Weak government interest affecting the practice of sports law – Omuojine

The persistent issues plaguing sports participation, player rights and termination of contracts in the Nigerian sports industry underscore the need for enforceable legal and institutional frameworks. BABATUNDE TITILOLA speaks with a sports lawyer, Kelvin Omuojine, about the problems of sports law and how government agencies can improve the field of emerging law.

What What are the objectives of sports law in the sports industry?

Sports law refers to the entire legal framework that regulates the activity and practice of sport as an industry. The field has emerged in recent decades, in particular due to the significant growth in the commercial value of sport and the different types of transactions involved.

Developments within the sports industry justify the recognition of sports law as a substantial legal area. These include particular regulations, unique sectoral clauses and the existence of a unique system of out-of-court dispute resolution. These resulted in case law and what is now globally recognized as the “lex sportiva”.

What is the level of interest in sports law in Nigeria compared to other popular countries?

There has been a lot of growth over the past five years. In 2010, I often encountered Nigerian lawyers who had no idea what sports law was. But interest is growing now. However, despite the growing interest and awareness, the practice of sports law is slow in Nigeria compared to many other countries as the sport is not yet commercialized here. With the commercialization of sports comes the need for legal services to protect commercial rights and interests, which ultimately leads to the development of the practice of sports law.

What influences this level of interest?

The blame for the underdeveloped nature of Nigerian sports law lies with the authorities, not the sportsmen. Authorities – sports governing bodies and government – have a responsibility to develop the industry from local to professional level. The development of sports law is incidental to the emergence of sport as a commercially viable industry.

How are the rights of athletes exercised?

This highlights how sport is interconnected with other areas of law because, for example, a professional sportsman is legally considered an employee, therefore, he is entitled to the rights of an employee guaranteed by the law of the work. In addition, the intellectual property regime gives them the right to enjoy their intellectual property or image rights.

These rights can be exercised when sports governing bodies strengthen the regulatory framework and dispute resolution mechanism within their sport, and when athletes and other industry participants recognize that there are legal implications and take measures to protect or exploit their rights as anyone would in any industry or business.

What can the government do to stimulate the practice of sports law?

There must be a clear understanding of their role and their relationship to the governing bodies of sport. We see how there are recurring issues regarding “government interference” because sport is run as a self-regulating industry. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the government’s interest in the development of sport in general, especially since sport has the undeniable power to impact a range of social, economic and even political or diplomatic outcomes.

There is a concept known as “political governance”, which focuses on the role of government in steering organizations in the desired direction. The obvious tool is law or policy and I think what government should do to improve sports legislation and the sports industry in general is to implement sports policy.

The government should adopt a sports governance code which will set out minimum standards and compliance criteria for national sports federations as a form of control and ensure they are set up and operate in a way that optimizes results .

We have seen cases of clubs terminating player contracts, some without notice or payment. What are the legal aspects of the contractual agreement and termination?

Different professional sports have standard regulations and procedures in this regard. The fact that we see these incidents happening again in Nigeria is simply because the sports federation has not put in place these systems, such as the establishment of a national dispute resolution chamber or tribunal, to solve these problems. In football, for example, it is forbidden for a club or a player to unilaterally terminate a player’s contract. To enforce this, FIFA has provided a framework for national federations to implement. The Football Association of Nigeria has failed to set up its tribunal which is why these problems persist.

Jon J. Epps