Friday, June 29, 2007

Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster

It’s amazing the stories that can creep through on a slow news day, as The Sun’s infamous headline from 1986 proves. World Sports Law Report was ready to commission an article after The Guardian suggested that the European Commission was ‘considering’ breaking up the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) collective sale of its TV rights to the Winter and Summer Olympics, so that individual sports would be sold separately.

‘It’s none of the EC’s bloody business and they should back off’, said an ‘influential figure’, reported The Guardian.

However, the European Commission has described the story as ‘completely false’, reports ‘The Commission is not looking at the way the IOC is selling its media rights’, spokesperson Jonathan Todd told the internet site. ‘By definition, the Commission is not therefore asking the IOC to unbundle its rights or anything else’.

Publicist Max Clifford, who was responsible for the ‘Hamster’ headline, later admitted that Starr had not eaten the Hamster in a television interview with Esther Rantzen. It is understood that The Guardian was reporting on ‘mood music’ from sources at the Commission regarding the next Olympics broadcasting deal.

Although the ‘Hamster’ article proves that you shouldn’t believe everything in the press, it is worth keeping one eye on the issues raised in The Guardian’s article, as the IOC has yet to make any official statements on broadcast tenders for 2014/2016.

 Andy Brown

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Law Society ‘Instructs Solicitors’ Over FA Agent Regulations

The Law Society has instructed its solicitors to dispute the Football Association’s (FA) new Football Agents Regulations, it emerged at ‘Agents: What are they for?’, a breakfast seminar that illustrated growing disagreement between agents and the FA about whether the new Regulations are workable. The seminar was hosted this morning by Citi Private Bank on behalf of law firm Clintons’ Sports Law Group in London.

The new Regulations require lawyers, who were previously exempt from FA agent regulations because of their regulation by the Law Society, to register with the FA (as reported in World Sports Law Report, Volume 4, Issue 12, December 2006). This requirement has been disputed by lawyers who act as football agents, who argue that there is no need for them to register with the FA, as the set of ethics that the Law Society requires them to operate under are far more stringent than the FA’s Regulations. It was pointed out that FIFA still exempts lawyers from its Player Agents Regulations.

Not only is there disagreement between agents and the FA over whether the Regulations are workable, there is also dispute over whether agents were consulted at all during the drafting process. David Sheepshanks, Chairman of Ipswich Town and a non-executive Director of the Football Association, said that agents had been “well consulted”, while Mel Stein, a Consultant with Clintons and Chairman of the Association of Football Agents, a grouping of 90 leading football agents formed in response to the new Regulations, countered that agents had “not been consulted at all”. Jon Smith, Chief Executive Officer of First Artist Corporation, an athlete representation company, was careful not to get drawn into the ‘yes we did’, ‘no you didn’t’ pantomime argument.

“The role and image of agents has been tarnished and distorted by the actions of some of their number”, said Sheepshanks. “The FIFA Regulations are lax and have not been applied properly. Too many irresponsible agents have wrecked it for the responsible ones. The new FA Regulations are therefore vital”.

“Agents want to drive the ‘rotten apples’ out of the game”, said Stein, who said that the AFA had sought self-regulation negotiations with the FA Premier League. Stein singled out aspects of the “incomprehensible” Regulations for particularly stinging criticism. He dismissed as “unacceptable” provisions that would allow players to represent themselves in representation contracts, as well as provisions for players to pay agents in instalments rather than a lump sum, because of the danger that a player will simply terminate an agent’s employment and cease to pay them, after a transfer has taken place.

He also dismissed as “cloud cuckoo land” the provision that agents should not be able to act for players under the age of 16, arguing that alternative deals, such as buying a house for the player’s parents, will be done in secret. He used the examples of David Beckham and Wayne Rooney as two players whose talents had been realised long before they reached the age of 16.

Sheepshanks said that the FA would formally announce the new Regulations on 29 June, leaving little time for further consultation, however said that the FA would hold “familiarisation and counselling programmes” with all concerned parties.

