One significant problem in Indian sports today relates to dispute resolution, and specifically dispute resolution within National Sports Federation (NSFs). The types of dispute referred to in particular, are disputes and grievances arising out of selection procedure of athletes for representation at various national and international forums, disciplinary issues against the athletes, bans imposed due to age fraud, gender inequality, maintenance and submission of medical records, and issues regarding financial support.
The concept of sport being “legally autonomous” dictates that disputes are, so far as possible, resolved “internally”. Ideally this means that the dispute should be resolved within a suitable forum established by the relevant National Sports Federation (NSF). However, in India the NSFs have, by and large failed to establish satisfactory internal mechanisms and forums to address this issue. This problem is further compounded by their additional failure to incorporate an arbitration clause within their regulations entitling athletes final recourse to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). As a result, athletes are often left in an unenviable position (for reasons described below) of having to approach the national Courts should they wish to resolve their grievances.
The general failure of NSFs to provide adequate internal dispute resolution mechanisms was brought to the forefront and received national attention by two recent high-profile cases. The first concerned the female boxer Sarita Devi, which led Rajiv Dutta, a senior advocate, to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)1 (Rajiv Dutta vs. Union of India2). The PIL challenged the decision of International Boxing Association (“AIBA“) which suspended Devi for refusing to accept a bronze medal at the Asian Games. Dutta argued that these federations should take note of the rules and regulations of CAS. The second case concerned former Olympic wrestler, Sushil Kumar3, who filed a writ petition against the arbitrary selection procedure adopted by the Wrestling Federation of India (“WFI”) for India’s representation at the 2016 Olympics, and made Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (“MYAS“) a party to the dispute. Both cases are discussed below.