Fidel Otafiire on choosing to study Sports law

Fidel Otafiire holds an LLB Law degree from Cardiff University, a Masters degree in Marketing from the University of Lincoln and is currently gaining an LLM in International Sports Law from ISDE (Madrid). In this article, Fidel shares why he chose to study Sports Law and what it entails.

In the amended Treaty of the European Union 2009, ‘specificity of sport’ was referred to as the inherent characteristics of sports which set it apart from other economic and social activities. Sports law and governance is moderately specific. Although the principles of Contract, Labour or even Intellectual property law are similar, the application is different. Sports law as a system is specific to the wants and needs of the sports industry. For example, cases and issues in Sports law will most likely be dealt with through arbitration to accommodate the expeditious nature of sports. Particularly the arbitral nature of Sports law allows for decisions to be made with Sporting precedent and practice in mind. Similar to how you would expect a Tort lawyer to know Donoghue v Stevenson or a Contract lawyer to know Carlill v Carbolic Smoke, Sports lawyers have their own sports specific case law such as the Bosman ruling or the Matuzalem case. Both cases are primarily Labour and Contractual disputes, but their application is specific to sport. The players contract durations, nationalities and future employment opportunities become more crucial in the decisions.

Law is applied differently in the Sports world like how It recognises a players age in relation to contractual disputes. Take for example a 30-year-old footballer with a wrongful termination case. When awarding compensation, a sports arbitration panel will take into consideration the players age and how employment opportunities will be limited after the next 5 years whilst in a normal Labour proceeding, the age of 35 would not be seen as an age where a career would be in its twilight . The specificity of sport therefore allows the dispute bodies to interpret the law in the context of sport. Same as to why no arrests for grievous bodily harm are made after boxing or mixed martial arts fights. The law is applied and interpreted to the realm of sports.

For me, this is the beauty of Sports law and why I chose to study and pursue a career in this field. A field of law that allows me to combine a hobby and a career. Sports law covers a great deal of topics ranging from taxation, anti-doping to mergers and acquisitions, only that its all in the sports industry. Studying sports law has been very rewarding. Suddenly contract negotiation between players and clubs seem sensible, the Caster Semenya situation makes more sense and the whole Manchester City financial fair play decision is understandable. Rarely is there a boring moment in sports law particularly because very much of what you study, you know. All the athletes you watched growing up or the teams you supported have all had sports law issues and now you get the opportunity to study the inner workings. Hardly would there be a case presented that is completely new to you. It is because of this that I feel sports law is almost comparable to a hobby.

Personally, my journey in Sports law has been through a master’s in international Sports Law at ISDE Madrid. A brilliant experience until Covid felt I was over enjoying myself. The opportunity to be lectured by both Juan de Dios Crespo and Marcos Motta the legal brains behind the most expensive transfer in football history when Neymar transferred to PSG from Barcelona is the highlight. The insight provided only went to show how exciting the world of Sports law is. The transfer involved numerous areas of expertise from taxation, intellectual property through image rights to financial planning and accounting. There are many roles to be played in Sports law and as a relatively young and independent aspect of the legal profession, Sports law provides a new opportunity to diversify the legal profession.

How about from our perspective as young East African lawyers? We are well poised for sporting dominance. Evidenced by the continuous brilliant athletic results of the region and the continued individual excellence produced by the region. However, a quick look through the records show majority of East Africa’s sporting talent is managed internationally. Additionally, our sports governance still has a long way to go. It is encouraging however to see the development of individuals interested in Sports law or sports management which can only make for good news. It is important to realise that sport and entertainment in today’s society has become more of an essential service. Look at how quick governments have been scrambling to get sports back during this pandemic. Furthermore, it is a big business. Statista valued the size of the European football market in 2019 at 28.9 billion Euros. That’s European football alone! Going forward, Sports law as a segment of the legal profession will continue to grow, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Law and in Sports. A lot of work must be done to protect our home-grown talent abroad be it at the respective national federations, international competitions or at the Court of Arbitration of Sport. Like Arsenal under the new Arteta regime, the future of Sports law is prosperous.

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