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Sports law becoming big business


Anne-Louise Brown
10 December 2014

Once upon a time sport and the law rarely crossed paths but today sport is big business and so is sports law.

As part of Southern Cross University’s Summer Law School program, an Advanced Sports Law course was run by former professional rugby league player-turned-lawyer Tim Fuller and Southern Cross University law lecturer Andy Gibson.

Focused on current legal issues in sport, students will investigate the application of the law as it relates to sports governance, dispute resolution, personal injury, contracting and performance enhancing drug use.

Mr Fuller, who played for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Gold Coast, said technological advances and greater exposure had rapidly changed the face of the contemporary sporting world for athletes and those regulating them. As a result the application of specialised sports law was becoming vital.

“There’s more of an understanding professional athletes need advice in terms of contract negotiation, image protection and helping with disputes,” Mr Fuller said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an athlete, a club or a league, everyone understands there’s value in sport. As a result the legal perspective is becoming a lot more important.

“The whole paradigm is changing and continues to change with technology. Once upon a time news used to be about athletes behaving badly in nightclubs but now it’s about what athletes are tweeting.”

Mr Gibson said, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, the sport and recreation industry in Australia is worth about $12.8 billion annually and employed about 134,000 people.

“Sport used to be something you did for fun and the only rules you were bound by were the rules of the game. But times change. Today, sport is big business and worth hundreds billions of dollars globally,” Mr Gibson said.

“There is money in sport and, dare I say it, lawyers follow the dollars. When you think about the amount of money and prestige involved in sport today, as well as the number of people involved in sport ranging from the obvious such as participants, coaches, managers, administrators, promoters, to the less obvious such as governments and the media, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the potential for legal issues to arise is significant.”

According to Mr Gibson, while the interface between sport and the law is growing, sports law is not a distinct body of law but rather is an amalgam of commercial and legal principles applied to a specialist environment.

“While as an area of practice sports is still in its infancy, many of the larger sporting bodies now have in-house counsel, and many more are considering employing in-house counsel,” Mr Gibson said.

“It should also be remembered that all levels of government are increasingly employing more people as sports lawyers to advise on various legal issues.”

A course on Cyberlaw will be held at Byron Bay from 15-18 December.
Photo: Lawyer and former professional rugby league player Tim Fuller.