MCA Sports Law LLP
Sport Accelerator , Qatar Business District, P.O. Box 358010
Peers and clients say:
“He displays a great level of preparation and excellent attention to detail”
“Martin prepared the matter to the fullest extent both on factual and on legal issues”
“He has very strong oral skills in cross-examination and pleadings”
Martin Cockburn is a German-trained attorney-at-law and founding partner at MCA Sports Law LLP, a Qatar-based, boutique law firm specialising in sports law. Simultaneously, Martin since 2009 has been working in the legal department of the Qatar Football Association. Moreover, Martin held various roles in local organising committees pertaining, inter alia, to the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011TM and the AFC U-23 Championship Qatar 2016TM. In addition, Martin advises sport federations/leagues as a member of various committees/task force groups.
What motivated you to set up your own firm?
Since 2009 we have been heavily involved in the representation of clients in dispute cases at FIFA, the AFC, UEFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Moreover, we have been consulting and advising clients in important transfer activities, aspects of employment, governance-related matters, etc.
Hence, and in light of increased client demand, it seemed a logical next step to enter private practice on a broader scale. Eventually, in 2018 I opened MCA Sports Law LLP (MCA) with my partners Ettore Mazzilli and Konstantinos Antoniou. Having our offices in Doha/Qatar turned out to be an ideal platform for our services in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
How has your role at Qatar Football Association (QFA) enhanced your practice in dealing with high-profile negotiations in the transfer and employment of players between leagues?
I would like to take this opportunity to express sincere gratitude to the QFA and its support in the process of establishing MCA. The possibility to have an in-house role in an important sports federation as well as to perform services in private practice constitutes a huge privilege. In fact, these two roles complement each other in various ways.
One of them relates to (international) transfers and employment-related matters. Particularly, my vast experience in drafting regulations as well as the profound understanding of administrative elements pertaining to transfers serve as fundamental tools for overcoming complex challenges in contract negotiations. In fact, clients on several occasions and in the heat of negotiations on the substance tend to overlook administrative aspects, which are of equal importance for the successful completion of international transfer activities in compliance with the rules and regulations of football governing bodies.
What do clients look for in an effective sports law specialist?
Alike in other fields of law client, expectation demands to find solutions pertaining to legal challenges – preferentially quick, cost-efficient and protective. Insofar, a comprehensive expertise of applicable sporting rules and related jurisprudence is indispensable.
Besides the obvious though, I would like to highlight that clients regularly expect “one stop services”. Clients want one law firm as a focal point. However, sporting matters are frequently of international dimension. Dealing with particular questions though, such as data-protection or tax-related matters in an international context, require specific expertise. Therefore, and in order to correspond to client expectations, it has become of utmost importance to have a reliable and functioning network of experts – in various jurisdictions worldwide – at your disposal.
How has MCA Sports Law LLP been adapting to the increased scrutiny of corporate governance in sports organisations?
Governance in sports organisations covers a variety of subject matters and, inter alia, pertains to aspects of transparency, integrity and accountability. Generally, the more advanced a sport federation’s regulatory framework, the more likely it is to reach the target of good governance.
Three core pillars to achieve such results are education, the adoption of adequate rules and regulations as well as the establishment of a mechanism ensuring adherence with the desired principles.
On those grounds, MCA, in partnership with our clients, is addressing aspects of good governance in a continuous process and on the basis of the aforesaid pillars.
How has your extensive experience in sports law across various cultures help you understand the cultural differences in client expectations?
Working in various parts of the world and in a truly international environment has been a huge privilege.
Experiencing stakeholders in different cultures with different approaches and challenges as well as acting in different realities has, certainly, sharpened my understanding of client expectations and needs. Solutions that fit in one part of the globe may not necessarily work in another.
Such a realisation is fundamental and serves as a huge asset for avoiding misunderstandings between the parties concerned, deal-breaking scenarios as well as for assisting clients in the best possible way.
What is your most memorable case to date?
Due to their significance, I would have to name two cases. The first was an ethics matter against a leading individual of a sports federation. A negative outcome would have likely resulted in the career end of the accused as a sporting official. However, together with a team of lawyers we could fully overturn a decision of the FIFA Adjudicatory Chamber in front of the FIFA Appeals Committee at that time. Thereby, we contributed to the continuation of a hugely successful and impactful career in sports.
The second case pertains to accusations related to the alleged ineligibility of a fielded national team player. De facto, the dispute constituted a threat to the concerned association’s title as confederation champion. However, having three instances dismissing all unfounded allegations, the sporting merits won on the pitch could be successfully defended off the pitch. Said case truly reflects the magnitude disputes in sports can have.
What are your firm’s main priorities over the next two years?
MCA’s focus over the upcoming period will be on healthy growth without compromising the quality of our working product.
In terms of markets, we see considerable growth potential in the Middle East as well as Asia. Obviously, Europe has always and will always continue to be an important region in which we provide services.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Learning is ageless. Never stop doing so.