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Understand the Rules of the Game™ - Future of Sport Law Report 2017/18

Future of Sports Law Survey
Thursday, 15 March 2018


This report identifies some of the key legal issues facing the sport sector as voted by LawInSport members and the wider sports law community[1].

The inspiration for the report stemmed from expert panel discussions which took place at the LawInSport Annual Conference - Understand the Rules of the Game™ on the 7th & 8th September 2017 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The conference brought together a collective of 250 sports lawyers, sports executives, academics, students and current and former elite athletes.

The panel discussions focused on several areas that are reflected in the survey, namely:

  • Esports
  • Athlete development
  • Equality - in association with The Sports People's Think Tank (SPTT)
  • Anti-doping
  • Sports betting
  • Media rights
  • Brand protection
  • Dispute resolution
  • Governance & anti-corruption
  • Sports analytics

At the end of each panel session the audience were asked to vote on key points from the discussion. We then took these same questions and polled LawInSport members (over 16,000 members which includes private practice lawyers, in-house legal counsel, sports executives, media executives, agents, athletes, academics and students) and the wider sports law community via an online survey over a two-week period (also in September 2017). The result was a combined pool of 545 respondents (sports lawyers, sports executives, academics, students and current and former elite athletes).  

While the results of such surveys are only indicative of the views of a proportion of LawInSport members and the wider sports law community, we believe the results provide a strong indicator of the views of legal professionals working in the sector.

It is our intention that the findings from this report will help all stakeholders in sport to identify and/or focus their attention on the issues that have the biggest positive impact on global sports.

We would like to thank everyone who participated in the survey, and the speakers, attendees and sponsors who supported the LawInSport Annual Conference (see Appendix 1) results of the polls; 2) conference speakers; 3) – conference sponsors) without which this report would not have been possible.

Sean Cottrell

The full results of the survey are set out in Appendix 1.


  • 45% where concerned about the governance of eSport.

  • 32% selected sport betting and match-fixing as their biggest concern.


Whilst there are many differences between traditional sports and eSports, there are two shared areas of concern, which are the governance structures and the integrity of competitions.

It is unsurprising that for an industry still in its early stages of development there are obvious concerns over governance and integrity issues. It would appear to be sensible for all stakeholders in the sector to be proactive to work with their respective governments to develop national strategies and policies to be the driving force for better governance in the sector.


Athlete Development

  • 70% felt that the welfare of sports persons is the responsibility of all those involved in an athlete’s career and not the sole responsibility of one group of individuals.

  • 68% were most concerned about issues of athlete education (33%), mental health (21%) and role of third parties (15%) with regards to athlete welfare.


A simple and structured framework & platform should be developed to help parents, teachers, coaches, governing bodies, clubs and athletes to create holistic plans for the development of young athletes. The welfare and concerns of the athlete should be at the heart of any such plan.



  • 60% agreed that sports should set a target for ethnic minority representation on the boards to increase the diversity of the composition. (However, this figure was 75% of respondents at our annual conference. Which may indicate there is a wider educational work to be done to explain the problem).

  • 45% felt the lack of clear pathway for career progression is the biggest obstacle to greater diversity in sports governance.

  • 25% of respondents felt the lack of central and transparent place for advertising and recruiting candidates.


It would be a positive step for sports governing bodies and leagues to come together to create a centralised place to advertise roles at board level and coaching roles to increase the transparency of job vacancies. This would ensure people from diverse backgrounds are aware of and have the opportunities to apply for positions.

Sports could put together projects to celebrate contributions from minority groups. This would serve as a way to increase awareness their work in this area and help to promote role models to inspire future generations to be involved in senior roles within their sports. The Football Black List is a model that could be followed and broadened out.

We would like to thank the Sports People's Think Tank (SPTT) for their support and partnership in hosting a panel discussion on this topic during the LawInSport Annual Conference


Sports Betting

  • 41% were concerned about match-fixing as the biggest legal issue that concerns them about sports betting.

  • 45% selected the relationship between the betting companies and sports stakeholders as their biggest concern, out of which:

    • 25% identified the biggest legal issue that concerned them as the relationship between betting companies, sports, governing bodies, and leagues; and,
    • 21% identified the relationship with between betting companies as sponsors and the impact this has on players themselves.


