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What Can the World Cup Teach You About Law?⠀

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming/Football’s coming home” The Lightning Seeds

Against all the odds, 14/1 to be exact, the Three Lions are through to the last four of the FIFA World Cup for the first time since Italia 1990. Our last journey to the final ended when England lost to West Germany (3-4 on penalties) and the latter went on secure their third World Cup title in the final against Argentina.

The odds have now been slashed to 4/1 and England take on Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in the second semi-final match of the “greatest tournament on Earth”.

Now, time for some fun facts:

  1. The first World Cup was held in 1930;
  2. The tournament was pioneered by Jules Rimet, the longest-serving president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) hence the reference to “Jules Rimet still gleaming” in the “Three Lions song”; and
  3. The lyric “Football’s coming home” was in honour of football returning to its birthplace in the form of the 1996 UEFA European Football Championship.
    England was the host nation for Euro ‘96 which was won by Germany, but at least former England forward Alan Shearer won the Golden Boot with five goals.
    Meanwhile, Harry Kane currently leads the pack with six goals and counting (hopefully) at the 21
    st World Cup.

For those who have read my previous Football and the Law blogs, I’m currently living my best football life and diligently completing my World Cup wall chart as I patiently wait to watch the 2018/19 seasons of the Premier League and La Liga. 

In the meantime, I have identified two legal areas of interest at the interface between football and the law.


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Sanctions and Football Boots

 

 

Undeniably, football boots are essential equipment for players. Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar Jr all have their own range of football boots, with the former and latter having boots under the Nike “Mercurial” range and Messi has a range of boots under the adidas “Messi Nemeziz” range.

In the build up to the World Cup 2018, global sportswear brand Nike, Inc was not able to supply football boots to the Iran national team as a result of fresh US sanctions imposed on Iran.

Fun fact: Adidas AG is a company incorporated under the laws of Germany, so is not subject to sanctions imposed, monitored and enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of the US Treasury Department.

There are five types of sanctions, namely:

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 8 May 2018 that the decision of President Trump was to unilaterally withdraw the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as Iran nuclear deal framework. President Obama had brokered this deal along with the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. Essentially, crippling economic sanctions were lifted in exchange of restricting Tehran’s enrichment of uranium.

In the US, non-compliance with OFAC sanctions can lead to fines of up to $20 million and imprisonment of up to 30 years.

Ultimately, the inability of Nike to supply boots to Iranian players did not stop players such as Sardar Azmoun, Masoud Shojaei and Ramin Rezaeian from purchasing their own Nike boots and wearing them during Iran’s Group B fixtures. In this World Cup, they were awarded a goal courtesy of Aziz Bouhaddouz of Morroco, lost to Spain and scored an extra time penalty to draw level with Portugal.

Goal Celebrations and Trade Marks

Goal celebrations on the football pitch are becoming increasingly elaborate, so much so that they are going viral.  My twin favourites are Wayne Rooney’s knock out celebration and Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature celebration, comprising of a jump, 180 degree spin and dramatic flailing of his arms before unleashing a shout.

When I first started watching the Premier League following France ’98, which was the sixth World Cup to be won by the host nation, I remember more demure goal celebrations, with players sliding on their knees until they reached the corner post, for example.

As time went on, we had acrobatic displays from former Manchester United winger, Nani who was fond of somersaults.

Fast forward to the 2015/2016 and 2017/2018 seasons, which signalled the rise of dance crazes being recreated on the football pitch such as the “dab”, ‘milly rock” and “the floss/backpack kid dance”.

Even EA Sports has capitalised on the popularity of goal celebrations by incorporating the “mask” (Paulo Dybala), “hotline bling dance” (Antoine Griezmann/Neymar Jr) and the “cameraman celebration” (Cristiano Ronaldo shouting “sí”) into the FIFA 18 video game.

Prior to the first kick of the ball at the World Cup 2018, Manchester United and England midfielder Jesse Lingard applied to register four trade marks with the UK Intellectual Property Office (“UK IPO”).

A trade mark is a sign capable of graphical representation which distinguishes goods or services. Examples of trade marks include:

Jesse Lingard joins a host of football stars that have used industrial intellectual property rights such as trade marks to develop their brand equity, as seen by “DB07” (David Beckham), “CR7” (Cristiano Ronaldo) and “Eleven of Hearts” (Gareth Bale).  

One of the appeals of IP law for me is the interplay between brand protection and fashion, music and sport and specifically the commercial strategies employed to create, protect, enforce and elevate a brand.

Football players are becoming more business-savvy in relation to the power of a strong brand. Players can cultivate a brand by commercialising their popularity on the pitch and expanding their fan base through social media.

Lingard uses his nickname “JLingz” as his Instagram (IG) handle and promotes the IG account dedicated to his clothing brand, as well as the link to his website www.jlingz.com.

The UK IPO provides a free service for carrying out searches of the Trade Marks Journal that records all trade mark applications and amendments and the useful resource is updated every Friday.

From my previous seats on my training contract in Brands and Corporate, I was able to uncover that Lingard is a director of JLingz Ltd. They filed trade mark applications for the graphical representation of the “JL” celebration under class 25 (clothing) and the word mark “JLINGZ” under class 25 for headwear and footwear.

The rationale for a trade mark registration is that it confers the registered owner with a monopoly right that they can enforce against those who seek to ride on their coat tails and reap the financial rewards of their creativity.

A key benefit of a registered trade mark, in contrast to an unregistered trade mark that is subject to the common law regime of passing off, is that the former does not require providing evidence of goodwill of the mark or likelihood of confusion by the relevant public.

Drawbacks of relying on unregistered trade marks include less commercially certainty and potentially more time and expense than the statutory counterpart under the Trade Marks Act 1994 for registered marks. Lingard has already displayed his “JL” celebration after scoring a wonder strike from 25 yards in the euphoric 6-1 demolition of Panama.

 

With Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil crashing out of the most unpredictable World Cup to date, the time is now for England to bring their long-suffering fans out of the wilderness after 52 years – #threelionsonashirt.

Find out more about football and the law:

Author: Hilda-Georgina Kwafo-Akoto

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