First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (an LLM or otherwise) from different universities across the world.
In 2022, Swathi Bhojaraj graduated with a Masters in Sports Management and Legal Skills with FC Barcelona offered by ISDE University. A 2014 graduate from NALSAR University, Swathi spent seven years as an in-house counsel at Infosys before enrolling for this course. In this FPA, she discusses the future of sports law in India, the master’s course itself, and a whole lot more.
Okay, straight off the bat – what on earth got you looking at such a niche area like sports law? Was sports always close to your heart? I see that you attended a course on sports law at Griffith University during your undergraduate days.
Thank you for asking this and I am very glad that I get to start with this!
Yes, sports has always been very close to my heart and life. My life has been intertwined with sports ever since I can remember. Be it as the least athletic kid in primary school, to somehow turning out to be the kid on most school teams (no idea when and how this happened).
As a young child, I played a little bit of volleyball. Then I fell in love with fencing, and had the fortune of representing India at the U-17 World Championship, and also won a bunch of medals for the Karnataka fencing team. I did quite a bit of shooting and participated in several Tal Sanik Camps representing the 7 KAR BN NCC of the Karnataka and Goa NCC Directorate.
Law school happened, and I kind of picked up basketball. I signed up for sports, media, IP and entertainment law electives; and interned with sports law firms. I also had the opportunity to help organize sporting competitions; worked closely with quite a few fencers in India to help them manage their career by assisting with legal documentation review, sponsorship and endorsement contract support.
At Infosys, there was a little bit of formalized running, playing football for the corporate team, and yoga.
So, all through my life, no matter what I was pursuing, sports has been a constant. I always saw myself working in the sports industry in some capacity, but just had to figure out when and what that would be. I believe it was just a matter of time for me to take the leap of faith and dive in completely.
After seven years as an in-house counsel, what made you think that this was a good time to apply for a master’s?
While I was in law school I did research for a sports law masters course. My initial plan was to work for a few years (2 or 3), pay off my educational loan and then maybe get another one to pursue a masters.
But, as we all know, life works in mysterious ways, and owing to personal reasons I had to take a two-year break right after law school where I spent most of the time tending to my father in the hospital. I was very particular about landing an in-house role, specifically in Bangalore so that I would be close to family.
With my dad passing away in 2017, and being the only child, I chose to stay back with my mother, and along the way got consumed by many life’s happenings. But with each passing year at Infosys, I picked up so many interpersonal and professional skills, which I believe were truly required to appreciate the masters program for what it offered.
The last few years, I was part of the America’s Transactional Team negotiating technology deals, including digital innovation deals, sponsorship and licensing deals for global sporting events. My favorite part was always working with a very diverse cross-cultural, truly global team of experts from varied backgrounds – business, tax, information security, data privacy, legal, finance functions, sales, risk, etc and learning different aspects of the same business.
ISDE University offers two masters programs for sports business and law enthusiasts. One is a masters program purely focused on aspects related to sports and the law, and another a business masters in sports with focus on legal aspects. Both courses are taught by industry experts with real life experience in the world of sports business and include lawyers, agents, communications and marketing professionals, members of player rights forums and clubs across different sports etc.
I also just got lucky that we had a lawyer working with the world’s leading Italian fencer teach us!
Having been a business lawyer led and guided by incredible leaders and mentors (without whom this would not be possible) who constantly emphasized on the need to learn the business in depth to be a better lawyer, I really wanted to get an insight of the global sports business ecosystem, and the ISDE Master in Sports Management and Legal Skill with F.C.Barcelona seemed to fit this requirement.
Any advice on the application process? Did it involve having difficult conversations with your team?
Of course, my first go to place for detailed information on the course and admission process was the university website.
With ISDE there are three rounds of selection process. First you send in your CV, Statement of Purpose and 2 recommendation letters. On being shortlisted there is a written and psychometric analysis examination, before which you need to make an administrative fee payment.
The written examination is open book, and very simple. It focuses on understanding one’s aptitude for the course and views on happenings around the world in the business of sport. There may be a few basic questions of law or legal principles. There is no need for detailed preparation for this examination, as they are trying to assess whether you are right fit for the program, and really passionate about pursuing the course.
At the end there is a telephonic interview with a panel where the goal is to assess your personality.
What I did was talk to a batchmate from law school who had pursued the same masters a few years ago. I recommend aspirants to either reach out within their network or research on LinkedIn and connect with the alumni.
Get an actual understanding of what the course feels like, whether it is really suited to their aspiration, whether it is academic oriented or practice based course, whether there are scholarships offered, prospects after completion of course, etc. Request for a call, and be prepared with the questions you have. This will help you ascertain whether this is the course for you or not, and help you prepare for the admission process.
In terms of difficult discussions with my team, yes there were lots. But each of them made it easy and seamless with the tremendous support that they provided.
I have been fortunate to have been led and mentored by Jyoti Panwar, Mary Kostopolous, Frank Clark and Inderpreet Sahwney from the legal fraternity, and Murali Vasudevan, Nageswar Cherukupalli, and Sanjeev Bode from business teams – they have been my source of inspiration and strength, guiding me not just while in the organization but also after leaving.
