Deji Olomojobi is a Lawyer and the Legal Director of The Temple Management Company Group, a global full-service Talent Agency and Talent & Event Management Company that represents talents and manages events across the sports, entertainment, arts and public sectors. The Temple Management Company primarily sets out to assess, acquire, develop, promote and engage the best talents; providing them with opportunities and tools to enable their success. Here’s a legal guide to help footballers and entrepreneurs in the sports industry.
– By Deji Olomojobi
Law is a system of rules created to regulate behaviour. Every sport, on the other hand, is bound by a set of rules created by a global, regional and or national regulatory body to regulate participation and proceedings in the specific sport. The existence of rules regulating a sport, in itself, confirms that there is a legal side to sport.
Typically, there will be a global governing body regulating the specific sport with its set of rules and regulations. These rules may be replicated at the Continental, Regional, National and Local levels, with the necessary modifications peculiar thereto.
The existence of these set of rules calls for need for their interpretation and application, which involves the legal side of the sport.
The legal side of sport is also evident from the identification of the key players and stakeholders in sports and their interrelationship with each other. Legal is key to the relationships between the stakeholders in sport, whether be it the contractual relationship between the player and the team or club, or the coach and the club, or the agent and the player, or the manager and the player, or the club and a sponsor, or the player and a brand or corporate, etc. All of these contractual relationships fall on the legal side of the sport. Also, conflicts or differences between these stakeholders, which often arise, are resolved through the legal mechanism. Hence, the legal side of sport is as important as the sport itself.
It is important to note first of all that the laws that govern the sports or football industry are not just the rules of the game as set down by the governing body or associations but includes other laws governing other sectors.
Clearly, an understanding by footballers and stakeholders of the laws governing sports/football sector defines what is permissible or not permissible for the footballers or stakeholders both for on-field and off-field activities.
What is permissible or not permissible may be unique to the roles of each stakeholder and the territory of operation.
A few of the stakeholders in football or sports are the players, the team or club, team/club executives, club employees, arena/venues, spectators, officials, coaches, managers, agents, brand owners, sports kit and equipment manufacturers, sponsors, brands/corporates, media, the public, sports association, governing bodies, etc.
With each of these stakeholders, understanding the laws governing the sport may not necessarily be limited to the knowledge of the rules of the game only but may extend to other laws which appear to be non-sport related on the surface, e.g. employment laws, Intellectual property law, etc. For instance, while the player, in his/her relationship with the club, will primarily be concerned with the rules of the game pertaining to the actual game, and other laws such as employment and contractual laws; a brand/ corporate may focus more on the part of the rules of the game pertaining to sponsorships, intellectual property laws, image rights, privacy laws, etc.
Certainly, an understanding of the laws governing sports enables the footballers and stakeholders to understand their rights, limitations and opportunities available to them and how to maximize same.
Ignore These Laws At Your Peril
Sports incorporate a wide range of legal disciplines. Aside from the rules set down by the global governing body regulating the specific sport, typically adapted at the Continental, Regional, National and Local levels, some of the laws or areas of law which must not be ignored include:
- Contract Law
- Intellectual Property Laws
- Employment Laws
- Child Labour Laws
- Privacy Laws
- Immigration Law
- College sports rules
- The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Rules, which plays a critical part in sports in the US, etc.
An important principle of law is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Thus, by breaching a law, you cannot typically avoid liability by holding out for a defence that you were unaware of the existence of or stipulation of the law in question.
Based on the principle that ignorance is no excuse, the major issue that can be faced due to ignorance of laws is the possibility of the consistent breach of such laws from the lack of understanding of rights, privileges and limitations pertaining to the player or stakeholder.
For instance, a player that is ignorant of the rules of the game will be subjected to several breaches of the rules, committal of several in-game discrepancies, disciplinary issues, which all invariably affect performance. An agent, who is ignorant of the Contract Laws or specific FA Rules may be unknowingly entering into an illegal and unenforceable agency contract with a talented minor. In certain instances and in some territories, even where a talent is no longer a minor, an agent or sponsor or team/club may nonetheless be unknowingly entering into an illegal contract where certain laws or rules forbid same, e.g. the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Rules in the US, which forbids student-athletes from agreeing to be represented by an agent or organization in the marketing of his or her athletic ability or reputation, or negotiating or signing a playing contract, until after the completion of the last intercollegiate contest, including postseason games.
A common issue we face in Nigeria, in terms of ignorance of the law, pertaining to brands and corporates, is the indiscriminate and unauthorized use of the images of players, talents and other football properties, logos and trademarks. Most of these breaches presently go unchallenged but the terrain is changing as the world is becoming a smaller community through social media.
Before Signing With A Club Or Agent…
…Consider factors or questions such as – ‘Is this an agent or club I want to work with?’, ‘Do my short term or long term goals fit in with the club or agent?’, ‘Does the agent have the qualities to deliver as an agent?’ etc.
However, note that any legal contracts should be entirely left to an expert, that is, a lawyer. Although players are encouraged to have an understanding of contractual terms, to an extent, this should not take the place of engaging the experts to consider the legal issues before entering into a contractual relationship with a club or an agent.
A lawyer is better equipped in dealing with the legal issues to be considered prior to a player signing with a club or an agent, even if the input of the player is required in the process.
Setting Up A Football Academy
In recent times, football academies, which were very few some years ago, keep springing up across the country. While we now have so many academies in the country, sadly a number of them are disorganized with no proper structure.
A lot of Academy proprietors forget that an Academy is no different from an organized institution or school where special courses or skills are imparted by experienced hands and teachers to students. This is where the young talents learn their trade in terms of skills, techniques and tactics that will equip them for the future as professionals.
In a way, Football Academies are not too different from Football Clubs in terms of set up and personnel. The main difference is in the organization, which requires some form of registration and licensing with the Football Federation.
In the same vein, Football Academies ought to register and be licensed with the Football Federation. Before the registration and licensing procedure by a Football Academy, it is imperative that the interested persons register or incorporate an entity for the purpose of setting up the institution. As a next step, put in place the necessary legal documentation for the engagement of the requisite personnel for the Academy. Legal documentation for securing the necessary facilities for the Academy are also of great importance. The players/students being an important part of an Academy, there has to be some form of legal documentation covering their admission into the Academy. Of utmost paramount is the registration or licensing with the Football Federation.
It is only when Football Academies are properly organized that we can indeed derive benefits and develop Football in Nigeria.
Up and coming footballers need to familiarize themselves with all that concerns them legally. No matter how versed you may become in terms of the legal side of sports, never overlook the role of an expert in giving advice on legal matters.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.