The Competition Commission of India (“CCI”) vide order dated June 03, 2021 has ordered an investigation into Amateur Baseball Federation of India under the provisions of the Competition Act, 2002.
An information under Section 19(1)(a) of the Competition Act, 2002 (“Act”) was filed by Confederation of Professional Baseball Softball Clubs (“Informant”) before the CCI against Amateur Baseball Federation of India (“Opposite Party”) alleging contravention of provisions of Section 4 of the Act. The Informant is a not-for-profit organisation registered and incorporated under Companies Act, 2013, for promotion and development of sports of baseball and softball in India. The Informant engages with players, coaches, clubs, and other partners in India and abroad. The Opposite Party is a society registered under the Haryana Registration and Regulation of Societies Act, 2012 and it has been recognized as National Sports Federation by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India and is primarily working for the general promotion of baseball and players. It is the responsibility of the Opposite Party to conduct Zonal, National and International Baseball Tournaments in India. The Opposite Party is affiliated to Baseball Federation of Asia (“BFA”) and also, to the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (“WBSC”).
The Informant had scheduled to organise ‘Club National 2021’ Championship in Hyderabad during February 16, 2021 to February 21, 2021, for which it had received 14 (fourteen) club registration requests to participate in the aforesaid event. Subsequently, it has come to the knowledge of the Informant that a letter dated January 07, 2021 was sent by the Opposite Party to the Presidents/ Secretaries of State Baseball Associations throughout the country prohibiting the State Associations from dealing with bodies and leagues not recognised by it and threatening with disciplinary action if any of the players took part in the leagues and tournaments not recognised by it.
As a consequence, the clubs who had paid their registration fees and expressed their interest to participate in the event started withdrawing their participation. The Informant rescheduled the event to March 30, 2021 to April 04, 2021.
A communication dated March 01, 2021 was issued by the Opposite Party to its State Associations announcing the 34th Senior National Baseball Championship from March 29, 2021 to April 03, 2021. Aggrieved with the conduct of the Opposite Party, the Informant filed the information before the CCI alleging abuse of dominance.
Analysis by CCI:
The CCI held that the Opposite Party is an ‘enterprise’ and is therefore subjected to the discipline of Section 4 of the Act which prohibits abuse of dominant position. Further, the specified conduct of such entities under Section 3(3) of the Act, is presumed to have an appreciable adverse effect on competition.
The CCI, after examining the various factors enumerated under the Act, delineated the relevant market to be ‘market for organization of baseball leagues/events/ tournaments in India’.
The CCI observed that the apex position of the Opposite Party in the baseball ecosystem coupled with linkages/ affiliations with continental and international organisations, show that that the Opposite Party plays a decisive role in the governance of this sport discipline in the country. Accordingly, the CCI was of the opinion that, prima facie the Opposite Party is in a dominant position in the ‘market for organization of baseball leagues/events/ tournaments in India’.
As regards the alleged abusive conduct, the CCI observed that the Opposite Party by issuing communication dated January 07, 2021 to its affiliated State Baseball Associations requesting them not to entertain the unrecognised bodies and further by requesting them not to allow their respective State players to participate in any of the tournaments organised by such unrecognised bodies, has violated the provisions of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act as it results in denial of market access to other federations. Also, such conduct results in limiting and restricting the provision of services and market thereof, in contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(b)(i) of the Act.
The CCI further observed that communication issued by the Opposite Party further warning of strict action against the players who participate in the tournaments organised by bodies which are not ‘recognised’ by it, imposes an unfair condition upon the players and thereby falls foul of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act.
The CCI expanded the scope of information by holding that the impugned conduct may also be examined by the DG within the framework of Section 3 of the Act, since the communication dated January 07, 2021 prima facie appears to limit or control provision of services and falls within the framework of Section 3(1) read with Section 3(3) of the Act.
After analysing the alleged anti-competitive behavior, the CCI directed the DG to cause an investigation to be made into the matter under the provisions of Section 26(1) of the Act.
Please find attached a copy of the order.
This update has been contributed by R. Sudhinder (Senior Partner) and Prerana Amitabh (Counsel).
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