Handling a sports career is like running a small company, which an athlete must learn to manage either alone or with the help of an entourage.

With such a high-level career to take care of, being informed of the law and rules that apply to your work and understanding the contracts you might sign (e.g. with agents or sponsors) is crucial for an athlete. While your entourage will frequently offer good advice, it is often useful to seek out specialists for these complex matters. But be careful; it is you who is responsible for your career, so it’s important that you know who to trust and are aware of certain basic principles.

Here’s some advice so that you know a little more on the legal and financial issues you could face as an athlete…

Did you know?

… that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) allows for the resolution of sport-related disputes through arbitration or mediation?

  • The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is an international independent institution based in Lausanne. This arbitration court is made up of an Ordinary Arbitration Division and an Appeals Arbitration Division (if a party contests a decision). This court aims to settle any dispute related to sport. Compared to state courts or other arbitration institutions, the CAS has many advantages, such as confidentiality and flexibility in the procedure, the specialisation of its judges, choice of language, speed and limited costs. If you have a dispute with your International Federation, in principle it is the CAS that is responsible for resolving the conflict.

… there is a sort of pyramid for the organisation of sport in terms of rules?

  • Every athlete, when he/she becomes a member of a club or national federation, accepts to respect a set of rules. He/she commits in particular to respecting the rules of his/her club, and the rules of his/her national federation and International Federation. The International Federation sits at the top of the pyramid, so holds the most power over the other entities. If it takes a decision, this affects all the lower ‘levels’ of the pyramid (e.g. national federation, club, athlete). If an athlete does not agree with an International Federation’s decision, he/she can appeal to the CAS.

… there are several types of contract?

  • As an athlete, you must be well aware of the different contracts offered to you, whether by an agent, sponsor, federation, club or any other co-signatory. A contract is an agreement between two or more parties and sets out rights and obligations for each of them. Contracts are not always subject to formal requirements and don’t always have to be signed to be valid. So, in certain cases, a simple confirmation of your agreement with a proposal by email may already be recognised as a valid commitment on your part. Always take the time to read a contract before signing it. You are not obliged to sign anything right away.

… there are some specific features of employment contracts in sport?

  • When a professional athlete concludes a contract with a club, this contract is often an employment contract, which sets out the provision of a service (the sports performance) in exchange for remuneration. There are many differences depending on country and situation. If you have any doubts, before signing a contract, get your entourage, a lawyer or a legal expert to read it. In general, these contracts stipulate many elements, such as the contracting parties, the duration, living conditions (accommodation, holidays, insurance, etc.), the services to be provided, remuneration, each party’s responsibilities or links with possible other contracts.

… there is no standard contract for sponsorship?

  • There is no standard contract, or even a set of predefined conditions, so you must be very vigilant when concluding an oral or written contract with a sponsor. Check that the company fits in with your values, and that what it requires of you (appearances, image rights, obligation to post on social media) is reasonable. Before signing, also check that the partnership does not cause any issues in relation to your club’s or federation’s sponsors.

… that tax on earnings differs depending on your country of origin and the type of performance?

  • The amount of tax owed by an athlete depends on a multitude of circumstances, including place of residence, the location the remuneration was received (salary, prize money, bonuses, etc.) or where the competition was held. Depending on your situation, it’s often a good idea to get help from people or companies (e.g. tax advisers) who deal with these issues every day and know how to assist you to manage your tax situation in the best possible way.

… that an athlete alone is responsible for the substances that enter his/her body?

  • From a legal point of view, only the athlete is responsible for what he/she ingests such as food, drinks, medication or any other substance. It is therefore not possible to say: “It wasn’t my fault – it was my coach’s fault/my doctor’s fault/the food on my plate” without risking a sanction. The usual sanction for violating the anti-doping rules is four years’ suspension if the act is committed intentionally. If it is proved that the substance has been ingested through negligence, the sanction ranges from several months to two years. Be careful, as in certain countries, such as Italy, doping is considered a criminal offence punishable by law.

… that Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter forbids you from advertising your image during the Olympic Games and YOG?

  • It is important to note that you must not allow anyone to use your person, name, image or performance for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games or YOG. Sanctions could be issued if this rule is not respected. If you have any doubts, contact your National Olympic Committee (NOC), which will be able to advise you.

… that Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter forbids the presence of brands in Olympic venues?

  • No form of advertising or other publicity will be allowed in the stadiums, venues and other competition grounds that are considered as Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs are not allowed in the stadiums, venues or other sports grounds. Equipment manufacturers’ marks are tolerated, but on condition that the logo respects the maximum size defined by the IOC. You will therefore not be able to wear your personal sponsor on your clothing. For further information, contact your NOC.

You will very quickly be faced with these complex legal issues in your career, so please be very vigilant. Surround yourself with trustworthy, experienced people and even seek the advice of a lawyer or legal expert. You can sometimes find one among your network.

For your finances, always think about drawing up a budget. This means estimating the costs you will have (e.g. purchasing equipment, travel costs, doctors’ fees), and the income you will have (e.g. it might come from sponsorship, funding from your club, or sometimes a salary). This will help you to see if you have to find more money to finance your season or make certain choices (not to take part in a training camp or competition, or delay upgrading some equipment) to avoid going into the red.

At the end of your season you can then draw up a detailed statement in which you note everything you have spent and the income you have received. This allows you to see where you are with your personal expenses and helps to establish a budget for the following year.

If you want to find out more about the Court of Arbitration for Sport

Download an example of budget.