Sports Law by Simon Gardiner, Mark James, John O’L eary and Roger Welch (with Ian Blackshaw, Simon Boyes and Andrew Caiger).
Routledge Cavendish, London, 2006, 724 pp, £39.00 pbk (ISBN 1-85941-894-5).
The third edition of this market-leading textbook on sports law remains as determinedly informed by a socio-legal approach as previous editions. Outwardly, the key developments in sports law encapsulated by this latest volume are the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on UK sport, the repercussions of the European Court of Justice’s decision in Deutscher Handballbund eV v Maros Kolpak (Case C-438/00)  ECR I-4135 and the expansion of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Those issues reflect the consistently ambitious nature of this text, as it endeavours to provide its readers with a comparative analysis of sports law in Britain, the European Union and globally. More implicitly, this text reflects the ever deepening and widening nature of what some writers, with needless grandeur, occasionally refer to as lex sportiva. Thankfully, Gardiner et al eschew this hyperbole. Admirably, their focus on sport’s economic and cultural context does not permit them to stray far from sport’s communal roots and societal role. Nevertheless, fundamental to an assessment of this text is whether it strikes the proper balance, if there is such a thing, between the ‘Great Triviality’ that is sport and a nascent, isolated corpus of law that can be referred to as sports law.
Before reviewing some of the substantive issues tackled by this text, there are two minor points that need to be made regarding its structural and stylistic features. First, there are seven contributors to Sports Law. All are eminent, well-established authors in their areas of expertise; however, inevitably, their approaches differ in style and cadence. This jaggedness means that readers are advised to treat chapters as separate entities, as per an edited collection, rather than a text premised on an identifiable thematic core. To be fair, the nature of sports law, which encompasses such disparate topics as applied contract, commercial, EC and tort law, means that it would be difficult (and might be somewhat artificial) to present such a work in the holistic and constrained fashion suggested. If there is a theme, it is that the dominant component within the sports law discourse is professional football. Although it might appear incongruous to say so in a FIFA World Cup year, that predominance is not always a good thing, and the text’s references to sports such as cricket, horse racing and boxing, even if in the respective context of corruption, gambling and violence, are liberating, well-written and provide a welcome breather from the ‘Beautiful Game’.
Secondly, although it occurs infrequently, the uneven nature of the text’s style is exacerbated by a propensity to cite at length from secondary sources. For instance, twelve of the sixteen pages of text dedicated to the discussion on ambush marketing in sport consist of extracts from extrinsic materials. A similar trend is evidenced in chapter twelve’s analysis of restraint of trade. In this regard, it is suggested that greater use might be made of the companion website for reference to such material. Nonetheless, once the reader accepts these sectional and stylistic aspects of the text, the expertise of individual contributors such as Ian Blackshaw – Visiting Professor at the FIFA International Centre for Sports Studies and a member of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport – can be appreciated fully. Indeed, Sports Law is at its most fluent when contributors are limited to examining specific principles or institutions. In point, readers can be comfortable that Blackshaw’s assessment of CAS in chapter 6 is definitive and authoritative.
The above is equally true of chapter seven’s review of the legal regulation of doping in sport. John O’Leary’s analysis begins pithily with the observation that, ‘There are few issues in sport more emotive than anti-doping.’ At the time of writing, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants baseball franchise is closing in on one of the few truly great statistical achievements in world sport – Hank Aaron’s career total of 755 home runs. Stage whispers that Bonds is taking performance-enhancing substances can be traced to 1993 and a celebrated Sports Illustrated article by Richard Hoffer. Hoffer concluded his provocative essay by asking ‘How good in Bonds?’ The answer, ‘Good enough to make you suspicious.’ Doubts have intensified on the recent publication of a book called Game of Shadows written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, which is based on reporting that broke the BALCO sports doping scandal, a scandal that involved leading sprinters such as Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and Chryste Gaines. However, as O’Leary points out guilt by suspicion or association should not satisfy the generally held and immutable norms of natural justice.
O’Leary is particularly wary of the World Anti-Doping Agency, commenting, ‘There is a danger that WADA’s utilitarian approach to athletes’ rights, exemplified by the [WADA] Code, and justified by that most nebulous of concepts, ‘the spirit of sport’, has resulted in an imbalance between sport and the rights of its most precious commodity.’ Admittedly, the unhindered zealousness of WADA has at times a McCarthyite hue to it, which, if it continues, will drain WADA’s credibility. For example, in June 2005, theInternational Cycling Union rejected claims, initially reported by the French newspaper L’Equipe, that seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had retrospectively tested positive for EPO. The claims had been examined by an independent investigator, who further recommended that a tribunal be established to consider any legal and ethical wrongdoings by WADA and the French sports anti-doping laboratory. The rather shrill rejection of that report by WADA chairman Dick Pound neatly encapsulates many of O’Leary’s concerns.
Finally, Sports Law is targeted at sports law practitioners, sports administrators and students on sports studies-related courses. All of the above will appreciate it, particularly the student market wherein sports law, in its generic appeal, has proved attractive as an elective module for final year law students. In sum, Sports Law provides an engaging and informative dialogue on all the major issues inherent in the eponymous topic. Deservingly, it is the market leader and, to paraphrase a memorable phrase once uttered by legendary BBC horse racing commentator Peter O’Sullivan, ‘it’ll take a good ‘un to beat it.”
Dr Jack Anderson
School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast
Anderson, Jack, "Sports Law by Simon Gardiner, Mark James, John O’L eary and Roger Welch (with Ian Blackshaw, Simon Boyes and Andrew Caiger)", Entertainment and Sports Law Journal, ISSN 1748-944X, October 2006, <http://go.warwick.ac.uk/eslj/issues/volume4/number2/anderson/>