Legal disputes between parties involved in sporting activities
are not new. However in the last 10 – 15 years, there has
been a major increase in the willingness of those parties to turn
to formal litigation to resolve disputes concerning organised
The level of money now involved in professional sports today
means that contracts concerning player employment,
competition/team/athlete sponsorships, endorsements, playing
arrangements, media distribution rights, agents – the
list could go on and on –are now very significant and/or
complex commercial agreements.
Equally (because of the size of the financial implications)
there has been an increase in the awareness that losses and
injuries sustained as a result of sporting activities can
constitute the basis of a legal action for damages. The growing
areas of litigation relating to sports include:
Negligence claims against fellow participants;
Breaches of player and/or endorsement contracts;
Claims against supervisory or regulatory bodies;
Claims against or by clubs for early termination of player
Claims against match officials;
Medical negligence claims in respect of medical advice and/or
Challenges to drug test results and/or penalties flowing from
Claims against schools and/or organisational bodies;
Disputes between professional athletes and their agents.
A single blog that covered all of those topics adequately would
be the length of a PhD thesis. In future posts, we will summarise
particular aspects of more specific areas of "Sports
Law" and relevant legal decisions, both from Australia
However, many disputes arising out of sporting contracts and
activities are not litigated, but are resolved in mediation,
arbitration or other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
Indeed, most (if not all) modern contracts contain specific clauses
requiring any disputes to first be referred to informal ADR
processes, before a party can commence formal court action. If ADR
is successful (when the results often remain confidential) full
details of a dispute are not reported and can be kept out of the
press (never easy – but possible).
Sports disputes that are litigated are generally extremely
personal, highly intensive and have potentially drastic results for
the losing side. And they often also involve many
"celebrity" individuals. Not surprisingly, they
can attract significant media interest -particularly in cases
involving the elite level of high-profile sports.
As to Sports Law itself, some within the legal profession still
say there is no such thing – there is just the normal law
which is applied to people involved in sport. Today, when sport is
a global multi-billion dollar industry, that is a simplistic
approach; parties to legal disputes involving sports need to use a
lawyer with not just litigation experience and expertise, but also
a very good (if not intimate) knowledge of the nuances of the
industry, to get the best results for the client in what are often
very high-stakes conflicts.
And Sports Law is not just a specialisation within Litigation
Law. A lawyer's full understanding of the "sports"
industry means that clients will often also need advice on drafting
of contracts, agreements, etc; protection of intellectual property;
restraint of trade; the inner workings of unincorporated
associations and clubs; specific legislation (both state and
federal) across a range of issues – to repeat what was
said at the start of this blog, the list can go on and on.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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