Sports Law
Sport has been called the most important side issue in life. Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club, once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.” These days, elite sport is also big business. There is often a great deal at stake in terms of money and reputations. As a result, there are a lot of legal issues in sport too. A sportsperson, club or association may face legal problems in various areas.

Sports Law

Sports Law sector team
The lawyers in our Sports Law sector team are specialized in the various legal disciplines that play a role in ‘sports law’.

Employment law in Sports Law
Professional and amateur sportspeople may be subject to a non-standard regime from an employment-law perspective. For example, professional football is exempt from the sequential contract rules in order to allow successive fixed-term contracts. Referees must take early retirement, even though they do not always want to. Athletes who are sent to the Olympic Games conclude what is known as an ‘elite athletes’ agreement with the Dutch Olympic Committee NOC*NSF. In 2016, the Dutch gymnast Yuri van Gelder did not comply with this agreement during the Games in Rio according to the court, and he missed out on the rings final as a result.   

Sponsor contracts
Sponsor contracts are an important topic in Sports Law. Clubs, sportspeople and sporting events often depend heavily on sponsor money for their income. For example, the Swiss tennis player Roger Federer won EUR 5.3 million in prize money in 2017 but received ten times as much in sponsorships. Sponsors often require a certain degree of influence and exclusivity in return for their financial contribution. The sportsmen and women are expected not only to perform well in their sport but also to set an example. Various multinationals withdrew their sponsorship of the golfer Tiger Woods in response to his behaviour off the golf course. An Israeli firm wanted to end its sponsorship contract with Dutch football club Feyenoord because of supporters’ anti-Jewish chants, but the court ruled that this did not constitute a ground for termination of the sponsorship contract.

Law of associations in Sports Law
Sports clubs are subject to the law of associations in the Dutch Civil Code. If a club wishes to expel a member, it must follow the correct procedures, with the general meeting of members taking the final decision. Such a decision can be submitted by the person affected to a civil court for review. The general meeting is ultimately the highest ranking body within the club but day-to-day management is delegated to the board. The board must manage the club competently and is obliged to behave in a manner that would be expected of directors acting reasonably.
 
Directors’ liability and sport
Directors “will do anything for the club” and often fail to consider the risks they incur in the process. It is not just the treasurer who dips into the kitty — well-meaning directors can sometimes end up in the danger zone too. The liability standards for directors of associations (and foundations) have been tightened up and they are increasingly being treated the same as directors of private and public companies. A well-known example from amateur football is the payment of allowances to players that exceed the permissible tax-free volunteers’ allowance (EUR 1,750 per annum as of 1 January 2019). This results in payroll tax having to be paid on the total amount. If the club fails to pay this tax, the director can eventually be held personally liable for the debt by the tax authority.
 
Disciplinary rules and Sports Law
Clubs and sportspeople are subject to their sporting association’s specific rules. A cyclist who is penalized for doping can face years of suspension. A football club’s licence may be revoked if it does not comply with the licence terms and conditions.
 
In such cases, there is the option of the association’s internal legal procedure; after this, the case can be taken to the civil court as a final resort. The Dutch football club FC Twente, for example, was able to avoid relegation from the Eredivisie (top league) in 2016 following financial irregularities. The appeals committee of the KNVB (Royal Netherlands Football Association) found in favour of the club after the licensing committee and court had previously ruled that relegation due to breaching the rules was a justified penalty. 
 
Privacy and Sports Law
Privacy is becoming more and more important every day, especially since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, or AVG in Dutch) on 25 May 2018. Sport receives a great deal of media attention. That can affect a sportsperson’s privacy, for example if a cyclist’s alleged use of doping is aired in the media. Negative publicity through a ‘data leak’ can cause costly damage to the reputation of both the sportsperson and their club. Sports associations and clubs must take care when dealing with personal data. It is not permitted to simply publish a list of members, there are restrictions on where security cameras can be placed, and match reports that refer to the players may only be posted online if the players involved have given their permission or the publication serves a legitimate interest. Privacy considerations should also play a role in communications about matters such as transfers and injuries. 

Rules of the game
The rules of the game have been modernized in recent years in various sports. As part of this, technological aids have become increasingly important. An example is Hawk-Eye in tennis. Football is following the example of rugby and hockey in introducing Video Assistant Referees (VAR). The VAR can intervene in the event of a “clear and obvious error” that is decisive in allowing or preventing a goal, red card or penalty. It is the referee rather than the VAR who makes the final decision. The introduction of VAR in the 2018 football World Cup in Russia had far-reaching consequences. For example, France was awarded a penalty in the final after an intervention by VAR. There is bound to be a lot of discussion about VAR in the future too. In the Netherlands, the use of VAR was the subject of preliminary relief proceedings in 2018 when the football club Roda JC claimed in a case that it lost against the KNVB that VAR had been applied incorrectly.
 The lawyers at Ekelmans & Meijer are specialized in the various legal disciplines that play a role in ‘sports law’.
We are veterans in the field of law and we are also active on the field and in the boardroom in sports such as hockey and football. We have a combined advisory and litigation practice in Sports Law, in which we represent clubs and sportspeople in civil courts and before disciplinary tribunals.
 
Sports Law sector team
Your principal point of contact for Sports Law is Adriaan de Buck.

Adriaan has worked as a lawyer since 1992 and specializes in corporate law, the law of associations and contract law. Adriaan is also a great fan of football and tennis. He is the chairman of the board of directors of HBS, The Hague’s society for football, hockey and cricket. Until recently, he was also the secretary of the Supervisory Board of NV ADO Den Haag (The Hague’s main football club). For many years, Adriaan was a certified tournament leader for the Dutch lawn tennis association KNLTB.
In 1996, he won the Mundiavocat world cup with The Hague Bar in the football world championships for lawyers in Limerick.
 
The other members of the Sports Law sector team are:

Astrid van Noort (liability, privacy)
Rob Kossen (employment law, contracts)
 
We are also members of the Dutch Sports and Law Society (Vereniging Sport en Recht), and the Dutch Society of Employment Law Lawyers (Vereniging Arbeidsrecht Advocaten Nederland, VAAN)
 
Adriaan de Buck

For more information

Your principal point of contact for Sports Law is Adriaan de Buck.

E: buck@ekelmansenmeijer.nl
P: +31 70 374 64 34
expertise