The Sports Law Review: Poland
Organisation of sports clubs and sports governing bodies
i Organisational form
Sport activity in Poland can be conducted in particular in the form of a sports club. After years of intense regulation of sports inherited from the communist times, the Act on Sports,2 adopted in 2010, is based on the principle of autonomy of sports. Thus, the law does not specify any mandatory organisational forms in which sports clubs can operate, the governmental regulation of sports is very minimal and the majority of issues are left to self-regulation by sports associations, international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee. The only requirement provided in the Act on Sports is that sports clubs should have legal personality.3 Thus, in practice, sports clubs can operate only in the form of a shareholding company or an association.
Students' sports clubs are a special kind of sports club established by students, parents and teachers in accordance with the rules provided in the Act on Associations. Students' sports clubs only require entry in the relevant register kept by the mayor of the locality where the club's registered office is located. A simplified administrative procedure applies for entry in the relevant register. The registration should be deemed effective by tacit agreement if within 30 days from the date of submitting an application for entry in the relevant register the mayor of the locality fails to issue a decision on registration or refusal of registration of a students' sports club.
At least three sports clubs are required to establish a sports association in the form of an association or a union of associations.
Polish sports associations
To hold and conduct competitions in a given sports discipline, a Polish sports association should be established. Sports associations, sports clubs or other legal entities whose statutes or articles of association foresee conducting activities in the given sports discipline may be members of a Polish sports association.
Establishing a Polish sports association requires the consent of the Minister of Sport. A relevant application should be accompanied by:
- a draft statute of the association;
- a detailed description of the sports discipline in which the association plans to hold competitions, information on rules of competition and an explanation of the competition system (e.g., cup, league); and
- certification of membership in the international sports federation active in Olympic or Paralympic sports, otherwise acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee, or in another federation included on the list published by the Minister of Sport.4 The Minister maintains a list of Polish sports associations, which is available on the ministry's website. Polish sports associations are also required to register in the National Court Register.
Polish sports associations have the exclusive right to:
- organise and hold competitions for the title of Champion of Poland or Polish Cup in their respective sports discipline;
- set up and enforce sport, organisational and disciplinary rules of competitions organised and held by them with the exception of rules on doping;
- appoint a national team for Olympic or Paralympic games, world championships or European championships; and
- represent their sports discipline in international sports organisations.
In sports where competition is organised in the form of a league, a Polish sports association may establish a professional league. If more than half of the sports clubs playing in the top class league competition are operating in the form of a joint-stock company, a Polish sports association is obliged to establish a professional league. In team sports, only sports clubs operating in the form of a limited liability company or joint-stock company are allowed to play in the league. A professional league should be managed by a separate legal entity in the form of a shareholding company. The operating rules of the professional league should be agreed in an agreement between the league managing entity and the relevant Polish sports association. The agreement is also subject to approval by the Minister of Sport.
Polish Olympic Committee
The Polish Olympic Committee (POC) is a union of associations comprising Polish sports associations and all other entities active in the national Olympic movement. It is considered a non-governmental organisation that independently sets and realises the aims of the Olympic movement. It cooperates with the Minister of Sport and opines on all bills related to the Olympic movement.
ii Corporate governance
There are no specific regulations in Poland with regard to corporate governance of sports clubs, and thus standard rules on corporate governance apply, depending on the legal form the sports club has adopted (an association or a shareholding company). The only requirement provided in the Act on Sports is that organised sports activities in a sports association or a sports club participating in competitions held by a Polish sports association may only be conducted by a coach or a sports instructor. The Act on Sports provides minimum criteria for being appointed a coach or a sports instructor.5
The term of office of the officers of a Polish sports association cannot exceed four years6. The function of a president of a Polish sports association can be exercised by the same person for a maximum of two consecutive terms of office.
