The Sports Law & Policy Centre | Managing the legal issues of the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010
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Managing the legal issues of the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010

Managing the legal issues of the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010

A 2011 Interview with Stuart Corbishley, Deputy Director General, Legal of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee

Stuart, could you tell us a little about your professional journey leading into your current position?

I originally qualified as a corporate & commercial lawyer with CMS Cameron McKenna in London before moving to Sydney, Australia where I worked for Allens Arthur Robinson on a range of transactions in the Asia-Pacific region. Around 6 years ago, I shifted the focus of my practice to the sports industry and since then I have advised a variety of sports industry clients on a range of sponsorship, broadcasting, intellectual property and other commercial issues. These clients included the Australian Rugby Union, the Australian Olympic Committee, V8 Supercars, Sports & Entertainment Limited, AVP Pro Beach Volleyball and Ultimate Fighting Championship, as well as corporate sponsors such as KFC and Diageo. On the back of that experience, I was delighted to be offered the position of DDG, Legal with the Organising Committee. I’m now working as a freelance commercial & sports lawyer based in Australia.

What did your role as Deputy Director General Legal of the Organising Committee for the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games entail? Could you describe the range of legal issues you dealt with? What was the size and structure of your team?

As co-head of the legal team, I was responsible for leading the OC’s legal team of 6 lawyers. The legal team was responsible for advising all 34 Functional Areas of the OC on all legal issues relating to the organization and conduct of the Games. This included preparing the template agreements that the OC would use with contractual third parties and advising on contract negotiations – these templates included employment agreements, consultancy agreements, services agreements, venue use agreements, sponsorship agreements, merchandise agreements and broadcast rights agreements. The legal team was also responsible for registering the OC’s intellectual property rights and for protecting those IPRs, including through the instigation of legal proceedings. At various times, the legal team was also called upon to provide specific advice and opinions on legal issues that arose in the course of preparations for the Games, and to liaise with the OC’s panel of external legal advisers, including in relation to any litigation relating to the organisation of the Games.

Can you describe some of the interesting legal issues you encountered during the CWG? What were the challenges faced during the CWG in India and what steps did you initiate to safeguard the rights of various stakeholders?

At Games Time, the legal team’s principal focus was on dealing with any unauthorized use of the OC’s IPRs. Since the Games take place within a relatively short time frame, it’s vital that the legal team is responsive to incidents of ambush marketing, counterfeit merchandise and internet streaming in particular. This requires detailed planning and preparations. It also requires regular communication with stakeholders to demonstrate Games readiness and to ensure that there is a realistic understanding on how exclusive rights will be protected. At Delhi 2010, in addition to including standard anti-ambush marketing provisions in agreements and in ticketing terms and conditions, we prepared a range of template response documents and engaged law firms in key jurisdictions to ensure that we would be able to respond quickly to infringements. In relation to potential internet streaming concerns, we issued pre-emptive notices to a number of internet service providers and social networking sites that had been identified as potential infringers, thereby putting them on notice that we would take action to protect exclusive rights. We also put arrangements in place with YouTube to remove links to infringing content.

Did you find the Indian legal system adequate to address the issues you faced? Were there any issues you noted that require attention?

Whilst we were successful in obtaining a number of court orders to prevent infringing conduct in relation to our IPRs, traditional IPR registrations tend not to recognize the unique nature of an event like the Commonwealth Games because it’s not always easy to enforce rights quickly and effectively under an existing legislative regime. In addition, sophisticated marketers are finding ever more innovative ways in which to conduct ambush marketing activities which are damaging, but do not necessarily get caught by existing legislation.

As a consequence, the enactment of purpose built special event legislation has become popular on the international stage in the last decade or so because it is designed to ensure that a legislative regime is in place that will enable an event to be delivered in the most efficient manner and in accordance with the expectations of event owners and other stakeholders. It’s popular from an IPR perspective because it can extend protection to words, expressions and figures not capable of traditional IPR protection – for example, the words “gold”, “silver” and “bronze”; it can create new offences – for example, “ambush marketing”; and it can designate specific areas within which specific activities are restricted during specified periods – for example, trading and advertising. 

Special event legislation was certainly something we explored in detail at Delhi 2010, however, unfortunately, we were ultimately unsuccessful in persuading the Government of the merits of this legislation – it will be interesting to see whether India’s emergence as aSpecial event legislation was certainly something we explored in detail at Delhi 2010, however, unfortunately, we were ultimately unsuccessful in persuading the Government of major sports event destination will prompt a review of this position in future.

As an experienced sports attorney, how would you trace the development of the field over the past decade?

I think that the development of sports law over the past decade or so has been remarkable. Arguably, it’s not a distinct area of law at all – more a recognition of the fact that a number of areas of law impact on the activities of the sports industry – although I think that in recent times there is a growing acceptance that “sports law” constitutes its own niche area of law. Certainly, I think the growth in the number of “sports lawyers” bears testament to that fact. As we know, sport is now big business – you only have to look at the enormous sums of money changing hands in relation to IPL teams and English premiership clubs to realize that. Of course, this attracts more attention and more scrutiny, and hence the role of the sports lawyer becomes more important. 

I think two of the most significant developments in sports law in the last decade have been the introduction of the World Anti-Doping Agency Code in 2004 and the growing body of jurisprudence from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Governance has also been an important issue for sports organisations across the globe for a number of years, and I know that it is a hot topic in India at the moment. Similarly, the issues associated with gambling and so-called “exotic bets” have received a great deal of prominence in recent times because these issues threaten the very integrity of sport. In Australia, player behaviour, and how that impacts a sport’s image and sponsorship deals and the “role model” status of players, is also creating a lot of interest at present.

Finally Stuart, would you have any advice for young lawyers who aspire to pursue a career path such as your own?

As with many things in life, I think planning and preparation is the key to a career in “sports law”. It’s a very competitive area of the law to get into, and so you will need to show a lot of determination and perseverance to succeed – you will also need your fair share of luck! When I first decided to pursue a career in sports law, my background as a corporate & commercial lawyer meant that I had a good understanding on the issues in relation to most commercial contracts, but I recognized that I also needed to gain experience in relation to intellectual property, sponsorship and broadcast rights in particular – so I did my homework and sought out that kind of work.

I also wanted to gain a better understanding on the workings of sports tribunals and so I made myself available to sit on a couple of tribunals on a voluntary basis. Becoming a member of a sports law association like the Australian & New Zealand Sports Law Association or the British Association for Sport and the Law is also a fantastic way to gain an understanding on the key issues affecting sports organisations. Attending conferences and seminars can be enormously helpful, and can also provide great networking opportunities. It’s also important to keep a keen eye on the sports press for developments in sports law issues, and to raise your profile by writing articles on hot topics for sports law publications.

Stuart Corbishley is an English and Australian qualified sports lawyer who has advised a number of sports organisations on a range of broadcasting, sponsorship, intellectual property and other commercial issues arising in the context of major international sports events. Stuart was Deputy Director General, Legal of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.