Document Type


Publication Date

April 2008


“I don’t want to play with you anymore!” an athlete screeches across the field with silent moral indignation. This typical kindergarten psychology has steeped into the human gene over the years. But what if such statements were made in the realm of international sport where national and international sporting codes, domestic legal systems, national policies, individual athlete contracts all militate against such symbolic acts of idealism? Many have found the answer in sporting boycotts.

Sports and politics have had an incorrigible affair for centuries, where movements in one have undoubtedly yielded movement in the other and sporting boycotts have been perennially used against nations whose human rights records are abysmal as a manifestation of both collective ideals and national policy. A classic example of such theatrics is the Olympic movement. The present enquiry is why have sporting boycotts been employed? Are they utilitarian or effective? Are they legal? And if their use cannot be prohibited how should this interrelationship be governed both at a national and international level to strike a balance between the autonomy of a sport, an athlete’s civil liberties and ultimately sovereign sporting teams. The task is not easy.

My paper sought to examine the complex legal issues raised by sporting boycotts particularly in the absence of any clear legislative authority by analysing the decision of Finnigan v NZFRU [1985] 2 NZLR 19. The case touches upon legal standing, justiciability and ultimately the remedies being sought in a common law system. At the heart of the decision is judicial review of a fundamentally private decision. The paper further explores the potential legal consequences of sporting boycotts in an Australian setting focusing particularly on legal actions instigated by “disrepute clauses” of private athlete contracts. Once again what is the justiciability of decisions made by sporting tribunals? Are courts the new vanguards of individual athlete morality, bastions of civil rights or the place of last resort when political decisions remain unanswered?

The paper also examined the legitimacy under international law given the global face of sport today touching upon individual international sporting codes, the Olympic Charter and international human rights law. The ultimate question that begs to be answered is: how and when should law intervene in sport when the fundamental enquiry is political?