ABFI prohibits State Baseball Associations from joining unrecognised leagues, threatens disciplinary action | CCI to examine such conduct in light of provisions of Competition Act

Competition Commission of India (CCI): Coram of Ashok Kumar Gupta (Chairperson) and Sangeeta Verma and Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi, Members held that Amateur Baseball Federation of India contravened the provisions of Section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002.

Confederation of Professional Baseball Softball Clubs (Informant) filed the present information against Amateur Baseball Federation of India (OP) alleging contravention of the provisions of Section 4 of the Competition Act.

Background

Informant had received fourteen club registration requests for ‘Club National 2021’. Subsequently, it came to the knowledge of the Informant, that a letter dated 07-01-2021 was sent by ABFI 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.

In view of the above letter, clubs started withdrawing their participation. Hence, the informant cancelled the event leading to severe financial distress for the organization.

Informant brought to the attention of the Commission; another communication issued by ABFI to its State Associations whereby OP announced to conduct the 34th Senior National Baseball Championship. Informant alleged that the motive of OP in organizing the said event was to sabotage the event of the informant by starting it just one day prior to the beginning of the Club Nationals 2021.

Further in the letter, it was added that no team will be allowed to leave the station before the closing ceremony of the championship and also informed that men and women players will be selected during the said championship by Selection Committee for participation in forthcoming international events.

Informant alleged that it had been denied access to utilize the services of players and caused obstructions in its engagements with the State Baseball Associations which was a blatant misuse of the regulatory power of OP and a clear contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act.

OP abused its dominance as it placed restrictions on players participating in tournaments/private professional leagues not recognized by ABFI and the same was a violation of Sections 4(2)(a)(i) and 4(2)(b)(i) of the Act.

Analysis

Commission stated that since ABFI is stated to be registered under the Haryana Registration and Regulation of Societies Act, 2012 and as such qualifies to be a ‘person’ as defined in Section 2(l) of the Act being an association of persons.

Coram noted that in view of the admitted position of ABFI in the baseball ecosystem coupled with linkages/affiliation with continental and international organizations, it is axiomatic that ABFI plays a decisive role in the governance of this sport discipline in the country.

Therefore, Commission prima facie opined that ABFI is in a dominant position in the market for organization of baseball leagues/events/tournaments in India.

Commission further added that ABFI by issuing the above-mentioned communication to its affiliated State Baseball Association requested them no to entertain unrecognized bodies and further by requesting them not to allow their respective State players to participate in any of the tournaments organized by such unrecognized bodies, has violated the provisions of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act as it resulted in denial of market access to other federations.

OP had further warned of strict action against the players who participate in the tournaments organised by bodies which are not ‘recognised’ by ABFI. Such conduct imposed an unfair condition upon the players and thereby falls foul of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act besides stultifying the very objective of promoting the cause of baseball in India, which a National Sports Federation is obligated to discharge. 

Hence, ABFI violated the provisions of Section 4 of the Competition Act, therefore, the matter warrants investigation.

Though the Informant has alleged contravention of the provisions of Section 4 of the Act only, yet looking at the decisions taken and communicated by ABFI, the Commission is of the opinion that the impugned conduct may also be examined by the DG within the framework of Section 3 of the Act.[Confederation of Professional Baseball Softball Clubs v. Amateur Baseball Federation of India, 2021 SCC OnLine CCI 30, decided on 3-06-2021]

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