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    The Athlete Advancement Series

In August 2022, we welcomed elite female athletes to our London office for the second session of the Athlete Advancement Series.

The series is an initiative designed by the Women’s Sports Alliance and sport and digital agency Halfspace to equip sportswomen with commercially focussed knowledge and tools to apply to their careers. Our sports lawyers delivered a series of talks on contracts, intellectual property, and employment and sex discrimination.

Partner Jody MacDonald and Associate Ilona Bateson kicked off the talks with a session on commercial contracts, providing key tips and practical advice for the athletes to consider when faced with agreements of different kinds in their career. The session covered key principles, such as understanding who you are contracting with, your liabilities under the contract and the importance of getting termination right. Contract formation was also a feature, and the team outlined some common pitfalls such as the inadvertent creation of oral contracts and acceptance by conduct. Finally, Jody and Ilona took the group through some technical legal terms that often crop up during negotiations and are sometimes (understandably) misunderstood by non-lawyers.  

Following a refreshment break, Partner Nick White and Senior Associate Olivia Gray delivered a talk on IP and Brand Management, an area that plays a significant role in shaping the identity of teams and organisations; and in allowing sportspeople to protect and commercially benefit from their image and individual brand. Our speakers considered cases such as Edmund Irvine v TalkRadio, wherein the Formula One star filed against TalkRadio for using a picture of him without his permission that suggested his endorsement, as well as Solid Oak Sketches v Take-Two Software, whereby Solid Oak filed for copyright infringement over Take-Two Software’s depiction of tattoo designs on three basketball players in its NBA 2K videogames, in order to encourage the attending athletes to consider the unique value of their personal brand and potential issues of exploitation.

After an appropriately nutritious lunch, Senior Associate Emily Chalkley delivered a talk on employment and sex discrimination in sport. This session provided the athletes with further information on employment rights through defining the key terms of the Equality Act 2010 and discussing pregnancy and maternity considerations, and maternity leave options. Emily was joined by guest speaker Alexandra Newman, standards manager and ex integrity manager of UK Sport for a Q&A session. The session centred around the UK Sport Pregnancy Guidance for National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and Athletes (released in November 2021), which Alexandra co-authored after identifying a correlation between the lack of guidance around pregnancy for female athletes, and the limited number of athletes falling pregnant. Seeking to make a change on an international level, Alexandra worked closely alongside a pregnant GB athlete to challenge the “taboo” behind this topic, and discussed her plans to create a network of support for pregnant female athletes and to continue to push for change within the industry.

The day was concluded with a talk on life after sport featuring Montell Douglas, the former British record-holder for the 100m sprint and GB’s first female Summer and Winter Olympian. Also in attendance was former Australian Olympian footballer Alicia Ferguson, who represented the Australian women’s national soccer team at the 1999 and 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Emma Groome from the English Institute of Sport provided another perspective as a Performance Lifestyle adviser specialising in dual career management, which aims to help the nation’s high-performance athletes balance commitments and develop skills to effectively manage them; including sport (training and competition) and non-sport (family, education or employment related). The panel explored the lifestyle changes athletes are faced with post-retirement, discussing both the negative and positive aspects of going into new careers, and illustrated to the audience that there are networks of support to turn to both during and after their careers.

The event was extremely well-received, and our team was delighted to have been involved in helping female athletes recognise their rights and make the most of commercial opportunities. We would like to thank the Women’s Sports Alliance and Halfspace for the opportunity to contribute to such a fantastic initiative.

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