Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Qatar 2022, Broadcasting & Salary Caps: key debate areas at International Sports Law & Business conference

Debate over shifting the Qatar 2022 World Cup from summer to winter, changes in the broadcasting landscape and whether football salary caps could ever be introduced dominated debate at Management Forum’s annual conference on International Sports Law & Business. “The whole process since awarding the World Cup to Qatar has been a complete mess,” said Nic Coward, General Secretary of the FA Premier League (FAPL). “It is not just us – this view is held across the European leagues.”

Coward said that adjusting the international calendar to accommodate a winter tournament due to concerns over Qatar’s summer heat would take a huge amount of time, and getting it right would be extremely difficult. “It is a complex process, and the idea that somebody can decide to do this on a whim…if we are in the middle of the process by this time next year, that will be a result. It will cause massive disruption and significant problems, and will have a knock-on effect on other sports. For example, the Champions League final could end up clashing with the Wimbledon final.”

Coward said that part of the problem was that the international football calendar had been written by European football, but it was no longer the case that European football dictated the international calendar. Despite remaining critical of the idea of awarding the tournament to Qatar without considering the implications of a winter tournament, he said that the FAPL would work towards a solution. “What we will never settle for is rank bad process,” he said. “Through the proper processes, we will reach an outcome. However, we are now at the other end of the governance spectrum.”

Mike Lee OBE, Chairman of Vero Communications, said the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups at the same time was a “bad decision”, made for commercial reasons (i.e. broadcasting) that caused “untold problems.” However, he pointed out that rugby union had managed to do the same thing (i.e. award the 2015 & 2019 World Cups at the same time) with little problems. 

The FAPL expressed concern at an “unhealthy shift in the European Union” towards allowing broadcasters to sell “pan-European” access to their offerings. As World Sports Law Report has reported, a European Commission investigation into whether agreements between US film studios and European broadcasters to ‘geo-block’ content streamed over the internet infringes Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, could affect how sport sells its rights. Nic Coward asked whether the EU’s interest in breaking down such agreements to restrict internet content to the market in which the rights were initially sold was “in the public interest.”

A lively debate was held towards the end of the day about controlling spending in sport, especially with regards to salary caps and whether they could be implemented in football. Delegates heard how Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers have launched a challenge to the Football League’s Financial Fair Play regulations, and heard updates on salary caps in golf, motorsport and rugby union. Oliver Weingarten, lawyer for the Formula One Teams Association (and former FAPL lawyer), said that there was a real danger that a competitive Formula One team could go out of business in the future, unless the sport implements effective cost control procedures.

An interesting question was raised as to why UEFA has sought to limit club spending to a percentage of revenue in order to prevent clubs from going bust in its own Financial Fair Play Regulations, rather than limiting spending to money available. One of the objections to UEFA’s regulations raised by the Striani complaint is that the regulations prevent new owners from bankrolling a smaller club to success, by limiting the money that they can invest to a percentage of revenue, rather than to money available to the club through a rich owner.

Paul Rawnsley, a Director of Deloitte’s Sport Business Group who works with UEFA on its Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, pointed out that UEFA’s objective is not to level the playing field, but prevent clubs from going bust. He was also critical of football agents. “The amount that agents take out of the game is completely disproportionate to what they offer,” he said.

Delegates also received an update on the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code, which comes into effect on 1 January next year. Organisations are under greater obligation to collect and share information with other anti-doping organisations (ADOs) under the new Code, and the onus is placed on ADOs to collect and pass on the data, which could create issues regarding data protection legislation.

Kendrah Potts, a Senior Associate at Onside Law who spent two years on secondment as lead lawyer on anti-doping and corrupt sport betting at the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, explained how the Statute of Limitations had been extended from eight to 10 years under the new Code, enabling ADOs to go back further than ever before in prosecuting athletes for past offences. A shift in whereabouts requirements now requires athletes to record three missed tests in 12 months rather than 18 months to constitute an anti-doping rule violation. This means that serious test avoidance is more likely to be caught as opposed to carelessness.

Another key point raised by Potts was that a reduction in sanctions for prompt admission of guilt – previously available for two-year sanctions under the 2009 Code – is now only available for four-year sanction cases. Potts also highlighted that doping can learn from integrity rules, which rely on people coming forward to report fixing and often contain a requirement to report suspicious activity. Doping rules normally don’t contain such a requirement. 

A more detailed assessment of the new Code and potential issues with it will be provided by Tackling Doping in Sport, a two-day conference organised by World Sports Law Report in association with UK Anti-Doping on 19-20 March at Wembley stadium.

Chris Watts, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s anti-corruption officer, highlighted that although a review has begun into the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption resources, the current anti-corruption framework within cricket “is adequate,” in his view. This is an interesting viewpoint, given the Justice Mugdal Indian Premier League (IPL) Committee report into breaches of IPL rules regarding betting and match-fixing, which was critical of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption & Security Unit. It is understood that a new ICC Anti-Corruption Code has been submitted for discussion and adoption, following the completion of the review in January.

Other sessions at the event included a review of the key issues facing Rugby World Cup 2015; issues around the arbitration procedure used to settle disputes in sport; the impact of the digital revolution and social media on sport and more.

Andy Brown


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