If, on the day of appointment as the officer of a Polish sports association, the person appointed meets any of the following conditions, he or she is obliged to cease that activity, sell shares or stocks, terminate the contract, resign or quit the entity within 30 days of appointment, or the person shall be dismissed:7
- conducted business activity related to the statutory aims of the association;
- held shares or stocks in a company conducting business activity related to the statutory aims of the association;
- was a partner or held shares in a partnership conducting business activity related to the statutory aims of the association, or was a close relation to such person;
- worked for a ministry in support of the Minister of Sport;
- was a coach of the national team or a member of training staff of the national team in the same sports discipline; or
- was a member of the board, proxy or attorney-in-fact of the entity that provides services, supplies or construction works to the association, including financial or in-kind sponsorship.
An annual financial report of the Polish sports association should be examined and approved by an independent auditor. The annual financial report and report of the managing board of the Polish sports association are subject to review and approval by the general meeting of the members or delegates of the Polish sports association. Once approved, they should be sent within 30 days to the Minister of Sport to be published in the Public Information Bulletin.
Polish sports associations are supervised by the Minister of Sport who can demand copies of all the resolutions of the associations and written explanations concerning activities of the associations, as well as to conduct inspections of the associations.
The statute of a Polish sports association, and every subsequent change to it, requires approval by the Minister of Sport. Upon a motion of the Minister, a court may suspend the authorities of a Polish sports association and appoint a curator, or dissolve the association in the case of grave or persistent violations of law or its statutes by the association.
iii Corporate liability
There are no specific statutory corporate liability regulations in Poland applicable only to sports clubs. Thus, sports clubs, including their managers and officers, are subject to standard rules on corporate liability as set out in the Civil Code or the Commercial Companies Code and other acts, depending on the legal form the sports club has adopted (an association or a shareholding company). There may also be additional rules on corporate liability provided in the internal regulations of the relevant Polish sports associations or international sports federations.
The Act on Safety of Mass Events8 provides for liability of an organiser of a mass event with an entry fee for damages, including damage or destruction of property incurred by the police, military police, municipal or city guards, the State Fire Service or other fire protection units and health service in connection with their activities during the mass event.
The dispute resolution system
i Access to courts
It is a constitutional principle that no person or entity can be deprived of access to a state court. Hence, any decision of a sports governing body may always be challenged by way of an appeal to a court; however, the nature, scope or conditions for a complaint may vary.
In the case of disciplinary sanctions (including doping matters) and ineligibility decisions, Polish athletes, as well as other persons involved in professional sports (members of sports associations, referees, coaches, managers, etc., as well as, to some extent, supporters and, indirectly, clubs) may challenge decisions of the sports associations in appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the Polish Olympic Committee (CASPOC). The rulings of CASPOC can only be challenged by a cassation appeal filed with the Polish Supreme Court, but only in cases of gross violations of law by the sport authorities, or where the judgment of CASPOC is obviously unjust.
Also, under certain conditions, Polish law allows appeals against the final arbitration awards (for further details, see Section II.ii).
ii Sports arbitration
Disputes between athletes and sports associations or clubs, or both, in particular arising from contractual or coaching contracts, transfers, managerial or advertising agreements, etc., may be brought before the state courts, but most often they are settled in arbitration (often provided for in the internal regulations of the relevant sports associations). Arbitration courts (in particular CASPOC) are also involved in disciplinary and ineligibility procedures. CASPOC also has jurisdiction in appeal proceedings against the decisions of sports associations in disciplinary matters if the internal regulations or statutes of the relevant Polish sports association or other sports organisation do not provide otherwise. CASPOC is a permanent arbitration court composed of 24 arbitrators appointed by the managing board of CASPOC for a four-year term.
Practically all matters relating to sports may be brought to arbitration. Rare exceptions cover criminal cases, exclusively reserved to the criminal courts. Conducting criminal, civil or administrative proceedings, however, does not exclude conducting disciplinary proceedings in relation to the same acts.
The only formal requirement for a valid arbitration agreement (or arbitration clause) is that it must be concluded in writing. However, it is also recommended that it precisely indicates the nature and the scope of the matter and the competent court, or at least the basic rules of formation thereof in the case of ad hoc arbitration (including the number of arbitrators and the appointment procedures), as well as reference to the applicable rules (both procedural and substantive). In practice, the permanent arbitration courts (and the rules they apply) are the first choice.
