DANGERS LURKING FOR SPORTSPERSONS IN INDIA: BEYOND #METOO AND POSH
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
This post has been authored by Ms. Prachi Agrawal and Ms. Stuti Bhargava.
Ms. Prachi Agrawal is a 4th year (VIII Semester) B.B.A. LL.B. (Business Law Hons.) student at National Law University, Jodhpur. Ms. Stuti Bhargava is a 4th year (VIII Semester) B.A. LL.B. (Business Law Hons.) student at National Law University, Jodhpur.
INTRODUCTION: ADVENT OF POSH AND #METOO
Sexual harassment has emerged as a serious problem in recent past years. Unsurprisingly, the world of sports is not immune to this social problem. It was only in the year 2013 that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 [‘Act’] came into effect. However, the rigor with which the legislation was enacted soon lost its speed and vigor. As per a gender diversity report by TeamLease from 2016, 72% of women lacked faith in the organizational measures available to deal with sexual harassment cases. Moreover, complaints that were time barred were outside the scope of the Act. In essence, the Act hardly solved problems for aggrieved women.
Meanwhile, the ‘Me Too’ movement gained traction across the globe in several industries, however, certain industries such as sports and informal sectors, among others, remained unaffected. In light of this, it remained the duty of the judiciary as well as the government to check these loopholes and provide an appropriate remedy for them.
AUTONOMY OF THE SPORTING BODIES: BARRIER TO JUSTICE
As a primary introduction to the model, the Indian sporting industry is autonomous in nature, i.e. it has its own set of rules as well as regulating bodies with minimal governmental interference (financial and technical assistance) in its day-to-day functioning.
Here, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is the topmost authority and the role of the government is only to provide financial and technical assistance. This structure is also supported by the Olympics Charter which restricts government influence on sporting federations. Nonetheless, the Act explicitly includes these bodies within its ambit. Section 2(o)(iv) includes any institute, venue, or like premises used for training, sports, or other related activities. While there undeniably exists functional autonomy, the law seeks to keep a check on the abuse of this autonomy and power by means of the Act. It is imperative that these bodies adhere to the requirements and obligations under the Act so that the aspect of good governance can be maintained. Moreover, in light of the basic human rights of the women engaged in sporting industries, it is of utmost importance that these women are given access to the law that was made to protect them.
INSIGHT INTO REASONS FOR UNDER-REPORTING
Research on the Me Too movement in India indicates that it has not hit the sports industry as impactfully as other industries. When sporting bodies are asked if instances of sexual harassment are brought to their notice, they simply deny it. However, the lack of reporting of such incidents is not proof enough to ensure that such incidents do not occur.
In 2007, the International Olympic Committee claimed that sexual harassment and abuse happens in all sports and at all levels. In light of this, where India is considered the most dangerous country for women, with sexual violence rife, the claims of no sexual harassment cases occurring in the Indian sporting industry are bound to appear paradoxical.
In the national context, a figure indicates that there are nearly 200 perpetrators and 10,000 victims across 53 major sports in India. However, a report presented by Indian Express shows that merely 45 cases of sexual harassment have been reported in 24 centers of Sports Authority of India, over the course of the past 10 years. This shows the wide extent of sexual harassment in sporting industries and the minimalistic reporting of these instances. Besides, proved cases of sexual harassment against sportspersons denote their existence and that they were not effectively dealt with under the internal mechanism of the sporting bodies. One such instance is the conviction of V Chamundeshwarnath (Secretary of Andhra Cricket Association).
LACK OF REPORTING: PLAUSIBLE REASONS
The negligence by sporting agencies in dealing with such cases has led many into believing the fact that having a case of sexual harassment in their name is a key to obtaining a position of authority. In the words of a national level coach, “If you want to coach, you need to be a womanizer or a drunkard.”
An extremely important reason why women have not raised their voices under the Me Too movement is the fear of the loss of a job. In this regard, a coach and former national women’s team player also remarked, “I’m sure we have a huge list of survivors because girls give in to see their dreams coming true.” Moreover, the primary reason for the formation of the Act was to provide a grievance redressal platform in workplaces so that women could put forward their complaints without fear of losing their jobs. However, this aim has been severely undignified since 70% women do not even report sexual harassment against their superiors because of the aforementioned reason.
