With growth of online fantasy sports market in India, challenges emerge to ensure it remains 'game of skill'

With growth of fantasy sports industry in India, the challenges have also grown for its self-regulatory body FIFS. The biggest and most important one is ensuring such operators do not cross the line when corruption in sports remains a huge issue.

Shubham Pandey July 12, 2020 13:56:21 IST
With growth of online fantasy sports market in India, challenges emerge to ensure it remains 'game of skill'

With the Indian fantasy sports industry growing rapidly, it faces many key challenges – self-regulation and maintaining standard practices among its members.

Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), self-regulatory body formed in 2017, to protect consumer interest and create standardised best practices in the fantasy sports industry, came out with a business report in collaboration with KPMG (a financial auditing company), where the findings reveal growth of more than Rs 1,500 crores in last one year. The report also stated that the industry has helped make deeper connections with tier 2 and tier 3 cities, increasing consumption of sports.

Fantasy sports market has grown in India rapidly, with just 10 players operating in 2016 to 150 operators plying their trade in the market. Dream 11, also the founding member of FIFS, was one such big player. However, along with growth, the challenges have also grown. The biggest and most important one is ensuring such operators do not cross the line when corruption in sports remains a huge issue.

The basic principle of FIFS it to ascertain that operators do not engage in any illegal activity on respective platforms and that fantasy sports remains predominantly a matter of skill and not a matter of chance.

This grey area between skill and chance is of huge concern, with FIFS admitting that some players, who are non-members of the self-regulatory body, may 'unknowingly' cross the boundaries of legality.

It is to be noted that all major fantasy sports players, in total 32, including Dream 11, Myteam11, My11Circle are members of FIFS and work under the guidelines that have been laid down. However, the number is way less, compared to the total number of players currently doing business.

Amrit Mathur, the strategic advisor for FIFS, said, "Non-members are not committed to charter of the FIFS, which lays down good practices, it lays down the responsibilities of the members. They are actually outside the system. It could only be guidance, there could only be advice. Beyond that, there is no connect or relationship between non members and FIFS."

It's a matter of concern that a number of non-members maybe playing in that grey area, even if out of ignorance, said Mathur.

"There could be a possibility and the possibility could be for various reasons. For instance, quite often, it is done out of ignorance, because you don't know what is the line which should not be crossed. Because this is a rapdily growing industry. The barrier to enter is very low. New operators keeps coming into the industry and many without any experience. And they are just beginning to be a part of this industry. There could be a situation where they do something which is not compliant with the charter. And even something which is not part of fantasy sport," Mathur told Firstpost.

Mathur said that effort is always to ask non-members to join FIFS. However, as non-members, 'technically, there is no compulsion or direct responsibility of a non-member to adhere to the charter'.

As far as members are concerned, FIFS keeps a check on their activities by doing auditing every now and then.

Sanjit Sihag, COO and Co-Founder MyTeam11 said that sometimes to be creative and doing things out of the box, some new players enter the grey area.

"Some practices are used which court has not called them as illegal but they are not legal as well. They come into grey area. Such things may create problems for us, for that FIFS is keeping a strict eye," said Sihag.

While there are various court rulings in favour of fantasy sports, there are others which have raised doubts over their activities.

As per this Indian Express report, the Punjab and Haryana High Courts called online fantasy games as game of skill. But in January 2020, Kerala High Court ruled that 'games of skills played for stakes amounts of offence of gambling'.

A fake cricket league, which was held in Mohali, Punjab, has put one of the FIFS members in hot water, after the league came under the scanner of the police.

An Indian Express expose revealed that the the said league claiming to be played in Sri Lanka, was actually held in Punjab, India. The police has also made some arrests in the case. The matches were being covered live on FanCode, a member of the FIFS.

FanCode, in its reply, stated that documents submitted by the league turned out to be forged and that they stopped coverage of the match as soon as they found out.

Such occurrences are a huge challenge for FIFS, which is hoping to run a self-regulatory fantasy sports industry in India.

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