CCI Initiates Investigation Against Amateur Baseball Federation of India

On June 3, 2021, CCI initiated an investigation against Amateur Baseball Federation of India (‘ABFI’) for abuse of dominance and entering into horizontal agreements, in violation of Sections 3 and 4 of the Act. The initiation order arose out of a complaint filed by the Confederation of Professional Baseball Softball Clubs (‘CPBSC’). [1]

CPBSC is a not-for-profit organization and a member of the baseball ecosystem, engaging with players, coaches, clubs, and other partners in India and abroad. ABFI is recognized as National Sports Federation by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India and is working for the general promotion of baseball and players. ABFI bears responsibility to conduct zonal, national, and international baseball tournaments in India, and is affiliated with international institutions such as the Baseball Federation of Asia and the World Baseball and Softball Confederation.

CPBSC proposed to organize a championship event in February 2021 to provide a platform for the best baseball clubs and players to compete with each other and enhance their skills to play in major leagues. Subsequently, ABFI, by way of letter dated January 7, 2021 prohibited State Baseball Associations throughout the country from dealing with bodies and leagues not recognized by ABFI and threatened with disciplinary action if any of the players took part in the leagues and tournaments not recognized by it. Due to this letter, several clubs started pulling out of the event organized by CPBSC leading to its cancellation. Despite rescheduling the event to March 30, 2021 to April 4, 2021, CPBSC noted that ABFI had announced the conduct of 34th Senior National Baseball Championship the dates of which conflicted with CPBSC’s event. Further, in its announcement, ABFI stated that no team would be allowed to leave the station before the closing ceremony, and that players would be selected during the event for participation in forthcoming international events.

CPBSC thus alleged that ABFI had denied it the access to utilize the services of players in the market for organizing and conducting baseball tournaments and leagues, and caused obstructions in its engagements with State Baseball Associations in violation of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act. CPBSC further alleged that ABFI had placed restrictions on players participating in tournaments not recognized by the ABFI which was an unfair condition in violation of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act and resulted in the limitation of provision of services in violation of Section 4(2)(b)(i) of the Act.

At the outset, CCI noted that based on ABFI’s business activities, it would be considered as an ‘enterprise’, and would be subject to assessment of allegations made under Section 4 of the Act. CCI went on to note that Section 3(3) of the Act extends beyond enterprises and applies to persons as well, and that ABFI would qualify as an association of persons due to its registration under the Haryana Registration and Regulation of Societies Act, 2012.

In relation to the substantive assessment of the allegations, CCI defined the relevant market the market for organization of baseball leagues/events/tournaments in India. CCI held ABFI to prima facie be dominant in the relevant market, owing to its apex position in the baseball ecosystem in India, coupled with its affiliations and ties with continental and international baseball organizations and State Associations.

CCI noted that ABFI requesting State Baseball Associations to not entertain unrecognized bodies and not allow their players to participate in any events organized by such bodies resulted in denial of market access to in violation of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act. CCI also opined that such conduct also resulted in limiting and restricting the provision of services in violation of Section 4(2)(b)(i) of the Act, while barring players from participating in tournaments and warning them of strict action on failure to do so was an imposition of an unfair condition under Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act.

Lastly, CCI noted that ABFI communicating its decision prima facie seems to control or limit provision of services and was thus captured under Section 3(1) read with Section 3(3) of the Act. Based on the above assessment, CCI directed the DG to initiate an investigation into ABFI’s conduct.

 

[1] Case No. 03 of 2021, Order dated June 3, 2021.

Published In:Inter Alia Special Edition - Competition Law - September 2021 [ English
Date: September 16, 2021