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Sports Law Conference 2016

Anglia Ruskin students playing football outside

The future of the 'legal autonomy' of sport

16 September 2016
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge

Our media partner: Law in Sport

The theme of the conference was ‘the legal autonomy of sport’, a concept long treasured by sports governing bodies, but which is perceived by some now to be a cloak for lack of democracy and fair process. Within this overall theme there were three strands reflecting the three conference sessions: contractual, political and legal autonomy.

The word autonomy derives from the Greek words auto and nomos, and means ‘those who make their own law’. This raises obvious questions regarding legitimacy, more so in the light of 2015/16 being global sport’s annus horribilis, when sport was on the front pages for the wrong reasons, involving the continuing aftermath of corruption scandals relating to match-fixing and doping, a situation directly related it would seem to inadequate governance of several major international sports. At the same time disquiet has been voiced about whether the sports world’s system of private arbitration affords athletes fair recourse to their legal rights.

The keynote speakers were leading academics who, at the same time, have experience as practitioners in engaging directly with stakeholders in resolving disputes, sporting or otherwise. Their talks articulated the legal context in which the issues currently confronting sport’s stakeholders should be considered. The conference aspired to add to the debate about how best these issues can be resolved, to return sport to a legal framework that acts in the best interest of all its stakeholders.

Attendance at the conference reflected a cross section from sport’s diverse stakeholder body: the athletes, the supporters, the financial backers, the media, sponsors, the clubs and federations as well as the policy makers. There was a short session on media rights in sport led by the head of legal at BT Sport - better representation from sport’s diverse stakeholder community is required if sport is to develop a legal framework that allows it to flourish.

What is the legal context in which reforms leading to better, more equitably, regulated sport must be considered? European Union law, lex sportiva, regulatory law, competition law, employment law, criminal law, commercial law, international law - the conference drew together a panel of speakers who are experts in these fields.

The conference was organised by the Sports Law unit at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), which over time has developed a reputation as one of the leading centres for research and teaching in sports law.