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Sports Law is an expanding area of the law, encompassing a wide variety of legal issues. As a professional sports person, the process of contract negotiations can be an incredibly daunting task, especially when dealing with large national and multinational media and marketing companies.

Like any other contract, a sports contract of any athlete is of significant importance and is a legal instrument. A common misconception with any sports contract is that it is meticulous and that athletes/sports agents are an adequate judge of this piece of document and a sense of evasiveness and lack of clarity arises from time to time. Obtaining professional legal advice prior to entering into a contract ensures that Athletes’ interests are fully protected and Athletes can maximize the earning potential of any agreements. If Athletes do not, then they run the risk of limiting their earning potential – both in the short term and in terms of future earnings.

Moreover, sports contracts contain specific conditions that may limit what Athletes can and cannot do in the future. Increasingly, contracts of this nature are being entered into without the full understanding of the individual involved. If the Athletes don’t review the contracts, they may find themselves being sued for breach of contract having unwittingly broken the terms of an agreement. This can be extremely stressful and expensive and as such, obtaining comprehensive advice so that Athletes have a full understanding from the outset is vital. Apart from contracts between professional athletes and the teams that employ them, which is of critical importance. The Athletes also enter into several Endorsement Contracts, Appearance Contracts, Sponsorship Contracts, Indemnity Contracts, Agency Contracts, and Broadcasting Rights, which require legal reviews.

There are various legalities behind legal instruments. A sports contract however has certain additional clauses such as morality clause, best-efforts clause, hazardous activities clause, force majeure clause, non-compete clause, transfer clause, liquidated damage clause, loyalty clause, etc. which require an in-depth review. Clarity with respect to the activities, which are regarded as a breach and can lead to the termination of the contract, is extremely essential in order to make it easier to give effect to the contract. While the inclusion of these clauses in a sports contract is essential, it is equally important to ensure that it does not curb any right of the athlete.

The other key area that Athletes need to worry about is the regulatory issues. Regulatory issues are focused on the rules of the sport and the breaches that can occur. A good example of these issues includes drug usage, safety, disciplinary measures, conduct & various other issues relating to restraint of trade, anti-competitive behavior, match-fixing, and defamation & privacy rights.

Sports law in India is at a nascent stage in India and is primarily governed and regulated by:

  • National Sports Policy, 2001
  • Sports Law and Welfare Association of India
  • Sports Authority of India
  • The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007

Apart from these, there are different Sports bodies, for example, the Board of Cricket Control India for Cricket, the Indian Hockey Federation for Hockey, the All India Football Federation for Football, the Indian Basketball Association for Basketball, the All India Tennis Federation for the Tennis, and the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Authority of India at the zenith. In the event Athlete, finds himself in dispute with the sports authority/ Association. The matter has to be referred to the Association since each of these Sports Association has its own dispute resolution mechanism to deal with disputes. Hence all these intricacies require Athlete to look into legal compliances and take necessary opinions, before initiating any legal action against the association or to defend the same.

Therefore, in order for Athlete to flourish, Athlete needs to understand that sports are no more an insignificant array of Athlete battling for top position but it also involves intricate legal issue and the entire career of the sportsmen is at stake, and hence it would be advisable for Athlete to legally review the contracts before signing and to ensure that contract is mutual and creates a strong foundation for both the parties involved to grow.

Author(s) Name:

Pooja Damodaran (Advocate, Madras High Court, LL.M in International Commercial Arbitration Law, Stockholm University)

Deepika Shyam (Associate Partner, United Maritime Law Chambers)