exposure. The NSDF also provides financial assistance for the development of infrastructure, sporting facilities, academies and activities for the promotion of sports.

The money is distributed in accordance with the level of the sport in question, its popularity, the expense that has to be incurred, the requirement of promotion, the relevant geographical area, the existing infrastructure and (obviously) the requirement for facilities.

COVID-19 has had an impact globally on all businesses and sports is definitely one of them. Promotion has taken a backseat during peak lockdown; however, with sports coming back slowly, we anticipate positive times ahead.

Generally, we see a lot of investment and acquiring of stakes in teams of a particular sporting league, sponsorship deals for a particular sporting events or broadcasting rights deals for particular sporting events. Most of the teams in India's sporting leagues are either owned by one big conglomerate or are jointly owned by a few groups.

One noteworthy sporting deal in the recent past was the sponsorship deal for the Indian cricket team for a period of three years for a considerable amount awarded to by BYJU’s, the Bengaluru-based educational technology and online tutorial firm.

Registration of a trade mark in India is governed under the provisions of the Trade Marks Act, 1999. Typically, a trade mark is registered by filing a form for the trade mark for registration purposes along with all the required documents before the Trade Marks Registry. The product/services that the trade mark may be associated with are typically classified in accordance with the classes provided for under the Trade Marks Act, 1999. The process starts with a prior search of similar trade marks in the particular class and an application for a registration of the trade mark based on the search report, along with the filing of all required documents.

Once applied for, the authority will take its time to advertise it in the journal, seek objections, raise objections, require the filing of various documents, conduct a hearing and issue the registration certificate. The validity of the registration is for a period ten years from the date of the application. Once registered, the applicant can use ® on the right-hand upper corner of the trade mark.

Limitations on Trade Mark Registration

Marks that cannot be registered include:

  • anything that is not distinctive and is generic in nature;
  • anything that is descriptive in nature;
  • anything used on a customary basis;
  • names of places and towns;
  • already registered or pending registered trade marks;
  • anything that is prohibited under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950;
  • anything that is offensive to any religion, caste or creed;
  • anything that me be considered as obscene or immoral;
  • anything that is deceptively similar to another mark; and
  • anything that denotes a shape, colour, quantity.

The main advantage of registration of a trade mark is that you get statutory protection for the trade mark in case of any infringement or passing off by any other party.

The copyright provisions are covered under the Copyrights Act, 1957. Registration of a copyright in India is governed under the Copyrights Act, 1957.

Typically, a copyright for any work or content is registered by filing a form for the copyright for registration purposes along with all the required documents before the Copyrights Office. The process starts with a prior search of registered copyrights available in the database.

Once applied, the authority will take its time to scrutinise the application, advertise it in the journal, seek objections, raise objections, require the filing of various documents, conduct hearings and issue the registration certificate. Once the application is filed, the department will advertise the title of the copyright with the name of the author and the genre of the right attached to the work and shall seek objections within a time frame of one month from any third party.

The validity of the registration of a copyright is for a period of 60 years from the date of the death of the author. Once the registration is granted, the author can use © on the right-hand upper corner.

The common defence available is to sue any party for the infringement of a copyright.

Image Rights

The constituents of celebrity/image rights are still a matter of confusion in the absence of any statutory definition. The laws in India pertaining to image rights are nebulous and not recognised as distinct legal rights. However, various judicial precedents in India have recognised the following traits as personality rights which may be exploited: individuals personality, name of an individual (including official name, stage name or nickname), signature, voice, photograph, physical appearance/likeness of the celebrity, title of the celebrity in a particular role, a specific character portrayed by the celebrity, a performance (including dancing or acting), style of dialogue delivery by the celebrity, merchandising rights, and gestures and mannerisms. In short, from an economic point of view, anything that can be related to a celebrity and used for commercial purpose can be considered as their right, which should be given protection under law.

Trade Marks

However, individuals may apply for protection under the Trade Mark Act for their name, likeness and nicknames, among other things, with the Indian Trade Marks Registry in order to obtain statutory protection against misuse. This is of strategic importance to celebrities who intend to use their image and likeness to identify their own or an authorised line of merchandise.

Passing Off

The action of passing off is relevant in cases where a person’s name, likeness or performance characteristics are misused. An action in passing off may lie for any unauthorised exploitation of a celebrity’s "goodwill" or "fame" by falsely indicating endorsement of products by the athlete. Similarly, the "wrongful appropriation of personality" could amount to passing off as the athlete could be said to have a proprietary right in the exclusive marketing for gain in their personality. 

