Sports Law 2021 Comparisons

Last Updated March 31, 2021

Contributed By NORDIA Law

Law and Practice

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NORDIA Law is a Nordic commercial business law firm with offices in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki, regarded as one of the leading law firms on the Swedish market with regard to complex litigation and arbitration matters. NORDIA offers quality legal services within all areas of commercial law to clients in the Nordic region and abroad.

Doping is a criminal offence under the Swedish Doping Act. However, the Act only criminalises certain specific doping substances such as anabolic steroids and growth hormones. Those substances may not be imported, transferred, manufactured, offered for sale, etc. Anyone wilfully breaking the Act may be sentenced to a maximum of six years’ imprisonment.

Sweden adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code in 2004. The Swedish national governing bodies (NGB) regulatory framework (based on the WADA Code) generally apply to all athletes who engage in competitive sports in Sweden.

Doping within sports has previously been monitored within the Swedish Sports Confederation’s internal organisation (the Doping Commission). A separate National Anti-Doping Agency (NADO) has been established as per 1 January 2021. This new entity (Anti-Doping Sweden) has taken over all the responsibilities previously handled by the Doping Commission. 

Anti-Doping Sweden will investigate all positive doping results and decide whether the matter should be reported for disciplinary action to the Doping Panel (the first instance of all doping matters within sports). The Doping Panel’s decision may be appealed to the Supreme Sports Tribunal. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is the ultimate arbitrator for all doping matters.

Sweden adopted a new Gambling Act in 2019, introducing specific criminal provisions related to match-fixing. Match-fixing and other manipulation of sports activities had previously no specific and separate penal provision in the Criminal Code. Under the new provisions of the Gambling Act, anyone who takes inappropriate actions to manipulate the outcome of a game that is subject to licence requirements under the Act may be imprisoned for a maximum of six years for cheating (ie, gambling fraud).

The Gambling Act is supervised by the Swedish Gambling Authority. The authority has created a special council concerning match-fixing and may halt and/or prohibit specific types of betting.

Match-fixing is a major concern in Sweden (as internationally) and may in the long run damage the credibility of the sports movement and cause losses to other stakeholders, such as the gambling industry. Efforts to prevent match-fixing are complicated when operations are run in different countries.

In 2015, the Swedish Sports Confederation adopted a general code to fight the manipulation of sporting competitions, covering all sports in Sweden. The code applies to all members of the federation (ie, the special NGBs for each sport, clubs and individual athletes who participate in sport activities for a club). Under the code, sanctions may be imposed on individuals (temporary ban for up to ten years), fines for NGBs and clubs as well as cancellation of results achieved in competitions, etc. 

The new Gambling Act has created better opportunities for foreign operators to receive a gambling licence in Sweden. The Act applies to gambling of money, which is allowed in Sweden. The Swedish Gambling Authority has overall responsibility for licensing and supervision of the Act. Any gambling directed at the Swedish market without a licence from the authority is prohibited. 

A regulatory or disciplinary offence by an athlete (doping matters included) will be determined by the relevant NGB’s internal rules (by a disciplinary committee or similar body). 

The main source of revenues for the event organiser, besides sponsorship (see 2.2 Sponsorship) and broadcasting rights (see 2.3 Broadcasting), derives from merchandising, catering, hospitality and ticketing rights at the event.

Swedish law does not require that any mandatory statutory provisions must be incorporated into commercial agreements regarding sport-related rights, or apply under such contracts. Neither does Swedish law generally impose any restrictions on ticket resale, even if it has been much debated. Ticket resale by "scalpers" above face value is still legal, regardless of limitations imposed by the event organiser. Official ticket sellers have tried to prevent grey marketing by including a prohibition against reselling the tickets in its sale agreements or on the tickets themselves, thereby making reselling the ticket a contractual breach. Also, ticket quotas per customer and designating tickets for specified customers who can identify themselves have been used to prevent grey market sales.

Sport in Sweden has a long tradition as an independent voluntary movement (generally known as the Scandinavian or, more broadly, the Nordic model) and has always been a popular platform for sponsorship from various business actors. The business community sees an obvious marketing advantage in being able to associate themselves with well-known sports events, NGBs, leagues, local clubs or individual athletes.

The commercialisation of the sports sector has been massive and fast-growing during recent decades. The sports rights-holders (such as NGBs, leagues, event organisers, clubs, individual athletes) have become significantly more professional and business-oriented and sponsorship is usually the core of the revenues.

