JP McDowell: The future of sports regulation in Ireland

JP McDowell: The future of sports regulation in Ireland

JP McDowell

Fieldfisher partner JP McDowell summarises a recent summit on the future of sports regulation in Ireland.

I recently had the pleasure of chairing a fantastic panel on the future of sports regulation as part of Fieldfisher’s ongoing seminar series on regulation.

The speakers comprised former Ireland rugby international Bernard Jackman, currently the head of high performance sport, Horse Sport Ireland; Robert Brophy, former World Rugby CFO and now lead for sports, media and leisure at Interpath; Mark Scanlon, League of Ireland director at the Football Association of Ireland, Darragh O’Loughlin, CEO of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board; and Caoimhe Daly BL, a barrister highly experienced in sports law.

It was a fascinating conversation about the ever-expanding regulatory landscape within sports. Set out below are some of the key insights that arose from the discussion.

Every year, sports organisations in Ireland are dedicating more of their budgets and resources to dealing with regulatory matters. Such regulations aim to protect the reputation and integrity of sports, encompassing areas such as anti-doping laws, disciplinary actions, betting and more. As sports continue to professionalise, the necessity and complexity of regulation will only increase.

Disciplinary actions

Disciplinary actions are a cornerstone of sports regulation, designed to ensure fair play and uphold the integrity of individual sports. Legal professionals play a crucial role in this domain. In particular, where you have teams or athletes with substantial financial resources, they are likely to contest disciplinary actions and other regulatory decisions that don’t go in their favour.

The disciplinary process therefore often mirrors legal proceedings, where robust systems and preparedness are essential to withstand scrutiny.

For example, in horse racing, highly-trained veterinary staff undertake testing for banned substances, tracking delivery of samples, and rigorous testing processes. Any lapse in procedure can cause immense damage, undermining public confidence and negatively impacting commercial aspects such as sponsorship and spectator engagement. Organisations must be able to stand over their decisions through such robust processes to protect the integrity of the sport.

How technology is changing the pace

Technology in sports is becoming increasingly significant, especially with the advent of AI-enhanced video tech that can facilitate real-time broadcasting, instant replays and analysis. Television assistant refereeing and remote hearings have revolutionised how on-field decisions are reviewed and appealed. Quick decision-making is critical, particularly in sports with frequent matches such as soccer, where disciplinary actions need to be resolved swiftly to avoid disrupting team selections and game schedules.

Moreover, the application of new technology also extends to the management of athletes’ and fans’ behaviour on social media. Poor behaviour, such as racial abuse of players and match officials, very disappointingly continues to be an ongoing challenge. Being able to identify the individuals responsible for this unacceptable behaviour and take the appropriate action is crucial to combat distasteful behaviour and ultimately protect players and other fans.

While on-pitch behaviour is relatively easier to control with the help of improved CCTV technology, off-pitch behaviour, particularly online, remains a complex issue. The newly established Coimisiún na Meán has begun taking steps to regulate social media in Ireland, while new and upcoming regulations from the EU will seek to combat areas such as hate speech online and it is hoped this will have an impact.


Betting in sports introduces a myriad of regulatory challenges. The case of Rob Howley, a member of the Welsh Rugby coaching staff, who was found to have violated anti-gambling rules, underscores the importance of stringent regulations and the severe consequences of rule-breaking.

Betting companies have the ability to report suspicious betting patterns to sporting organisations, which may indicate insider information or match-fixing.

Upcoming legislation in Ireland aims to crack down on the advertising of betting during hours when children may be viewing. Such new regulations may affect certain types of sponsorships, such as front-of-jersey sponsorships by betting companies, reflecting a growing concern about the influence of gambling on sports.

The regulation of betting not only aims to maintain the integrity of sports but also to protect athletes and the public from the potential harms associated with problem gambling.


Anti-doping laws are critical to maintaining fair competition in sports. Despite significant strides made in combating doping, concerns persist. The cost of blood and urine testing, along with the rigorous enforcement of anti-doping regulations, is part of the ongoing professionalisation of sports.

Sports organisations invest heavily in education programmes and training members on anti-doping rules, but often, it takes high-profile cases of rule-breaking to bring the issue into sharp focus. Effective anti-doping measures are essential not only to protect the health of athletes but also to ensure a level playing field and maintain the credibility of sports.


The future of sports regulation in Ireland is set to be characterised by increasing complexity and the need for innovation as a result of necessity. From disciplinary actions and media regulation to betting and anti-doping laws, each facet plays a vital role in preserving the integrity and reputation of sports.

As regulations evolve, the involvement of legal professionals will be crucial in navigating the challenges and ensuring that sports remain fair, safe, and commercially viable. Through robust and well-understood regulations, sports organisations can minimise disputes and enhance the overall experience for players, spectators, and sponsors alike.

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