In the case of ICC Development (International) Ltd. v Arvee Enterprises, wherein the Delhi High Court observed that “the right of publicity has evolved from the right of privacy and can inhere only in an individual or in any indicia of an individual's personality like his name, personality trait, signature, voice, etc. An individual may acquire the right of publicity by virtue of his association with an event, sport, movie, etc. However, that right does not inhere in the event in question, that made the individual famous, nor in the corporation that has brought about the organisation of the event. Any effort to take away the right of publicity from the individuals, to the organiser {non-human entity} of the event would be vocative of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. No persona can be monopolised. The right of Publicity vests in an individual and the alone is entitled to profit from it”.

Various sports bodies and athletes can exploit the IP rights owned by them by virtue of a licensing agreement, whether in an exclusive or a non-exclusive manner with any third party. IP rights, if owned by a party, may not be restricted from being assigned or licensed to any other party, unless that licensing is specifically prohibited or barred by a competent court of law or any regulatory authority, or is of such nature that the same is not licensable or assignable.

Sports related data or statistics are mainly published by sporting publications, websites and news-transmitting mediums. They may not be at all times and in all cases IP-protected information, as the same will be commonly available across various forums. Considering that the same is a freely accessible data, the same can be used by stakeholders and sporting bodies.

However, if a statistic is a protected one or data is specifically published and carried out by a particular forum or a publication based on an algorithm or a formula or some research analysis and studies, the same may require specific permission for the purpose of usage.

Commercial opportunities originating in sports data can be used in many ways. Sports data is central to certain sports business. Broadcasters use player performance data and statistics for attractive packaging of their content and to attract more viewers and consumers. Data related to sportspersons is duly used by fantasy sports to attract consumers, either from information that is readily available or though agreements with leagues and event organisers.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 (PDPB) creates a legal structure to protect the personal data of individuals; however, the same is still being discussed. Over the past decade, athletes, teams and other sports entities have become increasingly reliant on their personal data.

One of the main reasons to preserve and archive the data pertaining to any sportsperson is to ensure that performance can be enhanced by analysing that data. Personal data is also required for the purpose of registration for any event. Data relating to health, timing, exercise regime, workout schedule and fitness tests is important for the development of the sportsperson in every sphere.

National courts play an important role in resolving and settling disputes relating to sports. Historically the courts have been involved in matters pertaining to match fixing, cheating, fraud, misrepresentation, consumer disputes, infringement of intellectual property rights, breach of contract and so on and so forth.

The hierarchy regarding the dispute resolution mechanism is mainly governed under contractual arrangements or the rules and regulations framed by the relevant sporting body and may differ from one to another.

Arbitration in sports is a very common and sought-after approach in India. Mediation is also another form of alternate dispute resolution mechanism available in the field of sports.

Most contractual arrangements in the recent past have provided, in detailed mediation and arbitration clauses, for these to be the primary mediums to settle disputes between parties, failing which, they may be referred to a competent court of jurisdiction.

Sports governing bodies are typically an entity in the form of a society or a trust. The sanctions that they provide are mostly within their ambit, power and rules framed accordingly.

Considering that sanctions are mainly an internal procedure of any sporting body, the remedies available to any party will be before a competent civil or criminal court if they can prove fraud, misuse of funds, bribery or a scam relating to such sanctions.

A sportsperson generally has a yearly or a fixed-term contract with the relevant sporting body, which lays down the terms and conditions, along with the remuneration for the year.

The remuneration is revised on a periodic basis and often the sportspersons are graded as per their seniority and deliverables.

One issue that regularly arises is the conflict of interest around dual employment or contracts of endorsement with other brands/companies. This is something that needs serious attention and to be handled in a professional manner with proper guidelines being implemented for the same.

The sportsperson generally has a yearly or a fixed term-contract with the sporting bodies that lays down the terms and conditions along with the remuneration for the year.

Though, the concept of dual employment may not prevail for many sportspersons, there are sporting bodies who urge players not to be involved with private or public sector companies as employees to avoid any possible conflict that may arise.

Structures and restrictions relating to foreign players are mainly governed by the rules and regulations of the leagues in which they play. For example, as per the current rule, the IPL allows a maximum of four foreign players in the playing eleven. In the Pro Kabbaddi league, the rule is that a minimum of one foreign player shall be a part of the match day playing squad.

India as a jurisdiction is a very travel-friendly and visa-friendly country. The following are all eligible for visas.

  • Foreign nationals are eligible for employment visas if they are coming to India to take up employment as coaches of national /state-level teams or reputed sports clubs.
  • Foreign sportspersons who are given a contract for a specified period by Indian clubs/organisations (this will not include foreign nationals who are engaged in commercial sports events in India on contract (including coaches), for whom the appropriate visa would be B-Sports visa).
  • Foreign nationals who are engaged in commercial sports events in India on contract (including coaches) such as the Indian Premier League or the Indian Soccer League, with remuneration; they may be granted "B-Sports" visas with multiple entry facility for the appropriate period (such a foreign national shall comply with all the statutory obligations including payment of taxes.
  • Participants in international sports events and the officials (including coaches) of the sports teams (other than those who are engaged in commercial sports events in India)), who may be granted ‘X-SP’ (Entry Sports) visas of appropriate duration.
  • Members of the delegations of foreign countries attending meetings of sports bodies such as the International Olympic Association, who will be granted “Conference Visas” of the appropriate sub-category.

