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What is Sports Law? (2019 Update)

What is Sports Law? (2019 Update)

Learn about the off-field legal matters that affect Australian sports.

13th March 2019

There is a huge interest in sports, both on and off the field. The growing media coverage of highly paid athletes, advertising endorsements and Jerry McGuire-style sports agents has led to various legal issues surrounding the sports industry.

Issues that range from selection disputes, sports club incorporation, doping tests to social media comments and privacy concerns. As a result, there is a need to have lawyers who deal with these specific sports-related matters.

What is Sports Law?

In short, sports law is all about the laws, regulations and judicial decisions that govern sports and athletes. Sports law deals with a variety of matters:

Commercial Contracts

It has become increasingly important to include contractual clauses concerning player’s movements, in particular contractual offers from rival clubs and sporting codes. In the competitive market of player drafts and swaps, it is important that all player contracts have clauses in place detailing the process of a club or code swap.

Example – In 2008 then Canterbury Bulldogs player Sonny Bill Williams made a mid-season exit from the NRL, as a result of salary cap concerns with the club. Williams left Australia to play for French Rugby side Toulon, however the clauses within his contract resulted in an injunction. The case highlights the importance of watertight player’s contracts and terms dealing with similar actions by sportspersons.

A contract which details acceptable conduct and the consequences of breach becomes important in these circumstances.

Intellectual Property

Sponsorships and endorsements can be a very lucrative area for players, sports clubs and sports goods companies. It is essential to understand who has the rights to the images, posters, jerseys and other such products sold and distributed by clubs, players and associations.

Example – In 2012, Paul’s Warehouse was found to have infringed golf star Greg Norman’s trademark as a result of unauthorised importation. Similarly, Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell was in an intellectual property dispute about the unauthorised use of his image. These examples highlight the importance of intellectual property to sports clubs and distributors.

By using LawPath’s easy online application, you can register your trademark in Australia, USA and Europe and protect your brand.

Sports-related injury issues

Many sports pose serious dangers to participants. A person who suffers from a sports-related injury may recover medical expenses and other losses.

Example – Former Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon suffered spinal injuries after a poorly executed tackle by players from the Melbourne Storm Team. As a result, McKinnon sought compensation.


Clubs and associations should have policies in place which promote the responsible use of alcohol, discrimination and social media guidelines, and the do’s and don’t’s for sportspersons. A well drafted policy not only eliminates risk but also helps in educating sportspersons about expectations and acceptable behaviour. The recent off season drama in the NRL has emphasised the importance of behavioural policies. 

Example – The International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) came up with the IOC Social and Digital Media Guidelines. Each Country’s Olympic Team were required to sign it in order to participate.

At LawPath we have a number of policies including a Social Media Policy and Drug and Alcohol Policy that could assist your club or association.

Setting up a sports club

There are certain legal requirements that must be met when setting up a sports club. Sports clubs and associations have to comply with the regulations set out by sports governing bodies. Check out our legal guide to learn about the 5 legal requirements when setting up a sports club.

Why do I need a Sports Lawyer?

A sports lawyer can help with all your sports-related legal matters and ensure you and your sports club are compliant. Without proper legal guidance, it can be difficult to understand your legal rights and responsibilities. Our sports lawyers provide expert legal advice on any sports-related legal matter. They will also equip you with the right legal documents for your needs. Covering everything from, commercial contracts, sports club incorporation, creating tailor-made policies and addressing any of your legal concerns.

Unsure where to start? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace. 

Christopher Tsiknas

Chris is a member of the content team at Lawpath. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Laws at UTS. He is interested in how marketing communication strategies can influence the future of the legal industry.