Archive | November, 2011

Is Sepp Blatter the new poster boy for “sports law”?

November 18, 2011

0 Comments

Photograph licensed by Agencia Brasil under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Brazil license.

In recent days it has been difficult to avoid the furore surrounding Sepp Blatter (President of FIFA)’s recent comments concerning what he sees as the new approach to treat racism in sport:

“I would deny it. There is no racism.  There is maybe one of the players towards another – he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/nov/17/sepp-blatter-fifa-racism-rio-ferdinand?newsfeed=true)

In the current UK climate where two high-profile premiership footballers are currently being investigated by The Football Association over, as yet unproven, allegations made against them of making racist comments (which both players vehemently deny), Blatter’s recent interview is at best ill-informed, at worst it represents an attempt to trivialise and condone racist language.

Many players (current and former), pundits, administrators and politicians have rightly come out and strongly condemned Blatter’s comments, however until the commercial sponsors also seek to distance themselves from FIFA, I fear that the status quo will continue and this will not be the last controversial statement emanating from FIFA house. After all, President Blatter offended female players in 2004 with his suggestion to enhance the women’s game through players wearing:

‘tighter shorts and low cut shirts… to create a more female aesthetic.

and his 2008 assertion that:

‘there are gay footballers, but they don’t declare it because it will not be accepted in these macho organisations. Look at women’s football – homosexuality is more popular there

Indeed, he clearly warmed to this theme of homophobia, returning to it in 2010 with advice to gay rights campaigners to ‘refrain from any sexual activities’ to avoid breaking any laws and offending the World Cup hosts in Qatar!

What are the odds then on Blatter offending disabled footballers next in his attempts to discriminate against everyone equally?

 

Much ink, column space and tweets have been spilled dissecting his most recent comments, but everybody seems to be missing something, is Sepp Blatter not in fact the new poster boy for “sports law”?

So what do I mean by this? It has long been a perennial (and somewhat dry) academic debate as to whether sports law exists. Is sport special, where what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, immune from the laws of the land (sports law)? Or should offences be punished wherever and whenever they occur irrespective of the fact they might occur on a sportsfield (sport and the law)? Or is there some sort of middle ground where we take into account the context of the game being played (applied sports law).

When the latest player gets carted off injured, there is inevitably a reluctance for the law to become involved for fears that it might lead to a sterilization of the sport and the vigour with which it is played. However is this not what Sepp is also clumsily advocating (only in the context of racism rather than personal injury), as such, is this not simply a manifestation of an extreme view of what could happen if we allow sport to completely self-regulate itself?

While his comments on racism are rightly condemned, we can see similar language already exists in relation to personal injury, for example, compare Blatter’s later comments on the FIFA website:

“My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have ‘battles’ with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong. But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.” 

With the well-known Canadian criminal law ice-hockey case of Agar v Canning (1965) 54 WWR 302, 304:

“The conduct of a player in the heat of the game is instinctive and unpremeditated and should not be judged by standards suited to polite social intercourse.”

Isn’t Blatter merely taking this Agar personal injury concept to the next level and attempting to apply it to every incident on the sports pitch (or on this occasion as an ill-thought out and unacceptable attempt to try to excuse or condone racist behaviour).

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, former player turned pundit, Garth Crooks was quoted as saying that:

“Football has to be very careful. It’s the one industry that somehow sees itself as above the law. It is not. Players, however glorified, are employees and have to abide by the law. Sepp is a man out of time and out of touch.”

However maybe it is actually the rest of us that have to be very careful. With every reaction against verdicts like:

  • the Bosman ruling, or Karen Murphy’s recent European Court victory in her challenge against the Premier League and Sky Sports,
  • the 2010 case of Sagen v. VANOC where Canadian courts upheld womens ski-jumpers argument that their ban from the Winter Olympics was discriminatory but ultimately held that there was nothing that could be done in the face of a lack of constitutional jurisdiction over the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • government ‘meddling’ in the governance arrangements of national governing bodies
  • and perhaps more importantly the impending FC Sion legal dispute

maybe we are actually inching ever closer to Blatter’s extreme view where it is unaccountable sporting authorities that control what happens on the pitch unregulated and effectively immune from any national or international legislation?

The reaction against Blatter’s comments from all walks of life gives me some hope that maybe we are not as far down this route as we might have initially appeared to be, the question now for the public and administrators to decide is how ‘special is sport’ and to what degree do we expect it to meet minimum standards of governance, transparency and equality? Or put simply how far do we trust sport to regulate itself?

Quia Custodet Ipsos Custodes?

Advertisements
Continue reading...

Contemporary Issues in Sports Law and Practice 2011

November 15, 2011

0 Comments

Friday November 4, 2011

Over the weekend, I finally managed to collate my various thoughts and notes into some semblance of order.

