Competition throttle scan on BCCI

The Competition Commission has pulled up the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for abusing its dominant position for scuttling a rival professional domestic cricket league in the country in 2009 and then barring the entity that had tried to organise the event from bidding for media rights related to the Indian Premier League.

By Our Bureau
  • Published 6.06.18
  •  

New Delhi: The Competition Commission has pulled up the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for abusing its dominant position for scuttling a rival professional domestic cricket league in the country in 2009 and then barring the entity that had tried to organise the event from bidding for media rights related to the Indian Premier League.

A four-member panel headed by CCI chairperson Devender Kumar Sikri has ordered an investigation after establishing there was a prima facie case against the BCCI for throttling competition.

The case arises from a complaint filed by Pan India Infraprojects Pvt Ltd (formerly known as Essel Sports Pvt Ltd) that had tried to organise the Indian Cricket League in 2007.

"The Commission finds that a prima facie case of abuse of dominant position within the meaning of Section 4(2)(c) (of the Competition Act, 2002) has been made out....

"This case needs to be sent for investigation to the Director General (the 'DG')...

"The DG is directed to carry out a detailed investigation into the matter and submit a report to the Commission, within 60 days," the 14-page order dated June 1 has said.

"It appears that BCCI has abused its dominant position in the market of organisation of professional domestic cricket leagues in India by excluding the informant (Pan India Infraprojects) or any of its group companies from participating in tenders for media rights for IPL," the order said.

The regulator noted that apart from restraining the organisation of a competitive league (ICL), the BCCI appears to have excluded Pan India Infraprojects from the downstream market by disallowing it to bid for the IPL media rights.

Pan India had claimed that it had organised the ICL, which was the first of its kind T20 tournament in India, in 2007.

The first season of the ICL commenced in December 2007 and concluded in April 2008. The second season commenced in the last quarter of 2008 but came to a premature end on account of the Mumbai terror attacks. Pan India claimed the third season was thwarted by "the blatant use of regulatory power by BCCI".

The complainant said the BCCI was enraged by the rival cricket league and issued "several warning letters to players, office bearers and affiliated entities and to stadiums, through June to August, 2007, restricting them from participating in any unauthorised tournament/matches or else they shall lose their benefits and privileges."

Later, it withdrew benefits to ICL players and went on to slap a virtual ban on them.

On April 29, 2009, the BCCI came up with an amnesty scheme that restored the benefits of the renegade players who were associated with the ICL.

In June 2009, the ICC allowed the BCCI complete discretion in granting approval for cricket events not organised by the ICC or its members.

Having scuttled the rival league, the BCCI "formulated the eligibility conditions in such a manner" that effectively barred Pan India from bidding for IPL media rights. The eligibility rule said that any entity that was involved in litigation with the cricket body would be barred from submitting a bid.

Pan India, therefore, prayed for an order from the CCI directing the BCCI to "cease and desist from indulging in abusive conduct and that the regulatory functions of the BCCI be separated from the commercial aspects of the sport of cricket."

The entity said it had continued to be blacklisted by the BCCI till date.

"BCCI introduced the said restriction in the year 2010 and even the latest tender of 2018 contains the same clause. Incorporation of such restriction by a dominant player amounts to abuse of dominant position," Pan India's counsel argued.#The commission agreed with the complainant.

It said: "Apart from restraining the organisation of a competitive league (i.e. ICL)... the BCCI appears to have excluded the Informant (Pan India) in the downstream market by disallowing it to bid for the media rights for IPL. Such denial prima facie appears to be in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act (which spells out what constitutes abuse of dominant position)."#"The sports federations engaged in organisation of tournaments/ leagues are put to advantage if they also possess the authority to grant approval for organisation of similar events by others and set conditions for such organisation. BCCI seems to have taken advantage of such a situation," the CCI order said.

There is a small caveat, however.

The commission said: "Nothing stated herein (the June 1 order) shall tantamount to an expression of final opinion on the merits of the case and the DG shall conduct the investigation without being influenced by any observations made herein."