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Sports law – a practical alphabet

Posted: 08/07/2019

It’s all to play for as Richard Marshall and Oliver Cooke run through an (almost) A to Z of sports law.

Agents - arguably the most powerful individuals in many sports, other than the players themselves, agents should obtain and maintain the appropriate registrations and licences.

Bosman - this European Court of Justice decision applying article 45 (freedom of movement for workers) led to a new era of player power in football.

CAS - the Court of Arbitration for Sport has rapidly gained profile as arbitration has become the default choice for sports-related disputes. Not all plain sailing - see its recent ruling re female athletes’ testosterone levels.

DRC - the Dispute Resolution Chamber is FIFA’s mechanism for dealing with disputes arising covered by the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.

E-sports - could the next generation of superstar athlete be found sitting behind a desk? Will the rapid growth in fan engagement also lead to increased regulation?

Formula E - the new, green, alternative to Formula 1, allowing manufacturers to keep ahead of potential environmental regulations, prove their green credentials, and still market to the masses.

Gambling - more new regulation has been introduced, covering issues such as the promotion of gambling by professional sports organisations and players, and safeguarding of minors.

Health - sports organisations are now taking a more holistic approach to their traditional investment in their players’ physical health, making significant investment in mental health and wellbeing programmes.

Image rights - confusingly, in the UK there is no express right to own one’s image. The law has therefore developed as an off-shoot of IP, on a relatively ad-hoc basis.

Jersey sponsorship - merchandise is a key tool for professional sports organisations to build brand awareness and generate revenue.

Rule K - the Football Association’s (FA’s) very own arbitration process. The courts will uphold the arbitral process where parties are bound by the FA Rules, regardless of the existence of a written contract between them.

Licensing agreements - can provide immediate revenue with no outlay by the IP owner; but pick your partners carefully to ensure your brand is not diluted/damaged.

Match fixing - can affect any sport. Being caught brings with it criminal liability, conviction for which can result in a fine and/or potentially imprisonment.

Naming rights - what’s in a name? Possibly a lot of bang for your buck. Make sure the agreement carefully sets out the rights and obligations of all parties.

Occupiers’ liability - not to be taken lightly. Appropriate health and safety policies/procedures and insurances are fundamental for event organisers and venue owners, as events at last year’s Ryder Cup and Formula 3 race in Macau demonstrate.

Protection of minors - recent scandals involving abuse of minors in US athletics and English professional football demonstrate the importance of professional sports organisations taking safeguarding seriously.

Qatar World Cup - despite criticism from nearly all sides, FIFA remains resolute. Will the first winter World Cup in 2022 prove to be an own goal?

Regulation - ever increasing (see E, F and G above), sporting regulations also now extend beyond the athlete’s behaviour during competition to their behaviour in their personal life.

Social media - part of the game for sports stars, but definitely a game of two halves: potentially a tool for good, assisting fan engagement and communication, but can also create liability if used inappropriately.

Therapeutic Use Exemption - the process by which athletes can gain approval to use an otherwise banned substance for the treatment of a legitimate medical condition. A constant source of controversy.

US sports - Spurs’ new sliding pitch was designed specifically to hold NFL; the O2 Arena holds regular season NBA games; and the London Stadium is hosting MLB matches. US sports have never been more popular in the UK.

Visas - non-EU athletes hoping to compete here will have to navigate the complicated visa system, with arbitrary rules based on athletic performance determining their eligibility to compete in certain competitions.

World Anti-Doping Agency - the body responsible for coordinating the fight against drugs in sports worldwide, its response to the Russian doping scandal has been questioned by many.

TaX - in recent years, HMRC has taken aggressive investigation and enforcement action to combat what it claims is widespread tax evasion in the football industry.

Yellow jersey - the battered reputation of this hallowed piece of Tour de France sportswear reflects the reputational impact of the doping scandals in professional road cycling. The unlawful use of performance-enhancing drugs in any sporting competition may also incur potentially significant legal risk.

Zero tolerance - on abuse of athletes, drugs and cheating.

This article was published in New Law Journal in July 2019.

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