Firstly, our thanks must go to De Montfort University (DMU) and the British Association for Sport and the Law (BASL) for hosting what was once again a very enjoyable afternoon of speakers exploring a variety of key sports law topics. The half-day conference heard from six speakers, the first plenary session focusing primarily on football and Europe, the second plenary session focusing more on the investigatory and disciplinary processes behind the scenes:

Nick Craig (Director of Legal Affairs, the Football League) gave a presentation on ‘Financial Fair Play and the Football League’.  While the UEFA Club Licensing Regulations have been in place from the 2004/05 season (the current Licensing Manual is now in its 2nd edition), UEFA have also launched Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFPR) to be applied from the summer of 2011 with the view that all clubs in European competition break-even by 2018. The topic is hot news at the moment in both the mainstream press and more specialist legal coverage.

There were number of particularly interesting points about the contrast between the FFPR being applied in the Premier League as a condition of entry into European competitions, and the Football League (FL) model where the licensing regulations are intended more as a regulatory mechanism to control the clubs and force them to become more sustainable. Legally this agreement with the FL clubs represents a “soft” law approach where the clubs “agree  to actively work to introduce measures”, “increase transparency” and encourage clubs to operate”….  Time will tell how effective the league will be with this increased regulatory authority.

The big stick comes in Article 12(2) of the FFPR which states that:

2 The membership and the contractual relationship (if any) must have lasted – at the start of the licence season – for at least three consecutive years. Any alteration to the club’s legal form or company structure (including, for example, changing its headquarters, name or club colours, or transferring stakeholdings between different clubs) during this period in order to facilitate its qualification on sporting merit and/or its receipt of a licence to the detriment of the integrity of a competition is deemed as an interruption of membership or contractual relationship (if any) within the meaning of this provision.

This clause effectively holds that any club going insolvent restarts this three year process from scratch when it transfers its assets to a new owner, preventing clubs from ditching their debts and picking up where they left off free of all those troublesome creditors.

The devil as always is in the detail though, and while the cornerstone of the FFPR programme is in achieving break-even status, there are loopholes or ‘Acceptable Deviations’. In particular, the ability to lose €5m over the three years covered by the FFPR period (rising to a €45m loss if this is covered by equity contributions) neatly sidesteps the break-even provision, while Annex I A(d) of the FFPR lists an exception for:

d) Non-applicability of the three-year rule defined in Article 12(2) in case of change of legal form or company structure of the licence applicant on a caseby-case basis;   

or put another way, all clubs are equal, but some clubs are more equal than others, particularly if they might be a marquee name with large attendances and gate receipts!

 See also: http://www.financialfairplay.co.uk/ for more information on the FFPR rules

 

Chris Anderson (Associate, Brabners Chaffe Street Solicitors) gave a presentation on ‘Development Compensation for Young Football Players’.  One of the key drivers for this talk was the decision in ECJ – Case C-325/08 Olympique Lyonnais SASP v. Olivier Bernard & Newcastle United FC [41]:

“…In that regard, it must be accepted that, as the Court has already held, the prospect of receiving training fees is likely to encourage football clubs to seek new talent and train young players…”

 This will be a theme, the blog hopes to come back to in the near future, but essentially how much / little should be paid to clubs training (effectively as hot-houses) for new talent.

 Chris drew distinctions between:

  • the FIFA system which compensated for both the training costs of a player (although at times there were concerns these payments were ‘damages-based’ rather than a reflection of the actual training costs), and the ‘solidarity mechanism’ (which effectively acted as a wealth redistribution system to share up to 5% of any transfer between clubs training the player between the ages of 12 and 23).
  • The current domestic system which was based on agreeing costs (either by the agreement with clubs, or by reference to the Professional Football Compensation Committee (PFCC))
  • The proposed NEW domestic ‘Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP)’ provisionally scheduled to start in July 2012. This system was created and driven by the PL to specifically produce greater numbers of talented home-grown players through increased coaching time and a more transparent (and legally defensible) fixed training cost mechanism. The new system is split into three main phases:
    • The Foundation Phase (U9-U11):  every academy charges a flat fee
    • Youth Development Phase (U12-U16): standardised model of fixed payments based on academy status
    • Professional Development Phase (U17-U21): Clubs (or PFCC) agree appropriate fee

 See also alternative perspectives from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/paulfletcher/2011/02/football_league_fears_over_pla.html; http://www.fiveyearplanfanzine.co.uk/News/football-league-votes-to-back-elite-player-performance-plan.htmlhttp://www.leedsunited.com/news/20111021/united-ceo-on-a-dark-day-for-football_2247585_2489344

 

