The UK Approach


Today, I want to discuss a sports law from a UK perspective. As the previous weeks have focused on sports law from an international perspective. This international element is crucial to sporting legislation due to sports being an international endeavour. However, it is valuable to be aware of national attitudes when studying sporting law from that perspective. Due to being a UK academic, I am conscious of the UK approach. Therefore, I will be demonstrating how the UK has handled sporting disputes. This area was a large section of my dissertation where I found that:


“The UK has a ‘hands-off’ approach towards sporting law. As not only is there no formal definition of ‘sport’ within the law.[1]There is no parliamentary act(s) which comprehensively regulates the dealing of sport. Instead, the UK allows for the NSF’s to have a quasi-legal role.[2]Essentially NSF’s hold a business-like function not in the sense that they make profits, as many are non-profit organisations. However, these organisations have a variety of functions and departments that work together to achieve an objective. Instead of aiming to make profits or revolutionise a market. NSF’s organisational aim is to promote the sport in which they are representing. These NSF’s are the group responsible for their sport at a national level.[3][4]


Although, no defining case law or codified sporting law. The UK has been made an effort to place generate some legislation within sport to make the playing and viewing both safer and for more sporting facilities to exist.[5]Showing that they recognise the value of sports within society and appreciate its autonomous function.


The UK has had the opportunity to deal with sporting disputes and some examples of cases to be researched include the Couch case.[6]Furthermore, due to this being a focus of my dissertation I was able to identify and analyse cases where the UK respected the autonomy of sporting bodies and allowed their legislation to be utilised over the national law. My findings included an analysis of the Cooke case [7]and stated:


“Cooke was a football player for an Irish club and hoped to transfer to an English club. However, the Irish football association and the ISF refused transfers from a player’s national country to another while within a contract. As was against the rules of their employing club. The rules of his club requested he gained a clearance certificate before being granted access to transfer. The courts recognised this was not a simple matter regarding contract or employment law as the inherent features of the organisation of this particular body were complex.[8]Cooke was arguing on the point that this rule was a preventative in him earning money. The approach within this particular section of law has been stabilised with the likes of the Bosman ruling. (see Week 1) However, before, or without such an approach, there are still unmentioned sections of sporting legislation… The analysis of the Cooke case is vital in determining how the court’s handle tension among sporting bodies and domestic law.[9]As in Cooke, the issue was that the rules of the ISF were deemed a breach of the player’s employment protections. Without the specific legislation that is now provided within the European sphere. The courts’ had the discretion to determine the outcome. The court held that they would uphold the ISF decision regarding the restrictions and consequently disregarded the national employment law. This was not the first time the court had to make decisions that allowed sporting federations to be autonomous in UK law. These instances have related to both civil and criminal matters. Autonomy within the criminal content was discussed in the Barnes case.[10]As a football player was charged with assault under the relevant criminal law[11]and during the appeal, it was decided that the ordinary criminal rules would not apply as there had to be some scope for the game to be played which involved contact and the law being imposed would not make the sport attractive to potential footballers. The law does still have the discretion to interfere at any time, although, through the multitude of cases that have displayed this will be preserved as a last resort with gross criminal behaviour. … “[12]


My findings concluded that the UK approach respected sporting federations and although the UK are very hands-off in terms of their legislation they have made up with it through case law and their next step may be to produce codification to crystalize their case-by-case decisions.


During the writing of this, my dissertation is waiting to be published. Therefore, I will announce where to find this on the Legal Updates website!


Next week I will wrap up the series with some brief follow up information for anyone interested in the current activities within sports law and would like to do some further reading.

References

Books

Mark James, Sports Law(3rdedn, Palgrave, 2017) 8-9, 11 -14

Jack Anderson, Modern Sports Law: A Textbook(Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010)

Legislation

Football Offences Act 1991 Offences Against the Person Act 1861, S20

Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975


Case Law

Couch v British Boxing Board of Control (Unreported) Employment Appeal Tribunal, 31 March 1988

Cooke v Football Association [1972] 1 WLUK 116

R v Barnes [2005] 1 WLR 910


Journal Articles

Hannah-Jane McLeish, ‘Should the UK law regulate sporting matters? A critical investigation on how the UK can formally develop sports law to tackle the growing legal disputes’ (2020) UWS p20-30

Michael J Beloff, ‘Pitch, Pool, Rink…Court? Judicial Review in the Sporting World’ [1989] P.L., 95-110

[1]Mark James, Sports Law(3rdedn, Palgrave, 2017) 13 -14 [2]Jack Anderson, Modern Sports Law: A Textbook(Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010) [3]Mark James, op cit (fn 1) 8-9,11-13 [4]Hannah-Jane McLeish, ‘Should the UK law regulate sporting matters? A critical investigation on how the UK can formally develop sports law to tackle the growing legal disputes’ (2020) UWS p20-30 [5]I.E. Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975 and Football Offences Act 1991 [6]Couch v British Boxing Board of Control (Unreported) Employment Appeal Tribunal, 31 March 1988 [7]Cooke v Football Association [1972] 1 WLUK 116 [8]Michael J Beloff, ‘Pitch, Pool, Rink…Court? Judicial Review in the Sporting World’ [1989] P.L., 95-110 [9]Simon Boyes, op cit (fn 162) [10]R v Barnes [2005] 1 WLR 910 [11]Offences Against the Person Act 1861, S20 [12]Hannah-Jane McLeish, ‘Should the UK law regulate sporting matters? A critical investigation on how the UK can formally develop sports law to tackle the growing legal disputes’ (2020) UWS p20-30

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