New international law book series with great potential – unfortunately, the first title falls slightly short

Mikael Hansson
Juridiska institutionen, Göteborgs universitet

Ian S. Blackshaw
International Sports Law: An Introductory Guide
154 pages, hardcover.
Haag: TMC Asser Press 2017 (Short Studies in International Law)
ISBN 978-94-6265-197-5

International Sports Law: An Introductory Guide is the first book in a forthcoming (?) series named “Short Studies in International Law”, which consists of “short-book publications in international law. The volumes cover emerging topics in international law and inform academics and practitioners timely of recent developments.” It is thus supposed to be short, informative and up to date – a format that seems both appealing and useful. It can be noted that the publisher, Asser Press, also have a series on International Sports Law, but with deeper and more extensive studies on more specified topics.

On some 150 pages, International Sports Law: An Introductory Guide sets out to introduce not only a topic, but an emerging legal field (at least a potential one). Since that field consist of a variety of topics, so does the book. The author, Ian S. Blackshaw, is an expert in intellectual property law with experience in arbitration and mediation in (e.g.) sports related legal disputes, a background which is reflected in the overall balance of the book. Three chapters on intellectual property oriented issues cover 45 pages, while the remaining 10 chapters (“Introduction” and “Conclusion” excluded) share the remaining 100 pages. “Dispute Resolution” alone covers 30 pages, leaving limited space to vast topics such as “Doping in Sport” and “Corruption in Sport”.

The order in which the chapters are presented is sometimes a bit confusing. “Sport and the European Union” is, e.g., presented after several EU-law cases have already been dealt with in previous chapters, often without any cross reference. It gives the impression that the book is a compilation of different texts (which it is, more on that below) rather than one coherent presentation. The overall impression that the book is not entirely worked through is also emphasised in smaller details, e.g. by the way the author refers to himself; “the author”, “the author of this book” or “Prof. Dr. Ian Blackshaw”.

Another issue is that the content is not entirely up to date. It refers to the law as stated 1 January 2017, but the facts are not updated accordingly. Moreover, sometimes the facts presented are unnecessary. We are for instance, although it does not appear to matter, told that a certain football player is currently representing a certain club –which he has not played for since the 2013/14 season. When the Nordic countries is mentioned, by referring to a “recent” article from 2004, it is stated that Helsinki will host the World Athletics Championship in 2005 and that the Scandinavian countries “has a scaled-down version of the UEFA Champions League, known as the ‘Royal League’” (Royal League was a winter tournament between the four top teams in the football leagues in Denmark, Norway and Sweden respectively, played three times from 2004/05 to 2006/07).

That part of the book obviously stems from an older text – the origin can be found in Ian S. Blackshaw, Sports Marketing Agreements: Legal, Fiscal and Practical Aspects (Asser Press 2012). Chapters 5, 6 and 7 is more or less copy-pasted from that book, strangely enough with a few added mistakes in the proofreading. Portions of chapter 13 rather closely follows an article; Ian Blackshaw, “ADR and Sport: Settling Disputes Through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, and the WIPO Arbitration & Mediation Center” (Marquette Sports Law Review Vol. 24, 2013. The only reference to the sources is made under the “Further Reading” in each chapter (for chapter 13 to Ian S. Blackshaw, Sport, Mediation and Arbitration, Asser Press 2009). If it had aspired to be a scientific work rather than an introductory text, it would obviously have been a different matter; now the origins of the text are more of a (although not very satisfying) explanation for a fragmented and partly outdated presentation.

Some details could, without any significant loss, have been sacrificed for general descriptions. One detail that should have been left out is a rumour about the physical (gender) status of a certain athlete.

The inadequate update on the Nordic countries is in line with the overall geographic perspective of the book. The descriptions and analyses of the cases themselves seems to presuppose a certain type of knowledge, e.g. in the games of Rugby and Cricket, which implies that the presupposed reader is British rather than (e.g.) from the Nordic countries. This impression is emphasised by the chapter “Sports and the General Law”, which deals first, extensively, with English Law, then briefly with the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and “the Rest of the World”.

Each chapter comes with a short abstract, which is helpful, but the last chapter (“Some Other Landmark Sports Law Cases”) reveals a (at least from the perspective of a Nordic reader) general lack of a systematic approach: “In this chapter we look at some key cases which have, in certain respects, shaped the future of sports law and which are not covered elsewhere in the book.” There is a systematic ambition (sports law and its future is shaped), but there is no guidance regarding in what ways the presented cases have contributed to this shaping. Of course, with 150 pages and a complete field of emerging law to cover, some sacrifices has to be made. Some details could, without any significant loss, have been sacrificed for general descriptions. One detail that should have been left out is a rumour about the physical (gender) status of a certain athlete. The case in itself is relevant, the details are not – especially in the light of the discussion that the process had been harmful to the integrity of the athlete. There is no point in reproducing that harm once again.

That particular detail may be ascribed to Blackshaw’s style of narrating, which is personal, informal and easy to follow. Perhaps it is even too laidback at times, as the many value based expressions may be annoying or even plant a suspicion that the text is influenced by the author’s own perceptions more than the informative purpose would imply. “Transfers for enormous [italics added] amounts” on the back cover is one thing, but there is many more within the book itself. They are often emphasised with exclamation marks; on some of the very first pages almost every sentence is finished by one! It is not that they are used in the wrong way, they are just too many! The use of them is not as extensive thereafter, but still more than what is common in academic writing (or any writing, for that matter).

An author is of course entitled to his or her own style, but when a certain technique is overused it loses its function! One could argue that it is just details and a matter of taste, but when detail is added to detail the overall impression is formed that International Sports Law: An Introductory Guide could have made better use of the format to really contribute to the emerging field of Sports Law. A coherent and easy accessible introduction would be welcome in a growing plethora of (more or less fragmented) anthologies and (more or less voluminous) monographs. International Sports Law: An Introductory Guide is undoubtedly useful as it is, but at the same time it does not add that much compared to the work it, to a large extent, builds upon and is compiled of. It does therefore not fully live up to the ambition as a short, informative and up to date introduction to international sports law.

Copyright © Mikael Hansson 2018

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