Sport and the Law

How does the Law relate to Sport?

Sport is seen by the law as a special area whereby the law and legal systems does not directly interfere with the specific rules in relation to that particular sport.

For example the laws of the game – the rules by which a particular sport is played is not an arena where laws or legal systems will interfere.

The Structure of Sport

The International Governing Body of a particular sport will be the regulator which develops the laws of the game of that sport. These will then be expected to be regulated in the various countries by the National Governing Bodies who regulate the various clubs which play in that particular country.

The International Governing Body will decide on any changes in the rules of how the actual sport will be played, any laws in relation to such things as the movement of players and in some cases disciplinary sanctions whereby they see fit.

If we take the example of English football, the International Governing Body and worldwide regulator is the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA), below FIFA will be the continental confederation which is responsible for the regulation of European Football, UEFA, below UEFA will be the Football Association (FA) which is responsible for the regulation of football in England, below the FA will be the regional Football Associations and the clubs which participate in England – both amateur and professional.

European Model of Sport

This pyramid structure is called the European Model of Sport and is mirrored across many different sports throughout Europe.

Another common feature of the European Model of Sport is the league system which is seen in football in England. The professional game is made up of 4 leagues which operate a system of promotion and relegation through them enabling all teams the potential to play in all of the leagues.

The North American model of Sport

The North American model of Sport is much different to the European Model of Sport as each of the sports are overseen by one main regulator and the leagues are made up of geographical divisions with no possibility of promotion or relegation.

Government Involvement in Sport

Are there any Government bodies which have an involvement in sport?

Despite sport being a separate institute from the Government in the UK there are various Governmental Bodies which have an involvement in Sport within England and Wales.

For example, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) work alongside such governmental agencies as UK Sport and Sport England to decide various policies in relation to sport in the UK and England.

These policies are in relation to such areas as the following:

  • National Curriculum Physical Education Requirements
  • UK Sports Policy
  • Distribution of National Lottery Funding

These bodies would not become involved in relation to decisions made by sporting governing bodies which apply to the laws of the game of a particular sport.

There are also European Union bodies which have an involvement in sport. For example the Council of Europe has developed the European Sports Charter to develop one of its fundamental polices of Sport for All.

The European Sports Charter is a policy document outlining various responsibilities which European Union Member States must adhere to in order to achieve “Sport for All” throughout the European Union.

Are there times when the law does get involved with Sport?

There are times when the law does get involved with sport; often they will be in relation to the following areas:

  1. Decisions in relation to laws of the game are put in place which affect the rights of the participants
  2. Commercial decisions in relation to sport
  3. When the safety of spectators is at issue

Rights of Participants

Often there are rules which have been put in place are viewed as arbitrary and provide the participants of the sport with less rights than those which are guaranteed for all citizens. This can be seen in the European Court of Justice decision in Bosman.

Many feel that UEFA’s current ruling on so called homegrown players may also be in breach of the rights to European Citizens guaranteed by the European Union.

In some cases the law intervenes in sport when the rights of participants are infringed by acts during that sport which are viewed as illegal. This would be the case in relation to both criminal and negligent acts taking place in the sporting context.

Commercial decisions

Often commercial decisions in relation to sport are not decisions which are taken which affect the laws of the game and can simply be viewed as agreements between commercial entities. This is the case in relation to competition law decisions in such areas as the selling of television rights to sporting contests.

The Safety of Spectators

Often the law will be required to protect the safety of spectators attending sporting contexts. For example England and Wales has laws regarding f ootball banning orders and the European Union has laws in place under the European Convention on Spectator Violence.

There are also laws put in place regarding the condition of stadia in order to protect the spectators.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.