However, consultation and co-ordination with FIFA also appears to be needed. A FIFA spokesperson told World Sports Law Report that new player agent regulations, to be introduced 1 January 2008, would “clarify the percentage of a fee that a player can pay to an agent, as well as the period of validity of agent licenses”. This, on the face of it, appears to suggest that FIFA regulations could scupper the FA’s plans to force players to pay their agents in instalments, rather than through a lump sum.

Andy Brown 

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

London 2012 Logo: Alienating Londoners

In the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games’ (LOCOG) candidature file, two of the key ‘Priorities and potential’ targets were ‘harnessing London’s passion for sport’ and ‘Regenerating east London communities and their environment’. It reads ‘The Olympic Park will become a hub for east London, bringing communities together and acting as catalyst for profound social and economic change. It will become a model of social inclusion, opening up opportunities for education, cultural and skills development and jobs for people across the UK and London, but especially in the Lea Valley and surrounding areas’.

There are increasing signs that LOCOG is veering from that laudable ‘social inclusion’ path. LOCOG could have involved the local schools and colleges in helping to design a logo that accurately reflected the aims and prospects that London 2012 is supposed to bring to an area close to the city in terms of distance, but miles away in terms of socio-economic development. Nothing in LOCOG’s press release suggests even an attempt at canvassing public opinion. Instead, LOCOG commissioned Wolff Ollins to design a London 2012 logo at a reported cost of £400,000.

Unlike LOCOG’s decision to concrete over part of Hackney Marshes, the spiritual home of football where David Beckham learned his trade, this could become a PR disaster that cannot be swept under the carpet.

A campaign entitled ‘Change the London 2012 logo’ had gained almost 20,000 signatures at time of press, just a day after LOGOC launched the logo to widespread criticism. Mine is one of the signatures. The massive costs and lack of consultation with Londoners is in grave danger of alienating the very people the Games are supposed to involve.

 Andy Brown

Monday, May 21, 2007

New G-14 President Aulas Confirms Expansion

At its general assembly, held in Glasgow on 16 May, the ‘G-14’ group of 18 of Europe’s most powerful football clubs, appointed Olympique Lyonnais President Jean-Michel Aulas to replace David Dein as G-14 President, following his departure as Vice-Chairman of Arsenal on 18 April.

Aulas immediately prompted suggestions that the organisation should change its name. “We need to work on the details”, he said of the G-14’s expansion. “There is no exact figure, but we are thinking of at least 10 more clubs, if not 12 or 14 or 16. Admission will be based on sporting performances and geographical consideration”.

However, the addition of four clubs in 2002 to the original 14 that formed the organisation in 2000 did not prompt a change, and perhaps the numerically inaccurate name will continue to stick.

One thing is certain - Aulas’ statement will set the conspiracy theorists within the football federations whispering about the renewed possibility of a European super league, first suggested by Media Partners almost ten years ago, back in 1998.

 Andy Brown

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Real Football, Fantasy Football: Same Issues

The real success story of this past football season has been…Gretna FC. After gaining acceptance into the fourth tier of Scottish Football in 2002, Gretna have won promotion into the Scottish Premier League (SPL) in just five seasons.

I am not sure what the record is for successive promotions, however Gretna won promotion from the Scottish Football League Third Division in 2004/5, from the Second Division in 2005/6 and from the First Division to the SPL in 2006/7 – an amazing record, even by Wimbledon’s (now MK Dons) standards (elected to the Football League in 1977, promoted to the First Division in 1986, inaugural members of the Premier League, 1992).

However, Gretna’s promotion is being contested, and it is not hard to guess by who. The BBC reports that Dunfermline Athletic are joining St. Mirren in writing to the SPL asking if Gretna have met the same stadium criteria as previous First Division champions. You guessed it – Dunfermline were relegated at the end of this season and St. Mirren narrowly avoided relegation on the last day of the season.

Gretna’s promotion hinges on them providing guarantees that a 6,000-seat stadium will be built by March 2008, and St. Mirren is contesting that Gretna have not provided sufficient guarantees. St. Mirren were forced to spend £200,000 on ground improvements last season when they could not offer assurances over a new stadium.

However, before you scoff, let me point out a couple of comments from St. Mirren chairman, Stewart Gilmour. “There is a strong feeling that you cannot have different rules for different clubs”, he told BBC Sport. “I want to make sure that the same ground rules apply, as it has been sore for us financially”.

