Centre for Sport and Law Assists Amateur Athletes Across Canada

With a few exceptions, clients organizations come to the Centre for Sport and Law without a clear ideas of what they want or need. All they know is that they have a problem.

The Centre for Sport and Law is a small company of four professionals who work exclusively in the Canadian amateur sport community. I started the company with a partner in 1991, and today we provide a range of legal and quasi-legal services to sport organizations throughout Canada. Such services include risk management consulting, policy development, governance management and all forms of dispute resolution, as well as more typical legal services such as contract drafting for employment and intellectual property matters, and advocacy before administrative tribunals.

Lawyer Hilary Findlay and I started the company because we perceived that the sport community needed greater access to legal information and in these early years, our focus was educational programs and services. From 1993 to 2000, we published a best-selling series of ten reader-friendly handbooks on topics ranging from waivers to bylaws, and over this time traveled to every part of the country delivering hundreds of presentations on legal issues. Hilary and I also pen a quarterly column in the national magazine Coaches Report, now in its 13th year. Through the 1990s we became nationally recognized for being able to deliver practical legal information in formats, both written and oral, that sport audiences could readily understand and apply.

In the mid 1996 we relocated the Centre to Ottawa, where our work expanded into dispute resolution. Starting at this time we assumed a coordinating role in Canada’s national anti-doping program, managing all appeals and reinstatement applications on behalf of the parties involved in doping disputes (athletes, sport governing bodies, Sport Canada and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport). From 1996 to 2003, we also operated the ADR Program for Amateur Sport, a voluntary arbitration mechanism for the sport community, which served as precursor to the present day Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.

People often ask if the Centre for Sport and Law is a law firm. While we have capability to provide standard legal services like any law firm, we have found that such a format is not well-suited to our clientele. Sport governing bodies seldom need traditional legal services, but they have ample need for legal and quasi-legal analysis and problem-solving. The term ‘legal consulting’ might be a better description of what we do to meet our sport clients’ business needs.

With a few exceptions, client organizations come to the Centre for Sport and Law without a clear idea of what they want or need. All they know is that they have a problem. Our job at the Centre is usually to help them better define and understand the problem, and then explore ways to solve it. It is not uncommon for us to also oversee the implementation of solutions – with the result that the Centre builds lasting relationships with clients. Some organizations have been using a broad range of our services for well over a decade.

Dispute resolution represents about half of the Centre’s work today. We conduct investigations, assist clients in dealing with disputes by coordinating internal appeal mechanisms, on occasion help sport bodies in negotiation and mediation efforts, and represent sport governing bodies in arbitrations and other tribunal proceedings. The months leading up to major international games or important world championships have always been busy times for the Centre for Sport and Law – last summer, before Athens, we acted on behalf of sport federations in eleven disputes relating to selection to the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams.

The Centre for Sport and Law has also done consulting work on the international scene, most often in Commonwealth countries that share Canada’s legal framework as well as amateur sport structure. Historically, Canada has been a global leader in anti-doping efforts and in promoting independent arbitration of sport disputes, and the Centre’s expertise in these two areas has created opportunities to contribute to international dialogue. As well, through her teaching and scholarship at Brock University where she is an Associate Professor of Sport Management, Hilary is rapidly gaining an international reputation as an expert on sport-specific dispute resolution systems in sport.

Today, the Centre consists of myself as Managing Director and Hilary Findlay (partner), both in St. Catharines, Steve Indig (partner) in Toronto and David Lech (Associate) in Ottawa. The three lawyers all bring to the Centre solid backgrounds in amateur sport: Hilary as a former varsity field hockey coach; Steve as a former nationally ranked swimmer, masters swim coach and basketball referee; and David as an elite alpine ski racer and former national level coach who has remained active in whitewater paddling and X-country skiing. My own personal connection to sport is through my daughter, current national high school champion (single sculls) and candidate for the 2005 U19 Junior National Rowing Team.

There is no shortage of the specialized consulting work that the Centre does, and over our 15-year life there has not been much direct competition either. The work we do requires creativity, planning and problem-solving skills, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the sport system and sport issues. Some of what we do is straightforward legal work, but quite a lot isn’t. Readers should also know that amateur sport is not a field of endeavour that makes anybody rich. But it is very satisfying for sport-minded people like ourselves to be able to work in the sport sector exclusively, and to see our contributions making an appreciable difference.

Originally published: The Lawyers Weekly, May 27, 2005

 

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