What, one may reasonably ask, has the European Union got to do with sport and what has sport got to do with the European Union (EU)? The EU is a single market composed of twenty-eight Member States with a total population of 505 million. Sport is a healthy, leisure-time and social activity, practised widely at the ‘grass roots’ levels, but it has also become a significant activity at the ‘elite’ level and spawned a business in its own right, currently accounting for 3.7% of the combined GNP of the EU Member States.
Also, what is the relationship between sport and EU Law, particularly in respect of the freedom of movement of persons and the competition rules? Is there such a thing as EU Sports Law? What is meant by the ‘specificity of sport’? Is sport ‘special’ and should it, therefore, be treated as such and exempted from EU Law? Further, what difference has the so-called ‘Sport Article’ in the new Treaty of Lisbon made and what is its likely effect in the future?
These and many other pertinent questions and issues are raised and addressed by Stephen Weatherill, Jacques Delors Professor of European Community Law of Somerville College, Oxford University, in his new Book, which is the second edition of his Collected Papers on the evolving subject of European Sports Law covering the period from 1989 to 2012.
On the question of whether there is such a thing as EU Sports Law, a Paper which Prof Weatherill first published in November 2010 in the very first issue of ‘Global Sports Law and Taxation Reports’, he concludes as follows:
“[Y]es, there is such a thing as EU sports law!”
And its heart is
“…. the well-established pattern according to which sporting practices are checked for compliance with EU trade law, most conspicuously free movement and competition law…. At both EU and at national levels, the hottest topics in sports law tend to concern disagreement over whether the applicable legal standards are adequately attuned to the special features of sport.”
On the question of how ‘special’ is sport and the desire of major international sports bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, to leverage this concept and ‘keep the EU out of sport’, Prof Weatherill perceptively notes that this desire on the part of sports bodies for
“….the total exemption of sport from the EU Treaty, has been replaced by a preference [by them] to work more co-operatively while seeking to use the EU’s own Treaty, and most of all its reference to the ‘specific nature’ of sport, as a basis for confining its intrusion….. [and it] …. is not clear whether the Lisbon Treaty, despite bringing sport explicitly within the Treaty for the first time, has changed the scope or character of the conditional autonomy from EU law that sport has long been forced to tolerate.”
And, on the effect of the Treaty of Lisbon and the likely future direction of European Sports Law, Prof Weatherill observes:
“The Treaty of Lisbon has changed everything – and it has changed nothing. True, since its entry into force in 2009, there is now legislative competence in sport attributed to the EU. It is found in Article 165 TFEU – but it is strikingly narrow and it is not likely to generate anything high-profile. Notions such as ‘fairness’, openness’ and, more broadly still, ‘the specific nature of sport’ have been embedded into EU law by the Lisbon Treaty and they too are found in Article 165 TFEU – but they are easily recognised as reflections of pre-existing practice and they do not promise any radical new dawn for EU sports law.”
And, he concludes:
“Incremental development is likely to continue, particularly in the application of the Treaty rules on free movement and competition, which were left in all significant respects untouched by the Lisbon Treaty.”
This Book, which is the latest addition to the very popular and successful ‘Asser International Sports Law Series’, the brainchild of Prof Rob Siekmann, is a veritable treasure trove of important information, and reflects the results of an erudite, insightful and in-depth study of the subject of European Sports Law that Prof Weatherill has undertaken over twenty-three years.
It is a Book, therefore, that your reviewer can recommend, without any hesitation whatsoever, to all those involved and interested, in any capacity whatsoever, in the interface of sport and EU Law and its likely evolution in the future.
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw, International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author.
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