Sound familiar? That’s because it a similar argument to the one that Sheffield United and Wigan have been putting to the FA Premier League about their failure to dock West Ham points, the only obvious difference being that one argument is about an alleged illegal player, whilst the other is about ground regulations. Both arguments are about money, or the loss of it, and both prove that football authorities need to apply their regulations with an even hand, whether in the fantasy football world of the FA Premier League, or the perhaps more realistic world of Scottish football.

 Andy Brown

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Biggest Prize in World Football

On 28 May, the most valuable game ever in world football will take place, with the winner guaranteed around £60 million. In terms of the revenue that it will provide to its winners, the Football League Championship play-off final is more valuable than the World Cup final or Champions League final, according to football accountants Deloitte.

The reason for this is that the FA Premier League’s new domestic and overseas television deals begin to pay the Premier League’s clubs from next season. Clubs relegated this season will receive parachute payments under the FA Premier League’s previous TV arrangements, whereas clubs relegated next season will receive parachute payments under the new TV deals. The difference is striking, as extra figures, kindly provided by Deloitte’s Sport Business Group, illustrate.

The Premier League’s current domestic TV deals, which expire at the end of this season, are worth £1.2 billion with overseas deals worth a further £320 million, a total of £1.52 billion over three seasons. This equates to £507 million per season.

The new domestic TV deals are worth £2.1 billion with overseas TV deals worth £625 million, a total of £2.7 billion over three seasons. This equates to £900 million per season, almost double the previous amount.

Deloitte estimates that the cost of relegation will be £25 million to £30 million over two seasons and warns that should the relegated club fail to win promotion back to the FA Premier League, then that cost could increase further, as parachute payments will cease after two seasons. A relegated club stands to lose a great deal of money, which perhaps explains why clubs in danger of relegation are prepared to pay to employ legal firms to investigate possible action against the FA Premier League, after an Independent Commission decided to fine West Ham United for breaking FA Premier League rules rather than deducting points. This issue is examined in the May edition of World Sports Law Report, soon to appear on the site.

Andy Brown


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Former Sturm Graz President Arrested

Hannes Kartnig, former President of Austrian Bundesliga club, Sturm Graz, has been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement and tax evasion, reports the International Herald Tribune.

'Mr. Kartnig gambled away some 40 million Schillings (about €2.9 million) in casinos', prosecution spokesman Manfred Kammerer told Austrian broadcaster, ORF. 'That's why the question arises about where the money went, or if it was other money that Mr. Kartnig gambled away'.

The relationship between sport and gambling was examined at World Sports Law Report's briefing, Sports, Sponsorship & Gambling, hosted by DLA Piper in March. For more information on the topics discussed, email Jit Jaswal.

Andy Brown

Thursday, March 29, 2007

European Parliament Calls On Commission To Clarify Legal Status Of Professional Football

The European Parliament has called on the European Commission to ‘clarify the legal status of football’ after adopting a report titled ‘On the future of professional football in Europe’, drafted by Ivo Belet (EPP-ED, BE).

The report asks the Commission to specify ‘under which conditions legitimate and adequate self-regulation is supported’. The report also backs UEFA’s club licensing system; calls for football to establish agreement on a collective insurance system; asks the Commission to investigate the adoption of collective sale of TV rights; supports UEFA’s home-grown player rule.

European Commissioner, Jan Figel, is currently consulting on a White Paper on sport, due to be published this summer. Sporting federations are concerned that attempts to define sport’s relationship to EU law could undermine their decision-making autonomy (See World Sports Law Report, Volume 04, Issue 10, October 2006).

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on its planned White Paper on sport. Click here to give your view.

Andy Brown 

Friday, February 23, 2007

Comment: Human Enhancement Technologies in Sport

The Select Committee on Science and Technology today released its Human Enhancement Technologies in Sport report, commissioned in March last year. Mike Morgan, a Solicitor with Hammonds, gives his opinion on key points within the report.

