The Sports Law & Policy Centre | Government ‘Interference’ in Sport
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Government ‘Interference’ in Sport

By Roshan Gopalakrishna

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has included a few provisions in the new draft sports bill which effectively gives the government the power to regulate sports federations and also intervene in their operations if the government feels that they are being mismanaged or misgoverned. This has sparked off protests from various sports bodies such as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and its constituent federations that fear that these new guidelines will challenge their autonomy and give the government unrivalled power to meddle or interfere in the running of such organisations.

It should be kept in mind that, should this legislation materialise, India will certainly not be the first country to have some sort of government control in sports administration. A number of countries such as France, China and Australia have sports laws in place which ensure that there is some level of state control in sports. Countries such as U.K. and the U.S. however, do not have any sports law but restrict the role of the state to regulation in a few aspects of sports.

t is the Indian Government’s stand that the draft Sports Bill is an effort to make the national sports federations (NSF’s) accountable to the public and to curb the rampant nepotism and corruption that is in place in most sports organisations in the country. This Bill has been vehemently opposed by the IOA and the NSF’s which contend that these provisions are contrary to the guidelines laid down in the Olympic Charter and also the general principles of autonomy followed by sports federations all over the world.

Draft National Sports (Development) Bill, 2011

he Draft National Sports (Development) Bill, 2011 (Bill), inter alia, has laid down specific guidelines with regards to regulation of the IOA as regards to age and tenure of members of sports organisations and also the regulation of such organisations. The Bill also gives the Government the power to grant or revoke recognition to National Sports Federations (NSF’s).

The IOA is made responsible for the organisation of the National Games once every two years and to recognise NSFs for each Olympic and non-Olympic sport. Also, the IOA has been obligated to hold fair and transparent elections once every 4 years. Additional obligations placed upon the IOA are to maintain public accountability, resolve disputes through a proper mechanism of dispute resolution within 15 days of a dispute arising and enact bye-laws in compliance with the IOC Charter and directions. The IOA would also be required to seek permission from the central government prior to bidding for any major sporting event and to submit before the Parliament its audited statements, report of activities and measures taken to promote the welfare of athletes, combat doping, expedite the process of dispute resolution, comply with the Right to Information Act, 2005 and prevent gender discrimination and harassment of women in sports.

The Bill places restrictions on age and tenure at the NSFs including the IOA with 70 being the mandatory age of retirement and office-bearers being barred from securing more than two consecutive terms in office. The Draft also places restrictions on concurrent holding of positions by Office Bearers in NSFs. The Bill lays down guidelines for recognition and de-recognition of NSF’s. The Government has the right to revoke recognition of a national sports federation if it fails to register itself with the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. The Government can also revoke such recognition at any other time based on numerous grounds such as mismanagement or neglect of affairs.

As mentioned above, organisations such as the IOA and the IOC have argued that the above provisions contravene the principles laid down in the Olympic Charter which strictly prohibit any interference from Governments in the running of autonomous sports bodies.

The Olympic Charter is the document which governs the Olympic movement as well as the affairs of the International Olympic Committee and it specifically prohibits any interference from the Government in the running of the IOC own affairs as well as National Olympic Committees (NOC). The NOC in the case of India is the IOA.

Chapter 2 Rule 16 (1.5) of the Olympic Charter requires that the running of the IOC itself is free from any sort of Government Interference.

“Members of the IOC will not accept from governments, organisations, or other parties, any mandate or instructions liable to interfere with the freedom of their action and vote.”

The Charter requires in Chapter 4, Rule 26.6 that the NOCs maintain their autonomy and resist governmental interference which are against the principles of the Olympic Charter.

“The NOCs must preserve their autonomy and resist all pressures of any kind, including but not limited to political, legal, religious or economic pressures which may prevent them from complying with the Olympic Charter”

The Charter under Chapter 4 Rule 9 also seeks to restrain governmental interference in the operations of a NOC by providing:-

“Apart from the measures and sanctions provided in the case of infringement of the Olympic Charter, the IOC Executive Board may take any appropriate decisions for the protection of the Olympic Movement in the country of an NOC, including suspension of or withdrawal of recognition from such NOC if the constitution, law or other regulations in force in the country concerned, or any act by any governmental or other body causes the activity of the NOC or the making or expression of its will to be hampered. The IOC Executive Board shall offer such NOC an opportunity to be heard before any such decision is taken.”

The reason for the IOC having such strict guidelines is to ensure the autonomy of its members, so that they remain free of any political interference, nepotism and discrimination. Most recently, the IOC used the powers available to it under the Charter and banned the NOCs of Kuwait and Ghana for what the IOC considered to be political interference. In the case of Ghana, the suspension was put in place after the Government enacted a controversial sports law.

Similar to the IOC, football’s governing body FIFA has made it clear that no government interference with regards to running of national federations would be tolerated. FIFA has the same principles as the Olympic Charter embedded in its statutes. Article 13 Para (1) g of the FIFA Statutes states that national federations are obligated:

“To manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties.

Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the same article read together essentially provide that the federation can face sanctions from FIFA for infringing Para 1(g) even if the infringement is not the fault of the federation. Article 14 gives FIFA the power to suspend any organisation which is in breach of any obligations under the FIFA Statutes. Using the power given under Paragraph 14 FIFA has over the years banned or suspended various football federations such as Nigeria, Brunei, Ghana, etc., because of government interference in the running of their football federations. In fact, since 2004 FIFA has suspended a total of 14 members because of political or Government interference.


While the IOA and FIFA have such rules in place for decades now, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has only recently brought in guidelines that dictate that member boards be free of political or Government interference. The ICC has given member boards a period of two years up to 2013 to come in line with the new regulations or risk sanctions. Members who fail to comply with the new requirements risk immediate suspension from the membership of the ICC. It is apparent that the draft Sports Bill intends to bring the BCCI under some form of government control which could result in it falling foul of the ICC’s new rules and a clash between these two regulatory systems seems impending and inevitable.


An example where some level of government intervention was badly needed in India is the battle for hockey administration in India. The Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), which was the official governing body for hockey in India and was de-recognised and disbanded by the Indian Olympic Association in 2008 after a sting operation by a TV news channel showed the then IHF secretary allegedly accepting a bribe to include a player in the national team. The IOA then set up a temporary body, Hockey India, to govern hockey in the country. Hockey India began to deal directly with the world governing body for the sport, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) which had previously de-recognised the IHF in 2000. However, two years after Hockey India was formed and recognised as the premier body to govern hockey in India, a Delhi High Court Judgement ruled in favour of IHF and stated the IOA could not de-recognise IHF. While case is pending in the Supreme Court, the FIH and IOA have remained adamant that Hockey India is the only recognised federation for hockey in India.

The Sports Ministry finally intervened in 2011 and asked the warring factions to settle their difference before the end of 2011. This has led to a truce between Hockey India and the IHF with elections slated to be held at the end of the year.

It is to avoid scenarios such as the above that the Government seeks to have more powers in running sports bodies in India so that the sport and its athletes do not suffer because of the incompetence of the officials or the bureaucracy involved. The new Bill is perhaps one of the measures it intends to take in order for it to have greater control. However the various national sports federations for their part have remained resolute in their opposition to the Bill and any sort of Government Interference in sport which has led to an impasse.


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