The strong arm of the Rugby law: 2015 World Cup legal partner Clifford Chance has long been part of the rugby family

John Inverdale
Marland Yarde coaching at the launch of the Clifford Chance Rugby Academy
Would you like to watch this year’s Rugby World Cup through the eyes of Dan Carter or Sam Warburton? Effectively play the game with them. As them. In them. Feel what it’s like to react in that nano-second that takes them away from a defender or straight into the arms of a gigantic monster.
Well that day is almost with us. The day when individual player cameras are available for all of us to watch on our phones, watches, or on that screen that’s surgically embedded in our forearms (only a matter of time.) And riding in tandem are all sorts of legal issues that surround this impending televisual development. Who owns those pictures? The broadcast rights holder? The game? The club? The player?
A long time ago that would have been the $64,000 question. Now you can add half a dozen noughts to that... And there’s more.
The next frontier of live broadcasting is individuals streaming events that they have absolutely no right to do, in direct breach of all exclusivity rules, through such platforms as Periscope.
It’s one big legal minefield. Who you gonna call? Clifford Chance.
The official legal partner and law firm of choice of Rugby World Cup, they’ve had a history of involvement in major sporting events going back to the FIFA World Cup in 1998, and once the competition is under way this autumn, they’ll be on the prowl for anyone who contravenes anti-piracy legislation and protecting Rugby World Cup’s revenue streams.
If you were thinking of taking a wheelbarrow round Twickenham on match day selling dodgy replica t-shirts, be warned. The long arm of Clifford Chance will be escorting you from the premises.
Daniel Sandelson, a partner in the company, sees involvement in major sporting events as the “fun” bit of the job, “because let’s face it, life in the City is pretty serious.”
Clifford Chance is already advising on the next Rugby World Cup in Japan, and hopes to be in the bidding arrangements for 2023 and 2027. “Irrespective of the rugby issues, we’re dealing with all sorts of municipalities, companies, individuals and governments, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that whoever wins the bid is in a position to deliver on their promises.”
For the moment though, it’s about maximising the company’s involvement in this year’s hottest ticket. The firm is staging a series of client, staff and community events, with the likes of world cup winning captain Francois Pienaar and coach Sherylle Calder as hosts. There are rugby themed competitions taking place in the firm and with local schools, and the Clifford Chance Rugby Academy is underway in Tower Hamlets, with ten different schools involved and England international Marland Yarde as the ambassador.
“We’ve been part of the rugby family for a long time, going back to acting for one of the sport’s main charities, Wooden Spoon, more than 20 years ago,” says Sandelson. “The World Cup in South Africa in 1995 changed so many things as far as this sport is concerned, and it created real impetus for us in our link with the International Rugby Board. All companies want to be associated with growth stories, and rugby union is undeniably that at the moment.”
Once the World Cup is underway, Sandelson and his team will hand over matters to the firm’s litigators, whose responsibilities include serving injunctions, dealing with trading standards, and the legal practicalities of a major event. “By that time,” he says “I’ll be hoping I can sit back and enjoy the matches.”
And once it’s all over, the sporting carousel will keep turning. But in the foreseeable future, it’s a pretty safe bet, whether Clifford Chance has brokered the legal minutiae or not, that player cameras will be everywhere, making organisations or individuals rich beyond imagination.
“But come on,” says Sandelson. “Just imagine being at the heart of a player’s camera as some giant New Zealand forward is barrelling towards them. How exciting would that be?”