The key deal terms of a standard contract between sponsors and sport rights-holders are usually the duration of the contract, the territory in which the sponsor can use the sponsorship rights, the nature and scope of the sponsor’s rights (exclusive or non-exclusive rights to naming and title rights, advertising rights and official supplier rights, etc), the use of the parties’ respective intellectual property rights, the financial arrangements, warranties from the parties (for instance, that the sport rights-holder owns and control all rights related to the sports event) and relevant termination rights.

In individual sponsorship agreements, sponsors tend to protect themselves against serious sporting offences on the part of an athlete, such as doping and match-fixing. Sometimes the sponsors go further and require the use of a morality clause, which may give the sponsor additional protection against other moral issues on the part of an athlete (such as drug abuse, gambling and other behaviour that does not reflect the sponsor’s brand values). In some cases, the morality clause can be reversed, enabling the athlete to terminate the agreement if the sponsor or the brand suffers reputational damage.

Broadcasting agreements are the most valuable source of revenue for the sport right-holders. Streaming services on the internet and other new media significantly increases these revenues. The broadcaster usually has the exclusive powers to license public screenings of a sport event. Swedish law does not recognise independent proprietary rights to an event per se (see 3.1 Relationships). However, event organisers will be able to restrict illegal broadcasting through control of access to the event and the terms of entry. The Swedish Copyright Act provides that radio or TV broadcasts may not be transmitted to the public without the consent of the broadcaster.

Broadcasting rights in most high-profile sports are sold collectively by the governing bodies or the league, such as the Swedish Hockey League, on behalf of its member clubs. On 9 April 2020, UEFA announced the results from its bidding process for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in the years 2021–24, where the Swedish company Telia bought the broadcasting rights to the Champions League in Sweden for SEK3 billion. From 2021, the UEFA Champions League will be broadcasted on one of TV4 Group's channels (owned by Telia). 

As mentioned in 2.3 Broadcasting, Swedish law does not recognise independent proprietary rights in a sports event per se. The idea or concept for a sport event is not protectable under Swedish intellectual property laws. However, the sport event organiser generally protects the event and the commercial rights related to the event through a combination of real property law, contractual provisions, intellectual property law and tort law.

Generally, the event organiser holds control of the access to the venue of the event. This means that the event organiser may restrict third-party access and ensure, through various agreements, that entrants are not entitled to benefit commercially from their attendance.

The event organiser may also protect the various commercial rights in the event through agreements related to the entry to the event (ticketing), sponsorship, broadcasting, merchandising, catering, hospitality, etc.

The entry to the event is based on the ticketing agreement between the organiser and the spectator (governed by the Contracts Act and the general principles of contract law). The ticket terms and conditions must be brought to the attention of the spectator at the time of purchase of the ticket. Access to the event may be granted on specific terms, usually described on the ticket itself, or by notices placed at the venue. If the ticket is purchased on the internet, the specific ticket conditions shall be listed on the seller’s website. The event organiser may impose specific terms for entry, such as refusing access to the event for security reasons, restrictions on resale of the ticket and recording footage of the event, restricting access to the event to certain specified areas of the venue and specifying the ticket-holder is over a certain age, etc. 

An event organiser’s (non-contractual) civil liability is partly governed by the Swedish Tort Liability Act and partly on Swedish case law. Event organisers have a pronounced duty of care for the spectators’ and the athletes’ safety. Non-contractual liability normally covers personal injury and loss of or damage to property. Compensation for pure financial loss is excluded, except in the case of criminal behaviour.

Liability requires an event organiser’s negligence and must be evaluated in each specific case by reviewing whether the organiser has fulfilled its obligations deriving from applicable legislation and the safety instructions of the sport governing bodies. Damages may be reduced if the plaintiff has contributed, by fault or negligence, to the injury sustained. Damages are awarded only for injury sustained. Swedish law does not recognise the use of punitive or exemplary damages.

An athlete’s civil liability (non-contractual liability) is governed by the same sources of law as the organisers’ non-contractual liability. Athletes may be held liable for damage or injury caused to other athletes, officials or spectators when the athlete acts intentionally or negligently. The liability is evaluated on a case-by-case basis in the light of the athlete’s obligations resulting from legislation and the governing body’s sport-specific rules.

The athletes’ criminal liability is based on the concept of non-acceptable risk-taking. Athletes have normally accepted the risks inherent in the specific sport. However, violence between athletes may constitute a criminal offence, even in sports involving more aggressive physical contact (such as boxing or ice hockey) However, if the athlete adheres to the relevant sporting rules, his or her actions will most likely not incur any civil or criminal liability. Sports-related violence is subject to public prosecution. Authorities will generally have to investigate criminal matters ex officio.