Arbitration courts have competence to render interim measures, such as interim injunctions, which can be granted on the request of a party. However, the enforcement of an interim measure requires approval of the state court (i.e., the enforceability clause (see subsection iii)).
The final arbitration award may be challenged and, as a consequence, revoked if there was no arbitration clause or the clause was invalid, a party was not duly notified of the appointment of the arbitrator or the arbitration proceedings, or otherwise deprived of the ability to defend its rights, or owing to other, mainly formal, defects of the award.
Any decision of the sports governing body that does not require compulsory enforcement, is, as a rule, directly enforceable (legally effective), unless the decision is challenged before competent bodies, including state courts.
If, however, the decision requires compulsory enforcement (e.g., taking away property, seizure of objects), it requires obtaining an enforceability clause, that is, a formal confirmation granted by the state court based on certain formal prerequisites, such as the existence of a relevant ruling or award and lapse of deadlines for challenging thereof (the court does not refer to the merits of the case when dealing with the enforceability clause request). Any person or entity may also agree (in notarial deed form) to the future enforcement even in the absence of the court ruling or arbitration award, subject only to the enforceability clause.
Compulsory enforcement is only available through a bailiff (i.e., a sports governing body must not enforce its decisions itself).
Once the final and non-appealable decision or award is issued and the enforceability clause is granted, the enforcement may only be challenged in exceptional instances, including the expiry of the enforced commitment (e.g., waiver, its earlier fulfilment or statutory changes). In the case of a decision or award being issued as a result of a crime (e.g., bribery or forgery of documents), Polish law also provides certain, extraordinary measures to challenge the final decisions or awards, and so their enforceability.
Organisation of sports events
i Relationship between organiser and spectator
By participating in a sports event, the spectator enters into an agreement with the event organiser. The mutual obligations of the parties are derived from the explicit terms of the agreement, as well as the general terms and conditions of the event and any applicable national legislation (especially the Civil Code and the Act on Safety of Mass Events). In most cases, the spectator acts as a consumer, therefore certain consumer protection regulations would also apply to the contractual relationship with the organiser.
The organisers commonly include the following terms within the terms and conditions of the event:
- the prohibition to sell tickets to third parties;
- the spectator's consent to use his or her image recorded during the event;
- rules concerning spectators taking photographs or recording videos during the event; and
- objects that are not allowed in the event venue.
Provisions concerning most of these matters are also present in national legislation, but are often expanded in terms and conditions of events. For example, while the organiser is allowed to record the event (including the images of spectators) under the Act on Safety of Mass Events, the footage may only be used for safety purposes. Because of this, organisers tend to require a broader consent from the spectators, which allows them to also use the footage for promotional purposes.
The organisation of sports events was heavily affected by the covid-19 pandemic. During the spring 2020 lockdown, basically no events were organised, or no spectators were allowed. Restrictions concerning participation and viewing sports events were changed several times to adapt to the spread of the pandemic. As of 12 July 2021, the number of spectators allowed at open-air sports events is 50 per cent of the venue's capacity. For mass sports events, such as running races or marathons, up to 500 participants are allowed in total. Spectators are also required to follow social distancing rules.
ii Relationship between organiser and athletes or clubs
Entities that participate in professional sports competitions, such as sports clubs, need to be members of Polish sports associations. The latter are exclusively authorised by the Act on Sports to hold competitions for the titles of Champion of Poland, as well as Polish Cup and to establish professional leagues.9
The Act on Sports also grants the Polish sports associations the exclusive authority to lay down competition rules and appoint the national team, among others.10 Sports clubs are subject to these rules owing to their membership in a relevant Polish sports association. Polish sports associations are also bound by regulations of the international governing bodies of specific sports (such as UEFA or FIFA for football). Athletes are associated in their sports clubs, and thus obliged to follow the internal regulations of the clubs and the relevant sports associations, as well as the rules issued by the international sports federations.
