In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rugby Law and the Heineken Cup

Anyone who's dived can tell you that shoals are a very effective defence. They work because a load of individual fish band together in a huge collective, swirling around, so anything targeting them doesn't know where to even start and just gives up in confusion.

Much like approaching how law and rugby interact in Europe at the moment.

Just to give a hint of the issues raised by the Heineken Cup mess at the moment, we have:

Company Law - duties of directors. Peter Wheeler of Leicester is a director of ERC Limited, the company running the Heineken Cup. He's also a director of PRL Limited, the company who are now, if we are to take their policies and statements at face value, not just trying to remove ERC's main asset but shut ERC down. Can one square a fiduciary duty as director to both?

Choice of Laws - the HEC Participation Agreement runs (or certainly ran) under Irish law. Disputes between Unions and the IRB run under English Law in the English Courts, under IRB Bye-Law 11, as a binding contract under IRB Bye-Law 7. The Unions undertake to bind all their members to the same agreement under Bye Law 7. So, if it comes to litigation about the IRB regulations under an Irish law contract involving the interpretation of those regulations under English Law, where is it heard?

Contract Law - far, far too much of this; interpretation of contract, interpretation of rules under those contract like the IRB Regulations restricting sale of broadcasting rights (Regulation 13.2, and 13.3), and cross-border tournaments (Regulation 16.2.7), get-out clauses, exemptions, and so many more. And the Contract (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999 floating in the background, a piece of UK legislation allowing those not party to a contract to have it enforced that could cause all sorts of fun and games if things fall out right.

Tort - possibly interference with business relations, and inducement to break a contract (and one can be assured there are many more such of which we have heard nothing).

EU Law - Competition law, obviously, such as in the London Welsh decision. And enforcement of judgements, and the possibility of injunctions being enforced in other EU states.

And Sports Law itself, with the question of review by the Courts of the decisions of sporting governing bodies.

And all this just a flavour. Never before have the contents of the IRB Handbook been of such interest to so many.

Because the fate of Northern Hemisphere rugby may well be decided by Sports Law. It has become a huge element in other sports; now rugby is facing up to it. Whatever happens, the days of muddling through are drawing to an end.

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