Representing Players in Sport: Bargaining for A Fair Deal for Athletes in an Olympic Year

Representing Players in Sport: Bargaining for A Fair Deal for Athletes in an Olympic Year

Roundtable Discussion – Tuesday 27th March  2012, 6pm – 8pm

Birkbeck College, University of London
Clore Management Centre Building: B01 Lecture Theatre
Torrington Square
London WC1E 7HX
(For directions click here)

(Followed by Drinks Reception – 8pm-9pm)

Live video stream

This event has now taken place, so the live stream is no longer available.

  • Birkbeck College, University of London (Sean Hamil) & the Educational Sports Forum (Alan Irwin)



Debate Chair



There is a popular stereotype, drawing on the media portrayal of elite sports personalities, that professional athletes live privileged lives by way of comparison with the rest of the working population. It is certainly the case that a small minority of elite athletes, by virtue of their extraordinary talent, have been successful in generating significant incomes in a context in which they have been directly responsible for generating even higher revenues for their employers and associated businesses (e.g. promoters, television broadcasters, corporate sponsors etc.).

However, the working reality for most professional athletes is very far from the popular stereotypes. Most athletes are comparatively modestly paid, and have very insecure employment conditions despite the enormous personal and professional commitment required to engage in a career as a professional athlete. It is also the case that, outside of professional football in Europe and in North American professional sports, most player representative organisations are not accorded full representative status in the stakeholder engagement processes of their sports. (Indeed it is an irony that is in the most commercially orientated sports in the world – North America’s MLB [baseball], MLS [soccer], NBA [basketball], NFL [American football] and NHL [ice hockey]; and professional elite football in England – that player unions enjoy the best established collective bargaining rights on behalf of their members). This situation has prompted the foundation of a federation of world player associations in Nyon, Switzerland, in November 2011, at the   World Athletes Summit at UNI Global Union head office in Nyon – the “Nyon Declaration” 1 .

Finally, it is the case that across sport there are countless examples of exploitation of young athletes whether it be via illegal trafficking of minors in football 2, or in the exploitation and under-achievement of young boxers which led to the establishment of the Barry McGuigan Academy 3.

In this Olympic year this roundtable event brings together three leading figures from representative and development bodies for elite athletes – Tony Higgins, former Hibernian (Scottish Premier League) player and Executive Board member of the European Division of the world football players’ union FIFPro 4; Barry McGuigan, former World Featherweight Boxing Champion and founder of the Barry McGuigan Boxing Academy; and Walter Palmer, former Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks NBA player and  General Secretary of EU Athletes (the European Elite Athletes Association) – to discuss:

  • The current state of employment conditions for sportspeople.
  • The place of players’ associations in fighting for the rights of sportspeople.
  • The need to integrate sport and education to improve the ‘dual career’ employment prospects of young sportspeople.
  • Why it is essential to involve player representative organisations in the reform of the governance of sport as equal stakeholders.

Critically, the panel will discuss how the organised voice of elite players can be more effectively incorporated into the governance of global sport to improve the quality of the sporting environment for all – players, participants, administrators, commercial and public sector partners etc.


Tony Higgins

Tony is an executive board member of FIFPro Division Europe, the world football players’ union. He was formerly the chairman of the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association (SPFA). During his career as a professional in Scotland he played for Hibernian, Partick Thistle and Greenock Morton. He is a regular commentator on Scottish football on BBC Scotland’s Sportscene programme.

Walter Palmer

Walter is the General Secretary of the European Athletes Association, and General Secretary of the Union Basketteurs d’Europe (UBE). EU Athletes is an international federation of trade unions for athletes that was founded in 2007. EU Athletes currently has 30 member organisations representing approximately 25,000 athletes. The UBE is a federation of European basketball players’ unions whose membership includes the players’ unions of Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain. Duties of the UBE general secretary include representing the UBE before the European Union and other European sports governing bodies and coordinating organisational and legal activities. Walter is a graduate of Dartmouth College in the United States (BA History) and a former professional basketball player in the NBA in the United States where he played for the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks.

Barry McGuigan

Barry McGuigan is widely regarded as one of the best boxers of his generation. As an amateur he won a multitude of titles; at the age of 17 he took the gold medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and as a professional he won the British, European and World Titles. In June 1985, a television audience of twenty million watched him became Featherweight Champion of the World by defeating Eusebio Pedroza. His extraordinary performance later captured him another title of BBC Sports Personality of the Year. McGuigan was voted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.

For almost 20 years Barry has been commentating and writing on boxing and has developed into one of the leading figures in the sport. He has been writing a successful weekly column for the Daily Mirror for over 10 years, considered to be the No1 boxing column each week. He has commentated throughout the world; in the USA for Prime Network, in Asia for Star TV, in Europe with Euro Sport and in the UK for BBC, Sky, Screen Sport, Setanta, Wire TV and ITV.

In November 2009 McGuigan launched the inaugural “Barry McGuigan Boxing Academy”. The intention of the academy is to use the skill and discipline required in boxing to promote and deliver an environment where young people can excel in their academic and sporting goals; positively encouraging students who feel disengaged to stay in or return to education and help raise standards in post 16 academic achievement. A great success, it is moving into two further colleges in September 2010 with a number of additional colleges showing a keen interest.

Drinks Reception – 8pm-9pm

The roundtable debate will be followed by a drinks reception in the basement foyer area of the Clore Management Centre.

For further details on this seminar series contact:

Sean Hamil
Department of Management
Birkbeck College
Malet Street

Tel: 020-7631 6763

  1. (18th November, 2011). Independent Voice For World Athletes Established. Retrieved on the 12th December, 2011
  2. (13th March, 2009). Strategy Council agrees minors’ resolution. Retrieved on the 12th December, 2011
  3. Barry McGuigan Academy (2011). Retrieved on the 14th December, 2011
  4. For details of the campaigning positions of FIFPro on key issues facing athletes see: (2011). FIFPro Opinion. Retrieved on the 14th December, 2011
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