Finance and legal: Become the boss of your project!

Succeeding in your discipline at the highest level does not just require first-rate training. A sports career is very often like a small company that the athlete must learn to manage as best he/she can, alone or with the help of his/her entourage.

Managing a high-level career as an athlete is also about being informed of the law and rules that apply to your work and understanding the contracts that you might sign (e.g. with agents or sponsors). Your entourage will frequently offer good advice, but it is often useful to seek out specialists for these complex matters. But be careful, it is you who is responsible for your career, and because of this it is important that you are aware of certain basic principles. High-level athletes are also sometimes the target of unscrupulous people, and it is therefore important to understand the challenges of a sports career.

Here is some advice so that you know a little more about legal and financial issues.

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. For example, if you have a dispute with your International Federation, in principle it is the CAS that is responsible for resolving the conflict.

… that 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 has the most power over the other entities, which are below it, such as the national federations and clubs, as well as the athletes, as it is at the top of the pyramid. If it takes a decision, this affects all the lower “levels” of the pyramid (national federation, club, athlete). If an athlete does not agree with an International Federation’s decision, he/she can appeal to the CAS.

… that 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.

… that 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, even with a great career opportunity, 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.

… that there is no standard contract for sponsorship?

Indeed, there is no standard contract, or even a set of predefined conditions, which is why 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 would be wise to solicit the help of 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 it 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 as 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?

Indeed, 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. You can obtain further information from your NOC.

As you can see, these legal issues are complex to manage. However, very quickly in your career, you will be faced with these issues. So please be very vigilant. Surround yourself with trustworthy, more experienced people and even seek the advice of a lawyer or legal expert. You can sometimes find one amongst your acquaintances.

For your finances, always think about drawing up a budget. This means that you estimate 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, 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) in order not to go 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. 

Court of Arbitration for Sport

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

Budget example

You will find below an example of a budget.