Duty of Care in Sport: What Legal Rights Do Athletes Have?

Duty of Care in Sport: What Legal Rights Do Athletes Have?

Health and Fitness

Duty of Care in Sport: What Legal Rights Do Athletes Have?


Anyone who has pursued sports or recreational activities has known that they are exposed to certain risks of injury or harm. This predisposition is a result of, in some cases, the very nature of physical activity or sport. Whereas, in other cases, there are other reasons for injury, such as negligence. Regardless of the reason, there is no sporting scenario that is entirely risk-free. In such a scenario, it becomes imperative, particularly for athletes to figure out the extent of legal rights they do have in the United States. Lawrina has compiled some of the crucial information below about the duty of care in Sport.

Importance of Sports

Apr 22, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Denzel Valentine (45) loses control of the ball against Charlotte Hornets forward Cody Martin (11) during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Sports, for a long time, have functioned as an established framework that unifies the United States. This country, with a large and incredibly diverse population, certainly finds a commonality in sports. The US has become increasingly diverse, both racially and culturally. However, at the same time, people have become more isolated because of the advent of technology and the numerous distractions it brings.

As technology is driving people towards solitary activities, it has become important to encourage people to take part in organized competitive sports. There are several intrinsic, as well as, extrinsic advantages that athletes get by participating in sports activities. 

Not to mention, there are immense economic benefits that sports, at the level of professional leagues or the Olympics, bring to the country. Athletes earn revenue from player contracts, prized earnings, and endorsement contracts. At the collegiate level, numerous student-athletes obtain athletic scholarships. 

There are also several indirect monetary advantages, such as the athletes who are talented and have the calibre, make use of their college years to train and prepare for their career as a professional athlete. Even though relatively few have the rare exceptionalism required to become a professional or Olympian, there is still reason to protect the integrity of organised sports. Scientific research suggests that both high school and collegiate student-athletes obtain several intangible advantages from organised sports, that they carry with them lifelong. These intangibles are as under:

  • They get a psychological boost with achievements in athletics.
  • They earn social capital among friends, family, and people in general for attaining athletic excellence.
  • They undergo character development, building a strong and resilient character.
  • They get educational opportunities.

What is Sports Law?

Sports law is a broad term that signifies the specific practice concentrating on legal problems within the sports industry. The practice encompasses a spectrum of laws that apply to athletes, and are responsible for regulating the sport overall. Instead of being limited to a singular subject that has certain common principles in place, sports law touches a variety of areas. The concerned domains on Sports Law extend to laws pertaining to contract, tort, agency, antitrust, unfair competition, labor, trademark, criminal, and taxation.

Just like other domains such as art, entertainment, and hospitality laws, the term sports law does not mean a separate body of law, but rather it is used to refer to the overall legal regulations that are applicable to the industry as a whole.

Prominent current issues in relation to sports law

  • Gender equality

    The aim behind perpetuating Gender equality in sports is to ensure that both male and female athletes have access to equal opportunities for preparation and participation in athletic competitions and events. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, has allowed encouraging development to take place in this regard, and as a result, the number of female athletes has soared in recent years in the US.

  • Doping

    Many competitive sports, in recent years, have been marred by controversy, primarily because of doping allegations on players. Doping is an off-field activity that has on-field consequences. By using performance enhancement drugs, athletes boost their endurance, gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors. Even though anti-doping organizations have taken several steps to prevent elite athletes from using banned substances, it is hard to say how effective these steps really are. To learn more about the perception of the current anti-doping system, click here.

  • Concussions

    This has been another issue that has dominated the discussion in sports in the United States, for a while now. Concussions are mild traumatic brain injuries that can happen during an athletic event or competition. Some states, like California, have mandated that all coaches must be informed and trained on Concussions so that they are better able to undertake the duty of care towards their players.

Understanding the Duty of Care in Sports

Apr 22, 2021; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (39) blocks a shot against the Florida Panthers during the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

It is a commonly accepted notion that sports organizations have a responsibility or duty of care to children and young adults, with regard to physical risks that are associated with taking part in a sport. However, apart from physical risks, there are also several other aspects such as mental and emotional well-being that are also included under this responsibility.

Duty of care in Sports can be articulated as:

A responsibility that is shouldered by anyone who acts in an official capacity to organize and manage sports competitions, events, programs, etc., to make sure that sporting activities are conducted in a manner that is as safest as they can possibly be for the participating athletes. It is called, “Duty of Care”, in legal terminology.

Below are some points that sum up what duty of care in Sports alludes to:

  • The duty of care in Sports belongs to people who are acting in an official capacity. People below are included:
    • Coaches
    • Referees
    • Co-ordinators
    • Club administrators
    • Ground caretakers
    • Sport facility owners
  • Participating athletes and other involved parties include:
    • Players
    • Supporters of player
    • Spectators 
    • Timekeepers
    • Helpers, among others.

Measures to make sports “safest as they could possibly be”

  • Before the sports activity or event takes place, proper checking of the area where the activity would take place should be done, so as to avoid any hazardous or dangerous incident from happening.
  • Participating players should be informed and educated so that they can proceed to participate in the activity in a way that is most safe for their physical well-being. This involves making players aware of the rules of the game and providing players with protective clothing and equipment.
  • Proper supervision is another way of undertaking duty of care, as the sports event or competition is taking place.
  • There must be proper preparation for tackling emergencies. This includes keeping professionals on standby, in case, any emergency occurs.


When we talk about duty of care in Sports, it is important to emphasize that the effectiveness of all the efforts and measures taken by sports supervisors, managers, etc., to a certain extent relies on the players themselves. They should be knowledgeable and aware of their rights, in order to ensure that they are operating in the safest possible environment while performing athletically.

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