A spectator’s civil liability (non-contractual) is governed by the same sources of law as the organisers and athletes’ non-contractual liability. A spectator may be held liable in respect of damage to property or personal injury caused to the event organiser, other spectators or athletes. Liability for damages arises only when the spectator acts intentionally or negligently. Spectators may also incur criminal liability for offences under the Criminal Code.

Specific legislation relating to the access to sports events was introduced in 2015 following some tragic incidents at Swedish football grounds (such as the death of a football fan after pre-match violence in 2014). An individual may be prohibited from entering a venue where a sport event is going to be held. The public prosecutor may issue a banning order against, for instance, a violent supporter, for up to three years. Anyone breaking the banning order will be sentenced to a fine or maximum of two years’ imprisonment. In 2017, new anti-hooligan legislation was introduced for a ban against covering one’s face at sporting events. A spectator at the arena who intentionally covers their face in a way that prevents identification may be sentenced to a fine or a maximum of six months’ imprisonment.

The Swedish Sports Confederation is the unifying organisation of the sports movement in Sweden and has the task of supporting, representing, develop and leading the movement, both nationally and internationally.

The Sports Confederation consists of 71 special sports federations and 21 district sports federations, which organises more than 250 different sports and almost 20,000 local sports clubs. Almost a third of Sweden’s inhabitants are members of a sports club (as athletes, officials, coaches or supporters).

Sport in Sweden is historically organised as an independent voluntary movement (known as the Scandinavian or Nordic model). A long experience of collaboration with central government and local authorities has led to the sports movement being entrusted with the task of organising sport in Sweden on its own, but with the help of financial support from the state and local authorities. For historical reasons, all sports are organised through voluntary non-profit associations. The right to participate in clubs and societies is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution.

Membership in the Sports Confederation is only admitted to non-profit associations. All local sport clubs are organised as non-profit associations with the purpose of organising sports activities, having both professional teams and sport-for-all within the same organisation.

The Sports Confederation supports its members and represents the entire sports movement in contacts with the government, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, where it has negotiated several financial compensation packages to its members due to the losses suffered by the pandemic.   

The clubs are organised according to two principles: one geographical and one linked to the specific sport. The geographical organisation takes the form of district sports federations while particular sports are organised in special sports district federations and special sports federations.

The Sports Confederation has its own judicial system, with the Supreme Sports Tribunal as its highest instance. The tribunal deals with appeals against legal decisions handed down by the sports federations.

A sport club must hold a specific participating (sporting) licence with its special sport federation. However, the clubs may transfer its rights under the licence to a limited liability company, under the conditions that the club is the majority owner of the shares/voting rights in the limited liability company. The limited liability company is prohibited from transferring the sporting rights to a third party. Many sports clubs with professional teams – for instance, within football and ice hockey – have used this opportunity to attract financial investors from private business. So far, only one of these limited liability companies (AIK Fotboll) has listed its shares on the public market.

All matters related to the Olympics are handled by the Swedish Olympic Committee. The committee consists of 41 member federations, the national sports federations for the Olympic sports and 15 recognised federations (ie, recognised by the International Olympic Committee, but not currently on the Olympic programme).

Swedish law does not provide for specific corporate governance codes within sports. However, sport governance is of a growing concern among stakeholders, not least due to the significant commercialisation of sports during recent decades. 

Professional teams organised within a limited liability company need to comply with the provisions of the Swedish Companies Act. Listed limited liability companies are subject to specific rules regarding corporate governance, such as the Swedish Corporate Governance Code; the Code may also be applied voluntarily by non-listed companies.

However, most clubs are organised as non-profit associations. Under Swedish law, the board is responsible for the organisation and management of the organisation’s business. The board has the overall responsibility to assess the financial situation of the organisation and ensure that the accounting, management of assets and the financial situation of the organisation are monitored in a safe manner. The board represents the organisation officially and has the power to sign on behalf of the organisation.

A board member (or an officer) of a non-profit association or a limited liability company may be held responsible for damages caused to the organisation (or its members or shareholders) in the performance of his or her duties.