“Among the recommendations which struck me were:
1: Paragraph 57 - Suggestion that WADA-accredited labs should perform testing of commercial supplements for use in sport. If that were allowed to happen, the labs and WADA would be exposing themselves to potential legal action where athletes subsequently test positive for a banned substance emanating from a batch of that supplement. Also, it could lead to a repeat of the ATP debacle from 2003, where a number of players who had tested positive for a prohibited substance (nandrolone, in that particular case) were exonerated because the ATP had approved and apparently provided the suspected batch of contaminated supplements to those players. Whilst the issue of supplements is a very important one and does need further investigation, it is certainly not as black and white as the Committee's recommendation would suggest, particularly not from a legal point of view.”

2: “Paragraph 92 - Recommendation that the length of ban for a first time-offence be increased from two years to four years. This is an issue that has raged for over a decade and is subject to complex legal arguments, so it is surprising that the Committee has spent just one paragraph of the report considering the length of a ban for a first time offence, before recommending that a four-year ban should be applied ‘in all incidences of proven doping’”.

3: “Paragraph 76 - Restricting Olympic participation to athletes who have competed internationally in the 12 months before the Olympics. Twelve months is a very long time for athletes and such a policy would put a lot of unnecessary pressure on athletes to perform, particularly promising young athletes who are on the brink of becoming international. It also does not consider the position of athletes who choose to concentrate on their studies, or even those athletes who choose to ease off in the year prior to an Olympic year (as athletes often do, to minimise the risk of injury that can result from the stress of two consecutive years of hard training)”.

“All in all, the Committee does not appear to have considered the legal ramifications of a lot of their recommendations. On a positive note though, it is encouraging to see the recommendations at paragraphs 121 and 122 that the government should spend more on sports science research, as that is one area in which we are lagging behind some of our European colleagues and certainly behind the US and Australia”.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Premier League: Attendance Reporting Up To Clubs

Comments made by the FA Premier League to World Sports Law Report suggest that attendance figures may not accurately reflect the number of people at its grounds.

The Guardian recently highlighted the issue in an article, receiving confirmation from Arsenal that its attendance figure reflects the number of tickets sold, rather than actual bums on seats. The club told the newspaper that as many as 3% of ticket holders – more than 1,800 people – did not take their seats for the 11 February game against Wigan, where a near-capacity attendance of 60,049 was reported.

An FA Premier League spokesperson said that it is for a club to decide how attendance figures are calculated. Apparently, some clubs base attendance on tickets sold and others on ‘gate receipts’, i.e. the number of ticket holders passing through the turnstiles.

Bolton Wanderers recently became the first Premier League club to cut season ticket prices, following concern that high ticket prices, coupled with widespread availability of football on television, may be keeping fans on the sofas and away from the turnstiles. Wigan have also reduced the cost of certain games this season, following concerns over empty seats.

If the FA Premier League wishes to retain the impression that all of its grounds are 100% full all of the time, perhaps it could introduce a rule requiring all clubs to base their attendance figures on numbers of tickets sold. Conversely, if it thinks its clubs should take action to remedy the empty seats appearing on television screens and in newspapers (which both sponsors and broadcasters, who provide revenue, hate to see), perhaps it should require its clubs to report attendance based on gate receipts.

Andy Brown

Friday, February 16, 2007

Belgian Court: Player Images Can Be Used Without Permission

In an interesting article, Bond Pearce LLP highlight how a Belgian court confirmed that in certain cases, betting companies can legitimately use player and club images without consent, as the betting public needs appropriate information to make informed betting decisions, and this includes photos of the clubs and players.

The court apparently accepted the betting companies’ argument that in this case, the use of players’ images did not have a predominantly commercial goal, but was an application of the right to information.

The case falls into that difficult area of sports law where the rights of access for organisations providing ‘services’ to the public must be balanced with the wishes of sports governing bodies, and personalities, to protect the value of their rights.

It is a fine line to tread. The World Association of Newspapers is currently in negotiation with the International Rugby Board and the International Cricket Council over media access to the Cricket World Cup and Rugby World Cup, both of which are to be held this year.

Another case which has parallels with both of the above concerned media access to the fourth Ashes Test in Australia. Cricket Australia had threatened to lock out media organisations due to the rebroadcast of moving images from previous tests on the internet. This case is examined by Claude Harran, of Dibbs Abbot Stillman, in the January edition of World Sports Law Report.

