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Sports Law

From Relegation to Riches – who rules the Premier League’s Financial Table?
Friday 8th June 2018

Are you trying to find a way to fill the football shaped void in your life until the World Cup starts next week? Have the last 2 weeks since the Champions League Final left you yearning for expert reviews and detailed analysis of big match ups?

Well luckily we have a roundup of all the Premier League clubs for you, of their off field performance at least. The clubs have now filed their annual accounts for the year 2016-2017 and surprisingly on field performance does not always translate to financial success. This year’s champions Manchester City broke even last season and winners Chelsea recorded a loss of £14m. Granted, both of those results were improvements on their 2015-2016 financial performance, but it shows that trophies do not always equal riches.

Of course, there are other factors at play in City and Chelsea’s financial results. Primarily we will  point to the wealth of their owners, and the amount of money they are willing to pour into their clubs to secure the best talent, but prudent financial management in order to comply with a strict financial regulatory framework cannot go unnoticed when considering how these clubs will have to balance such huge spend. Manchester City for example, spent £264m on wages, the most of any team in the Premier League.

Manchester United has topped the charts again with a turnover of £581m and a pre-tax profit of £57m. The true strength of their brand has allowed them to weather some less successful seasons than fans of the club have been used to and still deliver impressive financial results. The revenue United has generated from TV and broadcasting and “commercial income” was £470m combined, with £112m from gate and match day income.

United’s numbers demonstrate a strong trend amongst all Premier League clubs that the majority of revenue is earned in TV broadcasting rights and other commercial activities. Getting fans to the games is important but more than ever it is the audiences watching at home and buying into the club’s “brand” that is making a difference to clubs. Whilst there have been some mutterings about the imminent bursting of the ‘broadcasting rights bubble’, the upward trend looks set to continue (and maybe even evolve beyond recognition) as the technology and internet based platforms enter the marketplace.  

On Merseyside both teams have reversed their fortunes from circa £20m losses at the end of the 2016 season to £31m and £40m profit for Everton and Liverpool respectively in 2017. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool’s commercial earnings of £136m dwarfed Everton’s £11m but these numbers show that despite disparity in team followings and international reach, mid-table teams like Everton can still turn a solid profit. Liverpool will undoubtedly be hoping that their inspired run to the Champions League final will equate to increased profit from increased match day income and higher TV and broadcasting earnings.

Overall, the fortunes of Premier League teams look promising with only Chelsea and the now relegated Sunderland posting losses.

The Telegraph reported yesterday that Amazon has purchased one of the two remaining packages of Premier League matches for the 2019-22 seasons (the main packages being snapped up by usual candidates BT and Sky) allegedly at a lower rate than previous seasons. This poses more interesting questions to the teams who rely so heavily on broadcasting incomes. Despite the introduction of a new online player it may be that this revenue stream has hit its ceiling and teams will need to continue to develop their commercial offerings to ensure growth. On the other hand, if Amazon’s purchase proves to be a success then we may see the technology and internet based platform providers staking a more comprehensive claim for the rights packages in the future, which will likely take the revenues generated from the sales of the broadcasting packages only one way, up!

For more information on the topic, please contact a member of our Sports team or Elke Kendall directly. 


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The Drive for Women’s and Family Golf in the UK – a way to restore Golf’s fortunes
Wednesday 23rd May 2018

Golf’s recent decline

The numbers of golfers has been going through a steady decline for over ten years.  In 2006 there were more than four million golfers in the UK.  Last year the number was nearer 2.75 million.  Furthermore membership of clubs in England has fallen from 850,000 to some 650,000 in the same period with similar patterns in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It is true that golf development was over heated in the 1990s and early noughties and that some natural adjustment was required.  It is also true that given the demands and pace of modern life culturally we Britons are probably less “clubable” than we were particularly in relation to clubs that are both sporting and social. 

The decline amongst youngsters and women

In the sub-set statistics it seems the women’s game of golf is in worse shape than the men’s.  Numbers are dwindling and symptomatically the European Ladies Professional Tour is in difficulty finding sponsors. 

