The world of sports would never be as riveting as it is, if it were not for the relentless competition, the complex legal frameworks, the stringent regulations and rigorous guidelines that govern various events and championships.

Aravind Viswanath, our next pathbreaker, Research Officer (RO) at Sports Authority of India, works with a team of dedicated professionals from various disciplines such as football, basketball, volleyball, chess, golf , tracking their performance progression and supporting them in furthering Indian sports in the international arena.

Aravind talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about pursuing a career in Sports Law driven by his love for sports and choice of undergraduation in law, despite the inherent risks involved in such a niche area.

For students, the biggest risk you take in life is not doing enough research in your area of interest because it is definitely going to come back to bite you later !

Aravind, tell us about Your background?

Hello, my name is Aravind Viswanath. I was born in Trivandrum, Kerala. As both my parents were Government servants, I was in many schools in different places across the state, but I predominantly studied in Thrissur. I chose the Science group during my 12th standard. Ever since childhood, like many of my classmates, my primary interest was in sports, and I used to play football and cricket very frequently. Another extracurricular activity of mine was quizzing.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

Even though I chose the Science group in school, it did not really motivate me to the extent that I wanted to pursue Engineering or Medicine. Naturally, I was a bit confused and it was at that time that my uncle (dad’s younger brother) who is a Magistrate, spoke to me about the possibility of taking up law as a career option. I read up more on the same, gave the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) and secured an admission in National Law University, Jodhpur (AIR 327) in my second attempt. Prior to that, I spent a year in Kerala Law Academy. After graduating from NLU, Jodhpur, I went on to complete my Masters in International Sports Law degree from Instituto Superior de Derecho y Economía (ISDE), Madrid in Spain.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

By the time I passed out of NLU, Jodhpur, I developed an active interest in doing a Post-Graduation, and since sports was my first love and law was my area of study, I chose sports law. It will be unfair to single out only a few people while discussing as to who helped me in pursuing the esteemed ISDE course, because many individuals were involved. My parents supported me financially (there was no scholarship available at ISDE) and I had sought some invaluable advice from certain friends who had done the same course in Spain and also, others who had gone abroad to finish their LLMs. A couple of my Professors at NLU furnished my Letters of Recommendation. I knew that it was a niche area and not a conventional career route, and hence there was an inherent risk in pursuing something like sports law, but for some reason, the thought did not hinder me a lot. Moreover, I was disinterested in going after a corporate legal career. 

The ISDE course was detailed and the way of teaching was completely different from what I had experienced. There were different lecturers for each particular lesson, and no lecturer taught for more than two days! Experts in specific subject areas (sports professionals from FIFA, UEFA, AFC, Premier League, Miami Heat, law firms, arbitration lawyers etc.) were flown in from across the world to give us a first-hand know-how in theory and practice. Another factor that set ISDE apart was the mandatory internship that the university arranged for all students, which helped a lot in moulding one’s career on an introductory basis. There were a couple of academic visits to England and Switzerland, as well. The former required us to undergo a week-long certificate course in sports law from Wolfson College, University of Cambridge and the latter enabled us to visit the offices of FIFA, UEFA, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.

Post my ISDE Masters, right before completing my dissertation thesis, I volunteered in the Anti-Doping Department as a Doping Control Chaperone for the FIFA Under-17 Men’s World Cup 2017 in India and gained some real-world experience. 

Anti-doping was one of the key areas of study during my Masters course and I was keen on enhancing my practical knowledge on the same. We were four in number and each of us was single-handedly responsible for chaperoning the football players from the Field of Play (FoP) to the Anti-Doping Room for sample collection. 

Subsequent to the successful completion of the World Cup, as part of the mandatory internship scheme at ISDE, with the help of Mr. Alfredo Ruiz, my course coordinator, I managed to secure an internship at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was a two-month stint at the Disciplinary wing of AFC’s Legal Department, during which I gained some invaluable experience and exposure and developed a healthy network with some highly motivated and respected individuals in the sports sector. 

I had the opportunity to widen my knowledge in drafting skills, as I was required on a daily basis to make various disciplinary legal briefs, in addition to helping in amending the then-Anti Doping Code of AFC and researching extensively on club licensing.

This particular experience helped me strengthen my career profile even though it proved increasingly difficult to secure an international sports-legal job since there were many underlying complexities like procurement of a work permit and lack of vacancies. 

How did you get your first break? 

In my Undergraduate college days, I did an internship at Sportskeeda, a leading sports news content portal, wherein I was required to write articles on various sports. I decided to put that skillset to use and applied to a sports startup in Bangalore called Sportswizz after my Masters, subsequent to which I was hired as a Content Author and Community Manager in 2019. I wrote articles, managed the company’s online platform, developed different kinds of content for its social media and applications etc. 

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

After a year in Bangalore at Sportswizz, I quit my job as I wanted a different challenge with respect to making a name in the Indian sporting fraternity. I was a Legal Consultant at a sports management company in Kochi called Primero Sports, for which my role was in facilitating business collaborations and involving myself in international & domestic football transfers. I also took a pro bono remote role of being a Legal Trainee at the DRC Database based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, wherein I was tasked with developing legal extracts of FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber decisions. Naturally, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was not at all a cakewalk. There were endless applications that got rejected left right and center, but I was driven forward by hope. Soon enough, the opportunity arrived and I applied for an opening at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) after being informed of the same by a close friend who was working there. I was hired as a Research Officer at SAI’s TEAMS Division (Training of Elite Athletes and Management Support).

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

I work as a Research Officer (RO) at SAI’s TEAMS Division. My role is to analyse recent and past performances of sportspersons, track their progression in terms of achievements, records and the likes, and scrutinize financial proposals and recommend sanctioning or non-sanctioning of amounts based on the merits of the same. I deal with football, basketball, volleyball, chess, golf and more than thirty other disciplines including other Olympic sports like equestrian, sailing and all things Paralympics. I like the many challenges and responsibilities that are associated with this role as it demands people-management skills and a bit of travel (visiting sports facilities). Even then, the SAI job gives me ample time to relax and focus on my social and personal life as well.

How does your work benefit society? 

So far, I am highly happy and content with my current role as I am involved with a team of dedicated individuals who religiously indulge in furthering Indian sports. Sports is an indispensable part of human activity and I firmly believe that anything that goes into the advancement of the sports sector, especially in a developing economy like ours, will go a long way in nurturing a positive and healthy society. There is a certain sense of pride and happiness that transcends many other feelings when you see an athlete supported by yourself, making it big in the international arena and winning medal after medal. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

During my internship stint at AFC, I got a chance to argue a disciplinary case representing the organisation, in front of the Disciplinary Panel that constituted many eminent legal personalities in the international sports sector. That experience is something I will cherish forever.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Investing money and time on a career choice like sports, especially when its scope is significantly lesser in India than abroad, is a bit of a risk for sure. However, it is important to carry out your own research and assess the risk vs reward, if one were to pursue a tricky career like sports. Patience is key and an active interest in the field will be enough to enjoy the job. It is highly recommended to develop a wide network to interact with and pick the brains of people in the sports sector. Sports being a niche and close-knit sector, it is important that your name gets heard among the fraternity in whatever way possible. All the best!

Future Plans?

The Olympic and Paralympic plans for the 2021 Tokyo Games are going on in full flow, and I feel immensely grateful that I am involved in the preparations in my own small way. I don’t particularly think a lot about long-term planning, and I am satisfied with the way my career is shaping up. Having said that, I want to see myself in a sports-legal role sometime in the distant future.