Internal regulations of sports associations also include disciplinary measures to ensure that their members comply with them. These regulations have to comply with applicable national legislation, especially the Act on Sports.
iii Liability of the organiser
An important distinction should be made in relation to the Act on Safety of Mass Events. The organiser of the competition (such as a football league) is not considered to be the organiser of each specific event (such as a single football match). In the case of football matches, only the hosting club would be considered the organiser and be responsible for the safety of the event.
In most cases, sports events are considered mass events under the Act on Safety of Mass Events. Its provisions impose certain obligations on the organisers of the events, including the obligation to ensure spectators' safety (i.e., by providing access to medical assistance and security services).
The organiser may be liable towards spectators and athletes, as well as third parties, under the general rules of civil law. This may include either contractual liability (liability for improper performance of the agreement between the organiser and a specific person)11 or tortious liability (the duty to redress damage incurred).12 For events where an admission fee is collected, the organiser is obliged to hold civil liability insurance.
Natural persons acting on behalf of the organiser may also face criminal liability (e.g., for inflicting bodily harm – although in certain situations it is allowed for the security service to use means of physical coercion during mass events). In Polish criminal law, only natural persons may be liable for committing a crime.13 Depending on the nature of a specific offence, criminal proceedings may: be started ex officio, require the aggrieved party to file a motion for prosecution (which is then conducted by the public prosecutor or the police), or require the filing of a private claim, where the aggrieved party acts on his or her own before the court, usually without the public prosecutor's involvement. The last procedure is used in cases of causing minor bodily harm, which may be a common cause of liability in relation to sports events.
iv Liability of the athletes
Inflicting damage to another athlete, a spectator or to property may be the basis of an athlete's civil or criminal liability. Although there are no provisions of national legislation specifically addressing athletes' liability, certain conditions may apply:
- according to established court practice, an athlete may not be criminally liable for causing harm to another athlete if the harm was inflicted in the course of a sports competition. The limitation of liability is not absolute, however – for example, it is established that actions that are against the rules of a sport do not qualify for limitation of liability;
- in relation to athletes' civil liability towards each other, arbitration clauses are often in place, so that disputes are resolved before arbitration courts of sports associations, not before regular courts;
- in addition to civil, administrative or criminal sanctions, an athlete may also face disciplinary liability for his or her acts.14 An agreement between a sports club and an athlete may also include stipulated damages payable to the club for certain wrongdoings of the athlete; and
- certain legal provisions govern the liability of athletes for doping.15
With these exceptions, athletes are liable for their actions towards third parties (including spectators) under the general rules of civil and criminal law. In practice, this would mainly cover civil law duty to redress inflicted damage. For criminal liability, depending on the nature of a specific offence, criminal proceedings may: be started ex officio, require the aggrieved party to file a motion for prosecution (which is then conducted by the public prosecutor or the police), or require the filing of a private accusation, where the aggrieved party acts on his or her own before the court, usually without the public prosecutor's involvement.
v Liability of the spectators
The law provides specific means aimed to protect participants of mass events. There are certain crimes and misdemeanours that may be only committed during a mass event, such as failure to follow orders issued by a safety officer, hindering identification of a person (e.g., by covering one's face) or forcing one's way into the place where a sports competition is held. Most of them are adjudicated in expedited procedures.
In cases of conviction for a mass event-related crime or misdemeanour, the court is allowed to impose an additional penal measure of a temporary prohibition to participate in mass events (applicable to all mass events or specific ones). As a separate measure, organisers of football matches are also allowed to charge persons who violate the terms of the event venue or mass event safety rules with a 'club ban'. The club ban prohibits access to all events in which the organiser's football team participates.
