The legal reality of sporting events: what developments are required?

A major sporting event can carry wide-reaching advantages, providing it is organised in a diplomatic and fair manner—and takes into account the legal implications. Here, we take a look at two high-profile events and some of the challenges involved.

  • Last updated Oct 22, 2019 5:45:44 PM
  • Emma Lilley

Although sporting events rarely last longer than eight weeks, the preparation is complex, often involving architectural challenges and heightened tourism. This results in regulatory developments being imposed on connected businesses, which are required to ensure the event can go ahead. 

Such developments carry consequences, including the effects on local businesses, citizens and infrastructure. Formula E, for example, often faces this issue due to its races being held on city circuits rather than purpose-built tracks. It’s important that sporting bodies balance the interests of all parties, in order to ensure the event runs with adequate safety measures, consumer protection and minimal disruption, while still being profitable and enjoyable.

Case study: Football World Cup, Russia 

The 2018 World Cup was the first-ever world football championship to be held in Russia. Naturally, this came with a lot of responsibility, expectation and scrutiny. We now know that this ran fairly smoothly, but the Russian authorities had to pass many difficult milestones in order to get it through. 

Prior to the World Cup, Personal Data Law made it illegal for Russian citizens' personal data to be processed using non-Russian IT systems in the event there was no database on a Russian server. Breach of this law was punishable by huge fines and may have resulted in websites being blocked. Naturally, this law would have made it extremely difficult for authorities involved in the World Cup to market the event and sell tickets, especially as the law could not be circumvented by gaining consent. 

The Russian Government, therefore, granted an exemption, which included the right to record, structure, accumulate, store, change, modify and extract personal data of citizens without the use of local databases, provided that this is for one of the following purposes:

- voluntary activities of the concerned Russian citizens; 

- selling entrance tickets for World Cup events or documents giving the right to buy such tickets; 

- accreditation of the persons taking part in the events.

Relaxing data protection laws should not be taken lightly. Although this was for a specific event, individuals may be apprehensive that such an embedded legal principle can be amended with a sporting event as justification. In comparison to others, Russia’s data protection laws are very protective of the individual, so such a deviation may not have been well received by Russian citizens.  

Measures against counterfeit tickets

Released in November 2017, the Board of Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing’s (Rospotrebnadzor) agenda included measures to combat counterfeit tickets. These included an audit of FIFA trademark use and the ban of ticket sales aside from those by FIFA and its authorised agencies. 

As a result, FIFA adopted measures to achieve this. With official tickets being available from FIFA only, FIFA stated that any tickets purchased elsewhere shall be cancelled automatically and that holders shall not be entitled to a refund or compensation in the event FIFA takes such action. In addition, no transfer or resale was permitted without the specific consent of FIFA, with FIFA providing an official Ticket Transfer and Resale Platform. Official World Cup tickets were also smart tickets, containing an encrypted radio frequency identification (RFID) inlay and special security papers.

As part of their surveillance, the Rospotrebnadzor identified 858 websites and deleted 822 pages containing infringing information. Despite their efforts, however, fake World Cup websites still managed to scam hopeful attendees out of thousands.

Anti-terrorism safety rules

In April 2017, the Russian government imposed new rules on hotels with the aim of ensuring that measures against terrorism were stringent enough. A system was introduced whereby all hotels were categorised based on the potential danger and risk/consequence of terrorist acts.

There were four safety categories, with each one attracting specific requirements and obligations. All hotels were also subject to a general requirement of drafting a plan of safety measures and installing surveillance and lighting. In addition, all hotels aside from low-level risk ones (category 4) were required to develop a safety passport to be approved by the National Guard and Federal Security Service.

As a result, all Russian hotels (through a phased approach) were only permitted to accept guests if they had a category certificate that classified them using a 0-5 ‘star’ system. The offence for providing hotel services without such a certificate is classed as an administrative offence, but only large hotels are set to be penalised before 2020. This measure allowed tourists to be more informed about the area they were staying in, and also no doubt caused hotels to revisit their safety strategies.

Case study: Rugby World Cup, Japan 

The Olympics and the Rugby World Cup (RWC) are both to be hosted by Japan, just one year apart. Although resources may be stretched, this presents a good opportunity for government and regulatory bodies to consider the developments required in such a way that capitalises on the outcome. It’s important that Japan ensures that the RWC is not outshone, as it could be used to increase the profile of Japanese rugby teams. With Japan Rugby 2019 CEO Akira Shumazu stating that the overall impact on the Japanese economy is estimated to be 437.2bn yen, the opportunity to host the RWC is one to be taken seriously.

