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Interview with President of the Portuguese Association of Sports Law

Portuguese flag on football in stadium
Thursday, 09 February 2017

In this short interview Rui Alexandre Jesus, President of APDD – Associação Portuguesa de Direito Desportivo [Portuguese Association of Sports Law], outlines his path into sports law, the origins of the Portuguese Association of Sports Law and outlines some of the legal challenges facing Portuguese sport in 2017 and beyond.

Q.: How did you become a sports lawyer?

A.: Well, in the year of 1995, after my graduation on Law in the University in Lisbon, I decided to take a post-graduate course on Sports Law. At that time, it was the first to be held in Portugal. After that, through my work during that studying period, I was chosen to integrate the Sports Law Department of a Club, and that was the beginning. I wanted to become a sports lawyer because in the mid 90’s, professional football was recent (and was developing) and the sports organizations were having many legal problems regarding the relationship with the government.

Q.: When was the Portuguese Association for Sports Law established and what is the purpose of the PASL?

A.: The PASL was established in 1998, and is a non-profit organization, whose purpose is the promotion and dissemination of sports law, including through the design and development of training actions, as well as the organization of conferences, debates and other forms of congregation of lawyers who are dedicated to the study and development of sports law. It can also carry out initiatives aimed to value the associated status of its members, such as the publication of legal texts of sporting nature, in its own name or in partnership with other entities. It also aims to establish international links, aimed at comparative studies of sports law.

Q.: What changes have you seen in the Portuguese sports industry over the last 10 years?

A.: If we place the analysis in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, since 2005 I think I can identify four main changes. First the imposition of a legal frame to the relationship between the Portuguese sports entities and the State, mainly attending to the organization of the governing bodies and the regulation of the public financial aid. Second, the appearance and then downfall of professional leagues (on Handball and Basketball), with only football being now defined as the only collective professional league(s) in Portugal. Third, the increased connection between sports and tourism, and the development of several new sports, some very focused not only in the sport practice but also on the economic aspects of the events connected to the competitions. And the fourth, more recently, the birth of a Sports Arbitration Court, that changed the way the legal proceedings can be operated between almost all the sports agents, namely the federations, clubs and the players.

Q.: With football being the most popular sport in Portugal, what legal and regulatory trends have you seen in the football sector over this period?

A.: Not only in this period but also in the last 20 years, a permanent debate is set around the relationship between the national federation and the board of the two professional leagues that exist in Portugal. At the moment, things are quieter, and the last modification was related with the disciplinary bodies. But, one regulatory trend initiated in 2013 related to the professionalization of football referees, but it’s still not concluded, and there is legal work in progress on that matter.

Also, there is still a bit of discussion around the legal impositions on the professional activity of trainers/coaches/managers, although more situated in other sports than in football.

Finally, and most recent, is the regulatory intervention of the federation and regional associations regarding football schools. They have defined the legal framework to impose on grassroots football (this, after a change operated in recent years with the recognition of football academies and the certification of the clubs to ensure they truly work on the development of young players).

Q.: What would you consider to be the biggest sports law issue facing the Portuguese in the coming years?

A.: I sincerely cannot consider only one, but two. The centralization of television rights, in football, is a permanent discussion (more out of the sports system than between the clubs itself); there are permanent references to other models, like the English example or the German experience, and there is also a recurrent comparison to Spain. And, with laws actually being discussed right now in the Portuguese Parliament, of course, match-fixing; this is a big issue right now in Portugal, even because sports law didn’t evolve as quickly as the phenomenon of foreign investment in the “amateur” championship of Portugal. Without a regulatory frame like the one made by the Portuguese Professional League, the “third” national division, regulated by the federation, has been an “open road” for the creation of commercial societies, with economic origins from abroad, that take the place of the traditional Portuguese clubs. I also can add an extra-topic that never leaves the agenda: how can we protect in Portugal the growth of homegrown players. But, at these political times, protective policies are not well seen by the public opinion… or are they? 

Sean Cottrell and Rui Alexandre Jesus

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