Simon Boyes (Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University) gave a presentation on ‘Sport and the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty’. The presentation traced the history of sport in the EU from its initial lack of academic interest, through the various reports, declarations, models and specificities to the present day and the Treaty of Lisbon. In doing so, Simon very much emphasised the evolutionary rather than revolutionary road to Lisbon. What was particularly interesting about the presentation was the thought that the EU was acting not so much as a regulator, but rather as a facilitator / supporter and using sport as a vehicle to engage in wider social missions (e.g. anti-doping, racism, corruption etc). These “softer” words such as “promotion…contribution…taking account of….developing” very much echoed Nick’s earlier talk on incorporating the UEFA licensing model into the Football League. Have all sporting regulators now embraced the softer stick? I thought that was just supposed to be horse-racing?

Any current discussion on Europe would not be complete without mentioning the recent Karen Murphy ruling (see here for a more in-depth analysis), and this was no exception! Interestingly, Simon suggested that fairness and openness were starting to creep into the ECJ rulings as values to be protected and upheld. This might be a trend to watch, particularly given the agenda for good governance and transparency.

 

 

Max Duthie (Partner, Bird & Bird Solicitors) gave a presentation on ‘The Sports Disciplinary Process’. The presentation started with, what seemed to be a recurring theme at the conference, the reluctance of the law to become involved in regulating sport (unless there was a clear departure from the rules / natural justice). Instead, Max pointed to the private, contractual nature of the disciplinary process, with governing bodies imposing their own regulatory codes of behaviour on the athletes under their jurisdiction.

Where I think that this presentation became more controversial was in the issue of jurisdiction, in particular who the sports were purporting to regulate. Max gave a number of examples:

  • Direct contractual links (Paul Stretford)
  • Implied contracts / contracts by conduct (Petr Korda)
  • Voluntary submission to jurisdiction (Dean Richards)

However, where I think the issue becomes greyer is in Sports Codes like the recent Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) Competition Regulations, effective from 1 September 2011:

1.3 By organising, entering, playing tennis in and/ or participating in any way in an LTA Official Competition (including as officials, staff, coaches, representatives, agents, medical staff, relatives and associates of a Player, a Player’s entourage and spectators), a person and/or entity agrees to be bound by and to comply with these Regulations.

It is one thing to bind an athlete to a particular code of conduct, but quite another to hold that they should be responsible for the conduct of all spectators, especially when the player is court-side during a match. On a similar theme, the regulations merely state ‘relatives’ – does this mean all relatives? Or do we need to apply an Alcock-esque ‘close-ties of love and affection test’?

There was also a particularly interesting discussion on whether disciplinary sanctions should be fixed or variable and Max talked about the trade-off between consistency (fixed) and discretion / proportionality (variable), before warning of the cautionary tale of Delon Armitage and the implications that plea-bargaining might have on future tribunals.

See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2011/nov/08/delon-armitage-london-irish-england?newsfeed=true  

 

 

Adam Brickell (Head of Legal Compliance, British Horseracing Authority) gave a presentation on ‘The Investigative Processes of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA)’. The highly technical and diagrammatic nature of the presentation makes it somewhat difficult to summarise in any way that could begin to do justice to it. That said, Adam did make a number of interesting observations about the role of the BHA, and in particular the 5 areas that it is currently addressing:

    • Clear rules and regulations for participants
    • An effective investigative and intelligence capability
    • Robust disciplinary and licensing structures
    • Comprehensive, on-going education programme
    • Partnership approach with the Police, Betting industry and Gambling Commission

Two areas that may be of particular interest to watch in the future, are the concern that a number of betting firms are based offshore and, while they currently assist the BHA through Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs), these MoUs are not legally binding should the companies wish to subsequently withdraw their support. The second issue is linked to this and concerns the lack of regulation surrounding spread betting companies.

As an aside, Adam’s talk also continued Max’s theme from earlier about the regulation (or failure to regulate) members of the public not bound by the organisations rules. In particular, Adam gave the example of 6 individuals who placed suspicious bets on a particular horse, but fell outside the jurisdiction of the BHA when they decided not to cooperate with the investigation.

The final presentation belonged to Jonathan Merritt (Senior Lecturer, DMU) who gave us a sneak preview of his new PhD research into ‘Anti-Doping and Equestrianism’. We wish you every success in this venture…

Continue reading...

Ice Hockey – bizarre assault lawsuit dismissed plus the role of consent in hazing rituals

November 2, 2011

0 Comments

Dante would be proud. Whilst it is comforting not to report on concussion or fighting, hockey has descended to a new and – in a sense – bizarre depth. A case was settled in Connecticut last month in which the mother of a seven year old son sued the mother of another player, claiming that she was assaulted, albeit after allegedly assaulting the defendant’s son. Plus the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have launched an investigation into a hazing incident which allegedly involves a teenage boy walking naked in a locker room with water bottles tied to his genitals.

