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“If someone prefers saying that sports law is not a branch of law, I will not argue with him”

Beside arbitration, corporate law or maritime law, less common branches started appearing in the Russian legal business. Sports law is one of such branches. The Law Firm "YUST" is arguably the most prominent player in that field. LEXPRO interviewed Mikhail Prokopets, Senior Lawyer of YUST and Head of the Sports Law Group. He told about the reasons for making sports law a separate branch of law, about the future of the practice in Russia, about the problems that those who decide to take up that occupation need to solve. But he refrained from saying how much money sports law generated for his firm and how much corruption there was in sports.

What made YUST take up sports law? Was it having a hard time in other branches?

Sports law in Russia is currently in a fledgling state. Abroad, this branch is large, independent and long-standing. Actually, I came to YUST in 2008 specifically to develop sports law. At that time, the Firm was already cooperating with the Russian Football Union (RFU), but it was evident that specialists were needed, as general legal erudition was not enough for working efficiently with such clients. Because of all this, the sports law group was formed in the Company, and the RFU was the final argument that persuaded my partners that the sphere looked promising.

Who else are your clients beside the RFU?

The practice has existed for five years, and has served the Organization Committee of 2018, together with which we worked for the Russian bet to host the World Football Championship of 2018. The World Chess Championship was held in Moscow in autumn of 2012: Gelfand played against Anand, and we organized the event. We have worked with rugby and chess federations, we cooperate with many clubs. For example, the football club Anji has been our client for a long time, as well as Dinamo. These are legal entity clients. Many things in sports depend upon the “stars”, who generate significant money circulation round themselves. The football players Yury Zhirkov, Roman Pavliuchenko, Pavel Pogrebnyak as well as many known football agents were our clients. Such relations always involve a lot of work, including club-to-club transfers, relations with agents and contract execution.

How many people practice sports law in YUST?

Our partners supervise several spheres each. The sports law group is supervised by Alexey Popov. Beside him and me, there are three more persons.

Non-stop or together with other branches?

Sports law as branch is recently formed, so not enough time has passed for purely sports law experts to appear.

That is to say, your employees are not 100% occupied?

The group includes lawyers, who engage in other activities: labour and civil law, for example. But this is not due to the fact that there is little work in the sports practice. Many specialists are in demand by other practices, that is why we try to distribute the workload evenly among everyone.

Surely you have heard the opinion that the division of law into agricultural law, sports law etc. is artificial because legal instruments are all the same, no matter the area of application. Does sports law have any elements inherent only to it and not seen anywhere else?

Of course, any division is artificial and is needed mostly for convenience. If someone prefers saying that sports law is not a branch of law, I will not argue with him. In my opinion, nowadays it is doubtlessly a branch of law, but a very young one, which started developing in Russia only 5-6 years ago due to the adoption of the respective legislative base governing the sports sphere.
We used to have only the Sports Law and a few articles of the Labour Code, which equated sportsmen with actors, circus players and art workers. The new Sports Law has been adopted, which is constantly maintained by amendments, a separate chapter of the Labour Code appeared, which sets the sportsmen apart from other employees. Therefore, there are civil relations governed by the norms of sports law, a subject and a method.

But would not you agree that the aforesaid is not enough to separate an entire branch, is it?

Sports law is unique in the following way: the norms that govern those relations are two-fold: there is federal legislation, which has been mentioned already, and a much larger block of norms fixed by the respective federations. Knowledge of those norms and how to apply them correctly is what sets a sports law specialist apart from a non-specialized lawyer.

Could you give actual examples of sports, where such corporate norms are effective?

Certainly. Let us take the RFU and FIFA. Those are usual non-commercial social organizations. But since football has a complex hierarchical structure with internal sanctions, trials and rules, the state in the law says to us: all right, let federal law govern a part of those relations, but a significant portion of normative regulation is left for the social organizations. And one needs to know the peculiarities of their operation. One needs to study for that.

What was the cause for such active development of sports law lately?

First of all, the coming of big money to sports. Money that need law and order. Quick development of sports law is largely due to this. I would also name the Olympics and the World Football Championship to be held in Russia in 2018. National legislation is being adapted respectively, which should conform to the numerous requirements by FIFA and IOC.

Different practices of law firms compete for profitability. If we look at the sports law group of YUST from this point of view, what are the profits of your practice?

I cannot disclose such information. But the profits have been growing for the 5 years of work.

Is there competition in your segment?

International law firms are serious competitors. In Switzerland, there are a huge number of sports law companies. Offices of sports federations and sports tribunals are located there. Many clients have become accustomed to filing their claims there, they do not know that there are companies in Russia that have their own sports law practices.

What marketing moves do you employ to make yourself known?

Working with information resources is critical. We are the official legal consultant of RFU, and our logo is displayed at their website. But the most important thing is that sports lawyers must do their work very well. That is the best advertising.

What is an approximate income from the work with different types of clients?

I remind that I cannot give any numbers, but I would say that there are three categories of clients, divided by profits. The first category includes large projects, like the World Cup of 2018, that bring income but also contribute to the company’s reputation. Sports clubs get the second place. The third group consists of “star” sportsmen, who contact us on employment issues, court disputes, for consultations on contracts. Clients who are coaches also fit in that category.

What, in your opinion, needs changing in our legislation, so that your work would be easier?

There is no specialized platform in Russia for the wok of sports lawyers, where all sports law disputes would be settled. I mean a specialized tribunal of sports arbitration. Creation of such institution would help the market a lot.

Are you sure that potential clients will go to our court and not to the Swiss tribunal?

Yes, I am sure of that, the clients say so themselves.

What about the infamous corruption, does it affect your work in any way? The series of the latest sports scandals seems to indicate that many things in this sphere are not resolved within the legal field but elsewhere.

Fight on corruption is regulated by other branches of law. It is true that some fans are convinced that all matches are “arranged” and all arbiters bought. But there is no proof and no consequences like initiated criminal cases. I have nothing more to add to this.

Alexander Moskovkin and Ivan Chursin, LEXPRO, interviewed the expert.

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