Manchester Metropolitan University - Interview with Sport and Olympic Law expert Professor Mark James

We spoke to Professor Mark James about Sport and Olympic Law, and the sports law opportunities available at Manchester Metropolitan University.

  • Last updated May 5, 2020 3:48:47 PM
  • By Jack Collins
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What advice do you have for anyone looking to pursue a career in sports law?

Sports law is still really quite a niche area, so the most important thing before thinking about becoming a sports lawyer is to be a good lawyer. A fairly significant proportion of your work is likely to be non-sports-related. The best piece of advice, to begin with, is to be a good lawyer and get yourself a specialism. That could be in broadcasting or media, commercial law, commercial contracts… anything like that.

You then need to be able to build up your practice and make relevant contacts in the sporting world and stay current with what is going on. Attend conferences, read all the articles and updates that are out there, and if possible start writing for journals and blog posts.

Thinking about the next five to ten years, what will be the main preoccupations of sports and Olympic law?

I think there are two things that will be important in the coming years—firstly, the impact of technology across almost all aspects of sport: analytics are becoming much more important; and the development of E-tickets and mobile-tickets will be increasingly significant, and augmented reality will give us the potential to watch sporting events almost better than live. The ever-growing popularity of E-sports (and whether they should be brought within the wider sports sector) will be a major preoccupation for all sports and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) too.

The other growth area is the emergence of human rights protocols to provide protections to a range of stakeholders involved in or affected by sport. These are primarily for the athletes, and are trying to ensure that they are treated fairly. But perhaps even more important is human rights in the supply chains and the impact on the host community of sports events such as the Olympics.

You specialise in Olympic law. Could you briefly describe what that involves and what you find most interesting about it?

What I’ve been investigating for the past 10-15 years is the impact—on states, on people, on communities—of the laws that are introduced by a host nation to enable events like the Olympic Games to take place. So it’s looking at that legal framework that can include everything from regulating intellectual property and advertising to street trading, income tax exemptions, planning regulations and transport. All of those things are involved.

What I enjoy teaching—and what students seem to particularly enjoy—are the laws relating to ambush marketing and the creativity of ambushers in trying to get around laws and regulations. From a research perspective, I am most interested in how the IOC has been able to require or force nations to pass laws on its behalf. Obviously the IOC is not a state and does not have direct lawmaking powers. But through the agreement in the Host City Contract, the range of laws that the IOC has had created on its behalf, I find quite fascinating. A major transnational business is able to get laws created for the benefit of itself and its commercial partners.

Although the IOC is technically a not-for-profit company, it still generates millions of dollars every year. You can look at the positive side of things—that it’s just about encouraging sport and putting on the Olympic Games—but in the background is a major corporation doing all of this.

With sport being such a widespread endeavour, what other areas of law overlap with it?

Just about every single area of law overlaps with sports law. I started off on my PhD looking at consent to injuries on the sports field, from a criminal law perspective—I have also looked at compensation for sports injuries, ticket touting, football disorder and the Olympic Law frameworks. I’ve also found myself encountering contracts, employment law, land law and human rights. The whole range of areas can come into it.

Really, when we’re talking about sports law, we’re looking at how those more traditional areas of law are dealt with in the very specific context of sports, and whether the law has to operate differently to enable sports to continue.

Could you tell me a little bit about the history of sports law at Manchester Metropolitan University?

This is my second stint at Manchester Met—I had my first full-time job as a lecturer here in 1997, when I came to work with Professor Steve Redhead who was one of the leading researchers in sports law and law and popular culture at the time. We were the host institution for the British Association of Sport and the Law, through which I also worked with Dr Ray Farrell - he and I edited the journal when it was first set up. I am now one of the editors of the Entertainment and Sports Law Journal and on the Editorial Board of the International Sports Law Journal, the International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics and LawInSport. As a result of all of these contacts, we have had a very engaged relationship with the development of sports law as a discrete area. Over the years, Steve moved to Australia, Ray retired and I worked at a number of other different institutions before coming back.

My job now is to re-establish Manchester Met as one of the leading sports law centres in the country. I focus on the more domestic issues around sports law and Olympic issues. Because of the popularity of sports law, the range of units that we’re developing and the potential for us to develop a specialist LLM in sports law, we’ve been looking to recruit people to work with me. So far we have Dr Katarina Pijetlovic who has a huge range of experience in EU law and competition law. She is an expert in breakaway leagues and competitions. Our latest appointment is Kevin Carpenter, who has joined us from practice where he was a solicitor, and is an expert in sporting integrity, match-fixing and governance.

We now have our own undergraduate unit in sports law, and we also contribute a sports law unit to the MSc Sport Business, Management and Policy.

What is the sports law offering within the University?

At present, we’ve got an undergraduate option that runs in the final year of our LLB degree, and we are currently developing modules to be taught on the BSc Sports Business Management and BSc Sports Marketing Management. They will run in about a years’ time. The module on the MSc Sport Business, Management and Policy is delivered face-to-face and online.

How do you think politics and international relations tie into sports law and regulations?

They are quite intimately intertwined. That’s one of the reasons why we developed the MSc; I work with a research group called the Sport Policy Unit, which is based in our Faculty of Business and Law. Between us, it was clear that our various specialities—which brought in sports policy, politics, international relations, economics, marketing and law—would make a really quite unique offering as far as both teaching and research programmes are concerned. We’re bringing together all of those specialisms within that one programme. Most of my colleagues research the impact and the legacies of major sporting events. Also relevant is the issue around soft power, where countries try to project a positive image of themselves through hosting major sporting events. All of those issues come together quite perfectly within law, politics and international relations.

If you would like to learn more about the undergraduate and postgraduate study options at Manchester Law School, please visit our website for regular updates on our courses, news and events.

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