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Sports Law

The responsibilities of sporting governing bodies

Over the years gone by, the sporting world has been graced with numerous sporting governing bodies (SGB) being formed worldwide, some of which have been in existence since the end of the 20th century.

Essentially, an SGB is a sports organisation that has a regulatory and/or sanctioning function.

In terms of the regulatory functions of an SGB, these are extremely varied in nature. These include disciplinary action for any rule infringements pertaining to the sport that an SGB oversees as well as at the same time deciding (via its respective bodies that are incorporated within it, such as a council), on the rules (and changes to the rules from time to time) that apply to the sport that an SGB governs.

Among the elite and most influential SGBs that one finds is the International Olympic Committee, which oversees a wide variety of sports, including the operation of the respective NOCs that fall under its organisation.

The majority of sport governing bodies concern the governance of a single sport at a national level.

In case of Malta, examples of these are the Malta Football Association (MFA) which governs football, and the Aquatic Sports Association of Malta (ASA) which regulates the sport of swimming and waterpolo.

Both the MFA and the ASA are in turn affiliated with their respective international SGBs.

The principle of sport autonomy allows, at least in principle, SGBs to establish, amend and interpret their rules freely, without any undue political or economic influence, hold free elections within their respective bodies and to obtain public funding which helps in achieving their objectives and goals, without having to abide to any external influence or conditions.

At the same time, the sport autonomy principle does not mean that such SGBs are free to override national or international law as they deem fit. As Lord Moynihan himself said “the autonomy of sport is important but must be earned; it is not a right”.

At the forefront of the functions of an SGB, its raison d’être, is the responsibility to establish the rules for the playing of the sport (including proportional disciplinary rules for any infringements of the rules that may arise from time to time) and to organise competitions in which the athletes, technical staff and other personnel who partake in such sport will adhere to such rules.

At the same time, an SGB needs to ensure the safety of both those who play the game as well as the spectators who watch the games.

Often national SGBs of a single sport or NOCs would be directed by its international counterpart on what rules need to be incorporated within their respective statutes and regulations.

It is also of vital importance that SGBs continue to ensure that the sport which they govern continues to retain its popularity as well as keeps up with latest developments, including technology.  

A SGB would need to oversee the development of the sport that it governs. This can be achieved through the preparation and implementation of a vision and strategic plan for its sport and determine how it will be implemented on a national, regional and local level.

Development of the sport is also achieved through its promotion via a variety of means, such as advertising, broadcasting and possibly sponsorship of other events.

Another important factor of SGBs, especially national one, is for them to liaise on a frequent basis with various organs of the government as well as other relevant governing bodies such as the national anti-doping commission/association).

SGBs should also ensure that opinions and suggestions from relevant stakeholders, such as supporter groups, are listened to and where applicable taken on board.

Sports has developed tremendously over the years, both in terms of its popularity as well as in terms of the economic value making the sports industry today a multi-billion dollar industry.

This in turn means that SGBs must work endlessly to secure lucrative sponsorships and sell the broadcasting rights of the sports competitions that an SGB organises.

Such income often runs into the thousands, if not millions, which makes a significant difference to the operations of any SGB as well as the same time allowing it to invest that money into the construction or upgrading of facilities for such sport to be played in.

SGBs must ensure that they continue to be at the forefront of the sports that they oversee and ensure that the regulations that govern such sports continue to be proportionate and reflective of today’s developments.

SGBs play a crucial role with respect to the development of sports and without them sports as we know it today would not exist.

Note: Dr. Robert Dingli is a sports lawyer and Senior Associate at Dingli & Dingli Law Firm

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