In addition, spectators are also liable for their conduct under the general rules of civil and criminal law, such as a civil law duty to redress damage inflicted. For criminal liability, depending on the nature of a specific offence, criminal proceedings may: be started ex officio; require the aggrieved party to file a motion for prosecution (which is then conducted by the public prosecutor or the police); or require the filing of a private accusation, where the aggrieved party acts on his or her own before the court, usually without the public prosecutor's involvement.
vi Riot prevention
The provisions of the Act on Safety of Mass Events apply to most sports events intended for 1,000 spectators or more (or 300 spectators or more for events held in sports halls).16 The Act is intended to ensure safety of spectators, and it imposes several obligations on the organiser of the event to achieve that goal, including:
- the obligation to obtain a permit to organise a mass event. A permit is issued by the mayor of the locality where the event is to be held. An application for a permit is required to provide information on safety of the event, such as emergency exit routes of the venue;
- the right (and in some cases – the obligation) to record the event for safety purposes;
- regulations on the processing of spectators' personal data (including a centralised system for identifying members of the audience attending matches of the top divisions of the football league);
- the obligation of the security service of the event to deny access to the event to persons who are demonstrably under the influence of alcohol or drugs, who are aggressive or who are subject to a disqualification from participation in mass events (a penal measure that may be imposed by a court for committing certain crimes); and
- certain additional obligations imposed on the organiser if a mass event is declared to be 'high risk', such as the obligation to employ additional security officers and the prohibition to sell alcohol on the premises of such events.
Commercialisation of sports events
i Types of and ownership in rights
A bundle of sport-related rights may be commercialised in Poland, including the rights to sports events' broadcasts, images of the athletes, copyrights to a variety of works of authorship (films, music, photos, jingles, apps, etc.) or logos (trademarks), in particular in relation to merchandise.
The rights to broadcasts primarily belong to broadcasting organisations, although the recording of an event requires consent of the club, event organiser or a sports association, and is carried out under conditions agreed therewith. Exclusive rights to broadcast competitions in such popular and profitable sports as football, volleyball or basketball, are subject to tenders organised by the relevant Polish sports associations or entities managing the respective leagues.
Images primarily belong to the respective natural persons (and, as such, are inalienable and non-transferable), but may be the subject of licence agreements between athletes and clubs, sports associations or sponsors allowing for their further exploitation. In addition, Polish law provides that an image of an athlete – member of a Polish national or Olympic team – in the Polish national team kit may be used by virtue of law by the relevant Polish sports association or, respectively, by POC.
Other rights, such as copyrights or trademarks may be held by the sponsors, clubs or sports associations.
Rights owners may license their rights (allowing use thereof for a specific time and, usually, with some further limitations) or transfer (assign) them to the purchasers.
ii Rights protection
Where there is controversy over the use of rights under a concluded contract, the basic framework for the resolution thereof will be the contract, and, in particular, dispute resolution rules (if any) contained therein, including the arbitration clause. In the case of other issues, in particular third parties' infringements, the law of torts and, sometimes, criminal regulations will apply to protect and enforce the rights. In the latter case, state courts and other authorities, including the police or a public prosecutor, may be involved.
Effective protection of rights may sometimes be burdensome, especially if the respective contracts lack clarity (e.g., on the agreed scope or the limits of the permitted use, or the remuneration).
In case of third-party infringements, typically the effectiveness of the protection may be weakened owing to their large scale; for example, in the case of internet sales of counterfeit products. Luckily, significant improvements have been made in that field in recent years, also owing to the greater detection of crimes and torts, and much better cooperation between rights' holders and competent authorities (police, courts, custom authorities).
iii Contractual provisions for exploitation of rights
Contracts for exploitation of rights must, in the first place, precisely reflect the agreed scope, including time frames, of the permitted use. In addition, if it covers transfer or license of copyrights, it must precisely define fields of use (fields of exploitation) (i.e., permitted ways of using the works, such as copying, distributing, disseminating on the internet, broadcasting). In the absence of precisely listed fields of use, including overly broad and vague clauses (e.g., transferring 'all copyrights') the copyrights transfer or license is legally ineffective.
Also, no rights can be assumed on the part of the licensee or buyer; that is, unless a certain right is explicitly granted, it will remain with the licensor or transferor (e.g., a TV broadcasting right does not automatically allow distribution on the internet). Contracts should also precisely define any further specific rules or limitations (including time frames and geographical limits).
