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Power ‘diluted’, ‘revenue loss’ — why HC panel flagged national table tennis body’s deal with pvt firm

The Committee of Administrators, in a plea to Delhi HC, claimed the 2015 contract was tilted in favour of the firm & causing pecuniary losses to the Table Tennis Federation of India.

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New Delhi: A Delhi High Court-appointed panel has claimed that a 2015 commercial agreement signed between a private entity and the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI), the governing body for the sport in the country, has not only diluted the authority of the latter but also barred it from earning revenue.

In an application filed earlier this month before the Delhi High Court (HC), the Committee of Administrators (CoA) alleged that the ‘Sanction and Commercial Rights Agreement’ between TTFI and the Mumbai-based 11even Sports Private Limited (ESPL), is riddled with “legal anomalies”, tilting the contract in favour of the private firm and causing pecuniary losses to the sports federation.

The CoA has been managing the affairs of the TTFI ever since it was suspended in February. Through this application, the CoA has asked the court to scrutinise the agreement, and allow it to modify the same.

The panel also claimed in its application that it decided to seek judicial intervention because it is facing “extreme pressure” from “various sources” to endorse the 2015 agreement and accept sponsorships in terms of its provisions. The manner in which the TTFI has proceeded with the agreement has “shocked the conscience of every member” of the committee, the CoA further stated in its plea before HC.

Set up in February with the mandate of looking after the work and administration of the TTFI, the CoA is headed by former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Justice Gita Mittal. The Delhi HC bench of Justice Rekha Palli had ordered the constitution of the CoA after it suspended the executive committee of TTFI.

The suspension came after a three-member enquiry panel opined in a report that the sports body was safeguarding the interests of its office-bearers instead of promoting the players. The inquiry was ordered on a petition filed by table tennis player Manika Batra, who moved the HC last year when she was not selected for the Asian Table Tennis Championships because she absented herself from a national camp in Sonepat. Batra had alleged that the national coach, Soumyadeep Roy, had “pressurised” her to “throw away” an Olympic qualifier match in favour of one of his personal trainees.

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The agreement

The TFFI entered into a contract with the ESPL in August 2015 to jointly organise tournaments as part of a professional level table tennis league called ‘Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT)’. However, according to CoA, the agreement in its present form has become an impediment for it to organise table tennis matches as it does not empower the federation to earn revenue.

The agreement not just dilutes the position of the federation in domestic tournaments, but hands over the entire game of table tennis to a private body because it allows the latter to negotiate all deals for the tournaments, it contended in its application.

“The experience of the committee in the short period of 6-7 weeks has revealed that the federation has neither made any efforts to plan and organise trainings for its players, nor taken any steps to facilitate the growth of table tennis in India,” the CoA said in its application, adding that the TTFI did not set up any standardised training academies, leaving individual players with not choice but to hire private coaches.

‘TTFI left with no branding rights’

The application also lists out some of the CoA’s major concerns regarding the agreement — one of them is the absence of any record related to payment of the “rights fee” in favour of the federation. By virtue of a clause in the agreement, the ESPL has been vested with all commercial rights, the application has claimed.

These commercial rights include all revenues, fees, earning opportunities, entrance fee, in-stadium advertisement, prize distribution, advertisements and broadcasting rights not only with respect to the proposed table tennis league, but also any franchise.

“The TTFI has been left with no branding rights even though it is the parent body under whose affiliation the table tennis league would operate,” the application pointed out.

Under another clause, ESPL has been conferred with exclusive title sponsorship in all zonal and national tournaments conducted by the federation, along with 50 per cent of branding rights, the application said, adding that this is even though the tournaments will be conducted completely by the federation using its own efforts and expenses.

Furthermore, the agreement blocks the federation from undertaking activities for promotion of the sport, and authorises the private firm to communicate directly with international federations, claims the CoA’s plea: “Thus, the TTFI stands totally bypassed and ESPL has been empowered to directly deal with National Olympic Committees and National Federations without the prior approval (of the federation).”

While ESPL has the monopoly to control the game, the agreement imposes a liability on the federation to bear expenses for filing applications with the competent authorities for relevant permits and authorisation from the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), the application further stated.

‘No interviews without consulting ESPL’

According to CoA, one of the most “insulting clauses” of the agreement allegedly bars the federation’s official spokesperson from giving interviews or rendering any assistance to the media “without consulting ESPL”.

“TTFI has granted irrevocable and exclusive recognition to ESPL with respect to ITTF, including the right to use the name/logo of TTFI at their discretion; right to use its name/logo/marks/copyrights/trademarks to ESPL. At the same time, TTFI is not committed to using any logo or trademark etc., pertaining to ITTF or any of its events,” the application stated.

In the view of the CoA, no scrutiny was done with regard to the impact on the revenue intake of the federation before the latter entered into this contract. Despite every effort to seek record, the CoA alleged its members were informed that there is no record relating to any legal opinion, indicating no due diligence undertaken by the federation before it agreed to the terms and conditions.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

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