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the changing landscape

But the times they are a changing.. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (the R and A) is coming to the rescue. The R and A is the body governing golf worldwide (excluding USA and Mexico) and whose remit involves the development of golf worldwide, the administration of the rules of the game and equipment and the running of a number of great championships including the Open Championship. The R and A merged with the Ladies Golf Union (responsible for the professional women’s game in 2016.  This followed the merger of those responsible for the amateur game in the United Kingdom – the men’s and women’s amateur governing bodies (formerly the English Golf Union and English Women’s Golf Association) to form Golf England. 

The R&A recognise their responsibility to develop golf on a global basis and worked hard to ensure golf’s readmission as an Olympic sport (the gold medal being won by Englishman Justin Rose in 2016 at Rio).

The Investments for the Future

In 2017 the R&A invested significantly in women’s and girls’ events introducing new events.  The R&A’s secretary Martin Slumbers says that the R&A’s goal is to see golf thriving fifty years from now and has publically announced that they will invest £200million in golf over the decade to 2027 - broadly double the previous decade.

In particular the R and A sees family and women’s golf as a key part of restoring numbers and interest in the game for the next fifty years club. So on 29 May the R&A will be launching a “Women in Golf Charter” which seeks to get all in the industry focussed and committed to increase the number of women and children playing golf and working in golf.

A local example of initiatives

Golf developments and initiatives such as this work best at a local level. A good example is my own club The Royal Liverpool Golf Club (Hoylake) (hosts to the 2014 and 2006 Open Championships with winners in Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods). Hoylake could be seen by some as a club with no pressing need to develop itself for the future with a long waiting list of those wishing to join.  In fact it is vital that we consider the long term golfing future.  Hoylake has two small but significant initiatives currently. The first a Women’s Academy inviting lady beginners, often in mid career, to take up the game and to be   mentored and hosted by existing lady club members and secondly free coaching for young children through the summer period.  Obviously there are limits on how many can be accommodated on these schemes but “mighty oaks from small acorns” is our guiding philosophy.

The Great Game and its Trustees

Golf is a sport that can be played from the earliest of ages (watch Tiger and Rory when 4 or 5 years old on u tube!) until late into old age.  It provides unparalleled opportunities for competitive sport and lasting friendships on a worldwide basis. It is the game of a lifetime and it can build bridges like no other.

All those who play golf are Trustees for the future of golf. We wish the R and A success in their initiative the goal of seeing golf thriving in 50 years and encouraging all those involved in golf to develop initiatives to restore golf’s fortunes.

To find out more on the topic please contact Andy Cross on 0151 600 3062 or via email


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Jonjo! Oh No!
Thursday 17th May 2018

With the end of the Premier League, and only the finals of the FA Cup and Champions League left to be decided, attention now shifts to the World Cup to be hosted in Russia this summer. For everyone associated with England this is always a difficult journey, with yesterday’s announcement of England’s 23 man squad signalling the start of this journey. There is a real sense though that this journey will prove more difficult than most, both on and off the pitch.

As is well documented, England will enter the fray in Russia at a toxic time in political relations. Yet they will also enter the fray with one of the youngest squads ever assembled (third youngest at 26 years 18 days). Further, the squad can only lay claim to three tournament goals between them (Danny Welbeck at Euro 2012, and Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier at Euro 2016).

Perhaps more telling though is that the squad has a combined total of just 449 caps between them at an average of 19.5 caps per player. The most capped individual player within the squad is Gary Cahill who has amassed 58 caps. However, many people have questioned Cahill’s inclusion, especially considering that he was benched for Chelsea’s pivotal games against Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and both legs of their Champions League tie with Barcelona this season.

Another experienced inclusion is Danny Welbeck who has amassed 37 caps. Many people have also questioned Welbeck’s inclusion, pointing to the fact that he has struggled to break into an Arsenal team who this season finished with their lowest league points total since 1996. The Guardian though has suggested Welbeck has secured his position due to him being a ‘player’s player’ thanks to the quality of his mum’s cooking (which Welbeck has confirmed he regularly brings to Arsenal training).

