07 October 2020
Sport is big business. It is no longer something we sit down to watch on a Sunday afternoon or something we enrol our children in, to compete on Saturday mornings. Whether we engage in sport by participating or by spectating, there would be few Australians who are not involved in the industry to some degree.
Research has shown that the last few years has seen significant growth in the sports industry. A recent report titled “Exploring the size and growth of potential of the Sport Industry in Australia” released in March 2020 found that:
In addition, the Australian Government’s 2018 report titled “Sport 2030”, which is Australia’s first national sports plan details the four strategic priorities for the sports industry:
All of this means that as the sports business grows, sport is becoming more commercial. With increased commerciality comes increased risk.
There is no ‘sports law’ as such. The diversity of the ‘sports industry’ means that many general legal issues arise (albeit the application of those issues may be sports specific).
In this article, we outline some of the key legal issues in the business and discuss why it is important for sporting organisations and professional athletes to be aware of their obligations and seek legal advice where necessary.
Professional sport is a commercial exercise. Contracts are necessarily everywhere and will include employment or professional services contracts, endorsement or appearance contracts, contracts governing the hire or use of grounds or stadiums, sponsorship agreements, loan contracts, management contracts, etc. The list could go on.
Knowledge of contractual rights and principles is essential in minimising risk (both to athletes and sporting organisations).
Athletes and sporting organisations should be aware of the following key legal issues that may arise in sporting contracts:
Intellectual property laws protect the rights flowing from inventions and creations. Protection of those rights is important to encourage innovation and creativity in an industry where advancements in technology are vital and assist both spectators (for example by assisting in faster and more accurate referee decisions) and participants (in terms of training, analysing performance and the performance itself).
Think things such as instant replays, live streaming, goal-line technology in football, electronic timing devices in swimming and cycling, advancement in clothing and shoe technology (remember Eliud Kipchoge running the first-ever sub two-hour marathon in Nike Vaporfly and the introduction of swimming tech suits in the 2008 Olympics).
Understanding and protecting intellectual property rights is extremely important for enhancing the business of sport for both competitors and spectators.
Some of the most common intellectual property issues that will arise are:
Preparation and implementation of appropriate policies
Development of appropriate policies is important in managing an organisation’s risk. Clear and appropriate policies that guide behaviour and are followed from the top down, is essential in minimising the risk an organisation faces.
Common policies for sporting organisations should (depending on the type and size of the organisation), include:
Like all commercial arrangements, disputes will commonly arise within the sport, both on and off the field.
Depending on the type of dispute, resolution may differ to other commercial arrangements due to the availability of both internal and external tribunals (whether an internal or external tribunal, such as the recently minted National Sports Tribunal, is tasked with resolving disputes will depend on the relevant Constitution of the sporting organisation involved, or agreement between the disputing parties).
The benefits of using tribunals in dispute resolution include:
Tribunal proceedings differ to court proceedings (and differ depending on the circumstances and the relevant tribunal). Some key issues to be aware of include:
Authors: Sarah Bryden & Tom Goodwin
The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this newsletter is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.