In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Sports Law

  • Introduction
  • General and Diverse Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Sports Global Governance
  • Peace-Building and Development through Sport
  • The Fight against Doping
  • The Fight against Violence
  • Settlement of International Sporting Disputes

International Law International Sports Law
Carmen Pérez González
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0073


This article explores the relationship between international law and sport activity. The existence of an international sports system operating as a self-regulating private legal order serves as the starting point for the analysis. The central role played in this framework by international nongovernmental organizations, namely the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and international sports federations is unquestionable. International sports federations are the bodies in charge of the organization of sports activities at the international level. From a legal perspective, they are private associations created in accordance with private domestic law whose members are national sporting associations that have been admitted into membership. They organize and coordinate their own international competitions and, in that sense, their activities have transnational scope, and they can be considered international actors. These organizations claim for “sport specificity” as a way to preserve regulatory autonomy and maintain in force private sporting rules, their own Lex Sportiva, even when they are in breach of essential principles of public law typically enshrined in international law. The emergence of private mechanisms of settling sports disputes through national and international sports arbitration tribunals––being the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) the supreme instance of this system––seeks to avoid the intervention of national courts. For a long time, the sports governing system has been conceived as a self-contained regime where public law and state authorities did not have a clear role to play. But in the last few years, sports governing bodies have been challenged by strong demands from public authorities to increase their levels of legal scrutiny, democracy, transparency, and respect for fundamental rights. This work defends the application of the fundamental principles of public law to sports activities. And due to the globalization of sports activities, this analysis maintains that the role to be played by public international law is one of the key elements of this process. Additionally, sport can accomplish some of the traditional functions of international law: promoting development and peace or fostering gender equality through sport are typical examples in this regard. International sports law (ISL) can be defined as the set of principles, rules, and processes that guarantee those goals. This article tries to show its key elements and explore the developments in the various substantive areas.

General and Diverse Overviews

The following entries provide a broad introduction to different key aspects related to the regulation of sports activities. All these perspectives are useful to better understand the importance of sports in contemporary societies. Hendrickx 2004 refers to economic, social, commercial, cultural, and political aspects of sports activities and Andreff and Szymanski 2009 focuses on its economic trends. Pérez Triviño 2013 addresses the ethical debates around the regulation of sports. Asser International Sports Law Centre provides for useful information regarding relevant case-law, publications, and educational and research activities on sports law. Taylor 2006 analyzes cultural, social, and political implications of international migration of football players. Latty 2009 explores the relationship between the Lex Olympica (the rules produced and applied within the Olympic movement) and international law. Foster 2003 and Nafziger 2006 are introductory works on the concept of ISL.

  • Andreff, Wladimir, and Stefan Szymanski, eds. Handbook on the Economics of Sport. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2009.

    This comprehensive collection of essays is divided into seven parts devoted to diverse questions of sport in the economy (Part 1), demand for sport (Part 2), a cost-benefit analysis for sport (Part 3), sporting governance and the state (Part 4), individualistic sports (Part 5), team sports (Part 6) and the dysfunctions in sport (Part 7).

  • Asser International Sports Law Centre.

    This is the website of an internationally recognized research center in the area of International and European sports law. The website offers information and analysis on recent case-law and publications. Besides that, the center regularly organizes a wide range of educational activities (conferences, lectures, round table sessions, seminars, and public hearings) for those interested in studying sports law questions in depth.

  • Foster, Ken. “Is There a Global Sports Law?” Entertainment Law 2 (2003): 1–18.

    This article introduces some of the most complex questions related to the role of law in the regulation of the activity of international sports federations. The author proposes a distinction between “international” and “global” sports law. He defines “international sports law” as “the principles of international law applicable to sport” and global sports law “as a transnational autonomous legal order created by private global sport institutions that govern international sports” (p. 2).

  • Hendrickx, Frank, ed. International Encyclopedia of Sports Law. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2004.

    This is a comprehensive work on economic, social, commercial, cultural, and political aspects of sports activities. It includes a documentary section providing for key international legal information and a monographs section dealing with public and private regulation of sports in the following countries: Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, India, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

  • Latty, Franck. “Les Jeux Olympiques et le Droit international.” Annuaire Français de Relations Internationales 10 (2009): 945–964.

    This contribution looks over the role played by international law in the regulation of the Olympic Games. At the beginning this relationship was nonexistent, due to the monopolistic power exercised by the IOC. The article shows how international law has gained an increasing importance in ruling critical aspects of the organizations of the Games.

  • Nafziger, James A. R. “The Future of International Sports Law.” Willamette Law Review 42 (2006): 861–876.

    Deals with the consequences of the globalization of sports competition and goes over ten selected future developments in ISL that show the growing expansion of this sector of international law and its institutions.

  • Pérez Triviño, José Luis. The Challenges of Modern Sport to Ethics; From Doping to Cyborgs. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2013.

    This recent translation of the original Spanish version focuses on the philosophical dimension of some major ethical questions surrounding sports activities. Thus, the author offers a reflection on “the main ethic-related topics that are found in sport” (p. 2): doping, sexual discrimination, violence, politics, nationalism, and the possibility of creating transgenic athletes.

  • Taylor, Matthew. “Global Players? Football, Migration and Globalization, c. 1930–2000.” Historical Social Research 31 (2006): 7–30.

    This article explores the implications of the phenomenon of international migration of football players for national identity, citizenship, and the regulation of the freedom of labor. Going beyond the economic dimension of the topic, the author tries to show the historical, social, and cultural roots of the movement of footballers across borders.

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