Voluminous handbook encompassing most aspects of sports law

Mikael Hansson
Juridiska fakulteten, Uppsala universitet

James A.R. Nafziger & Stephen F. Ross (red) Handbook on International Sports Law 567 pages, h/c. Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar 2011 (Research Handbooks in International Law) ISBN 978-1-84720-633-6
James A.R. Nafziger & Stephen F. Ross (red)
Handbook on International Sports Law
567 pages, h/c.
Cheltenham, Glos: Edward Elgar 2011 (Research Handbooks in International Law)
ISBN 978-1-84720-633-6

Handbook on International Sports Law is an extensive book, with a little over 550 pages of densely packed text. The volume consists of 19 essays, written by different authors. Some of the papers have two authors, making no less than 25 authors involved in the book. It is further divided into three parts, with rather widely defined headings: “Foundation and Structure” with issues of dispute resolution and organisation, “Protection of Competition and Athletes” with issues about doping, gambling, technical aids for referees, etcetera, and “Commercial Issues” with issues predominantly of competition and intellectual property, as well as a contribution about player’s agents. Editors of the book are the two American professors James A.R. Nafziger and Stephen F. Ross.

The essays in Handbook on International Sports Law deal with more or less well defined issues relating to the international, and despite the titles of the book’s sections it predominantly focuses on the commercial sports world. Coordination (as usual in this type of anthologies) is for rather obvious reasons not the same as in a book by a single author. Some issues are thus appearing in different contributions, such as issues relating to the boundary between labour law and competition law. The maxim that labour is not a commodity (“labour is not a commodity or an article of commerce”) pops up in a number of places, albeit in somewhat different contexts. It must be said, though, that it is hardly a coincidence that this reviewer, being a lecturer in private law and specialising in labour law, has detected and put that particular example to mind. To be honest, the study of this kind of anthology tends to vary between focused, intense reading and cursory perusal (which by all means may be just as useful for the purpose of general education), depending on interest and prior knowledge.

That involves some challenges for the book’s ambition, which is to describe, and thereby in a way create, an international field of sports law. When the point of departure is taken in such global issues as the Olympic movement and the emergence of a lex sportiva with its own legal system across borders and with its own objects and own principles, the idea actually may not seem all too farfetched. When the essays deal with areas with a more or less worldwide regulatory framework, such as dispute resolution and anti-doping work, the sports world appears as one, more or less united. In other matters, however, the feeling is different, and much of the book concerns either the North American or European regulation in one way or another, sometimes with a comparative approach. In quite a number of matters, particularly those contained in the book’s third section (”Commercial Issues”), there is no effective international (global) coordination; instead questions must be addressed at either the EU or US (federal) level, or even at national level. The term “international” is thus actually a bit misleading for large parts of the book, which rather belongs to the field of comparative law. One contribution (Models of Sport Governance within the European Union by Dutch professor Robert Siekmann and senior researcher Janwillem Soek) stands out in that it actually highlights the national legislation in the EU Member States. There are no Nordic academics among the authors, which instead are recruited largely from the English-speaking world, with some European exceptions (four essays by seven authors) and South Africa (two essays by in all two authors). On the whole, it may be said that the “International” in the title is the Western perspective, with few exceptions (it can be noted that neither the contributions on non-discrimination nor on the protection of young athletes have any other perspective).

Without quite knowing how practitioners in the field actually work or what they need, I would guess, however, that the book’s main value is to supplement the bookcase of any lawyer interested in sports law, more than as an actual handbook.

If the term “International” may seem slightly misleading, the same goes for the label “Handbook”, at least insofar as it suggests a practical use for a practitioner reader, a certain kind of usability (to call it false advertising would be taking it too far though, especially since the book is part of the series “Research Handbooks in International Law”). Some essays could probably satisfy that purpose (especially the essay by practising international sports lawyer Ian Blackshaw, dealing with mediation in sports disputes), but most contributions are quite academic in the way they approach the different issues. The contributors are mostly academicians (most of them with professor’s title) or writers linked to the academy in one way or another, such as visiting professors or practitioners doing teaching at a university alongside their main legal profession. Without quite knowing how practitioners in the field actually work or what they need, I would guess, however, that the book’s main value is to supplement the bookcase of any lawyer interested in sports law, more than as an actual handbook. Anyone engaged professionally in any issue, whether it concerns dispute resolution, anti doping work, players’ agency business or any other activities, obviously would need deeper and more thorough knowledge than that a book like Handbook on International Sports Law in itself can offer. It may be neither a fair nor a relevant objection though, especially since the references in many of the essays are fairly well developed and thus can provide a guide for further reading (that entrance will however rather frequently lead to American legal sources and literature, which may only occasionally be of value to professionals active in Scandinavia or the rest of Europe), and as a researcher’s handbook it could therefore actually serve its purpose quite well.

One possible area of use, consequent with its academic character, would be as a textbook for a course (academic or other) on international or (perhaps) comparative commercial sports law (another matter is, of course, if such a course would find a Scandinavian audience). Anyway, conceptualising the world in different fields of law, and to formulate them accordingly, is an academic undertaking. That undertaking is of course self-imposed, and judging from Handbook on International Sports Law, it is also international in its character. The academician, regardless of geographic base (at least as long as we stick to the Western countries represented) and regardless of upholding other professions simultaneously, apparently approach and conceptualise the world in a rather systematic way, and moreover the academician cannot really help but to evaluate it. That evaluation often aims at finding (systematic) consistency and uniformity, coherence, in a certain field, as such coherence is (or at least is thought of as) necessary in order to speak about an area of law (e.g. international sports law) and not just a bunch of disparate sets of rules or issues. As both a result and a precondition for this cohesive force, one may strive to identify and formulate certain basic principles for the area in question. It is probably no coincidence that the most prominent example of this is to be found in editor Nafziger’s own contributions. A principle which singled out as fundamental to lex sportiva is the principle of “fairness” and its components “impartiality, equity, good faith and coherence in the sense of consistency and uniformity”.

At this point it’s fair to say that the book, being a few years old, is a little unlucky in relation to the timing of this review. At the time of publication, election is planned for the post of president of FIFA, a position that must be regarded as one of the most influential in the world of sports in general. In the run-up to the election, major corruption scandals has been revealed in the said body, which involves allegations of bribes in connection to the decision as to where the Football World Cup was or will be hosted. One may be surprised or not, but anyone who still wants to maintain their faith in international sports with a lex sportiva and its potential will probably miss an essay (in addition to what is said about the gaming market) on how to combat corruption and money laundering in the sports world. One can of course always wish for more, and the question one happens to have before one’s eyes at the moment always seems to be the most urgent, but right now the fight against corruption seems too much of an overly concern for the commercial sporting world to be left outside a Handbook on International Sports Law.

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