Players v AICF: A prolonged tussle

Even in situations where a meaningful dialogue can be effective, some officials flex their muscles and demonstrate their power. Though the players may have won a few battles, the war goes on.

Representative image.   -  K. K. Mustafah

The All India Chess Federation (AICF) has been battling court cases for over a decade. Among the cases, the one filed by former National junior champion Gurpreet Pal Singh and three others stands out for a special reason. (see chronology)

Gurpreet was one of the 151 players whose international rating was removed, at the behest of the AICF, by the world chess federation, after they took part in a series of so-called “unauthorised” events between late 2009 and 2012. These events offered over Rs. 2 crore in prize money.

Since then, a vast majority of barred, helpless players surrendered to AICF's arm-twisting tactics — when it offered clemency. One of the conditions was to pay the AICF 50% of their prize money from these “unauthorised” events.

Since August 2011, the AICF has been rapped on the knuckles a few times by the Delhi High Court and the Madras High Court. Moreover, the enquiry report of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) favoured the players.

Gurpreet says, “I have paid much more to the lawyers than what I was required to pay AICF for clemency. All the harassment from AICF, which wrote to my employers and even to FIDE to direct an organizer in London to prevent my participation in an event, has steeled my resolve to restore a player’s right to play. So far, the favourable directives from the Courts have kept me going.”

Sample this: The Delhi High Court, in November 2011, while ordering an enquiry by the CCI, observed, “The issue is with regard to the right of the players of chess to form another association and to organize tournaments in the country with the involvement of or the blessings of respondent No 2 (the AICF). The issue is with regard to the right of the players to freely participate in tournaments so organized, without the fear of being hounded by respondent No. 2 (the AICF) and without the fear of the Sword of Domacles falling on their heads if they participate in the so called illegal or unauthorized tournaments."

More pertinently, in January 2017, Justice M. S. Ramesh of Madras High Court vacated the interim relief to AICF and noted, “The interim order granted by this Court has caused much damage not only to the respondents (the players) but also to prospective chess players throughout the country.”

When it comes to dealing with players, the National Sports Federation (NSF) office-bearers' high-handedness often comes forth. Even in situations where a meaningful dialogue can be effective, some officials flex their muscles and demonstrate their power.

Though the players may have won a few battles, the war goes on.
 

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

November 2009: Chess Association of India (CAI) announces a Rs. 15 lakh prize-money event, from 23 December, in New Delhi.

October 2010: AICF writes to the FIDE to remove the rating of participants of this “unauthorized” event.

November-December 2010: FIDE removes rating of 71 players in November and another 55 players in December.

March 2011: Aggrieved players make a representation to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, which in turn, forwards it to the AICF.

April 2011: FIDE removes rating of another 25 players, taking the total to 151 players.

August 2011:
Four players – Hemant Sharma, Devendra Bajpai, Gurpreet Pal Singh and Karun Duggal – move Delhi High Court against AICF.

November 2011: Delhi High Court, finding prima facie case, directs CCI to enquire into the matter. The AICF, aggrieved with this observation, files a Leave Petition in Delhi High Court, which partially modified the order, saying that the CCI can enquire only on the request of the players.

Later, the players file application before CCI seeking enquiry against AICF and seeking interim relief for participation in all events.

February 2012: AICF questions CCI’s jurisdiction. CCI concludes it has “substantial jurisdiction” over the AICF and the Competition Act, 2002, would apply to the AICF. CCI also orders investigation by its Director General but declines interim relief to players.

October 2012: The Director General completes investigation and sends report to the parties, inviting comments.

December 2012: AICF receives interim stay, ex-parte, from Madras High Court against the CCI order.

March 2013: CCI files a strongly-worded response in Madras High Court against stay order.

April 2013: AICF offers one-time clemency to barred players. The conditions include, remitting to the AICF, 50% of the prize money won from “unauthorized” events.

January 2017: Hearing the plea of the CCI and the players, the Madras High Court vacates the stay given to AICF in December, 2012.

March 2017: AICF appeals to Madras High Court against the order of its single judge and obtains an interim order in its favour for maintaining status quo till 4 April, 2017.  AICF also approaches the CCI, submits that it no longer has the relevant records as they were destroyed in Cyclone Vardha that hit the Madras coast on 6-13 December, 2016.

April 2017: On 5th April, Madras High Court Division Bench vacates its interim order and directs CCI to proceed in the matter.

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