Although an array of sports is practised and followed in the various countries in the region (taking in everything from polo and horse-riding in countries such as Argentina and Chile, to cycling in Colombia or baseball in places such as Cuba and Puerto Rico), there can be no denying that the most popular sport in Latin America is soccer.
The global economic context has traditionally meant that Latin America has been a net exporter of sportspeople (and soccer players in particular), despite the fact that it has highly prestigious domestic competitions of its own. Nonetheless, the individual financial expectations of players, coupled with the economic clout of certain leagues in Europe and the US, has led to an exodus of big-name Latin American sports stars towards these other leagues.
The increasingly tender age at which such movements have taken place, as well as the various sophisticated ways of capitalising on the sport business in its various forms, have given rise to a complex web of legal relationships, calling for solutions and coverage from a legal standpoint.
Thus, issues such as the signing of minors, the exploitation of player registrations, the involvement of agents in signing players or the assignment of image rights when teams sign a new player have been a common source of legal disputes, some of which have found solutions in the positive law of various countries, while many others have had to be settled on a contractual basis.
The situation as it currently stands offers a glimpse of a future in which legal trends in the sports industry in the Latin American community will in all likelihood head towards (i) increasingly specific legislation of certain contractual dealings and legal concepts with a bearing on various areas of the industry, and (ii) greater legislative harmonisation among the various states in the treatment of certain issues. With this in mind, industry-specific expertise in sports law is (and will continue to be) pivotal when it comes to ensuring that the various agents operating in this field can make their decisions with all the necessary guarantees.
Moreover, alongside this new scenario, the global economic backdrop will enable and demand that Latin America face new challenges in the world of sports, with a host of implications for the legal community and, more often than not, calling for sweeping changes and legislative amendments.
It escaped no one’s notice that the IOC, at its 121st Session held in Copenhagen in October 2009, plumped for a South American city (Rio de Janeiro) to host the Olympic Games for the very first time in the continent’s history.
As a consequence of that, certain multinationals, have targeted their expansion plans on Latin America and have seen sport as the ideal stage on which to showcase their brands and products in local markets.
Thus, it has become increasingly common to see foreign companies with interests in the region vying to sponsor the flagship competitions and events staged on a local and/or continental basis in Latin America.
As well as an organisational undertaking of the first order, staging events of the scale of the one mentioned above calls for the setting in place of a stable, reliable legal framework offering the guarantees generally demanded by the institutions holding the rights over such events.
Similarly, attracting the private backers that enable events or competitions to be financed or co-financed may call for the adoption of a battery of tax and legal measures aimed at giving assurance to sponsors and making sponsorship an attractive proposition.
With this in mind, certain legal issues look set to take on increasing prominence in light of the context described above. Thus, (i) safeguarding intellectual and industrial property rights (trademarks, logos, emblems, etc), (ii) protecting the rights of event sponsors and, in particular, combatting ambush marketing, piracy and other forms of unfair competition, (iii) protecting health in sport and fighting doping across the board, (iv) the proper regulation of gambling and sports betting, and (v) the taxation not only of royalties and fees for the assignment of rights, but also of resident and non-resident individuals on the income from their activities, are going to be issues of the utmost relevance that will therefore require special attention.
On the other hand, the legal classification of the relationship that binds sportsmen and women to the teams that hire them and to tournament and competition organisers, the role played by athletic associations in the defence of athletes’ interests, as well as the various dispute resolution mechanisms in the world of sport, where arbitration has a particularly key role to play, are all issues that have come to the fore, sparking industry-wide debate.
This section seeks to offer an overview of the key issues of a tax and legal nature that, taken as a whole, impact on the sports industry, with a view not only to offering a better insight into the legal backdrop to the industry, but also to enabling the various agents and investors operating in the sector to have an all-encompassing global vision from the outset.