Board members are primarily responsible for any acts and omissions within the scope of the board’s area of responsibility. However, board members may also be liable for acts taken by an officer of the organisation within the day-to-day management, if the board has neglected its duty to supervise. Board members are required to keep themselves updated regarding the organisation’s current financial situation and make decisions based upon sufficient information. A board member (or an officer) may also be liable for damage that he or she intentionally or negligently causes a third party by violating the statutes of the association or the provisions in the Companies Act. Further, a board member may be subject to a wide range of further provisions in specific legislation – for instance, related to bookkeeping, annual accounts, tax payments or environmental matters. 

Board members and officers of an organisation may also incur criminal liability under certain provisions of the Companies Act and other offences under the Swedish Criminal Code, such as credit fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Insurance policies against liability exposure for board members and officers may be obtained and are quite common.

The Swedish sports movement is generally funded by central government resources, support from the municipal communities and revenues from sponsorship agreements. Other revenue streams derive from the transfer of players (mainly for the elite clubs), arenas (such as ticketing, hospitality and merchandising), online sales and lotteries.

The investor interest in the Swedish sports sector is mainly focused on individual top athletes. Investments from private equity firms, venture capital funds and other investment institutions in professional elite teams are still rare, due to the restricted control of the club by its members. 

Many stakeholders within the Swedish sport sector (including individual top athletes) seeks trade mark protection. Sweden has domestic protection through the Trademarks Act and has also implemented the EU Trademark Directives and adopted the Madrid Protocol. EU trade marks are recognised in Sweden, as well as international trade mark registrations administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), designating Sweden.

Trade marks are registered by the Swedish Patent and Registration Office and the protection applies for ten years. Renewal can be made for an unlimited number of consecutive ten-year periods. The owner of the mark can bring an action against anyone making unauthorised use of the mark.

Trade marks may consist of words, signatures, symbols, patterns, etc, provided that the signs are distinctive. 

A trade mark may be assigned or licensed.

No particular form of copyright covers sports events specifically and an athlete’s performance during the event would not be protectable in itself, but the provisions of the Copyright Act may anyway be applied. Any recording (sound, visual and audio-visual recordings), broadcast and footage of the performance may be protectable under the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act protects the expression of an original work (for example, broadcasts and sound recordings) for a period of 50 to 70 years. The protection will arise automatically on the expression of the work.

The Copyright Act also provides protection to the compilation and use of sports databases for commercial reasons. To receive protection, certain conditions must be fulfilled (such as a substantial investment in the obtaining, verifying or presentation of the contents of the database).

Image rights are protected under Swedish law under the Act (1978:800) on Names and Images in Advertising (the Names Act).

According to the Names Act, an individual’s name or picture cannot be used in marketing purposes without the explicit permission of the individual. Violations of the Names Act may lead to fines. The person whose image rights has been exploited is entitled to a reasonable compensation for the infringement. The infringer shall also pay compensation for other damages suffered by the individual.

The public prosecutor may also initiate a criminal action for violation of the Act if the injured party has submitted a complaint over the infringement or if a prosecution is necessary in the public interest.

As mentioned in 5.1 Trade Marks, many Swedish professional athletes choose to protect their names as trade marks in accordance with the Trade Marks Act. The Names Act may be applied on most types of trade mark uses as well – ie, both acts may be applicable in infringement cases.

NGBs, clubs and athletes may exploit their intellectual property rights through license agreements. Swedish law does not contain any provisions restricting the assignment of IP rights to third parties. 

The use of data in sport is fast-growing, both in order to improve the athletes’ performance and for commercial reasons – for instance, to engage with local supporters, consumers, etc. Clubs may, for example, use mobile app data and machine learning to personalise marketing campaigns and analyse game data. The use of new technology can engage new fans and drive revenue from ticket sales and sponsorships.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in 2018 and applies to all Swedish NGBs and clubs that monitor their athletes. The Swedish Authority for Privacy Protection (IMY) is the supervising authority. So far, NGBs and other sport stakeholders have generally been compliant with the regulations and no hefty sanctions have been imposed. 

Public courts are normally not involved or likely to intervene in sports disputes. A regulatory or disciplinary offence by a participant will normally be solved within the respective NGB’s internal dispute resolution mechanisms (disciplinary committee or arbitration). The individual athlete must abide contractually to the rules of his or her club, the relevant NGB, the Sport Confederation and the rules from international governing bodies. Most NGBs have their own disciplinary committee or arbitration board. Under certain circumstances, the Supreme Sports Tribunal deals with appeals against sport-related decisions and disciplinary sanctions handed down by the relevant NGB.

Public courts have jurisdiction over all disputes outside the sport governing bodies' internal dispute resolution systems (such as civil and criminal liability cases).

