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From football pitches to a new field of learning in sports law . . .

THE field of sporting law is one that yields a harvest of controversy.

Clever player: David Winnie was prominent at St Mirren but was always keen to attend university, above right. Picture: SNS
Clever player: David Winnie was prominent at St Mirren but was always keen to attend university, above right. Picture: SNS

Its capacity to produce rows, deals and opportunities has been spotted by law firms and has led to the signing of a cultured left-back.

David Winnie, the Scottish defender, played most conspicuously with St Mirren and Aberdeen but his temperament and ambition led him to play in Iceland and Australia. A quiet hankering has also brought him a leading role in a burgeoning business.

The 47-year-old is now head of the sports law department at Ronald Fletcher Baker LLP, a firm with offices in London and Istanbul. The schoolboy in Winnie knew he had the ability to go to university. The player in him demanded that he first make an effort to succeed in the field of sport.

"I was sitting my Highers when Alex Miller [then St Mirren manager] advised me to go full-time. I took him up on that but when my results came in they showed I could have gone to university and that was always at the back of my mind throughout my career."

Winnie subsequently played more than 300 games, including stops at St Mirren, Aberdeen, Middlesbrough, Dundee, Ayr United, KR Reyjavik and Canberra Cosmos.

But the idea of university stayed with him and found a focus when he moved into coaching. He started a part-time degree that moved to full-time and ended with him graduating with honours in law and economics at the University of Paisley.

The journey that has ended with him heading a staff of seven at a department of a major law firm started in 2001 with him looking at a university prospectus. He chose the subject entitled: An introduction to Scots law.

"This was not by design," he says. "I just had that hankering to study and it seemed the best course."

Winnie has negotiated the transfer to English law and has now specialised in sports law or, as he more correctly describes it, the law in relation to sports.

The two major centres in Britain for this discipline are London and Manchester and the Premier League and its clubs and players will almost certainly provide enough work in the near future for sports law departments.

Winnie's direction was guided by his past. He did not want to "throw away" his contacts and his knowledge of the sport after a playing career which stretched into coaching and then management with KR Reykjavík and Dumbarton.

He now steps into a frontline role at a crucial time for sports and the law. Two matters dominate the headlines in Scotland: Legia Warsaw and the independence debate.

Winnie is perceptive on both. He says his legal advice to Legia would be to pursue the route of proportionality and fair play, both tenets of UEFA. Legia are guilty of the offence but could find room to manoeuvre on the punishment.

He points out that a yes vote on September 18 could throw Scottish players into "something of limbo".

"There could be a void in the process of becoming independent when Scotland is not a full part of the EU or a member of the European Economic Area. It would then be up to the SFA to come to some sort of agreement with the FA in case of cross-border transfers and with other ruling bodies in European transfers."

He admits this is all hypothetical but it points to how matters of commerce are increasingly becoming a major part of sports law.

He expects breach of contract, employment issues, contracts, image rights and work permits to be a source of labour, adding: "There is also the issue of social media and defamation and footballers being naughty boys on platforms such a Twitter."

However, he has significant developments on the horizon. The Legia Warsaw pleas to UEFA are not a sign of a concerted effort to challenge football authorities legally.

He sees no prospect of clubs uniting to topple the hegemony of the ruling bodies. "The Champions League and the Europa League are becoming geared to the top clubs. There is the possibility that clubs not at the elite level may protest or it may even come from grassroots level but I do not see a realistic challenge in the short-term," he says.

He is more focused on what is certainly heading football's way. "There is a major change in the way agents will operate," he says. This starts, presumably coincidentally, on April 1, next year.

"This will have huge implications for the game and for member associations. Basically, FIFA is putting the issue of agents and how they work back into the hands of domestic bodies such as the SFA."

A worldwide survey conducted by FIFA showed that only 30% of transfer deals were carried out by licensed agents. This has caused severe problems which have engulfed FIFA.

"[Member associations] will have to ensure any intermediary complies with regulations. It is a massive job because transfer deals run into the billions of pounds. A fee cap of 3% on deals will also be introduced and any agent dealing with players under 18 is not to be paid."

He also envisages more issue concerning the financial fair play rules and the regulations covering concussion on the field of play. The Premier League has issued new rules on how concussed players must be treated, with further play only to be sanctioned by a doctor.

"There are issues across a wide range of subjects," says Winnie, settling into his new job. The former full-back is ready to tackle them.

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