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ICL vs BCCI: Of Cricket, competition and co-relation
The Indian T20 cricket season is on now but in all the hype surrounding the BCCI-sponsored IPL, it is worth noting that its increasingly marginalised rival - the ICL is in trouble and is facing an indefinite postponement and withdrawal of some of its star players.

The Zee-promoted ICL was the pioneer of the T20 game played in a league format, but has met with fierce resistance from the BCCI from its very inception. With the IPL and ICL jostling for space, it seemed for some time, that audiences, cricketers and the industry would be spoilt for choice.

However, it soon became apparent that the cash-rich BCCI was using its leverage over the Indian cricketing apparatus to marginalise the ICL with the denial of venues, and the exclusion of ICL cricketers from participating in BCCI events.

The marginalisation of competitors by dominant players abusing their muscle power is forbidden by modern competition laws and the newly established Competition Commission of India (CCI) is mandated with the task of investigating the abuse of a "dominant position". So will the CCI intervene as the third-umpire in the face off between the BCCI and the ICL ?

To start with, the CCI can look into the BCCI's alleged misuse of its predominant position, only if the BCCI's actions or agreements amount to an "abuse of dominance" which affects the competitive conditions in the market for cricket-related services: including broadcasting, advertising, match fees, stadium rights and spectator choice.

Clearly the BCCI is in a position of dominance when conducting a T20 tournament, compared for instance with the privately-owned Zee Group promoting the ICL. Although the BCCI is not a government-run organisation and is only a society registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act, it is nevertheless the de facto cricket regulator in India.

The BCCI's charter allows it the authority to select players, coaches, umpires and other staff to represent India at the international level and without its recognition no competitive cricket can be hosted in India. The BCCI's members include all state cricket associations, who are bound by strict membership rules, which ensure that it has the last word on all cricketing issues in India.

Given the BCCI's virtual stranglehold over cricket in India, the CCI is very likely to be interested in examining whether its conduct amounts to an abuse of its dominance, including by keeping out potential competitors such as the ICL in the T20 market.

The Competition Act does not prohibit enterprises from being dominant, as long as they don't abuse their position. So there's nothing wrong with the BCCI itself being a dominant cricketing organisation, provided it does not squeeze out its competitors.

It is in this context that the CCI might be called upon to look at restrictive clauses in player and staff contracts with the BCCI which prohibit participation in the ICL; or to look at exclusive sponsorship deals and broadcasting rights, if any, which are contingent on the sponsor or broadcaster not sponsoring or televising ICL events; or even agreements with state cricket associations which prohibit their stadiums from being used for ICL matches. Such conduct, which is aimed at closing out the market for a competitor are likely to be investigated by the CCI.

From the CCI's point of view, actions which adversely affect competitive conditions in the market — in this case the market for T20-related cricketing services — are likely to attract scrutiny, particularly when a dominant enterprise such as the BCCI is responsible for such actions.

The presence of two cricket leagues, each having a large number of players and each hosting separate tournaments could only have meant increased competition and benefit for the consumer, the cricketer and the market as a whole.

Deliberate steps taken by the BCCI, including non-recognition of the ICL as a league, the denial of access to cricket grounds and preventing ICL players, coaches and other staff from participating in BCCI sponsored activities, are all actions that potentially tantamount to foreclosing the market for T20 cricket for a competitor.

If the CCI were called upon to intervene and investigate BCCI's alleged anti-competitive actions, it would not be the first time that an anti-trust regulator has been asked to look into abusive behaviour by a sporting authority.

In Greece, for example, the Greek Automobile and Touring Club was taken to task by the EU Competition Authority because of its refusal to grant permission to rival motorcycling associations to host contests while simultaneously doing so themselves.

The over-arching objective of all competition authorities is to look into whether commercial actions and behaviour effectively deny competitors access to the market and to prohibit such anti-competitive behaviour. The BCCI should take heed — after all cricket is a gentleman's game.

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