Somewhere we are all sports geeks, having played our favourite sports or having watched sports personalities ace it at their sports. However, the percentage of people pursuing this profession is less than the sports aspirants out there. Now, what if we said there was a way to breathe sports as a lawyer?
We wanted to explore this underrated area of law in India, and Manu Bhardwaj, a practising Sports Lawyer, helped us understand more.
Read to find out how and what goes into this side of law and what avenues are open to a sports law aspirant.
1. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I am a second-generation lawyer, having been born and brought up in Delhi. I completed my BA. LLB from one of the top 5 law schools in Delhi NCR, University School of Law and Legal Studies and Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, in 2019. After that, I pursued an LLM in Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law from the University of Miami School of Law, one of the best law schools in the United States with a partial scholarship.
I worked with Senior Advocate Mr Sushil Dutt Salwan for a couple of months and am now working as an independent litigator, emphasising sports law matters and contract drafting. On a personal level, I play football semi-professionally and do part-time stand-up comedy as well.
2. What is Sports Law, and how did you end up choosing Sports Law for your Masters?
Instead of viewing Sports Law as a branch in itself, one should think of it as more of an amalgamation of different areas of law to get more clarity on the concept of the subject. Sports Law includes but is not limited to Contractual Law (for the various agreements/negotiations involved in transactions related to commercial sports), Intellectual Property Law (for the registration of Trademarks/Copyrights/Patents required for various teams/leagues/players etc.), Criminal Law (for Anti-Doping regulations) and even Alternate Dispute Resolution (for any and all disputes arising between the organisations, clubs, players, clubs and the agents involved in any sport). So basically, sports law is an umbrella term for various spheres of law involved which aims to solve the legal issues pertaining to both professional and amateur sports.
The decision to choose sports law for my Masters was fairly easy as I have always been a sports person and a sports enthusiast. I have played multiple sports throughout my education and have been an ardent follower as well. I was always keen on understanding the functioning of the sports industry in the country and even on an international level. In the third year of my Law School, when I started reading about the subject, my interest grew organically, and I was sure that I wanted to be associated with the Sports Industry. Since I was not playing professionally due to my below-average skills, my best bet of being in the industry was as a sports lawyer.
3. What was your approach while narrowing down to universities to pursue LL.M in Sports Law? Please tell us something about your LLM experience.
At the time of my applications, not many top universities provided an LLM in Sports Law, even at the international level (There were none in India). Naturally, I focused on the top sports law courses around the world instead of the best universities and narrowed it down to a list of top five courses. Out of these five, the LLM at the University of Miami intrigued me specifically because it was a one-of-a-kind multi-dimensional course involving three spheres of law, i.e., Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law. The modules of the course looked interesting, and to be honest, studying in the beautiful city of Miami was also a major consideration. Even though I got through three different Universities in different countries, I chose the University of Miami because of the nature of the course. Further, receiving the Dean’s Scholarship came in as a big relief for my financial constraints.
The experience exceeded my expectations by a margin. The course was insightful, and there were a plethora of interesting subjects to choose from. The EASL Department of the University of Miami School of Law was stacked with a world-class faculty of very well renowned professors in the industry. Their modus operandi to impart knowledge to the students was something I had never witnessed previously in our country. Moreover, the course was designed to have special lectures every week with various prominent industry experts/lawyers/agents or even players coming in to engage with the students and give us insights into the functioning of the American entertainment and sports industry. Another feature of the course was the field trips to various stadiums where the students met the in-house legal department of various world-class teams of various sports. Overall, the experience was overwhelming, and it is tough for me to describe it to anyone. It was more of 'you had to be there' scenario.
4. How would you describe the emergence of Sports Law in India?
If I’m being modest, the emergence of Sports Law in India has been very slow-paced and highly disorganised. After the 1984 Asian Games, the Government has time and again showed interest in formulating a proper structure for the governance of sports through the National Sports Policies 1984 & 2001 and The National Sports Development Code, 2011, but to little success. Most amateur and professional sports are governed by National Sports Federations of that particular sport recognised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. While other authorities such as the BCCI or the Sports Authority of India (SAI) play an important role in the grassroots development of Sports. The Anti-doping laws are enforced by the National Anti-Doping Agency whereas, match-fixing and other criminal offences related to sports fall under the purview of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
There is a lack of proper structure to the Indian Sports Law Legislation. With the emergence of new areas such as E-Sports, a global billion-dollar phenomenon, an organised Sports Law Legislation is the need of the hour. The fresh buzz around sports law by law schools & lawyers has been a welcome change, and hopefully, in the coming years, we will have much more clarity in the Indian Sports Law Scenario.
