For those of you not lucky enough to attend this year’s conference don’t fear! I’ve picked a few highlights for you, but first, what is LawInSport? LawInSport is an information provider, creating content and a community. Their website hosts over 2,000 sports law related articles by 700 authors and they boast over 50,000 monthly readers. (Essentially they’re a bigger and better version of us)

As well as content creators, they play an active role in shaping the sports law community: They advertise positions, promote sports law courses / events and run a mentoring scheme. Their pièce de résistance is a two-day conference (now in its fifth year) bringing professionals together from around the world to discuss issues at the forefront of the industry. Their conference took place last week at The Royal Institution of Great Britain and with over 200 sports lawyers, sports executives, academics, students and athletes in attendance it was a melting pot of debate and networking. This year their Panels focused on:

  • Refereeing
  • eSports
  • Anti-doping
  • Media rights
  • Integrity
  • Marketing
  • Talent management
  • Insurance
  • Dispute resolution
  • Diplomacy
  • Education
  • New leagues
  • In-house counsel

To cover the entire conference would be impossible because of the range and depth of discussion, but here are a few highlights from the various Panels:

Anti-doping Panel

During the anti-doping Panel there were some thought-provoking discussions and debates:

  1. The Panel discussed the pressures that athletes may feel (potentially from their team) to return from injury as soon as possible. They discussed a hypothetical case of an athlete desperate to get back to full fitness. In their haste to recover, they cut a corner – take medicine containing a prohibited substance, get tested and banned. Their intention was not to cheat or enhance their performance, but simply get back to full strength. The Panel debated the intervention of WADA in these instances and the inclusion on non-performance enhancing substances on the Prohibited List.
  2. Considering that the shelf life of an athlete is so short, the Panel discussed the inflexibility of sanctioning under the WADA code. They debated whether different sports should have individual guidance on sanctioning appropriate to the length of a career in that sport. For example, a four-year ban from 20-24 would damage the career of a footballer (where the average career lasts 8 years according to PFA) more than a golfer (20-30 years).
  3. Certain members of the Panel questioned the level of education that athletes receive, focusing on the Prohibited List. The Panel highlighted the particularly high level of knowledge demanded of athletes who are required to understand the composition of prohibited substances and avoid all their compounds. One member of the Panel suggested it might be sensible to offer athletes a ‘Permitted list’ that explains what medication they can use under the Code for different types of illnesses.
  4. The Panel discussed the inclusion of recreational drugs in the WADA Code. They suggested that because WADA’s funding is split between the IOC and governments, they feel obliged to keep illegal substances under the frame of anti-doping legislation, despite them bearing no relation to an athlete’s performance. The treatment of recreational drugs is set to change in the 2021 Code, which introduces a three month ban that can be reduced to one if the athlete takes a rehabilitation course.

Media Rights Panel

This Panel was composed of media rights owners and broadcasters and they each discussed their role and the impact of piracy.

  1. It was interesting to hear how rights owners were looking for more and more ways to split rights and serve a wider audience. For them it is not always about making as much money as possible, but about promoting their sport and targeting different demographics.
  2. When partnering with a broadcaster, rights owners consider how that broadcaster is planning on reaching target audiences and are prepared to relax the rights they withhold if they feel their interests are aligned.
  3. Broadcasters and rights holders agreed that it was a shared responsibility to combat piracy to protect the value of the exclusivity (from a rights owner perspective) and the value of their product (from a broadcaster’s perspective).

eSports Panel

The eSports Panel was balanced between those involved in setting up national eSports federations, those working for an eSports team and those in private practice.

  1. The Panel discussed various games that athletes play and asked the audience to consider each game as a separate sport rather than considering eSports as a whole.
  2. The Panel addressed doping in eSports. Some viewed the emergence of this new sport as a chance to re-imagine anti-doping rules. They discussed tackling doping from the athletes’ perspective; talking to them and finding out what substances they are worried that their competitors are using.
  3. One member in the audience asked whether there would one day be eSports national teams at the Olympics and the Panel refused to consider it an impossibility, although admitted that we were quite far off this stage as things stand.
  4. The Panel stressed that the eSports industry is experiencing significant growth and investment. As it becomes more commercialised, they predict more lawyers will get involved.

Sports law or LawInSport?

Some people question whether sports law as a concept exists at all, or whether it is just the application of law in sport. If you’d seen how many people spoke so passionately at this event it would be hard to deny sports law’s existence in its own right.

LawInSport was pioneered as Sean Cottrell and Chris Bond’s vision of a more inclusive, ethical industry where professionals support each other and share ideas and advice. As such they hold their organisation to particularly high ethical standards to maintain their integrity: They refuse to let anyone sponsor an article or pay to speak at one of their events.

The Panels raised as many questions as they answered, but that’s the nature of a developing industry constantly challenging itself. I look forward to going again next year – not just because of the food (which was amazing) but because they have created a uniquely friendly and approachable atmosphere. The LawInSport team spearheaded by Sean Cottrell have outdone themselves – credit where credit is due!

See you again next year!

Justin Humphries

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