vfi: Volleyball Federation of India’s upcoming league in legal tangle

The Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) -proposed Indian Volleyball League (IVL) has found itself in a legal tangle, barely days after its inaugural season was announced on Monday.

Baseline Ventures, a sports marketing firm that organized the first season of the Pro Volleyball League in 2019 and is currently organizing the first of its kind private league – Prime Volleyball – has sent a legal notice to Discovery Communications India, the proposed league’s broadcast partner.

The league is the brainchild of a faction of the VFI, headed by President Achyuta Samanta. On Monday, this body, which is not recognized by the sports ministry, announced plans to launch an annual volleyball league with Discovery Communications India’s EuroSports as the broadcast partner.

VFI also claimed that the league is sanctioned by both the Asian Volleyball Confederation and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).

However, Baseline, which won an arbitration award against the VFI from a Madras high court appointed arbitrator, said in its notice that the volleyball body (VFI faction) failed to comply with the payment, resulting in the sports marketing and promotion company filing an execution petition before the Madras high court for a sum of over Rs 4.53 crore, along with future interest.

Making Discovery party to the matter, Baseline has called out the broadcaster for fulfilling the pending payment, as they entered into a contract with the VFI for the purposes of telecasting the league.

“Baseline is owed over Rs 6 crore by this body, as decided by the courts. On hearing that Discovery Sport wants to broadcast this, we have made them party to this sum as they are signing a contract with the same body. Discovery needs to be aware of the legal history of this agreement and the dues still owed to us,” said Joy Bhattacharjya, CEO, Prime Volleyball League.

Incidentally, Mohd. Akram Khan, Secretary General of another faction of the VFI, has also written to Discovery Communications, highlighting that the inception of the IVL was created by a “small, unrecognised faction” of the VFI.

“The same faction had conducted a parallel election in the Federation and had not been approved by any constitutional authority. The status of the election is being decided by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” Khan’s notice said.

As per an RTI filed dated January 23, the sports ministry has not renewed the recognition of the VFI for the term 2020-24, and there are no office bearers of the VFI in the ministry’s records.

“The so-called ‘VFI’ has not been recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport since 2020,” Bhattacharjya added. “We challenge this so-called VFI to provide evidence that FIVB, the world volleyball body, is actually supporting this event as claimed. If they cannot provide the same, they are cheating players and the public.”

Discovery Communications India did not respond to ET’s request for comments.

It was in November 2020, where Justice (Retd) K Kannan, the Madras high court-appointed arbitrator, awarded Rs 4 crore (plus interest as damages and legal fees) to Baseline Ventures in its dispute against VFI for the termination of the contract.

Baseline organized the first season of the league in February 2019.

On November 18, 2019, VFI terminated the 10-year agreement, alleging financial irregularities and manipulation by Baseline Ventures. However, after almost 10 months of arbitration, the arbitrator dismissed all allegations made by VFI against Baseline pertaining to the breach of contract and observed that there was no ground to terminate the contract.

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