Legal Aspects of Being a Professional Athlete

What are the differences between being a professional or an amateur athlete? Having a contract and being paid are obvious ones, but there are other factors to consider too.
Legal Aspects of Being a Professional Athlete

Last update: 01 July, 2020

Becoming a professional athlete is a dream for many amateurs, not least because of the opportunity to be paid for playing a sport they love! But becoming professional comes with a whole range of legal and contractual matters which are far from straight forward. So, let’s take a look at the legal aspects of being a professional athlete.

Most legal aspects involve the contract and its duration, holidays, working hours, and of course, the salary. Obviously, professional athletes earn significantly more than amateurs. Although this is often because of the contractual obligations involved, which extend well beyond just sporting performance.

Normally, individual athletes will negotiate an individual salary themselves or through their agents. But sometimes, a salary may be determined by a collective agreement or even subject to certain regulatory limitations.

But the salary isn’t just money. Anything that an athlete receives regularly from a sports club or association is legally considered to be a salary. So, this can be physical money or some other benefit.

On top of this, there may also be non-salary payments, such as performance bonuses, and other income earned from using the athlete’s image rights.

As you can see, this is quite a difference from the world of amateur sports.

As a result, this means that in various sports, there are organizations responsible for deciding whether an athlete receives a salary of not. If they do, then they’re deemed to be professional. It doesn’t matter whether or not they compete in an amateur or professional league. What matters is whether they are paid a salary.

A toy soccer ball surrounded by money, which is one of the main legal aspects of being a professional athlete.

Having dealt with remuneration, let’s take a look at some of the other things contained in a professional contract. For starters, the contract will be for a set duration of time and stipulate what holidays they’re entitled to. It’ll also set out their working hours and any training obligations that they have. All of this is a fundamental part of being a professional athlete.

Contracts usually last for a number of years or seasons, depending on the sport, although they can also specify the number of competitions. The key is for it to be easily measurable. In many cases, clubs and athletes renew these contracts before they finish.

Working days and rest days

Just like any normal job, athletes will have working days and rest days and holiday entitlement.

The working day basically consists of being available to compete or train as directed by the club or association. This could also involve any extra activities such as media appearances or promotional activities. 

Although regulations can vary from country to country, most countries stipulate a legal minimum requirement for rest. This can be a single day or longer, and the contract will normally stipulate when athletes can take a rest. Obviously, athletes can’t take rest days when they should be competing!

A woman lying down on holiday.

Holidays are a complex area. Some sports take place all year round with specific breaks in the calendar. In these cases, athletes will obviously only be able to take holidays during these periods. In other sports, things may be more flexible. On an individual basis, there may be special circumstances where an athlete can take time away from competitions.

Another aspect rather unique to the world of sports is the loan system. In many sports, players can be contracted to other clubs or associations on a temporary basis. This must be done with the player’s consent, although, this is normally not a problem. Most of the time, clubs use this system so that players can compete at a lower level to develop themselves.

Signing a professional sports contract can be a dream come true for many people, but it’s a big change. It’s not just about the money. Any professional contract will contain clauses about behavior both in and out of work, how much time athletes need to train, and many other matters besides.

As a result, the legal aspects of being a professional athlete are usually handled by agents, professionals who are paid to advise the athletes. In recent times, these agents have become more high-profile, and some have even become famous in their own right, especially when talking about soccer agents.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.