08 May 2013

Sports Law – Myth or Real?

What is Sports Law?

This is the question I get asked most often when I attempt to share my favourite area of law.
And this is the simple answer I tell everyone; “It is still law. Just applied from a sports point of view.”

One can say that Sports Law is a combination of corporate and contract law, tax and real estate planning, intellectual property law, insurance, labour law and alternative dispute resolution. In some occasions, the law of tort also comes into play.

Here’s a simple example. In 2012, the X-Games Unit of the National Young Lawyers Committee conceptualised “Formula NYLC: an Inter-State Go-Kart Challenge”, modelled after Formula 1. Keeping it at the very basic, the members still had to go to the extent of drafting the Rules & Regulations with a unique point system, Drivers Etiquette and Indemnity Forms.  

Whether we realize it or not, law surrounds us in our everyday life. When you were 5 years old and you picked up a racquet to play badminton with your neighbour across the fence, you inevitably already applied some of the rules of the sport. And as minute as that may seem, that is a fraction of Sports Law.

Many have argued that there is no such thing as Sports Law. But think about it. Once upon a time, did we used to have aviation law, cyber law or maritime law?

The sports industry and the complex demands of leagues, teams, athletes, agents, sponsors and sporting associations deserve a special understanding. In the United States, sports agents are very often lawyers (or law degree holders) who become the most capable person to provide an athlete with general legal advice as well as assist in the administration and management in the field of sports.  

The spotlight often falls on the athlete. Sportsmen and sportswomen in last 2-3 decades have embraced sports as a career and the days of amateur sportsmen are long gone. With such advancement, in professional sports, laws relating to the athletes’ contracts become ever more important. Contracts for appearance, endorsements, or in some instances, employment would have to be heavily scrutinised especially since the sports industry is slowly turning into a multi-billion one.

One interesting growth in Sports Law is intellectual property rights. A few sportsperson come to mind when discussing this. David Beckham and Tiger Woods have fully maximised their name and image to gain endorsement contracts and flowing from that, their representatives have taken a concerted effort to trademark their respective images.

Another area of law which is relevant to sportspersons is the law of tort, particularly when one sportsperson injures another. The eternal question has been whether the injured sportsperson can sue for damages from the other sportsperson.
For fans who enjoy the competition and embrace the victorious moments by jumping up and down when their favourite player/team wins, Sports Law would be about the contract to purchase the tickets and merchandises.

Legal compliance with existing legislation and rules is ever more important in this day of technological advancement to ensure that responsibility is maintained and to prevent abuse or unfair advantage from occurring in the growing world of sports.

So does Lex Sportiva exist or is it a myth?

By Lesley Lim


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