The employment status and rights of funded athletes in the UK

Olympic medals
Published: Tuesday, 13 November 2018. Written by Libby Payne, Caroline Mathews No Comments

As sport has developed into big business, the world of the enthusiastic amateur has largely disappeared and high performance athletes are encouraged to be "professional" regardless of whether they are in fact earning a decent living from their sport. The introduction of lottery funding has meant that many more athletes are training full time (or at least for substantial periods of time on a consistent basis) in the hope of securing, for the most part, medals at the Olympics.

With the stakes higher, sports bodies are taking an uncompromising approach to funded athletes’ performance, which at times has led to allegations of bullying or unfair treatment of athletes. This in turn has led to athletes speaking out and exploring what rights they have and how they can enforce them.

Accordingly, this article examines the employment status and rights of funded athletes. Specifically, it looks at:

  • Background – the Jess Varnish case and the concept of "funded athlete"

  • The employment status of athletes at present

  • The protection and rights that funded athletes have

  • The implications if funded athletes are found to be "employees" or "workers"

  • Will being classed as employees or workers will provide protection for athletes?

  • The alternatives available to athletes (the pros and cons of arbitration)

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About the Author

Libby Payne

Libby Payne

A former competitive fencer, Libby is now an equally enthusiastic employment and sports lawyer. She acts for both employers and senior executives and also for sports clubs' agents and athletes. Having a real passion for the law, Libby enjoys coming up with creative and practical solutions to even the most novel issues.

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Caroline Mathews

Caroline Mathews

Associate, Withers

Caroline is an associate in the employment team, advising on the full range of employment law issues, for both employers and employees. As a keen sportswoman, having competed in marathons and a regular member of a London hockey team, Caroline also advises on a number of sports law matters, providing both employment and regulatory advice to clients. Caroline is particularly experienced in employment litigation, both in the Employment and the High Court.

+44 20 7597 6131

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