There is now a greater awareness of match-fixing in sport, which is a shift from a few years ago when many sports were unaware of the threat this posed to their sport. However, there should be a guide to assist governing bodies, leagues and clubs as to the legal issues around match-fixing such as investigating, reporting and prosecuting offences relating to match-fixing.

It may be beneficial to create mandatory reporting for betting, and their associated companies, about the relationships they have across sport including sponsorships, advertisements and other commercial relationships such media rights and data deals to help the sports stakeholders understand the relationship between sports betting and their respective sports.


  • 53% would most like to see the governance of the World Anti-Doping framework changed, out of which:

    • 25% said they wanted to see greater independence;
    • 14% wanted athletes as equal partners in a tripartite governance structure (governments, sports and athletes); and,
    • 14% wanted the whole structure changed.

  • 14% wanted the principle of strict liability changed.


Clearly, there is need for continued reform of the World Anti-Doping Agency and its framework which is acknowledge by the organisation itself. There would undoubtedly be greater confidence in the system if there was a wide-reaching consultation with athletes and athlete groups such as player associations to bring athletes truly into the decision-making process of the Word Anti-Doping framework.

To create greater independence, experts from outside of sport, who have no conflicts of interest, could be used to provide expertise and critical analysis to help create more effective regulation and governance structures. We acknowledge that this is not a simple exercise as it involves international corporation from a wide range of stakeholders.

Brand Protection

  • 31% indicated that sophisticated networks of organised digital pirates was the most significant issue for sports organisations protecting their brand.

  • 27% indicated the role of social media networks as bidders of rights being their biggest concern.


Sports bodies and commercial partners should continue to collectively lobby governments and internet service providers and social networks to monitor and take down and report pirate organisations to law enforcement.

It would be advisable for sports organisations and governments to commission independent reports on how social media networks are influencing their sports and the market for sports media rights.


Sports Media Rights

  • 37% believe the biggest influencer on the sports media rights landscape will be social media networks, of which:

    • 27% said it will be social media networks bidding for sports rights; and,
    • 11% said it will be social media as a partner to broadcasters and rights holders.
  • 35% thought that the thing that will most influence the sports media rights landscape is sports organisations establishing their own media channels & distribution platform.


Sports rights holders should think carefully about the value derived from their relationship with social media networks and identify what strategy will help them to achieve their long-term mission, be it increase in participation or commercial objectives.


Sports Dispute Resolution

  • 55% indicated that the publication of decisions by sports arbitral bodies would have the biggest positive impact on global sports arbitration, with:

    • 29% indicated that there should a system of precedents for decisions;

    • 21% indicated that where cases concern both commercial and regulatory matters the decisions should be published (for example, disputes between clubs, agents and players).


Sports arbitral bodies, such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Sport Resolution (UK), American Arbitration Association, both themselves and collectively, could produce a database of precedent decisions or equivalent of, to give greater legal certainty to those, and their legal representatives, who appear before their arbitration panels.


Governance and Anti-Corruption

  • 30% chose the requirement for financial transparency (publishing of detailed accounts) as the instrument that would be most effective in the fight against corruption in sport.

  • 15% selected the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introducing a Code for Sport Governance, akin to that UK Sport & Sport England have done, as being most effective way to fight against corruption in sport.


With 45% of respondents selecting instruments which are available and relatively easy to apply across sports organisations. It would be beneficial for organisations such as the IOC, other sports governing bodies and sponsors to leverage their power and influence to ensure that funding is only granted based on good governance principles and practices being adopted. Initially this could begin with a focus on financial transparency and accountability, as the one single measure that would most significantly improve the current standard of international sports governance.


Sports Data and Analytics

  • 60% identified the issues of consent (20%), ownership (20%) and control (20%) over data and analytics as the most important legal issue relating to sports analytics and big data.

  • 20% considered risk and compliance around sports analytics and big data to be the most important legal issues.


The four areas above are closely related and highlight that sports organisations and their advisers are still getting to grips with the fundamentals of managed data and associated legal issues as this area of sport expands significantly from a performance and commercial perceptive. This is no more so than in Europe with the impending EU General Data Protection Regulations coming into force in May 2018.

Sports organisations and their partners should undertake, on an ongoing basis, an audit of their data management to ensure they understand clearly what they and their partners are doing with any data they are capturing. This will have significant bearing on both good governance, athlete rights, and sporting and commercial performance and should be given the upmost importance.


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