The aforesaid grant of visa is subject to fulfilment of all the necessary requirements, documents, procedure and information.

Esports has gained in popularity in recent years due to the popularity of multiplayer online games like PUBG. The market is constantly evolving, and with many big brands ready to enter, the audience base and the revenue are projected to grow strongly.

Given that audiences spend more time on esports and are more highly engaged in the action, brands believe that they have the opportunity to achieve more value out of their association or sponsorship.

Most of the revenue generated in esports is from sponsorship, which is why it is significant that big brands are ready to invest more in esports. India is now paving the way for more esports events and opening its gate to bigger and wider esports tournaments.

Esports is not a seasonal sport like many other sports and hence the business around it is open for the entire year. Many companies and platform are ensuring the sustainability and promotion of esports in India. One of the most important factors for the growth of the esports business in India is connectivity and the telecoms service providers play a huge role in that. The government’s initiative of a digital India will also have a huge impact on the growth of the industry.

It is important that esports are given the status of a sport and not just entertainment and it is imperative that the same be officially recognised as a sport.

COVID-19 and Esports

The COVID-19 pandemic ensured that most sports events were either cancelled or postponed and thus led to a huge growth in esports as these were playable online and with appropriate COVID-19 protocols of social distancing being duly adhered to. Audiences were more engaged and brands found this to be a lucrative market in which to invest. According to industry estimates, COVID-19-related restrictions have triggered an approximate rise of 300–400% in online gaming advertising and sponsorship, which includes many high-end brands.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on sport in India. One of the biggest sporting events of India, the Indian Premier League had to be postponed and was conducted outside India with no spectators in the venues.

Almost all sporting events were either cancelled or postponed effecting the revenue, sponsorship and viewership.

The government is working very closely with sporting bodies to ensure that adequate precautions and measures are taken to curb the rise of the pandemic and to ensure that sports are able to return safely.

Adequate measures involving "bio bubbles", protocols, reduced crowds, quarantine measures and restricted access have put in place to ensure that everyone is protected.

There are no relevant issues in Indian sports law not already covered in this chapter.

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ALMT Legal is a dynamic and progressive full-service Indian law firm that provides high-quality Indian expertise with an international capability. With approximately 70 lawyers and 20 partners across offices in strategic commercial centres such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, ALMT has an established reputation as one of India’s leading firms. Its practice areas encompass all aspects of Indian law, ranging from corporate and commercial to tax, employment, dispute resolution, shipping, aviation and even immigration law.

Sport is perhaps one of the biggest and fastest growing industries in India. The advent of various leagues and the increase in viewership over direct-to-home (DTH) as well as over-the-top (OTT) platforms is a constant. Sport is regarded as one of the largest industries worldwide in terms of both employment and revenue. It is a multibillion-dollar global industry which caters to a humongous demand across the globe. With the enormous growth in the sports business in India, it is imperative that the same be regulated in a proper manner.

The sports predominantly followed in India are cricket, football, tennis, badminton, wrestling, kabbaddi and many other various indoor sports. The viewership and followers of cricket in India is incomparable to any other sport. With the advent of the Indian Premier League in India, the sporting structure in India completely changed and gave way to new business opportunities for various sports. Today in India, we have leagues for football, kabbaddi, badminton, volleyball, wrestling, etc.

The Growth of Sports in India

Over the last few years, we have seen a government push to promote sports, from a very early school level to Olympics/international competition, in consonance with many sporting bodies. Opportunities abound with the introduction of leagues at various levels which give a budding sportsperson a platform to showcase their skills and be noticed, along with decent financial assistance. Leagues and teams are a great investment and branding opportunity for many leading brands and conglomerates.

Various educational institutes have also taken a specific interest in sports and have started complete sports-based schooling models and training institutes. The various promotional programmes provide infrastructure, scholarships, skill sets, training, better coaching, platforms, sponsorship, talent hunting and more.

Artificial Intelligence

A recent trend that we can also see in the world of sports is the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms to enhance performance, understand weaknesses, and improve decision-making. Sports scientists are now recognised as professionals across the globe who specifically deal with the scientific study of a sport and sportspersons, in particular to provide them with advice pertaining to performance enhancement. Various teams invest in having experts as a part of their core team to ensure that the performance level of each sportsperson is to the optimum level.

