02 December 2013

RWY Sports Law Conference 2013

On 26th November 2013, Richard Wee & Yip in partnership with LexisNexis and in collaboration with the Sports Commissioner’s Office, embarked on a pilot project which would kick start RWY’s very own professional development programme called the RWY Legal Learning Lab. In tandem with exploring the frontiers of Sports Law in Malaysia, the main purpose and objective of the RWY Sports Law Conference (RWYSLC) was to create a platform to generate discussion and exchange views about Sports Law.

This inaugural conference saw 70 delegates in attendance at the Tournament Room of the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (KLGCC). These delegates spanned from representatives from numerous national sporting associations, officers from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Advocate & Solicitors and those involved in the sports business. The conference even saw an international delegate who flew in from Singapore solely to attend the conference.

As the sun began to rise over the picturesque and prestigious golf course, the Opening Ceremony of the RWY Sports Law Conference began at 9.15am with a short prayer. Mr. Richard Wee then gave the opening word by providing a background story of how the RWY Sports Law Conference was conceptualised and why it was important and timely for us to discuss about the relationship between sports and the law. Apart from that, he also expressed RWY’s gratitude and appreciation to the Sports Commissioner’s Office and to LexisNexis Malaysia for their immense support and guidance since the inception of the idea of the conference.

The Guest of Honour, YBrs Tuan Harus Bin Che Su, Timbalan KSU (Strategik), Kementerian Belia Dan Sukan then took the stage to give the Welcoming Address and officiated the conference on behalf of YBrs Encik Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Youth and Sports, who, unfortunately, was unable to attend the same.

After a short tea break, the conference resumed at 10am. The first session of the conference titled “Sports Contracts.. Starting Block or Finishing Line?” was moderated by Mr. Yip Huen Weng, a Partner at RWY.

Like how it is described in a 100 meter race, is a sports contract a starting block for an athlete to start his career in sports giving the athlete the freedom and liberty to focus only on his/her sporting career? Or would it be an athlete’s finishing line or an end to his/her freedom, where everything the athlete does would be governed by the four corners of his sports contract? Can a happy medium or compromise be found between these two extremes? And what happens in the event a dispute arises from such sports contract? What would be the best way to resolve such a situation with minimum of distraction to an athlete?

To share their views on the topic, RWY had three (3) very distinguished and respected speakers.

The first speaker, Dr. Jady @ Zaidi Hassim, a Senior Lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), is the foremost academician on Sports Law in Malaysia and author of “An Introduction to Sports Law in Malaysia”. In an attempt to provide the delegates with the historical aspect of Sports Law, Dr. Jady addressed the preliminary question of “What is Sports Law?” by touching on the traditional, moderate and positive view of Lex Sportiva.

Dr. Jady views sports contracts as a finishing line as it defines the terms of the relationship between two parties and it creates specific obligations and duties. According to Dr. Jady, sports contracts are shifting towards collectivism and unionism in that the balance of bargaining power between the club / sports organisations and the player rests with the former. Dr. Jady believes that this is because of the slow process of the legal change itself. The law in its partnership with sports has lagged behind its interaction with other commercial aspects of our society.

It is Dr. Jady’s aspirations that a union organisation and a system of industrial relations law in sports can be established under the Ministry of Youth and Sports and at a federal level. Only then will we see the real starting blocks for athletes who enter into sports contracts in Malaysia.

Up next, Malaysia’s very own Sports Commissioner, Tuan Ahmad Shapawi Bin Ismail, spoke of the challenges and issues faced in the structure of Sports Law in Malaysia. According to Tuan Shapawi, although sports bodies in Malaysia are required to register with the Sports Commissioner’s Office, they remain a free body and are bound by their own respective constitutions. The Sports Commissioner’s Office merely supervises, but does not control the sports bodies. Tuan Shapawi strongly feels that the constitutions of sports bodies, although managed and decided by the body itself, ought to be in line with the Sports Development Act 1997 and Dasar Sukan Negara in order to create a more organized structure across the board for all sports bodies in Malaysia. The duty ultimately lies on the sports bodies to properly and fully understand their functions, roles and responsibilities – and to administer the respective bodies accordingly. In addition, it is important for athletes to comprehend the role of law in their lives, which is strongly entangled with their position as athletes in the world of sports.

