Recently in the news was Zahir Belounis, a 33-year-old French soccer player of Algerian descent who moved to Qatar in 2010 and was “trapped” here for more than 18 months because of a protracted legal dispute with his club, Al Jaish Sports Club. Al Jaish is a member club of the Qatar Football Association based in Duhail and is currently playing in the Qatar Stars League. Belounis said that his pay was stopped two years ago in a dispute due to his transfer to a new club.
Another, not so controversial but equally scintillating, titbit of news in the football fraternity and in litigation quarters was the case of Australian player Mark Bresciano after he was banned for four months due to a compensation dispute relating to the terms of his transfer from UAE club Al Nasr to Al Gharafa in August 2012.
These are but two examples of the need for experts in the field of sponsorship contracts that specialise in sports for a country that is going to see much more of sponsorships and contract validation happening in the near future.
According to a report by management consultants PriceWaterCoopers, the EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa region) is currently ranked as the second-largest sports market in the world, and is worth an estimated QR163.07 billion ($44.8 billion), which represents nearly a third of the global market. And it is this market that is waiting to be tapped. Sport is considered a key growth market for many businesses as governments across the Gulf look to further diversify their economies and build on the success of major global sporting events. Qatar could potentially become the third Gulf country to host a Formula One race, and it will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, which is expected to cost as much as QR800.8 billion ($220 billion).
Steve Bainbridge, Regional Head, Sports Law and Events Management at Al Tamimi & Company, is optimistic about developments in the region.
“We are regional-based and are here with a long-term vision,” says Bainbridge of the firm that has recently opened offices in Oman and has its head office in the UAE, with intention of leveraging the opportunities that the region presents. Riding on this new need, Al Tamimi & Company the first Middle East firm to have a dedicated sports law practice providing a range of legal services covering all areas relevant to the sports industry. Established in 1989, the firm now boasts 13 offices in 7 countries.
“Sports lawyers per se are not trained to meet the demands of their work, but are commercial lawyers who over the years have completed many years of practice pertaining to the sports industry.”
Regional Head, Sports Law and Events Management, Al Tamimi & Company
Why sports law?
So what exactly does a sports lawyer do differently from a conventional lawyer?
“Sports lawyers per se are not trained to meet the demands of their work, but are commercial lawyers who over the years have completed many years of practice pertaining to the sports industry. There is a large overlap,” says Bainbridge. He cites the example of the construction of a large stadium and the various contracts it involves –financing, management agreements – some of which touch on the sports aspect and some of which don’t.
“What you then require is a network of contacts and relationships to make it work, an expertise to deal with sports federations, teams, athletes and sponsorships which makes the whole process of the job much simpler,” says Bainbridge.
Much of what is happening in the sports industry can benefit from the advice of lawyers who have a history of working on sports projects and have a very detailed and intrinsic approach to all the fundamentals of sports practices, according to Bainbridge. Drawing on the example of medicine and its super-specialisations, Bainbridge speaks to convince us of the need for sports lawyers who, like doctors, specialise due to the need in the market. Citing reasons why sports law is gaining momentum, especially in this region, Bainbridge says: “Sponsorship deals are no longer seen as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative but more as an investment with a broader intent. Sports sponsorships become more a corporate deal than a casual handshake agreement.”
When the stakes are high, experts are roped in to look at the agreements. High- level sponsorships that involve more money and more complexities in the deals make it pertinent that the client demands someone with expertise in the matter. It is simple, says Bainbridge, to grow in a market that is growing. Qatar also has a much broader intent, and a long-term vision, feels Bainbridge. “It is not just about the one major event, the FIFA World Cup 2022; there is legacy of sports that is being built on the ground,” he says. “From the increase in the number of gyms within office buildings and more cutting-edge facilities for it, from the three-to-four-year-olds actively involved in football training to senior citizens walking with a pedometer being offered as part of a company’s initiative to increase awareness on the benefits of walking and healthy lifestyle, there is long-term vision here.”
Bainbridge talks about the expertise that is now seen as a norm.
“A few years ago, sponsorship agreements/contracts would be two to three pages of document, but it has now become much more complicated and involves pages of sophisticated data,” he says.
This is one of the driving forces for the firm, according to Bainbridge, and also perhaps the fact that “because we are a Middle Eastern firm, we have seen an increase in the client’s demands for such a practice and hence the decision to have the first specialised practice.”
This is the first time the firm has had a specialised practice in a regional office. The reason for this is evident. Europe has already established itself with numerous sports law experts, though after the London 2012 Olympics there have been fewer such event to make this seem sustainable. In Vancouver in Canada, where Bainbridge started his practice with the Winter Olympics, many of his friends had the opportunity to contribute to many sports-related litigations, but once the event was over, there weren’t any more to keep the legacy going.
“The growth seen in the GCC is larger than that seen anywhere, any time. Here it is sustainable,” he says. “With tennis federations, football federations, the motor racing season and so many sporting events happening around the clock, sports law will certainly sustain through and beyond the World Cup 2022.”
There is a lifecycle that sustains sports legal work “and allows us to train the youth too in the field of sports law,” he adds.
About the recent speculation on the success of conducting a World Cup in Qatar and on the timing of the event, Bainbridge has just one firm belief, and that is: “Not only will the World Cup 2022 be held here as decided but it will also be one of the best World Cup sever seen.” Source: Qatar Today