Peers and clients say:
"Massimo is a top CAS arbitrator"
"He knows very well the peculiar dynamics of the professional sports business, and so he is able to combine his excellent legal preparation with a pragmatic approach, which allows him to find optimal solutions to any legal problems"
Massimo Coccia holds a J.D. degree cum laude from the University of Rome-1 and an LL.M. from the University of Michigan. He is founding partner of the law firm Coccia De Angelis & Associati, with offices in Rome and Milan. He is a tenured law professor at the University of Rome-1 and he is internationally renowned as a specialist of sports law and of international arbitration. He is fluent in Italian, English, Spanish and French.
How has your sports practice evolved over time?
In the last years I have focused almost exclusively on international sports law issues, dealing in particular with competition law issues and being an arbitrator at the CAS.
In your opinion, is being a fan a prerequisite for a sports lawyer to be successful?
You do not need to be a fan in the strict sense but, undoubtedly, you need to know very well what is going on in the sports community and if you love sports it is much easier to be aware of what is happening.
You are one of the most experienced arbitrators at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) with experience in over 300 hearings. Have you seen it all, or do you still find a sense of novelty?
I am still fascinated by the variety of issues that come up in cases discussed at the CAS. I must add that in recent years I have seen excellent advocates, pleading their cases at a very high level and rendering cases more difficult but also more interesting to evaluate and adjudicate.
In addition to specialising in sports law, you are also very active in commercial arbitration. How does your experience with transactional disputes enhance your sports practice?
My experience in international commercial arbitration has certainly enhanced my ability to manage the procedural aspects of sports arbitration. In fact, CAS arbitration is evolving and getting closer to commercial arbitration in many respects. I must also say that, on the other hand, my experience in sports arbitration has certainly enhanced my proficiency in commercial arbitration; in particular, the fact that sports arbitration proceedings must often be dealt with very quickly has helped me in managing procedural issues in commercial arbitration proceedings in a speedy and efficient manner.
During your tenure at the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), you instituted several key reforms in the organisation’s rules and structure. Why was reform necessary and what were the results?
I am truly proud of those reforms. They were indeed necessary, first, to “clean up the house” and, then, to insert in the Federation’s structure some new rules and some “checks and balances”, which could prevent scandals like the one that occurred in 2006, where improper relations between some clubs and a group of referees were discovered. The result is that, since then, nothing of that sort has ever been discovered.
What are some of the most pressing legal issues in professional sports today?
I would mention, first of all, the issue of the organisation of sports events by entities other than the sports’ governing bodies, which is essentially an antitrust issue. I believe that, even though sports governing bodies have a fundamental regulatory role, which must be preserved and protected, they are not necessarily the most efficient organisers. In fact, I believe that the consumers’ welfare must be paramount and that monopolies are usually not conducive to such welfare. Another very pressing issue – a true regulatory riddle – is that of the protection of athletes’ gender rights, as the boundaries of sex and gender identities, that have been shifting in society at large, do not fit well in the binary categories of most sports. On the one hand, all human rights, including gender rights, must be protected within sports and, on the other hand, female competitions need to be protected in order to allow female athletes to have chances to be successful on an equal footing to male athletes.
How did you recognise it was the right time to establish your own firm?
Back in 1994 I realised that sports law was not truly recognised as a very specific and complex legal sector, which needed sophisticated specialisation. Therefore, I left the law firm where I was at the time and started my own practice, focusing essentially on very few legal fields that I had a passion for: essentially sports law, international arbitration, and competition law.
You have enjoyed an outstanding career so far. What advice would you give to a younger lawyer hoping to emulate your success?
I have two key words here: passion and relationships. I would thus recommend young lawyers to try and focus on legal sectors that they truly like and where human relationships are important (mind you, I am not talking about networking but, rather, about having the chance to meet and interact with interesting people). When you like something, work can be rewarding and even fun.