Concept of specificity - Does it allow the sporting industry to break the law?


What is meant by the concept of specificity?

The concept of specificity is something which is continually cited by sports and sporting governing bodies to state why the law should not apply to them. There is no defined legal term as to exactly what it means and when it comes into play but broadly speaking it is the concept of sports occupying a different specific sector than many other industries meaning that the law will not apply in certain terms.

Does sport always remain outside the arm of the law?

It is clear that sport does not always remain outside the arm of the law and football is no exception. Most notably in football the legal world has become involved in such areas as transfers of players when creating the Bosman decision and imposing the need for transfer widows and when deciding that Sky television could no longer hold a monopoly over live Premier League matches.

However, in certain scenarios sport will cite this concept of specificity to show that normal rules can be bent simply due to the special position that sport occupies.

When will this occur?

The following are three examples of when this may occur:

  • Whereabouts rule in tennis
  • Quota system to be implemented in football

Whereabouts Rule

What is the whereabouts rule?

The whereabouts rule is a rule involved in tennis which states that the top 50 ranked male and female tennis players must make their whereabouts known for the three months leading up to drugs testing.

What may be the potential legal problem with this rule?

The potential legal argument against this rule is that it may be regarded as a potential breach of the human rights of the athletes involved. For example the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right for respect of private and family life. It is reasonable to assume if an employer was to impose a similar rule on their employees stating they must know their exact whereabouts for an entire three months it would be likely to fall foul of the ECHR and thus the Human Rights Act 1998 in the UK.

What then is the reasoning behind the rule?

The main reasoning behind the rule is that due to the specific nature of the sport of tennis and some of the problems it has had due to tennis players using performance enhancing substances it should be outside the realm of usual law in order to protect the level playing field of the sport. It may be argued that if the whereabouts rule is scrapped it may open up the door for potential doping which would play a significant part in affecting the integrity and the competition of the sport.

Is the whereabouts rule justified?

The authorities in the sport of tennis view the whereabouts rule to be justified in order to protect the sporting competition within the sport. Whether this would survive a legal challenge on the grounds of specificity may remain to be seen.

Quota system in football

The home grown players rule set to be introduced by UEFA and to be adopted by the Premier League whereby teams have to name at least 8 locally trained players in their squad are felt to be outside the remit of Article 39 EC which guarantees the fundamental European freedom of the free movement of workers.

What is the reason for this?

The reason for this is that the definition of locally trained applies irrespective of nationality and the reason behind the rule is to encourage the training of young players and the improvement of the academy system.

Does this constitute a breach of Article 39?

The fact that the locally trained players applies irrespective of nationality does not stop the fact that this may limit the amount of foreign players available in a squad indirectly as they have not been locally trained. For many this may still constitute a breach of European Law if taking a strict view of the law.

Is it likely that a claim would succeed?

It is unlikely that a claim would succeed due to specificity as although there might be a slight indirect breach this is seemed necessary for the aims of the rule in promoting the academy system and the training of young players. Football is therefore viewed as occupying a different specific position than many other industries and so is able to implement these rules.

Is there another example where I can see the concept of specificity in action?

Looking at the rules on nationality regarding international football there are clear rules in place stating that only nationals of that country, or individuals from that country will be able to represent that country at international level.

This is a clear breach of Article 39 but it is regarded as necessary in relation to the specific position which the sport of football holds. It would make a mockery of the game to allow Spanish players to play for England simply due to Article 39. Therefore due to the specificity of sport in some areas it is not open to legal challenge.