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Sport as Institutional Governance

William Birdthistle’s posts on how various governance mechanisms affect international soccer matches have me thinking more broadly about how governance differs from sport to sport, and about why legal scholars might care.  Some examples that I picked up today:

Following a hit by Robert Horry (Spurs) on Steve Nash (Suns) that nearly provoked a brawl last night, Gordon Smith points out ambiguities in the National Basketball Association rule that prohibits players from leaving the bench during a fight.  Is Amare Stoudemire going to be ruled out of Game 5 because he made a move in the direction of Nash’s rush at Horry?  (Side note here:  I may actually watch Game 5 of the Suns/Spurs playoff series.  I’m no basketball fan, but this series has more drama than a Martin Scorsese movie, and almost as much violence.)

Two other rules-of-the game stories today raise governance-in-sports issues of a related but different sort: 

Can an athlete who uses prosthetic limbs — a sprinter, in this case — be barred from competing against athletes who don’t?  The situation may literally be without precedent.


Are there any circumstances under which an athlete — a cyclist, in this case — may use synthetic devices to improve his performance?  A post-race panel of arbitrators will decide.

In this post, I’m less interested in answers to these specific questions and more interested in whether thinking about the advantages and drawbacks of governance structures in different sports — the role of the referee(s); the structure of the rules or laws of the game; the availability and features of post-competition review, for example — can tell legal scholars anything of specific value when they go out to assess governance in institutional settings that they are more accustomed to studying, such as firms and markets.  William Birdthistle takes as a given, in soccer, that the role of the referee should be minimized.  (I agree, for the most part!)  When and how might that carry over?  Regarding the track and cycling cases, who should determine what constitutes an unfair competitive advantage, or poses undue risks to competitors, and what institutional mechanism(s) should be used to decide those questions?  Those, too, sound like questions that legal scholars are accustomed to asking.  But I may be out of bounds, so to speak.  Are the aesthetics of each sport sui generis?