The FA v Marc Bola

FootballOn 3 September 2021, The FA announced that Marc Bola (“the Player”), of Middlesbrough FC, had been charged with misconduct for an alleged Aggravated Breach of the FA Rules, 2021/2022 (“the 2022 Rules”), rules E3.1 and E3.2 (“the Charge”).

The Charge related to a Tweet the Player posted from his Twitter account on 14 April 2012. The Tweet has since been deleted but it is understood that the Tweet made reference to sexual orientation and was deeply offensive.

The Rules, rules E3.1 and E3.2 state:

A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour’.

A breach of Rule E3.1 is an “Aggravated Breach” where it includes a reference, whether express or implied, to any one or more of the following :- ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability’.

The Player is currently 24 years old. At the time of the Tweet subject to the Charge, the Player was 14 years old and was part of Arsenal FC’s Academy.

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The Jump Off: Two Equestrian Leagues Continue To Go Head To Head

horse jumpingThe equestrian sport of show jumping takes place across the world, attracting an ever-increasing media profile.  It therefore comes as little surprise that event organisers have sought to ride the wave of the sport’s growing interest and publicity by seeking to establish various new show jumping competitions.

Two such leagues are Major League Show Jumping (“MLSJ“), which debuted in 2021, and the National Equestrian League (“NEL“), which is still yet to launch (despite having been approved by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (“FEI“)).

The advertised potential prize money on offer for these new leagues is considerable: $12,400,000 for the NEL; and $7,000,000 for the MLSJ.  These leagues both feature eight professional teams, which compete at various venues across North America.  They are both classified as 5* show jumping events and are seemingly looking to mirror the structure of established American major professional sports leagues.

The rivalry between the MLSJ and proposed NEL progressed to the US courts and the tribunal for the FEI, and this article sets out the background to the legal challenges and various issues under consideration.

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The Low-Down on FIFA’s New Player Loan Regulations

Big money permanent transfers are usually the headline grabbers but there have been some significant loan moves this window… Tanguy Ndombele from Tottenham to Lyon, Adama Traoré from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Barcelona, Antony Martial from Manchester United to Sevilla, and Aaron Ramsey from Juventus to Rangers, to name just a few of the international loan deals to feature this January.

During the next transfer window, clubs must pay heed to a new regulatory framework when negotiating such loan moves.  FIFA has announced that its new regulations on player loans are ready for implementation, with the stated aims to develop young players and promote competitive balance.  Whether the perceived problems with the current system are fair or not, there will be significant changes to the current regulation of international loans.  Although domestic loans are outside of the new regulatory framework, implications are on the horizon as member associations will have until 2025 to ensure their own rules on loans are in line with FIFA’s principles.

The new framework has been in the stocks for several years as one part of the larger FIFA transfer system reform packages developed and endorsed by the Football Stakeholders Committee (“FSC”).  In 2020, FIFA postponed the anticipated introduction of the new rules due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, following fresh endorsement by the FSC and subject to the final approval of the FIFA Council, the regulations are set to enter into force on 1 July 2022.  Continue Reading

What’s next for European sports governance and how will it address its current challenges?

Sports governance became a hot topic within Europe in 2021, particularly in light of the proposed establishment of new competitions, particular football club takeovers, and financial fair play matters, as well as the challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic to sport’s sustainability.

The ‘specificity of sport’ was recognised by the amended Treaty of the European Union, which came into force in 2009[1] (although it had been initiated through certain rulings of the European Court of Justice and the decisional practice of the European Commission for some time prior to that).

However, in late 2021, a resolution of the Council of the European Union on a European Sport Model (the “Resolution“) was adopted which calls for EU institutions to take a more substantive role in supporting the sport sector for the next decade and to set out what it considers to be the fundamental features of European sports policy. The Resolution follows the European Parliament overwhelmingly supporting a report on EU Sports Policy (the “Report“).

The Report recognises, amongst other things, the “unique power of sport to promote positive change and transmit values across borders” and its emergence as an “increasingly important economic phenomenon… [which] generates an added value of EUR 279.7 billion of the [European] Union’s GDP”.

This blog post focuses on summarising the key findings and recommendations from the Report.

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Andre Onana and UEFA’s Anti-Doping Regulations – A Cautionary Tale

Football

Introduction

Andre Onana, the first team goalkeeper for AFC Ajax (“Ajax”) and the Cameroon national team played his first competitive match for over nine 9 months on 13 November 2021, when he started for Cameroon in a 4:0 victory over Malawi in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 African Qualifier.