COVID-19

The COVID 19 pandemic has had an immense effect on the sporting industry across the globe. Many sports came to a standstill and the business of sports suffered a huge setback in terms of finance and viewership. India was no exception: almost all sporting events were either cancelled or postponed, affecting the revenue, sponsorship, and viewership.

One of the biggest sporting events of India, the Indian Premier League had to be postponed and was conducted in the UAE with no spectators in the stands. Only the team owners, management, officials and the organisation committee were present; however, it did garner a huge TV audience. With the IPL being conducted under every practically possible safety protocol and mechanism, the possibility of holding – under strict safety conditions – various sports-related events opened up in India. The government is working very closely with the sporting bodies to ensure that adequate precautions and measures are taken to curb the pandemic while ensuring the return of sport.. Adequate measures of "bio bubbles", protocols, reduced crowds, quarantine measures and restricted access have been put in place to ensure that everyone is safe.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we noticed a huge surge in the business of gaming and esports, which is predicted to grow strongly. It is becoming a very lucrative opportunity for big brands to reach out to audiences. Given that these sports can be played sitting anywhere by accessing internet, they had a natural advantage during lockdown. Various brands believe that they have the opportunity to get more value out of their association with or sponsorship of various e sports. Most of the revenue generated in esports is by sponsorship, which is why big brands are ready to invest more on esports to garner more interest and to reach out to different audiences. India is now paving the way for more esports events and opening its doors to bigger and wider esports tournaments.

One of the most important factors for the growth of the esports business in India is connectivity and the telecoms service providers plays a huge role in that. The government’s initiative of a digital India, and the coming of 5g, will have a huge impact on the growth of the industry.

The Need for Proper Law and Regulation of the Sports Industry

It is imperative that the business of sports is properly regulated and streamlined. This should be done through specific legislation. The sports industry is massive in India and with so many leagues in place and opportunities created for budding sportspersons, it is necessary to ensure that a proper law relating to the same is codified separately, rather than merely relying on the existing laws.

With regular cases of doping and the involvement of teams and players in match-fixing scandals and betting, the need to have a specific codified piece of legislation becomes more urgent with each day. Please refer to the Indian Law & Practice chapter in this guide for further details, specifically 1.1 Anti-doping, 1.2 Integrity and 1.3 Betting.

Sponsorship

Sponsorship and marketing of a brand through a sporting event and sporting teams is very prominent in India and is one of the most easy and lucrative way to advertise due to the reach and viewership of sports. The common practice is to be either a sole sponsor or be collectively involved in an event as joint sponsor, event sponsor, title sponsor, hospitality partner, travel partner, etc.

There have been a number of noteworthy sporting deals in the recent past, one of these was the sponsorship deal for the Indian cricket team for a period of three years for a considerable amount awarded to BYJU’s, the Bengaluru-based educational technology and online tutorial firm. Other notable deals include VIVO and DLF being a part of the IPL in the past, OPPO and SAHARA being associated with the Indian cricket team, VIVO also being a part of the Pro Kabbaddi league, and DREAM 11 being a part of the IPL.

Big brands organise tie-ups with teams and sporting events to reach larger audiences and gain a foothold and sponsorship ensures financial assistance for sporting events to be run at higher levels. Cricket, being the most followed sport in India, attracts the largest sponsorship deals. With each day the sporting industry is reaching new heights and the value of sponsorship attachments to any teams or sports are increasing alongside this. Sponsors ensure that they get prominent footage in every manner possible.

Often, sponsorship of and advertisement during a sporting event, or associated with any sportsperson, leads to ambush marketing by other competing brands. There are many instances of competing brands using these methods.

It is therefore prudent that to ensure a proper legal framework to curb doping, betting, match fixing, ambush marketing, sports-related arbitration, and mediation and dispute resolution. There is a pressing need for a cohesive and specific piece of legislation comprehensively covering sport in India to be put in place.

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Law and Practice

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ALMT Legal is a dynamic and progressive full-service Indian law firm that provides high-quality Indian expertise with an international capability. With approximately 70 lawyers and 20 partners across offices in strategic commercial centres such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, ALMT has an established reputation as one of India’s leading firms. Its practice areas encompass all aspects of Indian law, ranging from corporate and commercial to tax, employment, dispute resolution, shipping, aviation and even immigration law.

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ALMT Legal is a dynamic and progressive full-service Indian law firm that provides high-quality Indian expertise with an international capability. With approximately 70 lawyers and 20 partners across offices in strategic commercial centres such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, ALMT has an established reputation as one of India’s leading firms. Its practice areas encompass all aspects of Indian law, ranging from corporate and commercial to tax, employment, dispute resolution, shipping, aviation and even immigration law.

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