Barristers battle the British Boxing Board of Control over restraint of trade and anti-competition behaviour

Fri, 28 Mar 2014

Sports law experts at No5 Chambers have been instructed to represent a respected boxing manager whose licence was recently withdrawn by the British Boxing Board of Control.

Philip Williams and Rupert Beloff, barristers from No5 Chambers, are in the corner of Bruce Baker, Chairman of the Professional Boxing Promoters Association (PBPA), along with Mr David Young, the barrister who has been leading them in the recent BBBC proceedings.  

The PBPA is the UK representative for the Federation Luxembourgoise de Boxe and the German Boxing Association (GBA).  Mr Baker alleges that removal of his licence is an attempt at restraint of trade on the part of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) and is contrary to the freedom of movement and trade objectives of the European Union.

The background to the case goes back to the July 2012 contest between British boxers David Haye and Dereck Chisora at Upton Park.  This bout was sanctioned by the Federation Luxembourgoise de Boxe, which granted licences (previously revoked by the BBBC) to the fighters.   The British Boxing Board of Control issued a statement in May 2012 condemning the Federation Luxembourgoise de Boxe and indicating that any members involved in its promotion would be deemed to have terminated their membership of the BBBC and thus lose their licences.  This position was subsequently toned down to say that members would be summoned before the Board.  

Bruce Baker and members of the PBPA believed that there was no reason under European law that he and other managers and promoters should be prohibited from working with another European board to promote events in mainland Europe and the UK. 

Following the contest, in which Haye was victorious, the Federation Luxembourgoise de Boxe found itself expelled from the European Boxing Union (EBU) for what was, in Bruce Baker’s opinion, a cross-border dispute between it and the BBBC.  The EBU constitution had previously only considered expulsion on the ground of breach of sanctions but the BBBC had lobbied for the expulsion.

“Relations between the British Boxing Board of Control and Bruce Baker were not enhanced when the BBBC went on to revoke Mr Baker’s licence in February 2014 after Dave Murphy had promoted an event where Mr Baker acted as the German Boxing Association representative and managed a boxer at the show too,” says Michael Cotter of Regulatory Legal Solicitors, who instructed Philip Williams and Rupert Beloff of No5 Chambers to represent Mr Baker. 

“The BBBC had deemed this event to not be licensed.  We invited the British Boxing Board of Control to reinstate Mr Baker’s licence. In addition, we asked the Board to look at amending its rules so that they comply with domestic and EU procurement law.  We await the BBBC’s response.” 

Mr Baker believes that the British Boxing Board of Control’s behaviour suggests it is trying to retain the position of the exclusive sanctioning body of boxing fights in the UK, contrary to the spirit and letter of EU law, an opinion shared by Philip Williams, Rupert Beloff and Michael Cotter.

Bruce explains:  “The Professional Boxing Promoters Association acts as the German Boxing Association’s representative in the UK. It takes applications for GBA licences, which are then submitted to the GBA offices in Germany for approval.  I, as Chairman of the PBPA, also recommend the appointment of officials and, again, the final approval lies with the GBA itself. 

“The PBPA assists in the operation of GBA shows in the UK and I acted as the GBA representative on shows promoted by a member who held licences with the BBBC and the GBA. Following my involvement, the BBBC revoked my manager’s licence, causing me significant difficulty as, in my capacity as a BBBC manager, I manage 7 boxers. 

“The British Boxing Board of Control has the same legal status as, for example, a private tennis club.  It is a limited company which is neither government nor Sports Council recognised and yet it has conferred upon itself the sole right to decide upon which fights can take place in Britain, a cut of boxers’ purses and TV money and the authority to dispense or withhold or withdraw licences and thus restrict promoters’ opportunities and abilities to trade. 

“Anyone involved in professional boxing in Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands has to be a fee-paying Member of the Board but is barred from having voting rights, which are reserved for the board of the Board. 

“The BBBC has awarded itself the right to regulate professional boxing bouts in Britain to the exclusion of any other boxing regulators while, in contrast, there are multiple regulators in many European countries and federations from one country may and do sanction contests in other countries.  There is thus a greater element of competition in mainland Europe. 

“The Board is a private members club looking to restrict competition and trade.  The objective of my case is to persuade the British Board of Boxing Control to act lawfully, so that the market for professional boxing may expand and our members might have the choice of either running events under the auspices of the BBBC or with the GBA.  They should not be restricted by out-dated and unlawful regulations imposed upon them from above by the BBBC, which only regulates in its own self-interest.”

Bruce Baker’s legal team awaits a response from the British Board of Boxing Control to the request for reinstatement of Mr Baker’s licence and a review of the Board’s rules. 

Please click here for a video of the press conference, held at No5 Chambers London on 27th March 2014.

Philip Williams, a member of the Sports Law Group at No5 Chambers is respected for his wealth of sporting and litigation knowledge.  He has appeared for clients before sporting tribunals including the Amateur Boxing Association, the British Boxing Board of Control and the British Horseracing Authority. 

Rupert Beloff is a member of the Sports Law Group at No5 Chambers and of the British Association for Sport and Law (BASL). He worked in sports media before being called to the bar.  He undertakes both advisory work and advocacy in all aspects of sports litigation including regulatory work, doping, free movement and right to play cases, work permit and immigration matters, contractual disputes and disciplinary proceedings. He regularly lectures and gives seminars on sports law subjects and is a co-author of several leading books in the field. 

Michael Cotter is a solicitor (and barrister non-practising) with Regulatory Legal Solicitors, and was involved in the world of boxing at a time before becoming a lawyer. He instructs No5 Chambers on a number of matters, namely relating to his expertise in financial services law, sports law and the law of professional negligence.  He can be contacted via [email protected] or 01384 889900.

Please click here to view profiles for Philip Williams and Rupert Beloff. Please click here to find out more about No5 Chambers Sports Law Group., or call 0845 210 5555.

Please click here to see further articles from Boxing Scene and Birmingham Post

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