The glaring omission from the squad is Jonjo Shelvey, who is widely recognised as England’s most gifted midfielder. Shelvey’s absence can only be explained by his perceived ‘disciplinary issues’. However, many people will be surprised to know that despite playing nearly every minute of Newcastle’s fixtures this calendar year Shelvey did not receive a booking.

There are though two stand out inclusions within the squad. One is Trent Alexander Arnold who was born on 7 October 1998 (just to make you feel really old). Arnold has been rewarded for his stunning rise at Liverpool this season, where he has nailed down the right-back berth. The other is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who is one of an army of Chelsea loanees, but unlike the others, has risen to this challenge by playing a pivotal role in Crystal Palace’s turn around in fortunes this season.

Please see the following link to the full England squad.

So, what are your views on England’s squad? How do you rate England’s chances? Who should be in the starting eleven? As you can tell, despite all of the trepidation, the journey is one I am as excited as ever to begin! Come on England!

 


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Sport and Mental Wellbeing
Thursday 17th May 2018

The focus of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is “Stress: are we coping?” and there is clear evidence to show that physical exercise and participation in team sports can be an effective way to manage stress levels and other mental health conditions.

The Association for Young People’s Health has conducted extensive research into the connection between young people’s mental health and sport participation. Their study found that there are positive links between sport and organised activity and mental health outcomes for young people at all levels of intervention. The relationship is strongest for the use of sport to treat symptoms of clinical depression.  Other research has also shown that exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants for those with mild clinical depression.

The UK government has recognised the benefits that participation in sports can have on both mental and physical health and its 10 year sports strategy, “Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation” reflects this. The strategy has five fundamental outcomes, one of which is mental health wellbeing. These outcomes are being put at the heart of Sport England’s initiatives and the “Get Set to Go” programme was co-designed by people with lived experience of mental health to ensure that those issues are fully addressed in the sport sessions as part of this programme.

The government’s strategy recognises that less is known about the causality between participation in sport and mental wellbeing. They confirm that more work will be needed over the coming years to understand and evidence the exact impact that sport and physical activity can make on the overall outcomes. Sport England will explore the best way to include measures of subjective wellbeing, perceived self-efficacy and levels of social trust in the Active Lives survey so that these outcomes can be directly compared with data on sporting behaviour.

The sporting community has played another important role that should be recognised during Mental Health Awareness Week and that is the growing number of elite athletes willing to speak about their own experiences with depression and other mental health issues. Mike Yardy, the England Cricket all-rounder famously returned home from the World Cup in March 2011 and he made no attempt to hide the reason: he was suffering from depression. Former England captain Michael Vaughan was quick to say that depression is not a sign of weakness, but a physical illness and these honest and open discussions about depression from the highest levels of sport serve to remind people that these issues can affect anyone, no matter how successful they may seem from the outside looking in. Dame Kelly Holmes has also shared her story of battling depression just a year before winning 2 medals at the 2004 Olympics. Dame Holmes has referred to the importance of exercise and physical activity in getting her through that time, “Although I got depression, having a focus and direction was something that really helped me to beat it because I still had goals”.

It is encouraging to see the commitment from the Government and the recognition of the benefits of sport on mental health wellbeing, especially in children and young adults. A commitment to driving worthwhile participation can only be a positive step in the right direction to ensure more of us have strategies to ensure that we maintain our mental wellbeing.

For more information please contact Elke Kendall or a member of our Sport Team

 

 

 


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Firmino cleared by The FA
Wednesday 28th February 2018

The Liverpool Derby on 5 January 2018 may seem a distant memory, especially for Everton fans who probably wanted to quickly forget their ousting from The FA Cup third round by their cross city rivals. The FA on the other hand have been deliberating over an incident in this match for over 6 weeks, and it shows how seriously The FA continue to take allegations of discrimination.