The legal leadership was all in support of my aspiration to pursue a masters program, they never hesitated to write me a letter of recommendation be it for college or scholarships! As the masters course was only 20 hours a week, I was considering working part-time in Spain, and got an opportunity to continue my journey with the Infosys Legal team while in Spain on a part-time basis (which was not an easy task for any team that worked on it).
The most difficult of all was saying goodbye to the leadership, colleagues and friends that stood by me over the several turns and tides, including while stepping out of the organization to chase a dream. I am aware and acknowledge how fortunate I am to have had such incredible mentors, garnered all the skill sets that I could and bid adieu with warm wishes from everyone.
What were some of the expectations you had from the ISDE master’s and, looking back, were these expectations met?
The expectation was to learn about how the business of sport is run in practice.
How do agents do what they do for their players? What are the considerations that organizations consider while relying on making a sponsorship or a partnership proposal? How different is the functioning of a sports organization from that of any other company? What are the views of varied stakeholders on the role and importance of women’s sports and gender-equity on and off the court?
I wanted to learn these aspects from experts in the industry who have led these projects.
Based on the course’s website, I expected the program would be very practice driven with industry experts speaking and teaching their personal learnings. Which is what the program provides – an opportunity to learn from the industry best! Experts like the head of the FIFA legal department, legal counsels, successful sports agents, leaders of player unions, business experts from leading sports clubs in Europe, in-house CSR experts of sporting organizations, etc.
It allows you an opportunity to interact personally with these leaders and build professional, hopefully long standing relationships.
What were some of the more interesting learnings made during the course? How did you find your work experience helping, if at all, during your time in the course?
As I mentioned earlier, while working at Infosys, I discovered an interest in working with varied kinds of people and learning from varied cultures and perspectives.
My masters course consisted of members from 21 nationalities, one can only imagine spending almost a year on a day to day basis with people from varied backgrounds!
The life lessons learnt are invaluable. You learn that stereotypes are just stereotypes, and that first impressions are not everything. Sometimes you find [a greater connection with] people who have nothing in common with you than people who have many things in common with you.
Besides classroom learning, all the interactions, cultural and professional experiences with colleagues has only expanded my perspective which I hope to bring to the table everyday in what I do.
My prior work experience definitely helped me understand and appreciate the masters program much more. No matter what the matter of discussion was – communications, marketing, project management, digital innovation, I was able to identify similarities in these businesses and propose solutions which are not obvious to the sports business but very successfully implemented elsewhere.
Also having worked 7 years as an in-house counsel , I am comfortable venturing on the business side and exploring different opportunities. This helped me make a decision to join a sports technology start-up, StadioPlus. Today I have gained insights on fundraising, partnerships, sponsorship activations, business development, digital marketing, communication, strategy, etc.
If not for the experience that I garnered over these years, I probably wouldn’t have made this choice.
Am curious to know what is your reading of the future of sports law (and their practitioners) in India – do you think this is a field that is going to grow in the coming years?
I believe that the sports industry is still one of the most difficult industries to break into, not just in India but also in Europe.
Having said this, I am optimistic about the growth of the sports business in India.
I say this basis the market movement in India, the number of sports leagues that are coming up, the incredible performance of athletes at international tournaments, the incredible work of sports law firms and organizations like GoSports Foundation, the investment by clubs of the LaLiga and English Premier League in Indian football academies, NBA and FIBA in basketball academies etc.
As of January this year, there were about 1,200+ sports technology startups in India. These are all signs that the industry will grow. Some experts have even commented that India could be the future sports hub.
This means that the opportunities for us lawyers in the field of sports are expanding!
My personal view is that this is definitely an area to watch out for and pursue if it interests you. There is most likely not going to be dearth of opportunities soon.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a masters abroad?
Sometimes, I receive requests to chat on LinkedIn from aspirants wanting to pursue the master’s I did.
In most of my discussions, one of the first things that I ask is what their expectation out of the master’s is? Most of the time, I hear that pursuing the masters will open doors to the sporting world (which is true) and land them with jobs in leading sports organizations across the world (this not necessarily).
These are aspirants not just from India but parts of Europe including Spain too.
A master’s is definitely an opportunity to enter the world of sports and learn about the business of sports, but that does not mean the journey is going to be easy. There are way too few jobs available. Working rights, number of languages one knows, prior work experience, entrepreneurial spirit, and willingness to take risks amongst others do play a major role in getting a job.
Do take up the opportunity if you are really willing to ride the highs and lows of the tide, and there are going to be many of those, during the masters, during the practical training and definitely after. Research on the available scholarships, and whether the course and/or the university that you intend to pursue are eligible for those scholarships.
It is perfectly fine to explore and learn what you want to pursue post your masters, but it is definitely better to at least have an idea of what you intend to achieve. Pick the course that really caters to your needs and requirements and not the one that is fancy.
If you have an opportunity to deep dive into the field of sports business or law even without a master’s, give it a shot. It could be working in a boutique law firm with IP practice, dispute resolution, commercial transactions, media and entertainment laws, or maybe even an internship in a non-legal role (if you are still in law school and have the time to).