As per Section 4 of the Act, every workplace having 10 or more members necessarily needs to form an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) headed by a woman. The provision mandates that the ICC should constitute a minimum of three members with the addition of a woman Presiding Officer. However, the reality is different and quite frankly harsh. Most of these authorities have no information of ICCs available on their websites. Figuratively, only 5 out of the 12 National Sports Federations have a mechanism of ICC in place.
Another integral reason why women choose to not raise their voices against any form of harassment is the belief that the outcome of an investigation would never come in their favour. This belief is not unfounded. In a committee comprising three members, out of which two are employees working under the guidance and supervision of authority, to expect a decision uninfluenced by the employer would be too unreasonable.
Besides the major sporting bodies, there are other small set-ups where such incidents can happen, particularly private coaches imparting sports training to individuals at a smaller level. In such a case, Section 6 of the Act provides a provision of Local Complaints Committee (LCC), in every district. The position of these LCCs is also deplorable, hence hardly effective. In a study conducted in 2018, on the basis of Right to Information applications to 655 districts, it was found that 15% of these districts have not constituted LCCs while 56% of districts did not even reply. Moreover, the government has not updated any report indicating the constitution, functioning, and success of these LCCs. In one of the recent findings, it was found that during the COVID pandemic lockdown, none of the 11 LCCs of Delhi were available, not even on phone.
CONCLUSION: SUGGESTIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS
The autonomy granted to the sporting industry has brought with itself a plethora of positives and negatives for the industry. While the effects of it are debatable, one claim which is true is that this autonomy has not worked in favor of the victims of sexual harassment. However, this position has to alter in order to bring security within the industry.
A primary attempt to ensure this would be to strengthen the implementation of the Act itself. To ensure that every workplace having 10 or more members has a proper ICC, the government must form a Committee to conduct a basic check for the existence of these ICCs. Importantly, it should be noted that the present constituents of the ICC are majorly employees of the organization. It does not come as a surprise when the decision rendered, is one that is influenced by somebody in control and in power. To prevent situations like these, the relevant provision, i.e., Section 4 of the Act should be amended to make sure that its constituting members are elected/nominated from a pool that cannot be influenced by the principal employer/management.
For continued supervision, the government must make it mandatory for all sporting bodies to publish quarter-yearly/half-yearly reports, explaining the performance of these ICCs. Moreover, the government can also make it mandatory to put up details of such an ICC on the organization’s website. The violation of these provisions can also be made punishable. With respect to the LCCs, the government can make an audit committee to ensure that all districts have LCCs as per the requirements of the Act. Moreover, yearly inspection of these LCCs – their availability, functioning, etc. can also be done by the audit committee.
Sexual harassment issues are sensitive issues that need to be handled cautiously considering the special nature of biases prevalent in the sporting industry. In furtherance of this, the government can make it mandatory for every sporting organization to conduct workshops, at regular intervals, to inform the sportspersons of the legal remedy available to them in cases of sexual harassment. To further enhance this, the government can also conduct yearly workshops explaining laws dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace.
Additionally, Annexure XVII of the National Sports Development Code of India, 2011 provides for the National Sports Federations to follow additional guidelines regarding efficient redressal mechanisms in case of sexual harassment. The government can keep a check on these bodies to ensure that the guidelines are followed.
While all these technical and legislative changes can be made, it would be the outlook of society that has to change to eradicate the problem. In this fast-paced world, this outlook of people would go a long way in considering women not as sexual objects but as humans of caliber, potential, and talent.
Cite as: Prachi Agrawal & Stuti Bhargava, Dangers Lurking for Sportspersons in India: Beyond #Metoo and Posh, Extra-Cover: The Sports Law Blog of India (8th August 2021), Accessed at https://www.extra-cover.org/post/dangers-lurking-for-sportspersons-in-india-beyond-metoo-and-posh [Date of Access].