As mentioned in 6.1 National Court System, a regulatory or disciplinary offence by an athlete or other similar sports disputes (such as breach of contract claims) will usually be determined by a disciplinary committee or arbitrational panel pursuant to the relevant NGB’s rules.

An arbitration award from a NGB is enforceable as a court judgment (the Enforcement Code). The award must be in writing and signed by the majority of the arbitrators.

There are no established principles in Sweden regarding when the public courts can examine and decide on lawsuits in relation to decisions of NGBs – for example, decisions on membership issues or disciplinary sanctions. Generally, the public courts are very restrictive when it comes to challenging decisions from NGBs and there are very few court cases on this issue. However, a public court may set aside a decision from a NGB if the decision is based on obvious unreasonable circumstances, such as discrimination because of gender, race or religion, etc.

The relationship between clubs and professional athletes is governed by Swedish employment law. Professional athletes in commercialised team sports (eg, football and ice hockey) are regarded as employees. In most cases, standard form employment contracts set out by the relevant NGB is used. In many cases, these standard employment contracts form an integral part of the collective bargaining agreement in place for the specific sport.

Temporary (fixed-term) employments are generally allowed, up to a maximum of two years. Longer fixed-term employments have been agreed in some collective bargaining agreements (such as within football).

The individuals and clubs must adhere to the transfer restrictions set out by the governing bodies and the corresponding rules from international governing bodies, such as FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players and FIFA's Transfer Matching System.

All Swedish employers must take reasonable care of their employees’ health and safety. The employers are also required by law to protect their employees from abuse, discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. The Swedish Sports Confederation is working proactively with its members to implement several regulations, guidelines and education related to, for example, doping, sports integrity, diversity, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. 

Sweden is subject to the EU rules regarding the free movement of labour, cross-border competition and discrimination. Following the Bosman case of 1995, the NGBs and the clubs adjusted their internal regulations to comply with EU law. It is prohibited to restrict the number of foreign athletes from EU member states, but the number of non-EU athletes may be limited to some extent. The Swedish Football Association has adopted rules where at least half of the players noted in the club’s player list must be “home-grown players” – ie, they have been registered for a Swedish football club for at least three years from the ages of 12 to 21 years.

Athletes who are EU citizens have the right to live and work in Sweden without a residence permit or a work permit. Athletes who are non-EU nationals need to apply for a work permit to compete for a Swedish club. Foreign athletes can temporarily compete in Sweden for a maximum of 90 days without obtaining a work permit. Non-EU citizens from certain countries (such as Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia and most African countries) may need a visa to travel to Sweden.   

Despite its comparatively small population, Sweden is one of the world's leading countries within esport, and esports continue to grow rapidly. Some of the world’s best-selling games are produced in the Nordic countries and the Nordic region is a huge gaming community. Sweden has approximately 400 professional esport players and is among the highest-earning countries in the world in terms of esports prize-winnings. The Swedish eSports Association is the umbrella organisation for Swedish competitive electronic gaming.

It remains an ongoing debate whether esports should be recognised as an official sport in Sweden. The Sports Confederation has not yet accepted the eSports Association as a member, but this may change in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the esports sector – for example, the major tournament Dreamhack has been postponed due to the current restrictions against public events. On the other hand, the lockdown and resultant social restrictions has not had the same impact on esports as traditional sports. The interest in online gaming has actually increased sharply during the lockdown, which will probably lead to positive effects for the entire esports sector when the pandemic is over. 

At the time of writing, Sweden has severe restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as do most countries within Europe. In the current situation, the professional leagues play all official matches behind closed doors.

The Swedish government has implemented new regulations for a short-time allowance to enable employers to retain their employees during this period of severe financial difficulties. Most stakeholders within sports have used this opportunity to reduce their salary costs. Conversely, some clubs have voluntarily agreed upon salary reductions with players and staff without implementing the new regulations. Generally, employment contracts cannot be unilaterally altered.

The government has also allocated several crisis packages to the sport sector, to be distributed to its stakeholders by the Swedish Sport Confederation. So far, no elite club has been involved in any insolvency proceeding or gone bankrupt, but the financial situation is critical for the entire sport sector.     

So far, Brexit has not had any significant impact on sport in Sweden. However, this may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current restrictions imposed on travel, competing abroad and postponed events.

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NORDIA Law is a Nordic commercial business law firm with offices in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki, regarded as one of the leading law firms on the Swedish market with regard to complex litigation and arbitration matters. NORDIA offers quality legal services within all areas of commercial law to clients in the Nordic region and abroad.