The Balls in your Court: Engaging in a new area of law

In this blog, second year student Scott Thorley talks of his recent participation in a sports law programme run by Mishcon de Reya Sports Law Academy. Scott has always had a passion for sport and has found a way to engage with the area outside of his formal undergraduate study.

“I’ve always been a big sports fan. As a teenager, I played football at every opportunity. I played and coached tennis in my early 20’s and I follow these sports passionately. In recent years, I’ve been intrigued as the commercial and legal side of sport has hit the headlines, with disputes arising from FIFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations and the re-introduction of transfer windows, as well as clubs such as Bolton Wanderers FC and Wigan Athletic FC going into administration. As a current Law student at the University of Derby, I jumped at the opportunity to learn about sports law when Mishcon de Reya advertised their Sports Law Academy 20/21 on LinkedIn. 

Module 1 of the Mishcon de Reya Sports Law Academy introduced students to the sports law landscape and affirmed the notion that sports law is a body of law in its own right. Did you know that sports have their own courts? The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) even utilises its own standard of proof that lies somewhere between the criminal and civil standards that students will be familiar with. 

The module emphasised that the governing of sport is influenced by a mixture of public and private bodies. An understanding of how these bodies overlap is key for any aspiring sports lawyer. Students learnt that sports law encompasses a wide range of practice areas. Contract and consumer law as well as Intellectual property and regulatory compliance are all key areas in sports law. 

A breakdown of the various methods of resolving disputes in sport was then presented along with interesting cases that were settled by each of those methods. A particular favourite was the FIFA Player Status Committee’s decision in 2019 that Cardiff City FC must pay Nantes FC €6,000,000 in accordance with their transfer agreement for Emiliano Sala, who tragically died on his way to Cardiff.  

The benefits of arbitration and alternate dispute resolution were then outlined. The principle benefit being that the process is quicker and cheaper than the traditional courts. Saving time and money is of particular importance in sports law where often the stakes are high. 

The key takeaway for me as an aspiring solicitor was that sports law requires a broad base of legal expertise and commercial awareness. I found the module interesting and insightful and I got a real sense from the hosts of how rewarding and satisfying a career in sports law can be. I’m looking forward to module 2 where I’ll learn about sponsorship, image rights and tax.”