Sports law is defined as an amalgam of laws that apply to athletes and the sports they play. It is not a single legal topic with generally applicable principles, but much of its appeal probably lies in this disparateness. Were I to have become a lawyer, this is the discipline – if it can be so described – I would have chosen.
For the career-conscious, after all, sport is a growth industry like few others. Thirty years ago, even big English football clubs generated annual revenues roughly akin to those of a Tesco Extra. Now they are de facto multinationals with a reach so pervasive that the global oligarchy moved in years ago. (Sadly, as far as I can glean, Jeff Bezos has yet to evince an as yet unrequited passion for Leeds United.)
Oval-ball wise, men’s rugby union was an amateur pursuit until as recently as 1995. Now, a single international match at Twickenham can earn the RFU £10m. Big business and bucks.
Moreover, it seems to sports enthusiasts like me that sports law would be fascinating as well as lucrative. Maybe insiders can tell me whether haggling over Keith Kickaball’s image rights all day long can occasionally lose its lustre.
For all its ability to generate unprecedented sums of money from what is often a captive audience, however, sport has a problem. Long gone are the days when the industry was run by amateur ‘blazers’ and superannuated club secretaries operating out of sight.
That is all to the good, of course, as a succession of long-hidden abuse scandals has demonstrated. But with visibility comes scrutiny on an unprecedented – even existential – scale. Sport reflects wider cultural change and must assimilate it.
Let me give two examples from many. Mental health in tennis is suddenly a ‘thing’, for example - with potentially legal consequences. And what of the former rugby players who are suing the game’s authorities for the brain injuries they allegedly suffered while playing? The publicity alone could deal a devastating blow to the sport, as anxious parents decide en masse that little Matt or Matilda won’t be going to the local club’s Sunday morning ‘minis’ session.
Over to the lawyers, then – for whom the goalposts are not so much shifting as hurtling around at the conjunction of tectonic plates.