Professional sports and labour law
i Mandatory provisions
As Poland currently follows the autonomy of sports principle in relation to regulating the sports sector, the mandatory provisions on relations between athletes and sports clubs are minimal, and there are no mandatory provisions providing that an athlete must be an employee of a sports club. In practice, the majority of athletes in Poland, at least in the more profitable sports disciplines, are independent contractors having a service contract with the sports club rather than an employment contract.
The Act on Sports only provides for mandatory insurance against the consequences of accidents for athletes participating in competitions organised by Polish sports associations and members of national teams. In the former case, the obligation is on the sports club, whereas in the latter, it is on the respective Polish sports association.
In 2016, the Polish Supreme Court issued an important judgment17 dealing with the issue of whether a footballer acting under an exclusive 'agreement for playing professional football' with a football club can be deemed an individual entrepreneur (sole trader), or merely a service provider. The Supreme Court concluded that where the remuneration is fixed (i.e., not dependent on the player's results), and the player is obliged to follow the club's instructions as to the time, place and activities performed (i.e., where the club takes the operational risk), the footballer is just a service provider acting under a service agreement, and not a genuine businessperson or sole trader. As a consequence, it is the football club's responsibility to calculate the social contributions and pay them on behalf of the footballer.
ii Free movement of athletes
There are no specific statutory regulations in Poland that would regulate free movement of athletes. In the case of athletes holding EU or EEA citizenship, the basic principles of EU law (i.e., free movement of people and non-discrimination) would apply. In the case of athletes having an employment contract, they are treated the same way as any other category of employee. In the case of athletes not holding EU or EEA citizenship, the standard regulations on legalisation of their stay in Poland, employment of foreigners and working permits would apply.
Detailed rules on transfers of athletes and engaging foreign athletes are usually provided in the internal regulations of the relevant Polish sports associations18 and international sports federations.19
Some Polish sports associations regulate the allowed quotas of foreign athletes in a sports club.20
iii Application of employment rules of sports governing bodies
Further specific rules concerning contracts with athletes in the given sports discipline may be provided in the internal regulations of the relevant Polish sports associations21 and international sports federations.22
Sports and antitrust law
Antitrust laws are also applicable to the sports sector and issues such as state aid, abuse of dominant position or agreements restricting competition are also valid issues in this sector. The Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is currently particularly active in relation to vertical agreements, for example, with respect to distribution of sports equipment.23
In the past, UOKiK also conducted an investigation into an alleged dominance position on the Polish sports press market (2015), and issued a decision in relation to anticompetitive agreements concluded by the Polish Football Association (PZPN) and Canal+ Cyfrowy sp z o.o. for licensing media rights to Polish Premiership broadcasts.
There is also an ongoing investigation by UOKiK (which started in 2019) concerning the actions of PZPN and the company running the top Polish football league (Ekstraklasa S.A.) towards sports betting operators. Polish betting operators are required to have permission to use the results of sports events matches from their national organisers of the event, which is one of the requirements to offer bets on results of these events. There is controversy concerning the abuse of market power by PZPN/Ekstraklasa and the amount of fees collected by them for granting this permission to betting operators.
Sports and taxation
Athletes' earnings are subject to personal income tax. The specific rules on taxation (such as tax rates) may vary depending, in particular, on whether the athlete's earnings are paid under an employment contract or a civil law contract, or whether the athlete is self-employed (acts as a sole trader).
Professional sports clubs are usually incorporated as limited liability companies or joint-stock companies. These are subject to corporate income tax.
As a general rule, Polish tax liability applies to persons who have their usual place of residence in Poland (which is understood as the place where a person's 'centre of economic and personal interests' is located, or where the person stays for more than 183 days per year), regardless of where their income is generated (unlimited tax liability).
If a person does not have a place of residence within the territory of Poland, he or she is only subject to tax liability for the income (revenue) earned within this territory (limited tax liability). As a general rule, fees for services in the field of sports activity, performed by natural persons residing abroad and organised through the intermediation of natural or legal persons conducting activity in the field of sports events in Poland, are collected in the form of a lump sum of 20 per cent of revenue. These general rules only apply unless double taxation avoidance agreements to which Poland is a party provide otherwise.
