India’s professional rugby league team, the Rajasthan Royals, has been a fixture in the country’s sports news for more than a decade.
But a year ago, the team announced it would no longer be taking part in its first two seasons.
Now, in an effort to address the need for a more stable and transparent professional rugby team, Indian sports leagues and governing bodies are working to develop a system that allows teams to have a longer-term contract, with fewer financial and operational challenges.
A new bill introduced by the Indian Parliament last month aims to create a new framework that would allow teams to operate for more years in the same league and more effectively manage their finances.
The bill would also make it easier for teams to move from one league to another, as well as make it more transparent about the revenue that each team receives.
This is the first time that a bill has been introduced to provide more financial stability to professional teams, said Shashank Agrawal, director of the Center for Sport Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“The idea behind the bill is to create greater accountability, to make it clear that teams are responsible for their own finances and the way they manage their financial resources,” Agrawan said.
“It’s a big step forward in the direction of greater transparency in sports governance.”
The new bill was introduced in the Assembly by the finance and sports minister, Ananth Kumar Sharma, who has previously made clear that the government wants to see a long-term agreement in place before any future rugby league contracts with Indian leagues.
“We want to establish a structure in which teams can have long-lasting contracts for the next five years,” Sharma said in an interview with IndiaSpend last year.
“That is why we are pushing the Indian sports federations to create an agreement for the long term and for teams who want to play in the domestic leagues.”
In the past, the government has been very supportive of the idea of having a more secure and transparent sports governance system, but has also had to deal with some serious hurdles, including concerns about the financial and organisational stability of professional teams.
“A lot of stakeholders were very much worried that this bill would lead to teams having to abandon the sport entirely,” said Kunal Bhatia, a senior policy adviser with the Center on Sports Governance.
The new law, which will be submitted to the government for approval in the next few weeks, would establish a five-year term for professional teams in a similar way to the current four-year contract structure.
The five-years term would begin after the end of the 2021-22 season, with teams competing for two straight seasons in the league, which would be based on the number of points scored by teams from the current season.
The longer-tenured teams would have a two-year option for a one-year extension, which could be extended up to five years.
This would make it possible for teams with lower ratings to stay in the professional leagues for longer.
This could potentially benefit teams with a poor financial position in the first season.
Agrawa, however, said that this would still not provide a long term solution.
“This would be very difficult for teams that are not as financially stable as they would like,” he said.
Agawas bill is not the only legislation introduced in India this year to tackle the problem of the sport’s financial and organizational stability.
A bill introduced in Parliament last year also aims to give the sports minister the authority to set up a panel to monitor the financial management of professional leagues and ensure that teams do not run out of money.
The panel will also be responsible for setting up a financial monitoring system for the Indian Professional Rugby League, which is currently based in New York.
The sports ministry has also proposed a law that would ensure that players and coaches are compensated for any financial losses suffered during the sport.
“There are some financial concerns that we are seeing in professional sports,” Agawal said.
The legislation also would make changes to the way the government finances the sports teams, as is currently done with the Indian Premier League.
“These are big challenges,” said Pradeep Kumar, a professor of sports management at New York University.
A sports governance bill is a big leap forward for India, Kumar said.
“[The bill] is a very significant step forward for a long time, and it’s a really important step forward to ensure that professional sports teams are financially stable for a very long time.”