The relationship between sport, gambling, sponsorship and advertising will be examined at a World Sports Law Report Briefing, held at the offices of DLA Piper in London on 7 March. Contact Jit Jaswal for more information.

Andy Brown

Friday, February 09, 2007

Villiger Replaces Tännler as Head of FIFA’s Legal Division

Marco Villiger has replaced Heinz Tännler as Director of Legal Division at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), as of 1 January. Tännler is pursuing a political career with the Schweizerische Volkspartei / Union Démocratique du Centre (Swiss People’s Party).

Tännler has written for World Sports Law Report (search for ‘Tännler’ on the internet site), and spoke at our Special Briefing: Club, Country & Players, which received coverage on the BBC. World Sports Law Report wishes Tännler and Villiger all the best in their new roles.
Andy Brown

Monday, February 05, 2007

BHB Court of Appeal victory against At The Races

The British Horseracing Board announced that the Court of Appeal has ‘completely overturned’ a December 2005 High Court judgment obtained by At The Races, which found that BHB’s business practices in the supply of pre-race data constituted an abuse of a dominant position.

For an analysis of the initial High Court judgment by Neil Baylis and Martin King of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP (now K&L Gates), search for ‘Competition Law: At The Races v BHB: abusing a dominant position’ on World Sports Law Report’s internet site.

According to the BHB, ‘the Court of Appeal found that BHB’s business practices did not involve excessive or discriminatory pricing, nor did they amount to a refusal to supply and therefore were not abusive’.

‘If left unchallenged, the first instance judgment would have had far reaching implications beyond Racing, not least that organisations in a position similar to BHB’s would have had effectively had their prices regulated by the courts’, said BHB acting Chief Executive Chris Brand in a statement.

Arena Leisure, which owns television channel ATR, issued a statement confirming that At The Races plans to appeal to the House of Lords.

‘Given the emphatic nature of the ruling in ATR's favour back in December 2005 and following successful injunction proceedings before the Vice Chancellor earlier in 2005, we are very surprised and disappointed with the Court of Appeal's ruling today’, said Matthew Imi, Chief Executive of ATR. ‘We continue to believe that the BHB's treatment of ATR which triggered legal proceedings was unfair, discriminatory and abusive and, given the clear public interest element in this landmark case, we will be seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords’.

Andy Brown

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

WADA Publishes Draft Revisions To Doping Code

The World Anti-Doping Agency has published a draft revision of the World Anti-Doping Code, following direct feedback and face-to-face meetings with stakeholders.

The rules recommend a mandatory one year ban for missed tests, the sanction imposed on Commonwealth 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, however this ‘strict liability’ approach has been criticised by Gregory Ioannidis, a Barrister who acted as Counsel for Greek sprinters Mr Kenteris and Ms Thanou in their case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year, in an article in The Guardian.

The first draft revision of the Code marks a three-stage consultation process, before a final draft of the revised code is presented at the Third World Conference on Doping in Sport, which takes place in Madrid, 15-17 November. To view an outline of the consultation process, click here.
Andy Brown

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beckham to move to LA Galaxy following rule change

The BBC reports that David Beckham has agreed to join Major League Soccer (MLS) club LA Galaxy following the conclusion of his contract with Primera División club Real Madrid at the end of the current season.

The US league, which operates a salary budget, changed its rules in November last year to allow one ‘designated player’ for each of its 13 clubs. ‘A Designated Player's salary charge will be capped at $400,000, but his salary could be higher’, said MLS in the November statement.

In accounts filed with Companies House, Footwork Productions Limited - which lists its principal activity as ‘the provision of the services of David Beckham’ – reported a Gross Profit of £15.5 million for the year ended 31 December, 2005. No revenue was listed in the accounts, however wages and salaries of £19.7 million were listed. The company Secretary is listed as ‘V C Beckham’, and directors are ‘A Adams’ and ‘A Thompson’.

Also involved with the deal were 19 Entertainment, which took on representation of Beckham and his wife Victoria in 2003, and Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which has a sports representation arm.
Andy Brown