Everton’s Mason Holgate made an allegation that Roberto Firmino had used a discriminatory term against him after the Toffee was a little over-zealous in a tackle that ended with Firmino in the front row of the crowd at Anfield. Holgate followed the necessary procedure and alerted the match day referee and fourth official. The allegation was escalated following the match and The FA launched a full and comprehensive investigation.

This review included interviews with Firmino and Holgate themselves plus 12 other players and officials who were present for the incident. The FA went further too, and employed the services of two Portuguese lip reading experts who examined footage of the incident from different camera angles and Portuguese linguistic experts to give detailed advice on the words allegedly used by Firmino.

During a formal interview with The FA, Firmino admitted insulting Holgate in Portuguese but denied that he used a discriminatory word. The FA found on 21 February 2018 that, “having considered all of the available evidence, we consider it is not sufficient to raise a charge against Firmino.”

Firmino’s manager, Jurgen Klopp, has since publicly praised the midfielder for the way that he handled the lengthy investigation. Indeed The FA has praised all parties for their conduct throughout their review and confirmed that they were satisfied that Holgate brought his claim in good faith with no suggestion of an “intentionally false or malicious allegation”.

This is not the first time this season that The FA have taken such an approach. On 8 February 2018, Jay Rodriguez of West Bromwich Albion was charged by The FA after a 3 and a half week investigation into allegations that he racially abused Brighton’s Gaëtan Bong. Rodriguez is currently preparing his defence to the charges but it is safe to assume that we can expect to see this thorough and comprehensive approach by The FA  moving forward.

It will be interesting to see how FIFA handles any allegations of discrimination at the World Cup in Russia this summer. They have faced criticism for the disbandment of their “Anti-Racism Taskforce” in September 2016, declaring that it had “completely fulfilled its mission”. FIFA will instead be relying on their new anti-discrimination monitoring system and the launch of their “Good Practice Guide” to maintain standards at the event. Many will be watching with interest to see how these are implemented on football’s grandest stage.


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The new Code for Sports Governance has high uptake in its first year
Thursday 25th January 2018

Sport England and UK Sport have revealed that out of the 58 national governing bodies for sport involved with the implementation of the new Code for Sports Governance (“the Code”), 55 have already met all of its requirements. These requirements are considered to be the most advanced in the world and cover important changes designed to increase transparency and diversity in UK sport whilst also ensuring that each sport’s governing body board has ultimate decision-making authority rather than local councils.

It is expected that that the three remaining sports organisations involved will be Code compliant by April 2018 in what has been described by Sport England as “one of the most advanced and large-scale governance reforms in the world”.


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Landmark European Commission decision could impact sports sector globally
Wednesday 3rd January 2018

In a significant ruling which has the potential to affect all international sports federations, the European Commission (EC) issued a decision on 8 December 2017 stating that the penalties imposed on athletes by the International Skating Union (ISU) are unlawful under EU competition law.

Since 1998, the ISU eligibility rules have provided that speed skaters who participate in competitions which have not been approved by the ISU face severe sanctions, including a possible lifetime ban from all international speed skating events (at the sole discretion of the ISU). The EC decision stemmed from complaints by two Dutch speed skaters, Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, after they were deterred from entering lucrative South Korean Ice Derby events by the ISU’s severe sanctions.

The EC’s decision highlighted three main points from its investigation:

1.     The ISU has absolute discretion to impose these penalties, even where there is no risk to legitimate sports objectives (such as the safety of participants or the integrity of the sport);

2.     The restrictions allow the ISU to pursue its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and other event organisers (in particular, athletes may be deprived of additional income from independent competitions); and

3.     The rules prevent independent organisers from arranging their own competitions, as they would be unable to attract top athletes.

Generally, such sporting rules will be compatible with EU law provided that they pursue a legitimate objective and any restrictions are inherent and proportionate to that objective. However, the EC views the restrictions imposed by the ISU as disproportionately punitive; if similar restrictions are to be maintained they must be transparent and non-discriminatory, and not intended simply to exclude competing event organisers.

