National Sports Code Controversy: Supreme Court Issues Notice to Central Government in an Appeal Filed by IOA

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The Central Government has been issued a notice by a Supreme Court Division Bench comprising Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice C. Nagappan in an appeal filed by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) questioning the enforcement of the National Sports Code (NSC). The National Sports Code has been in controversy owing to the mandatory age limit and tenure of office bearers it may enforce in case of IOA and other national level sports associations and federations.

The National Sports Development Code, 2011 restricts the tenure of the president, secretary, treasurer and other office bearers to12 years and eight years respectively, while setting an upper limit of 70 years for a person to be eligible for the post of an office bearer.

On 9th May, 2014 the Delhi High Court had upheld the validity of the National Sports Code and the particular provisions sought to be struck down by the IOA. Senior counsel GopalSubramaniam, appearing on behalf of the Indian Olympic Association argued that the validity of the National Sports Code can be brought into question by the fact that the Central Government had no authority to enact laws with respect to matters connected with sports. The Central Government had no authority because the issue fell under the domain of the State as per the State list of subjects in the Indian Constitution.

Further, the senior counsel had placed upon record the fact that rules of the Indian Olympic Association already included rules barring office bearers from continuing to hold any particular position in national sports federations in “perpetuity”. Comparing the provision with its counterpart in the National Sports Code, Mr.Subramaniam hinted that the requirement of limiting the tenure of office bearers is thus provided for in the IOA rules while the other rules of the NSC cannot be implemented because they have the potential to severely limit the autonomy of sports federations. He assured the Court that the sports associations and federations themselves were committed to excellence in their respective area of operation and interests of sports.

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Going a step further to show its bona fide intentions, the senior counsel sought the Court’s permission to request the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to appoint a committee of three celebrated and eminent international sportspersons, who have achieved excellence in their respective sports at the Olympics. The mandate of the committee will include suggesting reforms in the workings of the IOA.

The Delhi High Court had stated that National Sports Code is neither arbitrary nor violative of any of the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution of India. It also held that the Central Government does not need a legislation to require the enforcement of and adherence to these particulars provision, i.e. the sports code. Further, the provisions limiting the tenure of the office bearers are within the authority of the Central Government to be insisted upon in public interest for the efficient and above board administration of national sports federations.

However, Mr.Subramaniam drew the attention of the Court to the part of the judgment regarding the shoddy condition of sports administration in the country, which discourages a large majority of people from venturing into both popular and moderately popular sports. Those who tread in these hot waters fear the risk of being embroiled in manipulations and intrigues perpetrated by a debilitating coterie, at the helm. However, the Court refused to interfere.

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by Siddhartha Singh