In principle, entities subject to corporate income tax are taxed in Poland if their registered office or management is located there. Foreign sports clubs are subject to limited tax liability, unless an appropriate double taxation avoidance agreement provides otherwise.
Poland is a party to over 90 international agreements for the avoidance of double taxation. These may amend the general rules provided above – for example, the income earned in Poland by foreign entities may be completely exempt from income tax in Poland or a tax credit method may be applicable.
Specific sports issues
Doping is not a criminal offence that may be committed by an athlete himself or herself. Criminal sanctions may be imposed on a person who administers a prohibited substance to an athlete (without his or her knowledge) or (regardless of the actual knowledge) to a minor. Making available or trading certain forbidden substances is also sanctioned. Of course, the exclusion of the criminal responsibility of the athletes themselves does not exclude disciplinary sanctions or contractual sanctions (e.g., under sponsorship contracts) that may be imposed on them.
Disciplinary rules on doping are set out by the Polish Anti-Doping Agency, which cooperates with the relevant international agencies to the extent necessary. Doping-related disciplinary proceedings are brought before the relevant bodies of sports associations, decisions of which may be appealed to CASPOC, and subsequently to the Supreme Court (for further details, see Section II). Criminal cases are always brought before the state criminal courts, which may impose fines (depending on the gravity of the case, but also the perpetrator's income), restriction of liberty (community service) and even imprisonment for up to three years.
In general, Polish gambling regulations are considered to be some of the strictest in Europe.
Accepting bets on sports events is allowed, but requires obtaining a prior betting permit issued by the Minister of Finance. A permit may be issued for either land-based or online betting. There are several requirements that must be met to conduct betting operations, including the obligation to submit detailed data on planned operations, draft terms and conditions of the service, technical documentation of the betting website, documents proving the legality of funds used, and so on. Betting operators are obliged to pay gambling tax, which is 12 per cent of the total sum of all stakes paid in. Conducting sports betting also requires executing agreements with the relevant sports associations for the use of their results.
Organising betting without a valid permit is a fiscal crime, punishable by a large fine or imprisonment for up to three years, or both. In addition, it is also subject to an administrative fine, which is five times the government fee for issuing a betting permit.24
Participating in offshore betting while located in Poland is prohibited and constitutes a fiscal crime. As an additional measure to fight against offshore gambling, regulations introduced in 2017 have established a 'blacklisting' mechanism – blocking access to websites that provide unlicensed gambling services. The blacklisting laws were tightened in 2021 to cover not only offshore operators, but also websites that advertise and promote their services. Unlicensed websites are listed in a register maintained by the customs and tax authorities. Polish internet service providers are obliged to reroute customers who try to access the blacklisted websites, and payment service providers may not render their services towards these websites. As a result of these measures, a number of foreign online betting operators have effectively ceased to offer their services to the Polish audience while several others decided to challenge the new regulations in courts, although without much success. Nevertheless, interest in the Polish market is still high and the number of licensed operators in Poland is still growing year on year.
Bribery aimed at match-fixing is a crime and may even result in imprisonment for up to 10 years in the most severe cases. It is also an offence to participate in bets where the participant is aware of the manipulation. The other relevant crime is referring to connections or the ability to informally influence certain persons within the sports association or other bodies aimed at fixing the outcome of the game. However, a potentially responsible person may avoid being punished if he or she notifies the competent authorities about the manipulation and discloses all the relevant facts before the competent authority itself learns about them.
iv Grey market sales
The sale of sports events tickets in the grey market is an offence, but only if the tickets are sold or offered for prices exceeding their nominal value in the official distribution network.
Enforcing these rules may be burdensome. It usually consists of controlling a significant number of sellers, in particular on social media or online sales platforms and requires cooperation with their administrators. In practice, event organisers try counteracting this by means of various registration requirements imposed on purchasers or other means aimed at verifying the identity of the purchaser or event participant.