The ISU issued a statement in response to the EC’s decision, rejecting the EC’s “commercial” approach and stating that the rules exist for the safety of participants and integrity of the sport. The ISU argues that it should not be forced to allow skaters to participate in competitions where the organisers refuse to adhere to its standards, and points out that it does in fact authorise independent competitions as long as they agree to comply with its rules.

The EC decided not to impose an immediate fine alongside its decision, but the ISU now has until 8 March 2018 to amend or abolish its eligibility rules to comply with the EU competition rules, otherwise it could face daily fines of up to 5% of its average daily worldwide turnover. The ISU has stated that it intends to appeal the decision through the European courts.

While the EC’s decision only applies directly to the ISU, it could have a profound effect on sport governance globally. Many international sport federations and organisations have constitutions with event sanctioning provisions similar to those of the ISU, and have enjoyed a long period of exclusivity over the conduct of sporting events and the participation of athletes; this decision could set an important precedent for future decisions both within the EU and outside Europe.


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Reinforcing, crossing, and transcending borders: Soccer in a globalised world
Tuesday 24th October 2017

After acting for Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Greek footballing giant Olympiacos, on his acquisition of Nottingham Forest in May, I was fascinated to receive a very kind invitation to attend his Greek club’s joint conference with Harvard Business School in Athens in September. The tantalisingly entitled conference looked at a wider-angle of social impacts football has and could have in “the global village” from global fandom to helping to raise aspirations in areas of Africa like Ghana, to the plight of refugees fleeing into Europe and football as a tool to inspire and promote female confidence, participation and equality.

The academic excellence on show throughout the conference was immense, but the lasting memories for me were three aspects of the opening night dinner at the Acropolis Museum overlooking the Parthenon in Athens.

The cradle of democracy and civilisation was a fitting setting for the official launch of the Athens Principles on the Right to Participate in Sport (see link attached), the fantastic work of the Greek people through the football club to help the most vulnerable refugee communities fleeing into that part of Greece and finally the humble address given by Senator George Mitchell (who was a key architect of the Northern Ireland peace process).

The key theme across these three elements was that power and influence in whatever field (be it football, any other sport or indeed in the world generally) brings with it an obligation to use that power and influence with a humble and liberal attitude and as a force to help chip away at the world’s injustices.


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Divorce with 2.2million Twitter followers
Wednesday 18th October 2017

Social media is undoubtedly now very much a part of daily life and as family lawyers we have seen an increase in the influence Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is having on the breakdown of relationships and divorce proceedings.  For those in the sporting public eye this can lead to very personal matters being played out in front of millions of ‘followers’. 

The separation of boxer Amir Khan from his wife, Faryal Mahkdoom, for example has become a very public dispute with Khan having around 2.2 million Twitter followers.  Both active Twitter users have used the platform to voice their views on their relationship; from Mahkdoom often publicising the fact that she does not have a good relationship with Khan’s family to various allegations of cheating and of course Khan stating that he only became aware of his wife’s pregnancy through social media.  Others have also become embroiled in their social media feud, most notably fellow boxer Anthony Joshua who was accused by Khan of having an affair with Mahkdoom.  Khan later apologised to Joshua after apparently realising that he was mistaken.  

What is clear is that any divorce petition based on ‘unreasonable behaviour’ may well include a number of references to social media posts and this is becoming increasing more frequent in divorce proceedings.  Most recently, Khan is reported to have snubbed an olive branch apology made by Mahkdoom (again on social media) to his family in the hope of a reconciliation. 

Khan is believed to have a net worth in the region of £20million and could still go further in his sporting and media career.  Financial matters are seemingly yet to be resolved, meaning there could be many more Tweets to come in this process if an agreement cannot be reached.  How assets will be divided will depend on a number of factors listed in the Matrimonial Causes Act, but the court would start by looking at an equal division before deciding whether to depart from that for any particular reason.  In addition, the pair have a young daughter and a second child on the way, so arrangements for the children will also need to be resolved as Khan has repeatedly expressed on social media how much he missed his daughter. 

