Changes to the law on Sport in Poland

by Rafał Burda and Wojciech Biegański

The new Polish Sports Law that came into force on 12 September 2017 introduces important changes with respect to the regulatory aspects of sport as well as some organisational and structural changes to sport in Poland that are aimed at conforming with modern standards of sports regulation.

One of the main aims of the new law is to broaden the definition of sport to include intellectual as well as physical activity. According to the new law, intellectual activity is considered to be a sport if it is competitive in nature and if its purpose is to effect a “sport result”. This will see games such as chess, checkers, bridge, and others included in the legal definition of sport. Moreover, e-sport, which is undergoing rapid growth on a global scale, will now also fall under this definition and be subject to regulation. However, this particular change does not go far enough to bring Poland into line with modern standards of sports regulation and much more is required in this respect.

The new law also introduces certain measures with respect to members of the management boards of sports federations that aim to prevent conflicts of interest, nepotism, and corruption. Moreover, members of the management boards of sports federations born before 1 August 1972 will be obliged to provide a declaration concerning their involvement in the work of, or service in entities dealing with national security, or cooperation with these entities, between 31 July 1944 and 1 August 1990. Members of the management boards of sports federations will also be forbidden from taking any actions that are contrary to the interests of a Polish sports federation and will not be allowed to rule on any matters in the case of a conflict of interest between a sports federation and a member of its management board, their family, and persons with whom they have close ties.

The new law also gives the Minister of Sport new instruments to supervise sports federations. Under the previous law, the Minister had supervisory power over the disciplinary and internal rules of sports federations and could also check whether their activities were in line with their own bylaws as well as the general provisions of Polish law. The new law gives the Minister additional supervisory powers over the functioning of sports federations’ management boards, their internal supervisory entities, and other entities that are not regulated by their bylaws. In that regard, the Minister of Sport can issue warnings, orders and summons, as well as override decisions and even file motions with the appropriate courts to suspend the ruling bodies of a sports federation in their activities.

The Minister of Sport is also now entitled to grant scholarships to athletes who – due to circumstances that are beyond the control of competitors (ex. injury, accident/fall, exclusion from competition, damage to equipment, disqualification, etc.) – have not achieved a result that would entitle them to receive one. The new law also extends the catalogue of sports results that entitle athletes to scholarships. Furthermore, not only athletes will be awarded for their achievements – under the new law, coaching staff and other individuals who play a major role in sports competitions will also be eligible.

The new law does not contain any provisions related to doping in sport. This question is now regulated by a completely new act – the Act on Combatting Doping in Sport of 21 April 2017. Under the previous Sports Law, the regulation of doping was limited to defining doping, briefly describing the powers of the entity responsible for supervising the combatting doping, and specifying certain subsidies from the public budget that will enable research and purchase of necessary equipment.

The new Act on Combatting Doping in Sport regulates the functioning of a completely new organisation – the Polish Anti-Doping Agency – which cooperates with other executive authorities (e.g. the Ministry of Health) and enforcement authorities (e.g. the police, the border guard and the customs authorities). The main aim of the new law is to meet Poland’s international obligations under the Council of Europe’s Anti-Doping Convention from 16 November 1989 and the International Convention against Doping in Sport from 19 October 2005.

As well as regulating the legal definition of doping in sport and the functioning of the Polish Anti-Doping Agency, the new law introduces regulations for doping control officers, the methods of training them, and their rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, it obliges athletes to submit themselves to doping control checks not only during competitions but throughout the whole year. The Anti-Doping Agency will include a disciplinary panel that will issue decisions in accordance with the rules of the World Anti-Doping Code and the International Convention against Doping in Sport.

With the passage of the new law, criminal sanctions for doping have become stricter. In particular, a new criminal sanction has been introduced with respect to facilitating doping for minors – something that was not regulated before. Furthermore, as doping control officers working for the Polish Anti-Doping Agency are often exposed to verbal and physical aggression, they are now subject to the special protection granted to public functionaries under the Polish Criminal Code.

The above changes are undeniably necessary and just. Doping has become an increasingly problematic issue in contemporary sport and the development of new technology is allowing athletes and their teams find ever more effective ways of cheating. Separating the regulation of sport from the regulation of combatting doping in sport has two positive effects. On the one hand it allows more effective organisation of sports-related activities, and on the other hand it creates a highly developed system to combat and prevent doping, something that damages not only sport itself but also the life and health of individuals.