After an insightful talk by Tuan Shapawi, Professor Datuk Sundra Rajoo, the Director of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA), discussed about Sports Arbitration as an alternative dispute resolution for sports disputes. According to Datuk Sundra, sports arbitration in the Asian region is rapidly growing due to the nature and requirements of sporting disputes; speed, fairness and neutrality – which are not offered in the traditional courts system. A strong arbitration framework is able to fill this void and provide the necessary services to the athletes, sporting federations and all sporting participants across Malaysia. In fact, arbitration of sporting disputes is already being administered globally with huge success such as by the IOC through temporary arbitral tribunals overseeing the Olympic Games, by CAS which provides a final forum for dispute resolution of sporting disputes worldwide and by the World Anti Doping Authority who administers the Anti Doping Code.

At the RWYSLC, Datuk Sundra also revealed that KLRCA has signed an agreement with Switzerland-based International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) to serve as the official host of an alternative hearing centre for the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). The CAS alternative hearing centre in KLRCA provides sports dispute resolution capabilities through arbitration and mediation according to international sporting rules, including cases pertaining to doping charges, television rights and sponsorship contract issues.

After a coffee break, the conference resumed for the second session, “Sports Chatroom”, which featured three prominent sportspersons: former national squash players Azlan Iskandar and Sharon Wee, and Malaysia’s top national swimmer, Khoo Cai Lin.
A brief background on the speakers of the 2nd session:

a)               Azlan Iskandar – former World No. 10 squash player, Founder of Azlan Iskandar Squash Academy (AISA), Chief Executive Officer of Sportspin Event & Athlete Management and author of “Basic Rules & Techniques for Squash”;

b)            Sharon Wee – professional squash coach, Founder and Head Coach of Sharon Wee Squash Pro, former World No. 18 squash player, TV presenter and sports commentator for Astro Arena Channel 801; and

c)             Khoo Cai Lin – multiple SEA Games Gold Medallist, Olympian (400m and 800m Freestyle) and member of the Malaysian National Swim Team.

As the moderator, Mr. Richard Wee led this interactive session between the panel of speakers and members of the floor. The speakers gave us insights and opinions on their view of the law and sports, their concerns and challenges as athletes and former athletes, as well as what they would want from the law to assist them. The general consensus was that athletes need to be educated about Sports Law as long gone are the days where a sportsperson can be ignorant about their rights.

Khoo Cai Lin brought up the example of sponsors using an athlete’s image for advertising purposes and not informing or remunerating the said athlete for the same. Azlan advocated that a structure and standard operating procedure must be put in place within the sports industry to counter the many grey areas which are left undefined. Sharon, on the other hand, suggested that sports bodies start thinking like a business entity and perhaps even have a special commercial arm for business development and a marketing department to come up with marketing strategies which will help attract sponsors.

Despite the fact that an athletes’ commission exists in Malaysia, the welfare of athletes are not looked after today. Calls were made for the Sports Commissioner’s Office to look into this alongside the idea of an athletes’ union.  

On that note, the conference concluded with lunch where the noise level in the Golfer’s Terrace reflected the discussions that had spilled over from the sessions.

As a closing word, RWY sees Sports Law as a new and challenging frontier for not only lawyers, but all parties involved in the sports industry. As our country inches towards professionalism in sports, so should all other components of sports; one of which is the law. It is imperative that the legal services march along or, better still, march ahead in the grove of sports to ensure that our sportspersons, sports associations, and sports companies will be serviced accurately and professionally by lawyers.

As such, we hope that the RWY Sports Law Conference was as fruitful and rewarding for the delegates as it was to us. We would like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude to all who participated in the conference. Already, RWY is planning the next Sports Law Forum and Sports Law Conference respectively in 2014.

We strongly believe that the conference is not a finishing block. Conversely, it is the starting line to a greater future for the Malaysian sports industry and we aim to create heightened awareness in the world of Sports Law.

·               Detailed coverage of the RWY Sports Law Conference 2013 - http://storify.com/lesleylimaili/rwy-sports-law-conference-2013
·               Twitter - #RWYSLC and #SportsLaw
·               Videos of the conference – search “RWY Sports Law Conference 2013” on YouTube

by Lesley Lim & Jyh Ling