Sports LawWhy I’m passionate about sports law

December 17, 20180

Mrs Amaka Beverly Agbakoba-Onyejianya studied law at the University of Nottingham. She obtained her LLM from the University of Wales, Cardiff. With over 10 years experience in the banking and capital market sectors in the United Kingdom and Nigeria as a regulatory compliance lawyer, she chaired the Rules Review and Development Committee of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). A sport enthusiast, Agbakoba-Onyejianya manages a junior football team and is a member of the Sports Law Practice Group of Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL). She tells JOSEPH JIBUEZE about opportunities in sports law and her foundation.

Through her father’s conections, she could have had her pick of some of the biggest law firms or chosen a practice area that is considered lucrative, such as oil and gas law.

But, Mrs Amaka Beverly Agbakoba-Onyejianya, daughter of frontline rights activist and former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), settled for sports law.

After obtaining her first and second degrees in the United Kingdom, she could have settled abroad.

Agbakoba-Onyejianya returned to contribute to grassroots sports development and has carved a niche in sports law.

Despite her father’s influences, Agbakoba-Onyejianya’s passion for sports led her to a different path. She has stood out as one of Nigeria’s most prominent sports lawyers.

A law graduate of the University of Nottingham and an LLM holder from the University of Wales, Cardiff, Mrs Agbakoba-Onyejianya specialises in corporate and commercial law, developing expertise in regulatory compliance and sports law.

She holds the Investment Compliance Diploma of the Chattered Institute of Securities and Investments (UK).

Agbakoba-Onyejianya owns the Little Tigers Football Club. Her foundation held a youth sports business summit in Lagos where experts gathered to discuss sport scholarship, investment opportunities and prospects for the youth.

According o her, it was organised to create awareness of the youth sport sector in Nigeria.

Financially rewarding

To Agbakoba-Onyejianya, sports law has huge potentials for lawyers. “Is it financially rewarding? “I don’t see why not,” she said.

“You need to remember: how do you add value? Financial reward comes from value. If you give value, you get rewarded. If you want to get value from a piece of work you’ve done, show us the value you’ve added.

“Sports lawyers have an opportunity in this country to add so much value, from articles to sports policy shaping to dispute resolution.”

She said huge briefs can come from representing sportsmen, handling sports contracts and from other commercial deals around sports.

“People complain that there are not enough sports lawyers or enough experts. We are few but we’re there. There are even Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who are sports lawyers,” she said.

Does she think more lawyers should explore sports law? “Very much so,” she said without hesitation. “Sports law is growing quite fast, the same way entertainment law boomed within the last few years. I think that’s going to happen. Lawyers need to diversify.

“Obviously lawyers naturally go in other directions because of the money. Sports law is about people, skills and managing talent.

“Sports law is really an amalgamation of all the different classic laws, from contract to tort to commercial to media law. I’d say sports law is an umbrella for all these areas. It takes a very skilful lawyer to practice sports law and I find it interesting.”

ADR best for sports

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Agbakoba-Onyejianya said, is the best option for sportsmen and women rather than regular courts.

She said disputes around sports need to be resolved quickly as professional sportsmen have short careers and cannot afford to spend years in court litigation.

Her words: “We’re looking at mediation and arbitration as better means of resolving sports disputes. Sports and entertainment are two areas that have no business going into the traditional law courts.

“The nature of sports is very active. Athletes don’t want anything that will affect their work and livelihood if there’s a dispute.

“You can’t imagine a sports person going to a court, and five years later they’re still there. They need their disputes to be resolved quickly and effectively.

“So, ADR should be the number one choice for people in the sporting industry. It’s best for people with commercial interests. It’s actually a more viable option.”

Her interest in sports law

Agbakoba-Onyejianya’s interest in sports was sparked when she thought of the need to make her son more active.

“Sports law is actually a growing practice. I’m a sport and entertainment lawyer as well as a regulatory compliance expert. But the interest came from my children.

“My first child is a boy and I just had this inspiration to create an avenue for him to be more active. So I started the Little Tigers Football Club. That was six years ago.

“He awakened an interest I didn’t even know I had. That’s how I ended up in sports. I have an academy and I’m very passionate about the children there. I want their betterment.

“I’m passionate about the coaching. I train people as regulatory compliance expert, so training is very key. Skills acquisition is key for me. Sports capture skills acquisition and harnesses discipline,” she said.

Economic potential

Agbakoba-Onyejianya believes sports could be better harnessed to tackle youth unemployment.

She said: “Sport is at the heart of our nation. It’s also a numbers’ game. We’re populous and we have a young population, so there is really no reason why sports shouldn’t be bigger than it is now.

“There has been an explosion in the entertainment industry, so I think it’s time for the sporting industry to begin to add value.

“This summit shows there are people who have keen interest in taking sports to the next level. Sports encompass quite a lot of activities, from broadcasting to talent identification and management.”

On her expectations from those who make sports policies, she said: “The private and public sectors can add more value, so that we can see more young ones participate.”

“Government can’t do everything, so the corporate world and non-government entities need come together. Where do we want our country to be in the next 10 years in terms of sports? Do we want to produce winning teams at national, continental and global levels? We need to have a strategy.

“We need to determine how to improve sports at state levels and develop our local sports. Sports can change lives and engage youths. It can be a tool for social inclusion and education,” she said.

She hopes the outcome of the summit, which would be documented, would go some way in shaping policy.

“We’re not only going to have a conversation and it ends here. We’re going to document the outcome of the summit and circulate it. Let’s take it to a higher level.

“Whether you want to invest for returns, let’s begin to attract people to play a part. We hope to form a working group, so that we can keep the momentum going.

“Sport was included in our national economic agenda at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) summit last year. It’s the first time it was done. Sport is now recognised as a means of revenue generation,” she said.

Reshaping sport policies

Agbakoba-Onyejianya said more should be done to revive sports in Nigeria. She recommended the public, private partnership model.

“The infrastructure is in dire straits. We need to get it right. Certain states, such as Edo and Lagos, are rehabilitating facilities. But we want this across the country.

“Only two states should not be the gold standards for sports in Nigeria. We want to get a point where no matter what state you are in, you should have access to quality infrastructure.

“We could follow the Indian example. There are several public, private partnerships (PPPs) in sports. Maybe that’s something that can be explored.

“There may be organisations that want to get their brands out there; government can provide the infrastructure and lease it to the private sector to manage,” she said.

She also wants more regulation of academies to ensure high standards.

“It will be great to see a tone being set on academy standards. We want to see more action. Let it not just be private sector driven. Let it be a mix to keep the balance right. We need people who are passionate about sports to stand up and let their voices be heard,” she said.

Through the Little Tigers Foundation, she hopes to contribute to sports development.

“I thought: What role can I play in helping to build sports and raise standards? One of our key objectives is to help with the rehabilitation of pitches. We want to work with private schools and I can’t wait to start,” she said.