A winning team: Hogan Lovells and the BPA

How this global law firm assists the renowned sporting organisation

Sporting body the British Paralympic Association (BPA) has had some significant successes in recent years and global law firm Hogan Lovells can claim to have contributed to them.

British Paralympians won 120 medals at London 2012, and disabled sport in the UK as a whole has become more high-profile in recent years, with more people watching and taking part than ever before.

Behind the scenes, as part of its citizenship programme (see box below), Hogan Lovells has been providing the BPA with legal assistance since 2007.

In autumn 2013, it was announced that the firm is now the BPA's official legal partner until the end of 2016, the year when the next Paralympic Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro.

On your marks...

"In 2007, Beijing was approaching and the BPA was negotiating commercial relationships with a number of suppliers, including those providing kit and clothing," says Richard Welfare, the Hogan Lovells partner who leads the relationship, when explaining how it all began.

"They hadn't had much external legal support before and needed help." And when Richard was put in touch with the organisation via another Hogan Lovells lawyer, everything came together.

Not only did the work appeal to his love of sport - Richard is a former footballer, cricketer and basketball player and still a keen golfer - but it was also a good match for his legal expertise.

Richard advises on commercial agreements, commercial regulation, product compliance and media law, all extremely relevant to elite sport.

From property to passports

Since then, Hogan Lovells lawyers have tackled a very wide range of types of legal work for the sports organisation.

A significant proportion of it involves commercial agreements between the BPA and its sponsors, but the firm has also advised on the restructuring of the organization, leasing of ParalympicGB's Stratford headquarters during London 2012, potential trademark infringements, and regulatory queries relating to equipment and interpretation of the rules of particular sports.

"I can take a call from anybody at the BPA," says Richard, "and it could be about a high-level sponsorship deal, or a one-off quick question."

One of the more unusual matters Hogan Lovells has advised on is the case of a Gurkha soldier who wanted to compete on the ParalympicsGB team at the London 2012 Games.

"He'd been injured while serving in the British army but was a Nepalese national and the rules stated that athletes needed to be a British passport holder to represent ParalympicsGB," Richard explains.

"So we submitted an extraordinary circumstances application to the International Paralympic Committee and the Nepalese Paralympic Committee - and were successful".

In training

Junior lawyers are an important part of the firm's BPA team. "A trainee who sat with me was responsible for negotiating and finalising some of the sponsorship agreements," says Richard.

"I supervised his work, but he ran conference calls, did much of the drafting, and attended negotiation meetings. This gave him really excellent hands-on commercial experience of high-value and high-profile deals."

Richard adds that he often involves trainees in the regulatory queries that the BPA brings to him: "It's brilliant experience for a trainee because they're not questions that usually come up at law school or in commercial practice so you have to do legal research from scratch.

The path to Rio

"I love the fact that the work is leading up to a goal," says Richard when asked what he enjoys most about his involvement with the BPA. When we're doing a sponsorship deal you know that the fees involved are going towards the training and preparation of the athletes".

At the moment the goal is success at the Rio Paralympic Games 2016. The BPA's main sponsorship deals have already been signed, and the Hogan Lovells team is now working on various legal aspects of arrangements for the BPA's Rio 2016 athlete preparation camps.

They're also currently doing work in connection with National Paralympic Day, scheduled for September, and Sports Fest, an ongoing series of free events giving disabled people the opportunity to try out Paralympic sports and meet London 2012 medal winners.

"The volume of work relating to Rio will increase again from early next year," adds Richard. "I expect further commercial agreements will need to be signed, and we'll probably have more regulatory queries around qualification and event rules".

But will Richard be booking a ticket to Brazil? He was able to spend a few days in Beijing during the 2008 Paralympic Games and relocated to ParalympicsGB's Stratford headquarters during London 2012 to assist with Games-related legal issues.

"I don't know yet exactly what the BPA's requirements will be," he answers. "I've already put them in contact with colleagues in our Rio office, but I'd certainly welcome the opportunity to go myself!"

But for Richard day-to-day legal work for the BPA offers its own rewards: "Working for the BPA is always a privilege and a pleasure," he says. "It's a fantastic organisation with brilliant athletes and great management that's doing something special."

Image: Marc (www.flickr.com/photos/sumofmarc/), Matthew Ellis & Ieuan Williams, bronze medallists for Wales in the Men's B2 Tandem Kilometre event at Glasgow 2014.