Medical standards 

In advance of RWC 2015, World Rugby introduced a Tournament Player Welfare Standards Programme. Designed to ensure consistency in the identification, management and prevention of player injuries, the ten-point approach was extremely successful. For the 2019 World Cup, these standards have been enhanced and have now become the most comprehensive player welfare standards ever implemented for a rugby event. These standards are now applied to 22 elite competitions worldwide.

The enhancements include the mandatory presence of dedicated World Rugby standard matchday doctors and video review technology for medical purposes, both to feed into the existing Head Injury Assessment (HIA) review process. The new components are designed to enhance uniformed data collection and advance World Rugby’s evidence-based approach to injury management. World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has stated that the standards have resulted in concussion incidence dropping.

To satisfy the new requirement for detailed injury surveillance to be undertaken and shared, World Rugby has developed a dedicated app that it’s providing to all competitions. Among other benefits, the app provides real-time data for team doctors (wherever located) and a centralised repository for data collection.

Technology has also assisted with training, with World Rugby’s concussion education app being made available to all. This app is particularly useful for those competitions not approved for the HIA process, to run alongside the ‘Recognise and Remove’ scheme.

Ticket T&Cs

Similar to the FIFA World Cup, combating counterfeit tickets is being taken seriously. The Japan House of Councillors went one step further when they unanimously approved a bill that bans ticket scalping. The bill prohibited the resale of tickets higher than face value and bans purchasing tickets for the purposes of scalping. The offence carries a penalty of prison up to one year and/or fine of up to JPY1m (£7,010). Prior to this, Japan’s local laws were limited, merely prohibiting brokering in public places.

The RWC Ticket Terms and Conditions also state that tickets may only be purchased from JR2019 (via an Official ticketing Agent), from Authorised Agents or through the Official Ticket Resale Scheme. It’s also forbidden to obtain or purchase tickets for the purpose of making them available for sale to a third party. Tickets are strictly non-transferable, and any tickets purchased or obtained in breach of the T&Cs shall be void and may be confiscated/cancelled without refund or compensation.

In addition to the above, in the event that more than one ticket is issued to a purchase holder, the ticket purchaser must retain one ticket for his/her personal use. Any remaining tickets may only be used by persons who are known to the ticket purchaser and did not become known to them through the sale or transfer of the ticket. JT2019 also has the right to limit the maximum number of tickets that may be ordered per person/card/household. 

RWC also issued a stringent ticket application process where, similar to the FIFA World Cup, a reselling opportunity will be available for fans to sell RWC tickets at face value on a safe and secure platform. 

It’s yet to be seen, however, whether the policing of these regulations is rigorous enough to prevent scams similar to those connected to the FIFA World Cup.

Tattoo ban

World Rugby has asked players and fans to cover up their tattoos when in public places in Japan. This is because tattoos are seen as offensive due to their association with yakuza crime syndicates. It’s been reported that tourists may be barred from traditional hot springs or bath houses if they have them on show, and the players have been asked to wear vests when using gyms or pools. 

The head of RWC, Alan Gilpin, has stated that the teams have been informed and as they want to respect Japanese culture, no objections have been raised. He added that he would not force the players to abide, but trusted they would out of respect. The New Zealand All Blacks have released a statement, with chief rugby officer Nigel Cass confirming that the players will comply.

It’s clear that rugby teams are taking Japanese cultural issues seriously, with some going as far as asking their coaching staff to learn some basic Japanese (England head coach Eddie Jones). But the tattoo request has been questioned, with it being pointed out that tattoos are often tributes to heritage. Rather than impose a complete ban, some spas and hotels have been asked to relax rules, suggesting that they offer stickers as a cover-up or even carve out certain times where people with tattoos may visit. 

With a recent landmark decision being handed down in Japan—with Judge Masaki Nishida stating that ‘tattoos have decorative and artistic meaning’—the RWC could have a wider effect on locals than first thought. Local Japanese tattoo artists are hoping that those coming to Japan with tattoos can help further the debate, through foreigners becoming aware of just how strict Japan’s attitudes are.

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