24 Mar /20

Sports Law: Will Humans Ever Play Fair and What Is ‘Force Majeure’?

Sports Law: Will Humans Ever Play Fair and What Is ‘Force Majeure’? - EVS Translations
Sports Law: Will Humans Ever Play Fair and What Is ‘Force Majeure’? – EVS Translations

This blog was originally written only a couple of weeks ago, as our UK teammate Joanne Brompton was preparing to visit the Sports Resolutions Annual Conference in London. Now cancelled. The news of the cancellation was unsurprising and is just one example of how events, conferences and gatherings of all kinds are being slashed from schedules. This could also be true of the Olympics, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is gearing himself up to deliver what looks like grave news. But, in doing so, this is not without very serious legal consequences. Jo, as well as other members of our team at EVS Translations work in the area of sports and sports law and are watching the situation closely. ‘Force majeure’ is a buzzword now…

First, let’s look at our original blog. Before the virus really took hold in Europe. There was still a good possibility for the Olympics to go ahead and the topic was not one of litigation but more of a debate surrounding fair play in sports.

Will humans ever play fair?

The recent Tokyo marathon was cancelled with the exception of the elite group which ran through relatively empty streets. The winner? Birhanu Legese of Ethiopa won the men’s race in 2:04:15 and Lonah Korlima Chemtai Salpeter of Israel set a new women’s course record with 2:17.4. The current marathon record for the men’s category is held by Eliud Kipchoge, who completed the Vienna marathon course in 1:59:40 in October 2019. This was the first time a marathon was completed in under two hours, but the record was controversial because of the trainers he wore. Athletes who have the latest Nike trainers may have the advantage over those who don’t. So, does everyone upgrade to this footwear or are new design criteria established?

The world of competitive sports is never short of controversy and debate, from sportswear coming under scrutiny to changes in the approach to anti-doping measures (the AIU is changing from random testing to a focus on elites). Prestigious international events bring athletes and countries together, but they can also bring out the worst in us as the desire to win manifests itself in unethical practices. When massive amounts of investment are poured into events, training and sponsorship deals, breaking news surrounding athletes or organisations cheating the system delivers a devastating blow.

Will humans ever play fair? “The definition of ‘fair’ (or ‘right’) can be very complex. But this is part of the impetus for the sports law sector. As in many other areas of life and business, people are looking for the advantage which helps them to succeed and this comes in many forms. People have their own definitions for ‘fair’ or ‘right’ and it takes law firms and sports associations to establish clear lines. All these topics were on the agenda for the Sports Resolutions Annual Conference, however, new topics now come to the forefront of sports law…

Translation work in the context of sports law

EVS Translations partners with several international sports organisations, sports lawyers and sports marketing agencies so, a couple of weeks ago, we asked Jo Brompton from our UK team for her insight from the sports lawyers she works with:

“Sports law is really a fascinating area. The big topics right now are performance-enhancing sports technology, transgender rights and anti-doping. Some of the lawyers I’ve worked with are involved in international disputes for which they require the translation of legal evidence. I’ve assisted with a major dispute involving an international organisation being sued for negligence. In this instance, it’s a case of athletes being able to compete in a safe environment, but safety is not always put front-and-centre. I’m not privy to much of that detail except for the conversations I have with my clients. Lawyers are dealing with huge amounts of information in at least two languages, which can be frustrating for them in their efforts to establish the critical details. The details are poured over in court, so every detail has to be in place.”

The Olympics and implications of ‘force majeure’

In just the space of a couple of weeks, the topics are shifting in sports law. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to deliver the devastating blow, we were reminded by Duncan Bagshaw (partner at Howard Kennedy LLP) on a recent BBC Radio interview about ‘force majeure’ and the possibility of dire consequences for all parties involved in preparing and hosting events, such as the Olympics. According to the firm’s website:

“It has been reported that many businesses are seeking to rely on force majeure provisions. A force majeure event is one that is unforeseeable and unavoidable, not the result of either parties’ actions, and makes it impossible for a party to perform a contract. The clause allows that party to declare force majeure and be relieved from performing its obligations.”

However, the firm explains that it’s not clear if coronavirus is covered by this claiming it will “depend upon the wording of the clause”, as well as other factors.

Jo comments: Commercial effects, prize money, promotion & relegation, sponsorship, tv rights, club or venue viability…What constitutes a force majeure? And how rigid is the wording of your contract? You can see why Japan is so reluctant not to postpone the Olympics. We are clearly in for a highly litigious future ahead.”

With parties across multiple jurisdictions involved, Jo and the team prepare for the translation work ahead.