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Sometimes the Biggest Competition Isn’t the Other Athlete, It’s the Rulebook

The Moorhead Law Group, LLC recently represented two Olympic-level athletes in separate sports law cases. One case involved a doping matter, and the other involved a violation of the national governing body’s rules. In each case, the fact pattern was typical of a sports law case: the sport has certain rules, the athlete was alleged to have broken a rule, and a hearing was held to determine what to do about it.

The noteworthy thing about these two cases is that neither athlete was attempting to cheat or gain any type of competitive advantage as part of the alleged rule infraction. It appeared that they simply did not follow the rules because they allegedly did not give enough importance to the need to follow the rules. And failing to heed the rules and administrative aspects of the sport is what tripped them up.

In the first case, the athlete was alleged to have acted in violation of the rules of the national governing body of the sport. The actions had nothing to do with the sport but were general ‘code of conduct’ issues arising from circumstances far from the race track.

In the second case, the athlete tested positive for a banned substance. The athlete was taking the medicine per a doctor’s prescription, but she apparently did not plan enough time to go through the administrative process for obtaining an exemption to use the medicine. If the athlete had planned better in advance, the Theraputic Use Exemption (TUE) easily could have been granted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Instead, the athlete did not get the exemption in time for the first race of the season.

Both cases demonstrate something pretty basic: athletes are really good at focus, dedication, and sacrifice for their sport. The more of each, the better the results in the race. However, the reality is that sport is a combination of two things: the sport, plus the rules that make-up the sport. Just as an athlete has to plan and master the athletic endeavor, the athlete must also be an expert at the rules and administrative process of the sport. A better competitor might prevent an athlete from winning a race, but failing to understand the administrative requirements of the sport could prevent an athlete from entering into the race at all.

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