Although social media has led to a rise in traditionally private disputes sometimes being aired in a public forum, we at Brabners recognise that the divorce process is personal and understand the importance of discretion.  Family court proceedings are of course private and we are regularly involved in taking additional preventative measures in the court process to avoid details being disclosed publicly where this is a concern. 

For more information on how we could assist following a separation or divorce please contact a member of the Brabners family team

 


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‘Tapping-up’ in Football Transfers: Rules and Reality
Friday 8th September 2017

After months of seemingly relentless media coverage, the latest ‘window’ in which professional football clubs are permitted to complete player transfers closed last week.  Looking back, this summer’s window was notable for a number of reasons.  Understandably, the record-breaking sums of money spent by clubs once again caught the eye of many – it is estimated that, buoyed by the ever-increasing revenue from television deals, the twenty English Premier League clubs alone spent in excess of £1.41bn on transfer fees during the window.

Aside from the numbers, a significant amount of media coverage during the latest window was afforded to another increasingly common feature of football transfer dealings – the occurrence of a series of (often prolonged) transfer-related disputes arising between ‘want-away’ players (and their suitor clubs), and their current employers.

In such situations, questions naturally arise as to how players (and indeed the media) become aware of the interest of a suitor club in a player, apparently before the targeted players’ current club has received any contact from the prospective purchaser.  This on occasion leads to complaints that suitor clubs have made informal and/or improper approaches to the player (or, more likely, the players’ agent) before contacting that players’ current club to establish whether or not the current club would even entertain transfer negotiations. 

Perhaps the most widely-reported example of such a situation during the latest window arose in June, when several newspapers carried stories that, following discussions with representatives from Liverpool FC, Southampton FC’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk had decided that he wanted to leave his current club and sign for Liverpool.  Southampton made a complaint to the Premier League, claiming that there had been no formal contact between the two clubs, and accordingly that Liverpool’s approaches had been improper.  This prompted Liverpool to issue a statement in which they apologised for ‘any misunderstanding’ caused, and that they had formally dropped any interest that they had in signing the player.

Approaches such as those complained of by Southampton are commonly known as ‘tapping-up’, and are expressly prohibited under Regulation 18.3 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, which states that where a club intends to sign a player who is under contract, they must notify that players’ current club in writing before entering into any direct negotiations with the player.  If English clubs were in any doubt as to the applicability of the rules to the English leagues, this general prohibition on ‘tapping-up’ is clearly replicated in both the Premier League Rules (at section T.3) and in the English Football League Regulations (at regulations 63.1 – 63.2).

However, despite this prohibition, it is evident that the ‘tapping-up’ of players by clubs continues to be a relatively common feature of the transfer market in football.  Indeed, Peter Coates (the Chairman of Stoke City FC) speaking in the Guardian newspaper recently described the process of ‘tapping-up’ players as being so common that he considers it almost part of the “fabric” of the transfer process.  Going even further, Mike Rigg, a former sporting director at Manchester City, QPR and Fulham, recently told the BBC that “if FIFA were to examine every breach [of the ‘tapping-up’ rules], they'd have to investigate 99.9% of transfers”.

Clearly then, the reality of the situation presents a dilemma to football clubs engaged in transfer activity, who must be careful to strike a balance between complying with the strict rules which govern transfers, and managing to remain competitive in the modern market place.  Clubs are advised to respect the regulations which govern transfer activity, and to be aware of the potential consequences of breaching such provisions.  From a legal perspective, both The FA and the Leagues are able to impose sanctions upon clubs which are found guilty of non-compliance (which can include fines and registration bans).  From a commercial angle, clubs should take into account the potential that ‘tapping-up’ has to damage their existing relationships with other clubs - see the potential breakdown of the previously close and mutually-beneficial relationship between Liverpool and Southampton following this summer’s ‘tapping-up’ allegation  as evidence of this.


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