Thursday, August 07, 2008

Football League Trapdoor Slams Shut (almost)

Football League Two teams will be breathing a sigh of relief after the trapdoor to the Football Conference prematurely slammed (almost) shut – i.e. before the football season has even started. Luton Town will start the 2008/9 season on Saturday at home against Port Vale, but with a 30-point disadvantage after the Football League imposed a further 20-point deduction for failing to agree a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with creditors to add to its 10-point deduction for going into administration in the first place.

Rotherham United have now joined Luton at the foot of the Football League after the club failed to agree a CVA with its creditors. A new company applied to the Football League to replace the old club and the Football League has exercised its ‘absolute discretion under the exceptional circumstances of its insolvency policy’ to allow this to take place, as long as the club accepts a 17-point deduction and pays a £750,000 bond pledging to return to Rotherham within four years (the new club will start its season against Lincoln City at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium).

While there is some optimism from Rotherham’s new owners (and Leeds United’s position at the end of last season proves that deductions can be overcome), the deductions will be welcomed by the rest of the Football League Two clubs, who fear the traditional dogfight to avoid the two relegation spots to the Conference, which now appear filled.

However, these cases illustrate that the Insolvency Policy of the Football League appears to punish the club, its new owners and its fans, rather than those who have caused the damage through financial mismanagement (for example, Peter Ridsdale is now Chairman of Cardiff City, while Leeds United languish in League One, after points deductions following his exit). This is an area that the Football League needs to re-examine.

Andy Brown


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

World Sports Law Report: Tackling Doping in Sport

Following on from the success of our Player Contracts Briefing in July, which was attended by just under 100 delegates, World Sports Law Report is organising a full-day Briefing examining anti-doping regulations in sport. The Briefing will be hosted by Charles Russell LLP at their London offices on 22 October.

As the Dwain Chambers case illustrated, striking a balance between strict liability against dopers and an athletes right to compete is a difficult task. It has been pointed out that the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) two-year ban allows an athlete to commit a doping offence at the Olympics, yet compete again in four years’ time. However as international sports lawyer Ian Blackshaw pointed out in the July edition of World Sports Law Report, a lifetime ban could be considered an unreasonable restraint of trade.

A lifetime ban for a user of recreational drugs, who is not cheating to beat his competitors, may also not be the most humane policy, as highlighted by Ian Smith, Vice President, Legal Affairs with the Professional Cricketers’ Association. It may also be considered unfair that athletes in a relay team relinquish their medals if one of the team is convicted of doping, as the Antonio Pettigrew and Marion Jones cases proved.

Methods of doping and avoiding detection, combined with restrictions based on athlete privacy into what data can be collected from athletes, are making the job of anti-doping authorities problematic. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to decide when a method of training or simulation should be considered anti-doping, as WADA’s debate over whether to include hypoxic chambers on its prohibited substances list illustrated.

All of these issues, as well as the future of anti-doping and doping regulation will be discussed at the Briefing. For more information, click here or contact Laura Caruso on +44 (0)20 7012 1384, or by clicking here.

Andy Brown


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Liverpool FC sends fan details to wrong person

English Premier League football club, Liverpool FC, has apologised to a group of fans after sending their personal details – including passport numbers, addresses and bank details – to another person, reports the BBC.

The club had optimistically asked fans to apply for tickets to the UEFA Champions League final, to be held in Moscow on 21 May, in advance of yesterday’s semi-final, second leg decider against Chelsea. Garreth Cummins and friends filled in an application for tickets, which was then sent to another supporter who informed Cummins of the error, reported the BBC.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said that it was “looking into” the issue, however had yet to decide whether it would be launching a formal investigation. Liverpool FC was unable to confirm the BBC’s report, as its media team were taking their time in travelling back from London, no doubt recovering from the team’s loss to Chelsea.

If only Liverpool had attended ‘Sport & Data Protection’, a World Sports Law Report event kindly hosted by Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP on 8 April, they would have received some guidance on how to adequately protect fan data.

Perhaps one of the most interesting talks of the day was given by Tarique Ghaffur, Assistant Commissioner, Central Operations for The Metropolitan Police, after London’s Olympic Torch Relay ahead of Beijing 2008 was hijacked by human rights protestors on 6 April.

To read more about why the Police’s administration of the Torch Relay was a success, read Bill Wilson’s report, covering Ghaffur’s presentation, on the BBC website.

This excellent event was also Kamaljit Jaswal's swansong. Jit, as she preferred to be known, was Sales & Marketing Manager for World Sports Law Report and organised a number of excellent events. She will be difficult to replace. Everyone at World Sports Law Report wishes her all the best for the future!

Andy Brown


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Premier League pull out of FIFA meeting over 39th game

A press release from FIFA and the Premier League confirmed that the Premier League has decided that 'further internal studies' may be prudent before presenting its plan for a 39th game to world football's governing body.

When it announced the plans, the Premier League was insistent that it would be meeting FIFA as soon as possible. However the FA last week judged the plans unsustainable in their current form, while FIFA President Joseph Blatter was more dismissive. FIFA will only accept a proposal from the national association – i.e. the FA.