To begin, Judge Theodore Tyma of Connecticut Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by Madeline Fromageot (click here for the story) which alleged Joan Bennett assaulted her (the extent of the alleged assault was that Fromageot’s headband was knocked from her head during a confrontation) after Bennett came to the defence of her son whose head was being banged against a wall by the plaintiff. Fromageot was apparently exacting retribution for what she perceived as an unfair hit by Bennett’s 10 year old son against her son. In the spirit of an eye for an eye, Fromageot walked over to the players’ bench, grabbed the boy’s helmeted head and began banging it against the Plexiglass wall, yelling ‘don’t hit my son.’ It was after witnessing her son’s head bouncing off the wall that Bennett intervened when the alleged assault took place. Judge Tyma wryly stated that, ‘This case arises from two mothers dispensing with the time-honored notion of playground justice and taking matters between their sons into their own hands.’ The defendant’s lawyer called the decision a ‘vindication of common sense and our system of justice’ and summed it best: ‘The plaintiff’s case didn’t belong in the witness box, it belonged in the penalty box.’

Lastly, The RCMP are investigating an incident in which it is alleged a 15 year old hockey player with the Neepewa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) boy was forced to walk naked with water bottles tied to his scrotum as part of a hazing ritual. Five players were victimized during the rookie hazing. The MJHL has fined the team $5000, suspended assistant coach Brad Biggers five games, captain Danil Kalashnikov five games, assistant captains Richard Olson, Tyler Gaudry and Shane Harrington were suspended three games each and another 12 players were suspended one game each.

The legal system may once again be tested to determine where the line lies between the culture of a sport which permits behavior within and outwith the rules on the playing surface as well as behind the scenes. In a take on the Las Vegas expression, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’ hockey traditionalists believe that what happens on the ice, or by extension in the locker rooms, should stay there. Generally speaking, the courts have historically taken an similarly accommodating view to the extent that it approves not only intentional and inadvertent legal contact such as open ice hits or checks but illegal conduct such as fighting, boarding or blindside hits. Indeed, such infractions are contemplated in the rule books and are presumed to be understood and consented by all those who participate.

The custom of hazing or inducting a rookie player onto the team involves subjecting the player to demeaning or degrading acts – often involving alcohol – and upon completion of said humiliating acts the player will have passed the test and is accepted onto the team. The role of consent in these rituals in less clear.

Recent incidents in Canada (note that Canada is not unique in this regard), for example, include St. Thomas University (Fredericton, New Brunswick) rookie volleyball player Andrew Bartlett, 21, who was found dead in November 2010 after attending a team party where rookie players were allegedly urged to drink voluminous amounts of alcohol and participate in degrading acts, the Carleton University (Ottawa, Ontario) women’s soccer team was suspended for two games in September 2009 after holding a rookie initiation that involved what the university called ‘serious alcohol abuse’ and inappropriate and irresponsible behavior, McGill University (Montreal, Quebec) cancelled its football season in October 2005 after a university investigation revealed that the hazing involved ‘nudity, degrading positions and behaviors, gagging, touching in inappropriate manners with a broomstick [the 18 year old complainant alleged he was sexually assaulted with a broomstick by an upperclassman as teammates cheered him on] as well as verbal and physical intimidation of rookies by a large portion of the team’ and, finally, the Windsor Spitfires hockey team was fined $35,000 and general manager / coach Moe Mantha suspended one year as manager and 40 games as coach for a hazing incident which involved a small number of players being told to stand naked in the washroom, with the heat turned up, at the back of the bus by other players following an exhibition game (one player, Akim Aliu, who refused to take part was afterwards hit during a practice by teammate Steve Downie with a blindside crosscheck to the mouth knocking out three teeth but that’s another story).

Such initiation rituals were historically regarded as team building exercises and, if they crossed the line of civility, as an unfortunate but essential byproduct of the hockey culture. Former professional player Ryan Johnston states that ‘Hazing is like fighting — part of the game. Part of the game that people who haven’t played it just wouldn’t understand’ (click here for story).

It is interesting that the legal system up until now has not really looked at such incidents. In any other setting, it would surely constitute assault. It would be a stretch to say that the victims consented by their own free will to these acts or that they were not coerced into participating.

Back to the Neepewa Natives. Only after relentless reporting by the Winnipeg Free Press and the national attention given to the story did the RCMP open up an investigation into the alleged incident. Surely there will come a time when incidents such as those listed above will be appreciated by the legal system that they are not part of the game but are symptomatic of a sport gone sideways in need of help to get it back on track and on its proper path.

Continue reading...