Ben Moorhead at Moorhead James
The Alliance spoke with Ben Moorhead at Moorhead James to find out a little bit about him and his views on the legal issues facing the sports sector.
Find out how he became involved in sports law, what type of work he does and where he feels sports lawyers can add the most value to the sector.
What firm do you work for?
Moorhead James LLP.
What is your role in the firm?
I am one of the corporate and commercial partners. I am also the senior partner of the firm.
How did you become interested and then involved in sports law?
I have always been interested in and played (very badly) a number of sports, so when the opportunity to act in the sport and leisure sector arose I grasped it with both hands.
In the early 80’s, I was lucky enough to be involved in the start-up of a private London gym which then became one of the leading gym chains in Europe.
Then in around 1988 I was given the chance to act in a general counsel role for the Sports Council which was a fantastic opportunity and one which helped shape my legal career from then on.
I realised that people involved in the sports sector made extremely pleasant clients and generally did not over-complicate matters wanting simply to get from A to B as easily and economically as possible.
Around this time I met a large number of people involved in sport including many working in sports administration, governing bodies, on the regulatory side particularly doping control, sports medicine, coaching and sports charities and trusts. I was lucky that some of these became clients.
What type of clients do you work for?
Over the years I have acted for a very wide range of sporting clients. These include lottery fund distributors, governing bodies, sport and leisure clubs, sports trusts and charities including sports disability and professional sports people.
I was also fortunate to be able to act on the very first internet lottery – the Premiership Lotter-e which was the first lottery of its type to be approved by the (then) Gaming Board.
On a personal level, I am also very involved with youth, disability and educational charities that promote sport and one of the county cricket clubs.
What type of work do you help them with?
Because my work covers everything from constitutional to commercial, contract advice and other areas, my remit is very wide.
Typically I will be involved in drafting or amending constitutions and giving advice on corporate governance as needed. Most organisations need this type of input from time-to-time.
I also help with drafting and amending commercial agreements including sponsorship deals, merchandising, joint ventures, agency agreements, etc.
Over the years I have done a considerable amount of work in drafting grant/funding offers and terms and conditions including dealing with disputes if they arise.
I enjoy acting for the not-for-profit and charity/trust sector which presents its own issues but also shares a number of features with any typical corporate structure.
We get involved with forming charities, helping in their administration and in dealing with day-to-day issues that arise including fundraising agreements, work involving volunteers and employment law.
Over the last few months what do you think have been the biggest legal challenges facing the sector?
There are a number of very topical areas that have arisen pre and post the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
One with which we have been involved in is selection criteria and how to deal with any fallout should these be challenged. Governing bodies may need to re-visit and test the robustness of their procedures.
Also, there is the whole question of funding of athletes who, for whatever reason, have not made the grade and find themselves having their funding withdrawn.
This has the potential not only to achieve avid press readership but also, depending on the criteria applied, to give rise to legal disputes.
The doping allegations in cycling have been a sharp reminder that doping control remains at the forefront of the battle to clean up sport.
Often doping regulation has to play catch-up to deal with new doping methods: sport regulators, in particular WADA, have to decide how best to deal with offences.
Likewise, in the field of match-fixing, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and cricket generally have made great strides to address the problem but people with criminal intent will always seek novel ways of circumventing the rules and, if necessary, the law.
Where do you feel lawyers could add the most value to the sports sector?
Lawyers can help to create an environment in which the sports sector benefits both commercially and in terms of governance.
If the constitutional aspects are all well prepared with good corporate governance overlaid then funders, institutions, sponsors and banks will be more inclined to support their initiatives, since they will feel that everything is being handled in a professional manner.
On an individual basis, commercial lawyers can add a great deal of value if they are involved at an early stage of the negotiations and certainly at all stages in the drafting of agreements.
Whilst a lay client may have a very good grasp of the operative provisions of an agreement; because they are not trained lawyers, they cannot always “see around the corners” or understand the implications of certain clauses or words.
What is your biggest success in your current role?
I believe that achievement as a lawyer is not always measured by personal success but by knowing that you have done your utmost for a client. Sometimes, from a hopeless situation one can salvage partial success when the client felt this was not achievable.
Historically, the work I did which has had the most impact going forward was the division of assets and the legal work to create UK Sport and Sport England and their individual Royal Charters.
Most recently, I had great satisfaction in assisting a sports club to obtain charitable status – with all the benefits that this entails – when a number of obstacles had arisen during the process.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
If you had asked me where I would like to be in four years’ time I would say Rio! In five years’ time the sports industry and governing bodies in particular will have moved forward in terms of their reach, governance and hopefully financial stability.
I would hope that I would have played a small part in helping them achieve those goals.
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