The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is anti-competitive.
The sports ministry of India believes so.
Unable to overturn a ban on its athletes participating in unauthorized road races, the ministry has called upon the Competition Commission of India to squash the draconian move by a body that ironically receives funding from the central government.
No athlete affiliated to the AFI is currently allowed to compete without first obtaining clearance from it.
The decision was ratified in its AGM.
“The house unanimously approved to take action against the state units officials athletes and individuals who en courage the unauthorized marathons and become part of such marathons where AFI permission was not taken and it was made mandatory to seek permission of AFI before organizing any road race marathon on national and international level.”
The sports ministry in its complaint termed the move “anti competitive, not conducive to development of sports at grassroots level and was likely to have an adverse impact on promotion of sports and protection of the interest of sportspersons.”
AFI president Adille J Sumariwalla responded:
“We have a meeting with the ministry every 10 days, but nobody has raised this issue with AFI. If the ministry has any problem with AFI, they should discuss the issue with us.”
He also denied that there were any such restrictions on its athletes.
The ministry also claimed that the AFI was only one among many national sports federations resorting to such unethical practices to retain their hegemony.
The ministry also claimed that it was unable to take any action as the AFI was an autonomous body.
The Tribune, in its editorial titled ‘Let People Run‘ , was critical of the AFI.
“Greed is the root cause of the ongoing conflict between the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the organisers of various road races in the country. The AFI wishes to control all athletic competitions. Laughably, it declares that various marathons — like the Mumbai Marathon or Delhi Half Marathon — are its properties. That’s patently false. They are not the AFI’s properties for they’ve been organised and nurtured by private companies like Airtel, Standard Chartered or TCS. The AFI’s role in these races has been restricted to obtaining royalty and capitation fee — running into lakhs of rupees — from the organisers. These races have become extremely popular, attracting celebrities and a very large number of runners. For instance, last year’s Delhi Half Marathon had over 32,000 entries, and over 15 sponsors/partners. The AFI wants a larger chunk of the pie. It’s about money.
It’s not unprecedented for a sports association to desire complete control over a sport in an attempt to completely control the cash inflow. The Indian cricket board (BCCI) did the same when the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) was launched by the Zee group in 2007. The BCCI banned all the cricketers who associated with the ICL, which eventually collapsed. But the players benefited from the emergence of competition — the BCCI made a dramatic increase in the wages for the players at the domestic and international levels.
There’s a marked difference between the BCCI and the AFI. The former is an independent society, which now resembles a corporate entity with money-making as an objective. The AFI, though autonomous, can exist and operate only because it’s supported by public funding. The road races, which attract people toward sport, should have been the AFI’s own initiative in the first place. But now it wants to jump in for money. The AFI can’t stop commoners from running, and it must not be allowed to ban the athletes who compete in the races as well.”
The Mid-Day, in a piece titled ‘Marathons: Who’s running the show?‘, expressed concern for elite athletes.
“What this current imbroglio does, though, is throw athletes into a quandary. It is hugely confusing for state and national athletes. Which event do they participate in? Should they take part in a road race that does not have the AFI blessing? Would they even know which events are ‘authorised’ or ‘unauthorised’? Who would be able to tell them?”
The DNA, in an article by Chander Shekhar Luthra, revealed another aspect behind the AFI’s decision.
“………a senior AFI official said on condition of anonymity that the ‘marathon business has been flourishing in India in last one decade and it needs to be regulated in order to check any malpractices’.
In one such non-recognised marathon event, The winner was not given any. And when this athlete complained to the ministry, AFI was asked to file an explanation. The GBM resolution was passed to curb such unethical practices only,’ said the official on Friday.”
The Competition Commission of India website states:
“Competition is the best means of ensuring that the ‘Common Man’ or ‘Aam Aadmi’ has access to the broadest range of goods and services at the most competitive prices. With increased competition, producers will have maximum incentive to innovate and specialize. This would result in reduced costs and wider choice to consumers. A fair competition in market is essential to achieve this objective. Our goal is to create and sustain fair competition in the economy that will provide a ‘level playing field’ to the producers and make the markets work for the welfare of the consumers.
The Competition Act
The Competition Act, 2002, as amended by the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2007, follows the philosophy of modern competition laws. The Act prohibits anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position by enterprises and regulates combinations (acquisition, acquiring of control and M&A), which causes or likely to cause an appreciable adverse effect on competition within India.
Competition Commission of India
The objectives of the Act are sought to be achieved through the Competition Commission of India (CCI), which has been established by the Central Government with effect from 14th October 2003. CCI consists of a Chairperson and 6 Members appointed by the Central Government.It is the duty of the Commission to eliminate practices having adverse effect on competition, promote and sustain competition, protect the interests of consumers and ensure freedom of trade in the markets of India.The Commission is also required to give opinion on competition issues on a reference received from a statutory authority established under any law and to undertake competition advocacy, create public awareness and impart training on competition issues.”
This is not the first time an Indian sports body has been in the cross hairs of the regulatory watchdog.
In 2013, the BCCI was slapped with a Rs.52.24 crore fine for blocking players from opting to participate in competitive league such as Subhash Chandra’s Indian Cricket League (ICL).
The complaint filed by Surinder Singh Barmi, a Delhi-based cricket fan, alleged “irregularities in the grant of Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise rights for team ownership, media rights for coverage of the league, and in the award of sponsorship rights and other local contracts related to the Twenty20 league conducted by BCCI.”
The ruling was later set aside by the Competition Appellate Tribunal (Compat).
“The finding recorded by the Commission on the issue of abuse of dominance is legally unsustainable and is liable to be set-aside because the information downloaded from the net and similar other material do not have any evidentiary value and, in any case, the same could not have been relied upon by the Commission without giving an effective opportunity to the appellant (BCCI) to controvert the same.”
The CCI used information from public sites without disclosing to the BCCI their sources to arrive at a ruling thus vitiating the rule “audi alteram partem (let the other side be heard as well).”
To be continued…