Anish, could you tell us a bit about your journey leading up to your current professional position?
After my graduation in Physics Honours from St. Stephen’s College, I went on to do law from the University of Cambridge. Having completed my Tripos in Law at Cambridge, I worked very briefly in London with law firms before returning to India and enrolling as a lawyer in Delhi in 1995. For three years, I worked with the chambers of Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Senior Advocate and now Member of Parliament. Since 1998, I have my own independent legal practice in Delhi, largely based around the Supreme Court of India and the Delhi High Court. Later on I also got enrolled as a Solicitor of England and Wales.
What were the factors that motivated you to choose an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career specializing in sports, media and entertainment laws?
I was associated with media, entertainment and sports law work since 1995, when I was part of a team advising Prasar Bharati on the World Cup 1995 dispute with WorldTel. India was riding the curve of liberalization and satellite broadcasting was becoming the norm. There were innovative schemes floated by new entrepreneurs to evolve concepts of sports broadcasting, production and marketing. It was an extremely exciting time, when the rules were being set, disputed and debated. Live sports rights became increasingly valuable with cricket, of course, topping the list. In this process I got the opportunity to be in the thick of things and was advising Stracon India (which was then one of the prominent sports rights agents) and also TWI (the media production arm for IMG). Later I was retained by broadcasters like Ten Sports and oversaw one of the most interesting litigations, which ultimately led to the enactment of the sports rights mandatory sharing Act.
Soon after, IPL popped up on the horizon and I was engaged by Rajasthan Royals (the Jaipur IPL Cricket Team) for advising them, an association which continues to generate rich legal experience. Along the way, I have been advising sports players, sports event management companies (like Showtime Sports), media agencies (like Zenith Optimedia) and sports professionals (like Bob Houghton – the former Indian football coach). More recently, non-cricket sports have generated keen interest and it’s been very exciting to help conceptualize new sports properties in cycling, polo, athletics, etc. More recently, I have been representing a number of national athletes in doping cases, most notably the Asian and Commonwealth Gold winning quartet of Ashwini Akkunji, Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, etc. Theirs, as of other athletes, is not a one sided story, as the media portrays, but much is to be said about their playing facilities, conditions and problems and therefore I feel this is quite a new challenge which motivates me to try and help by providing my services and improve the system, to the extent I can contribute.
As an experienced lawyer with specific interest in sports, media and entertainment laws, how would you trace the development of the field over the past decade? In particular, do you think that the level of interest in sports law has increased?
Sports law is a new creature in India and is largely being highlighted in this manner due to the increasing presence of sports in our lives and on the media. For years, there has just been cricket, which attracts the majority of resources, effort and commerce. With greater disposable incomes, a growing economy and huge international exposure, non- cricket sports are gaining ground. This has led to the need for greater sports specialized services, both on the sports side and on the media side (which is really what generates the revenue). I personally feel that the market is not big enough yet to foster and sustain huge specialized legal services for sports in India. Sports law involves really the practice of law as tuned to the special domain of sports. Therefore, I believe that if one has good grounding in all aspects of law coupled with experience and knowledge of the sports and media domains, then the combination is ideal for providing specialized services in this area.
Can you please describe some of the interesting legal issues you have encountered?
I remember negotiating huge contracts for live sports rights (FIFA, ICC, Wimbledon, Grand Slams, etc.) and their marketing through the late 1990s, which was extremely challenging since we did not have the available experience in India and to modulate international agreements with Indian reality provided great learning. The other landmark was the litigation which ensued when the issue of simulcast arose for the India-Pakistan historic cricket series in 2004. I was advising Ten Sports and upon Public Interest Litigations being filed, the Courts directed that Prasar Bharati would also telecast in public interest. This opened up new legal issues of the sanctity of private media rights, right to receive sports entertainment, rights to live sports feed, etc. and which ultimately led to the enactment of the Mandatory Sharing Act. Also, the recent slew of doping cases before NADA, as I mentioned earlier, have provided me a huge new perspective in the conditions of sportspersons and sports administration in India.
What are your views on the Draft National Sports (Development) Bill, 2011, especially the revised Bill?
I feel this is a seminal piece of legislation and much required. There are always teething problems in any new system and structure which one tries to bring in place. I feel the Government is doing a tremendous job in trying to generate support for the Bill and elicit public opinion. There may be issues (as are being touted in the media) which may need ironing out, which I am sure will settle once they go through the Parliamentary filters, but the concept of National Sports Federations and the Sports Tribunal are positive steps. It’s critical to get professionals involved in sports administration and there is no dearth of talent in this area. I hear tens and hundreds of students speaking of doing sports management and sports law, therefore the future looks bright and encouraging.
What do you consider the best thing about your job, and the worst?
The best thing about my sports law work is being able to be in close proximity with sports, its structuring and its administration and most importantly sportspersons. I find the energy with sportspersons and persons genuinely connected with sports absolutely fantastic and infectious, giving a huge fillip to my motivational levels. The worst is something I yet have to discover, but the apathy for sports in India (though now improving) leaves one a bit sad. I feel, though, it’s important to complain less and contribute more and I hope we all channelize our energies in that direction.
Finally Anish, what advice would you offer to others considering a career such as your own?
Work hard, without fear or favour. Plan, but evolve as you go along. Lead, but include everyone with you as you walk ahead. I have always believed that your clients are your worst critics and your best admirers, so provide your best professional services, and you will only engender great goodwill and a sound reputation.