Competition Commission orders probe against VFI

The Competition Commission has ordered a probe against Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) for alleged abuse of dominant position. The VFI is a national sports federation for volleyball in India and exercises full control over the players of volleyball registered or associated with it, with respect to their participation in all sporting events.

The probe follows a complaint by Sharavan Yadav, Amitsinh Tanwar and Lavmeet Katariya, international volleyball players who have represented India in numerous tournaments, according to an order by the Competition Commission of India.

In 2015, the VFI decided to organise a volleyball league in India similar to the Indian Premier League, and Pro-Kabaddi League, with the objective of promoting volleyball in India.

The complainants alleged that Baseline Ventures (India) Pvt Ltd was arbitrarily appointed as organiser of volleyball league and VFI entered into agreement with Baseline in 2018 granting it exclusive rights for organizing a volleyball league for men, women and beach volleyball in India for the next 10 years.

Certain clauses in the agreement placed restrictions upon other persons or enterprises who wish to conduct similar leagues in India and also placed restrictions on players for participating in the other leagues if they are part of Baseline’s volleyball league, the complainant alleged.

However, these clauses are not different than the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s practice which restricts the Indian Premier League to be the sole authorised professional cricket league in the country and does not allow Indian cricketers to participate in any other professional league. Even in the leagues organised by the BCCI’s State bodies, only the player registered under the respective cricket associations are authorised to participate.

Can players registered with the kabaddi, badminton or wrestling federations participate in a “rival” league in the country.

The complainant further alleged that the players are restricted from participating even in global events like Asian Games, Olympics or Volleyball World Cup, if the dates of these events clash with Baseline’s Volleyball League.

How can there be a logic of scheduling the Pro Volleyball League on or around the Asian Games, Olympics or Volleyball World Cup dates as that will also obstruct the presence of overseas icons in the league. Besides, the league can only grow professionally when the sport grows in its stature. The league cannot risk its own growth by depriving the Indian players of quality exposure.

Besides, VFI being the sole authority for dispute resolution for players, the players have no recourse or remedy in case the VFI decides to impose punishment on them for playing in other leagues which amounts to abuse of dominant position, the complainant alleged.

The fair trade regulator said VFI falls within the definition of a enterprise and considered “market for organization of professional volleyball tournaments/events in India” and “market for services of volleyball players in India” as the relevant one.

The regulator found VFI in the dominant position in the relevant market.

Regarding the clauses that restrict players availability, CCI said that “such restrictions appear to limit the provision of services of participating volleyball players in the relevant market for services of volleyball players in India and thus appear to be covered under Section 4 the Act”.

Section 4 pertains to abuse of dominant position.

“The Commission cannot be oblivious to the fact that VFI has entered into an arrangement with Baseline, thereby granting some exclusive rights to the said company to hold a Volleyball League and simultaneously placing restrictions on the players participating in the Volleyball League,” the CCI said in an order dated August 7.

The regulator said this conduct of VFI needs to be examined through an investigation by the director general (DG), to determine whether the same resulted in violation of provisions of the Act including that of Section 4.

Accordingly, the DG is directed to investigate into the matter and submit its report within a period of 150 days from receipt of this order, the CCI said.