It appears that the FA’s refusal to support the plans in their current form may have sent them back to the drawing board.

Andy Brown


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Webster case defines compensation due for breach of contract

A ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), on 30 January, in which Andrew Webster and Wigan Athletic were found jointly liable for compensating Heart of Midlothian for the wages left on his contract (£150,000), has clarified compensation due for a unilateral breach of a young football player’s contract under Article 17 of the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players.

It remains to be seen whether the CAS’ ruling will have the impact that newspaper headlines have predicted. It is understood that the ruling applies only to football contracts outside of the ‘protected period’, which is three seasons/years following entry into force of the contract where it is concluded prior to a player’s 28th birthday, and only when a player contract is unspecific with regards to compensation for unilateral termination by the player.

It would appear that the ruling does not give all players the right to walk out of their contracts without compensating their former club, however it may lead to clubs taking more care when drafting contracts with players under the age of 28, in order to ensure that compensation for unilateral termination by the player is covered.

Webster, whose contract ran until June 2007, terminated his contract with Hearts on 26 May 2006, shortly before joining Wigan Athletic. Webster claimed that he was entitled to breach his contract without just cause under Article 17 of the FIFA Regulations, since his termination occurred outside of the protected period. The case was brought before the CAS after all three parties filed separate appeals against a decision from FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber to award Hearts £625,000 in compensation. Hearts’ claim included a £4 million transfer fee which it alleged it was due for playing a role in improving the player from ages 19 to 24.

A full analysis of the decision will appear in the March edition of World Sports Law Report.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Déjà vu: England scuppers another World Cup bid

Richard Scudamore, Chief Executive of the FA Premier League, will not be a popular man at the Football Association today, as his plans for an ‘International Round’ of Premier League games could endanger England’s bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The FA Premier League announced that its 20 clubs had agreed to further discuss a proposal to stage an ‘International Round’ in January 2011 before informing FIFA  - a bad political move.

“When it comes to a decision of the [FIFA] Executive Committee concerning the matter of the 39th round of the Premier League, the Executive Committee, definitely, I am sure, will be against that, then this will not have a positive impact on the bid from England for the World Cup 2018”, said FIFA President Joseph Blatter, when questioned by the BBC.

The 25-man FIFA Executive Committee, of which Blatter is President, has the final vote over who will be awarded the 2018 tournament. It also includes Michel Platini, who has dismissed the plans as a “joke”. The Asian Football Confederation has also told the BBC that it will not support the plan. Its President, Mohammed Bin Hammam, has been openly critical of European club tours, which he feels takes supporters away from the Asian club game.

Is it just me that gets a sense of déjà vu over all of this? Back in 1997, blinded by the revenue generated by Euro 1996, the Football Association went back on a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to support a German bid to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup by bidding directly against the Deutscher Fußball-Bund. Everyone knows who won that argument, and it appears that the FA could lose this one as well.

Blatter’s comments also revealed a dissolution between the aims of the Football Association in promoting the national game and the FA Premier League, in maximising revenue, that many fans will recognise. “This will never happen, at least as long as I am the President of FIFA”, said Blatter. “This is abuse. The rich Premier League is trying to get richer and wants to expand the importance of that league”.

This badly-judged proposal could end up costing Scudamore his job.

 Andy Brown

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WADA develops international privacy standard

One of the most interesting snippets of news to come out of Integrity In Sport: Contractual Risk Management, World Sports Law Report’s latest briefing hosted by Charles Russell LLP, was that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has developed a draft International Standard for the Protection of Privacy.

The timescale is interesting: the nine-page draft document, containing minimum privacy and data protection standards that all parties that collect and use personal data to tackle anti-doping in sport must adhere to, is out for consultation until 18 February and will come into effect in May this year.

The draft aims to set minimum standards of privacy protection for personal information collected and used by organisations when conducting anti-doping programmes. It is not intended to override national or international legislation, except when the standards set by that legislation fall below those set out in the International Standard.

‘All Anti-Doping Organizations are expected to comply, even when the requirements of this International Standard exceed those arising under local law’, reads the Standard. ‘Compliance with this International Standard does not exempt Anti-Doping Organizations from complying with any locally applicable data protection laws and regulations’.

Anti-doping authorities need to collect personal data from athletes in order to effectively combat doping, however athlete consent for collection of their data could prove a contentious issue. Article 4.4 of the International Standard requires athlete consent, unless such collection is ‘expressly permitted by law’, however article 4.4(b) states: ‘Anti-Doping Organizations shall inform individuals that their refusal to subject themselves to doping controls, including Testing, could prevent their continued participation in organized sport and invalidate their competition results’.

Data protection and privacy in sport, especially around doping, is increasingly becoming a contentious issue. The UCI’s plans for a ‘Biological Passport’ have led some riders to express concerns about privacy, whereas other athletes would like more intrusive systems - such as chips implanted under the skin - to be introduced to combat doping. This is an emerging tightrope that Peter Leaver QC, the newly appointed President of the UK’s National Anti-Doping Panel, will have to walk carefully.

Andy Brown