Prior to this match, Onana had been subject to a 9-month suspenion from all football-related activity for violating anti-doping regulations. Due to the nature of the suspension, Onana was only permitted to return to first-team training in September 2021 and in fact only resumed first-team training of any kind on 28 October 2021, when he joined up with the Ajax senior side, following a short spell training with the Ajax U21s.

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NHL Expansion Draft: An Opportunity for Rapid Competitiveness?

On July 21, 2021, the Seattle Kraken, the newest franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL), stocked its roster through what is known as an expansion draft.  The consensus seems to be that the Kraken used the draft to select a solid, if not star, roster whilst leaving flexibility to sign higher profile free agents before the start of the season.  All eyes will now be on the Kraken’s debut against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas on October 12th.

In this article, we examine the background and rules to the expansion draft, as well as well as the rationale for these rules and their potential impact on the fortunes of new franchises.

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Supreme Court Finds For NCAA Student-Athletes on Antitrust Issues

NCAA student athletes are entitled to education-related benefits, such as paid post-graduate internships, scholarships for graduate school, tutors, laptops, science equipment, musical instruments, and annual awards for academic achievement up to $5,980. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the unanimous Supreme Court ruling, holding that the now-former NCAA prohibition for such things violated antitrust laws.

NCAA v. Alston began seven years ago as a class action against the NCAA brought by Shawn Alston and Justine Hartman as representatives for a class of former men’s and women’s college football and basketball players. They alleged that the NCAA’s limitation on the types and amounts of compensation student-athletes can receive violates Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act which prohibits the unreasonable restriction on competition among the states. The District Court and Ninth Circuit both resolved that there was an antitrust violation when applying the applicable “rule of reason” test and the Supreme Court did not depart from those decisions.

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Controversy in Horse Racing: A Race to Lift a Suspension

The crown jewels of American thoroughbred horseracing are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.  Together, they are known as the “Triple Crown,” and winning all three in a single year—an immensely difficult feat—is the pinnacle of horseracing in the United States.

Robert Baffert, a seven-time Kentucky Derby winner, is one of only a few racehorse trainers who have won the Triple Crown, and one of only two trainers to have two horses win the Triple Crown.  Recently, however, Mr. Baffert has made headlines not for the success of his thoroughbreds, but for controversy surrounding them.

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European Parliament proposes new regime to combat piracy of live sports content

Pirate Key on a Keyboard

Scale of the piracy problem

The threats posed to the funding of sport by media rights piracy is nothing new.  However, as recognised by the European Parliament in its resolution published 19 May 2021, developments in digital technology and the proliferation of access to digital content (in particular through IPTV) have, in turn, increased the potential exposure of sports fans to pirated content.

In its report[1] prepared in December 2020, the European Parliamentary Research Service found that in 2019:

  • 6 million subscriptions were made to illegal broadcasting platforms in the EU;
  • these subscriptions generated illicit subscription revenues of an estimated 522 million EUR; and
  • if the same number of subscriptions were made legally, authorised broadcasters’ revenues could increase by 3.4 billion EUR each year.

Furthermore, a report published this year by Synamedia and Ampere Analysis has found that sports rights holders and streaming services lost $28.3 billion globally as a result of piracy in 2020.

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Given Out on Appeal – An Occupier’s Duty

Cricket bat and ball

As recreational sport returns to local parks and commons, a recent High Court ruling has served as a useful reminder to occupiers of their duty of care owed to visitors. The case considers, amongst other things, the requirement of reasonableness under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (the “OLA 1957”) as well as the concept of remoteness.  It is also notable for revisiting points to be distilled from the seminal House of Lords decision in Bolton v Stone.[1]

Facts of the Case

In August 2014, the claimant in Lewis v Wandsworth London Borough Council[2] was walking through Battersea Park, along a path that bounded a small cricket pitch. Upon hearing a shout, she turned her head and was immediately struck on the eye by a falling cricket ball, causing her serious injury.

The claimant brought a case against the local authority. She claimed that they should have put up signage that warned that a cricket match was being played with hard balls and/or prohibited the path from being used during matches. Had there been such signs, she claimed that she would have paid greater attention to the match and would have been able to dodge any stray cricket balls.

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