The apex body for the sport in the country doesn’t recognise the league as the official tournament.

The evolution of volleyball in India continues to make slow but controversial progress. In an era of the premier league largely in focus across sports, Indian volleyball players have been served with their due in the Prime Volleyball League. But in a curtailed fashion as the controversy surrounding the league remains far from settled. The apex body for the sport, the Volleyball Federation of India doesn’t recognise Prime Volleyball League as the official league.

And as the league continues to grapple against the odds, KhelNow looks at the scenario that brought the Prime Volleyball League and the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) at loggerheads. 

What is the dispute?

The dispute started in 2019 when sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures signed a 10-year contract with the federation to organise the Pro Volleyball League.

The first season, held in February 2019 ran successfully with jam-packed stadiums and a television viewership of 21 million. Following the success in the first season, Baseline Ventures wanted to conduct the second season in February 2019. But VFI terminated the contract mid-way.

Reason for dispute?

VFI claimed ‘replete with high-headedness, unfair commercial practices, unethical practices, non-payment of minimum guarantee fee on time and actions which were against the terms of the agreement’ by the sports marketing firm as their reasons for terminating the contract in November 2019. 

The tension between both parties started after the apex body alleged that the bank accounts were manipulated by the rights holder to purposely show a loss from the first season. As per the contract, the federation should receive 50% of the season’s net profit earned.

“It is also laughable that Mr [Ramavtar Singh] Jhakar being the secretary general does not appreciate that the loss in Season 1 to PVL is solely due to the fees amounting Rs 3.5 crores, paid by the Company to VFI in Season 1. VFI has already earned Rs 3.5 crores in Season 1 whereas the company has incurred a loss of Rs 2.66 crores in the same season,” Baseline said in response to the allegations. 

Timeline of key events

February 2019

Baseline Ventures conceived Prime Volleyball happened for the first-time in association with the Volleyball Federation of India. Before the first season, both parties signed a contract of 10 years. 

November 2019

VFI terminated the contract with Baseline Ventures saying that the company’s conduct “was replete with high-headedness, unfair commercial practices, unethical practices, non-payment of minimum guarantee fee on time and actions which were against the terms of the agreement.”

November 2020

The matter moved to the court where VFI lost. The Madras High Court ruled its decision in favour of Baseline Ventures. And stated that VFI had wrongfully terminated Baseline’s contract, and ordered it to pay Rs 4 crore (US$530,000) in compensation. In response, VFI challenged the judgement, but lost again.

Incidentally, the apex body owes Baseline Rs 6 crore (US$800,000), including interest.


Non-recognition of the Prime Volleyball League by national federation

The turmoil between Baseline Ventures and VFI led to the apex body’s non-recognition of the Prime Volleyball League. As a result, the Prime Volleyball League became the first private volleyball league in India. 

The league features franchises from eight cities – Ahmedabad Defenders, Bengaluru Torpedoes, Calicut Heroes, Chennai Blitz, Hyderabad Black Hawks, Kochi Blue Spikers, Kolkata Thunderbolts and Mumbai Meteors – and will be the stakeholders. It also means that each franchise will have their say in the league. 

Top players to miss the league

But a number of star players will miss out from the Prime Volleyball League as the schedule coincides with the National Championship and Federation Cup. 

The Prime Volleyball League got underway on February 4 in Bengaluru and will move to Hyderabad and Kochi in a month-long schedule. The National Championship (Guwahati, Feb. 2-9) and the Federation Cup (Kochi, Feb. 28-March 7) will also be played at the same time which will see the country’s top players giving the league a miss.

The country’s top players will be keen on featuring in the two national events over the private league as it will give them a chance to leave a mark ahead of the selection for Asian Games which is slated to take place in China in September-October. 

Way forward

Prime Volleyball to run as private league

The Prime Volleyball League will run as a private league. It will follow the NBA model where franchises will be the stakeholders. 

“This league is for the players. Our endeavour is to provide the right kind of platform for volleyball talent to grow in the Prime Volleyball League where the franchises are committed for long-term interests and let the sport in a sustained manner in India on the lines of the NBA. The Prime Volleyball League aims to give a new direction in terms of unearthing young talent and exposure in terms of viewership and corporate support too,” Prime Volleyball League CEO Joy Bhattacharya reflected on the vision in an official statement. 

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