5. What components of the law are essential to know if one wishes to pursue a career in sports law?
I believe having a strong command over drafting and negotiating sports related contracts is the most important component for a commercial centric career in sports law. However, the Anti-Doping Laws, Betting & Gambling Laws, Competition Law, and ADR are just as important. Further, one must have a strong foundation of the basics of Copyright, Trademark & Patent (IP Law), which makes comprehending Sports Law much easier. Media and entertainment law is another niche legal area that touches upon a few aspects of sports law, such as broadcasting rights & sponsorships. Finally, Human Rights Law is also an essential component of Sports Law, which would enable a lawyer to assist the aggrieved athletes.
6. What is your view with respect to the evolving landscape of Anti-Doping laws in India?
From the excessive doping in the 1982 Asiad to the 2010 Commonwealth Doping Scandal, India has faced many challenges pertaining to doping by the athletes. It is still far from keeping all its professional athletes completely clean. The establishment of the National Anti-Doping Agency in 2009 has been a welcome change but has not been as successful as expected. NADA has implemented the World-Anti Doping Standards without considering the divergent issues faced by the Indian athletes, as many of them come from rural backgrounds. This is why most of the doping cases in India have been due to lack of knowledge instead of actual mala fide of the athlete to have a professional edge over other athletes. In many instances, the athletes have tested positive for doping due to their over-the-counter medicines or cosmetic products.
According to the former NADA Chief, A draft of anti-doping legislation has been submitted to the sports ministry, which tackles issues like criminalisation of the offence, liability of the coaches, exemption of certain over the counter medicines. Hopefully, once enacted, the Bill would be successful in tackling the Indian doping menace in compliance. He would get India at par with the legal framework of other countries in handling doping.
7. What shortfalls do you think are present in the Indian landscape of Sports Law?
As I mentioned in one of the previous answers, there is a lack of national legislation on sports to govern all the aspects of Sports Law, which has rendered a lot of ambiguity in the functioning of the various agents involved in the industry. This legislation shall aim to create a Sports Commission in India under which all the NSFs shall be registered and shall be held accountable for their functioning. This national legislation shall see the floor of the Parliament on a priority basis since multiple issues need immediate resolution for sports injuries, liability issues, the issue of employment of athletes, infringement of media ethics etc.
There have been many instances where athletes have had no proper legal recourse or representation in disputes with the authorities from international to district level. In cases of match-fixing and illegal betting, the measures taken by the concerned authorities have proven to be insufficient and unproductive. Certain athletes have been victims of sexual harassment during their training by the coaches & staff, but they have not been provided platforms to make complaints or pursue legal action.
E-Sports has not yet been considered a Sport under the Union List and falls under the category of Entertainment which has led to massive blunders such as the exploitation of the Indian E-Sport Athletes at the Asian Games 2018 due to the absence of any recognised NSF for E-Sports. There is also a general lack of awareness of athletes about their legal rights, which leads to them signing exploitative contracts with sports agencies and clubs.
It is abundantly clear that a structured and stable national sports legislation is a one-stop solution to most of these shortfalls in the present landscape of sports law.
8. How would you suggest one go about a career in Sports Law? What avenues are open to sports law aspirants in India?
Well, to begin with, law students should try to gain as much knowledge as they can about the subject through various courses, diplomas, or even full-fledged masters, like I did. Boutique Sports Law firms are operating in the country, and one should try their best to secure an internship with them. Further, writing research papers/articles/blogs about the field would be very beneficial since reading material is sparse. Networking with Sports Agencies, Athletes, and other colleagues involved in the industry is a must.
As the paradigm is shifting from cricket to different sports with the introduction of new leagues, there is a lot of scope for a new generation of sports lawyers as the ever-dynamic sports industry is growing at an explosive pace for which they would surely need legal assistance at every step.