The year in review
Without a doubt, the covid-19 pandemic was the most important recent event in the sports world, both in Poland and worldwide. The pandemic caused major sports events to be cancelled or suspended. The finances of sports clubs suffered greatly, and all major Polish clubs had to renegotiate their contracts with athletes. Sports events were organised again starting from summer 2020, but in most cases, this was without spectators. This, of course, had an adverse impact on the sports industry, but not only that: the lack of sports events has also caused losses for a wide array of businesses, from the media and advertising to gambling and travel. The situation started to improve from spring 2021, but the long-term effects of the pandemic are yet to be thoroughly assessed.
Outlook and conclusions
The global sports industry seems motivated to rebound after the period of covid-19 lockdown. Major events, such as the Euro 2020 football tournament, have been organised despite many fears about spectators' health and safety, although with some restrictions. At the same time, the industry is trying to adapt to the changing landscape. This includes both appealing to a younger audience, who seem less interested in traditional spectator sports, and making sports events safer in terms of the risk of infections. As a result, esports keep growing in prominence, and the first-ever Olympic Virtual Series are a great example of this trend.
In Poland, these trends will likely be gaining importance as well. Another example of changes the sport industry is currently going through is the growing prominence of streaming platforms. Until recently, sports events' broadcast rights were purchased by major television conglomerates. The trend observable in Poland in 2021 is that streaming platforms have begun giving TV stations a run for their money, outbidding them in pitches for the rights to events that traditional TV stations have held for years. It seems that this trend mimics the one that the film industry observed in 2020, when streaming services boomed and truly went mainstream globally.
1 Piotr Dynowski is a partner and Michal Salajczyk is an associate at Bird & Bird Szepietowski i wspólnicy sp k.
2 Act of 25 June 2010 on Sports (uniform text OJ 2020, item 1133, as amended).
3 Article 3(2) of the Act on Sports.
4 Article 11(2)-(2a) of the Act on Sports. The possibility for non-Olympic sports associations to be established was introduced in December 2019. However, the Minister has not yet published a list of non-Olympic, internationally renowned sports federations.
5 Article 41 of the Act on Sports.
6 As it was difficult to appoint new officers during the covid-19 lockdown, special legislation was passed in March 2020, which, among other measures, prolonged the tenure of executives of sport associations up to 30 September 2021.
7 Article 9 of the Act on Sports.
8 Act of 20 March 2009 on Safety of Mass Events (uniform text OJ 2019, item 2171, as amended).
9 The professional league is required to be administered by a separate legal entity.
10 Articles 13 and 15 of the Act on Sports.
11 Article 471 of the Civil Code.
12 Article 415 of the Civil Code.
13 For certain crimes, including the crime of organising a mass event without holding a relevant permit or against its terms, the organiser may, however, face secondary liability in the form of a significant fine under the Act on Liability of Collective Subjects for Acts Prohibited under Punishment.
14 Article 45b(4) of the Act on Sports.
15 See Section VIII.i for details.
16 Certain sports events are outside the scope of the Act on Safety of Mass events regardless of the number of spectators. This applies in particular to events with participation of minors or disabled athletes, as well as physical recreation events with free admission.
17 Judgment of the Polish Supreme Court of 16 February 2016 (File No. I UK 77/15).
18 See, for example, Resolution of the Management Board of the Polish Football Association No. VIII/124 of 14 July 2015 on the status of athletes and rules of changing club membership.
19 See, for example, FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.
20 For example, before the 2019–2020 season, the rules of the Polish Football Association required that no more than two players not having EU citizenship could play in a match on each team.
21 See, for example, Resolution of the Management Board of the Polish Football Association No. III/54 of 27 March 2015 on minimum requirements for standard contracts with athletes in the professional football sector.
22 See, for example, footnote 18.
23 See, for example, decision DOK-1/2016 of UOKiK of December 2016 concerning practices restricting competition in relation to ski equipment.
24 The fee varies depending on the number of websites or betting shops used. For online betting using a single website, in 2020 the permit fee was 462,666.60 zlotys.