Raghavendra Patnaik: As a sports lawyer the first challenge is to justify your existence

Raghvendra Patnaik, an NLSIU passout is presently the managing director at FairPlay Management Private Limited. Before this he co-founded CornerStone Sport and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. and prior to that he was the legal advisor at the Mahesh Bhupati run Globosport.

If you think this is too much sports for a lawyer, think again. Patnaik’s tryst with sports law began in the 5th year of his law school. Today it has grown into a long standing relationship and yes, of course, a full fledged career. Aspiring sports lawyers will surely enjoy his ‘straight from the heart’ responses to our questionnaire. Here you go:

1.    How and why did you choose Sports Law as a career?

I was actually quite intent on pursuing a career at the Bar as litigation was really exciting to me.  A series of fascinating accidents that happened in my 5th year at Law School steered the ship towards Sports Law.

I was looking to set up a reciprocal program between the National Law School of India University, Bangalore and the adjoining Sports Authority of India (SAI). They would give NLSIU access to their sports facilities and NLSIU would conduct training sessions in Sports Law for their personnel.

I had vaguely heard and read about Sports Law at that time, though I was decidedly confident that Law School would have enough resources to put such a program forward.

As it turned out, the library did not even have a section for Sports Law or for that matter a single book on the subject. Eager to keep the promise to SAI, I began teaching myself all about Sports Law from web-based materials and by corresponding with leading professors on the subject in the United States, UK and Australia.

By the time I had prepared a half-decent module to give to SAI, I was hooked and I knew this is what I wanted to do as my day job!

2.    What all things should an ideal “sports law” candidate be interested in?

If one has an interest in sport, not just in terms of participation, but also in terms of wanting to understanding the framework of administration and governance, and is keen to make a career out of it, then Sports Law can be immensely rewarding and fascinating.

For instance, one could be interested in the NBA Basketball action but not really in knowing how teams finance themselves, how the Draft for player selection works and how these teams are managed.

It is only if one has an instinctive curiosity for the allied ingredients of competitive sport, aside from the obvious allure for the game itself, would I suggest one look at Sports Law as a potential career option.

3.    What skills does a good sports lawyer need to have? Can these skills be developed in any way?

The usual skill sets involved in ordinary commercial lawyering – drafting, communication, negotiation skills etc are certainly necessary.

However, a Sports Lawyer’s clients, especially the athletes, almost always have either a very sketchy idea or no idea at all, about the legal regime they are governed by in their transactions. Thus, there is an exaggerated fiduciary duty to deal your clients a fair hand combined with the need for infinite patience, to explain why things work in a certain way.

An appetite for research with an eye on global trends is crucial. The Sports Law space in India is still nascent and a lot of what we implement are just global best practices from varied sources.

An interest in business and management is indispensable. Sports lawyers, especially in India will invariably be required to moonlight or completely cross over to being Sports Managers over time.

4.    What are the pros and cons of Sports Law as a career?

The Pros are fairly simple. If you like sport and you like the law, this is a nice jugalbandi (duet). Your worldview on how sport works is vastly different.

At times you will have the opportunity to work on really relevant issues – access to sport, support for non-mainstream disciplines, high profile sporting transactions etc.

You work with the world’s leading athletes, teams, clubs, organisations and the exposure is phenomenal. Traveling to exotic locations and watching some of the best sporting action ring-side, is among the perks of the job.

The cons at the moment are linked to the lack of recognition for sports law or indeed a need for serious focus on sports law in India.

The IPL fiasco, the CWG catastrophe, the Hockey harakiri, the Weighlifting Shame, the IOA-Sports Ministry stand-off etc., are all different screenplays on the same script – Indian sport lacks a vibrant and dynamic regulatory framework and good governance.

In other words, it lacks a fundamental grounding in good Sports Law. This is something I wrote on my very first Blog (www.notesonsports.com) and it holds even truer today.

So as a sports lawyer, your first challenge is to justify your existence!

5.    How is a ‘day in the life’ of a sports lawyer spent?

As I mentioned earlier, if you have been around as a sports lawyer long enough, you also tend to emerge as a Sports Manager and the line between the two rapidly blurs.

So a day in the life of a sports lawyer is somewhat like this; It begins with a quick scan of the papers – (always sports pages first!) to see if your clients have come across well in the media, or a deal you worked on has reached the public eye.

At work there are contracts with athletes, teams, corporate houses and agencies to draft, review and rework.  Most days will have more than one meeting and a whole lot of business networking.

Evenings may be spent with your clients or your team where the dominant subject of course is sport. Millions of people love talking about sports, a few eke out a living from it!

6.    What are the main areas of law, a sports lawyer has to regularly deal with?

Predominantly contract law. But areas such as Intellectual Property, competitions law, media law, sport specific codes and regulations, anti-doping issues, labour law and taxation also surface frequently.

However, much like a litigating lawyer, a Sports Lawyer could suddenly be tasked with an absolutely off-beat legal problem – migration and citizenship for instance, and one has to be prepared for such surprises.

7.    Can a student of the 5 year integrated course think of specializing in Sports Law? If yes, what will be the best way forward for him/her?

Specialising in Sports Law would require a student to take the basic law courses (Tort & Contract) very seriously. Nothing helps like having sound first principles.

If one is certain about a career in sports law – a conscious choice of research project topics in subjects like labour law, tax law and intellectual property law among others could create synergies towards developing specialised sports law acumen.

Towards the final years when elective courses kick in – choosing Competition law or related subjects on offer would be advisable.

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Comments Till Now

  1. Arjun Patel says:

    You are an inspiration sir!

  2. Hemant Thadhani says:

    just like NUJS, even the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar offers Sports Law as an optional subject in the 9th semester.
    And I must say the subject was really interesting.

  3. Nice interview!

  4. A very thought provoking and interesting interview. Good work!

  5. Ritank Pandey says:

    @Harjass: did you get any sort of remuneration?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Singh is king 😛

  7. Harjass Singh says:

    @ Deep: I happened to intern at Copyright Integrity International, the organisation Prateek has spoken about. It mainly deals with protecting the IP Rights of Cricket’s various regional governing bodies and the ICC,over the internet. This would mean that you could gain an insight into what goes on behind the scenes to prevent illegal streaming of cricket matches. I was interested in it as I really want to experience in all the varied fields related to sport. However, if you are solely interested in the Sports Law/ Sports Management side of affairs, you should try getting in touch with CII’s sister body called GoSports for an internship … they deal with management of upcoming, young sports-persons.

  8. Prateek Bhandari says:

    just for information- at NUJS there is a seminar (optional) course offered on Sports Law to 3rd, 4th and 5th years.

  9. Prateek Bhandari says:

    one of my friends has done an internship at Copyright Integrity International, Bangalore. One of the wings of this organisation deals with IPR and Sports (http://copyrightintegrity.com/sportsrights.html).

    will add more posts for internships related to sports law. keep checking Lawctopus!

  10. What about internships related to sports law?

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