Our latest “legal pioneers” are three Scottish lawyers, moving on from their experience with Glasgow 2014 to leading roles with the team charged with delivering the inaugural European Games in Baku

As we qualified from our respective Scottish law firms, it is fair to say that none of us would have thought we would find ourselves today practising law on an international stage in Baku, Azerbaijan. Baku, you say? Yes, we must confess to searching Google to find Baku, on the fringes of the Caspian Sea in the heart of the Caucasus. Why Baku?

We are part of the legal team advising the Baku European Games Operations Committee (BEGOC), the organising committee established for the inaugural European Games due to take place in Baku in June this year. We were all part of the legal team at Glasgow 2014 Ltd – the organising committee for last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The huge success of the Glasgow Games has been measured according to a range of criteria, one of which, legacy, is considered a key factor. The long-term benefits to the city of Glasgow and Scotland are clear; however, the Games’ human legacy can extend further afield, and we were kindly offered the opportunity to build on our experience and provide legal support to BEGOC.

Introducing the European Games

The European Games are an exciting and innovative new event that will be the Continent’s first major multi-sport competition. All members of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) have been invited to attend and compete in Baku across 20 sports. The opening ceremony will be held on Friday 12 June 2015, with the closing ceremony on Sunday 28 June. The Games were designed and will be regulated by the European Olympic Committees under the organisation of BEGOC.

Baku was awarded the honour of being the first host of the Games at the 41st EOC General Assembly in Rome, on 8 December 2012. The European Games are planned to take place every four years, with the next competition in 2019. The fact that so many international sports federations are including the inaugural European Games as part of their Olympic Games qualification process will ensure that spectators will experience high-profile and competitive sporting competitions, and is testament to what a world-class event Baku 2015 will be.

Two-and-a-half-year sprint

What differentiates the Baku 2015 European Games from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games (and practically every other major international multi-sport event) is that Baku has had a mere two-and-a-half-years’ preparation time – host cities of other events are usually provided with approximately seven years to prepare following a successful bid to showcase such an international event. This presents a huge (but not unsurmountable) challenge.

Having only joined BEGOC following the conclusion of the Glasgow Games, we stepped into an environment where things had to be done, to specification and on time. There was, and continues to be, no time for a plan B. As a legal team, we have the enormous challenge of negotiating and completing thousands of agreements to ensure everything is in place prior to the Games. We each concentrate our efforts on particular areas, all vital to the success of Baku 2015.

Translating Glasgow to Azerbaijan

Euan Faulds, who was responsible for managing the legal work for the opening and closing ceremonies, Queen’s Baton Relay and cultural programme at Glasgow 2014, is now leading a team of five lawyers who provide dedicated legal support to the opening and closing ceremonies, torch relay and cultural programme for the Games in Baku. Faulds’ dynamic team comprises both local Azerbaijani lawyers and a secondee from a London City firm who possess a variety of valuable skills, enthusiasm and dedication to ensure that this creative and often technically challenging sector of the Games is properly supported.

A key part of Faulds’ role is to ensure that not only is the organisation properly protected legally and contractually but, crucially, that it is done in the most pragmatic and efficient manner possible. This is particularly relevant given the already condensed planning and organisation timescales with this project.

Shaun Gibson, a commercial lawyer at Glasgow 2014, now leads a team of local and international lawyers who provide legal support to BEGOC’s commercial programme. This programme is challenging for two reasons. First, organisations typically plan their sponsorship investments several years before the start of a Games, while broadcasters will also have their major sporting schedules finalised long in advance. Baku 2015’s schedule does not afford the planning and preparation time that sponsors and broadcasters can normally expect. Secondly, as this is the inaugural European Games, BEGOC has to grow and develop the European Games brand in parallel to commercialising it (unlike other events, such as the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games, whose brands are already well established). Thus far, the commercial programme has overcome these challenges with great success, securing world-renowned sponsors to support the Games (including Tissot, Coca-Cola and BP), as well as ensuring that the Games will be broadcast in territories across the world.

Jenna Hudson, also a commercial lawyer at Glasgow 2014, has expanded on her Games experience by becoming the principal legal adviser to a number of Baku 2015’s key Games services functions, including cleaning, catering and waste, sport and the athletes’ village. These functions provide critical Games-time services, ensuring athletes have everything they need to compete successfully in their chosen sport. This includes specialised catering, sports equipment, venue installation, and safe and comfortable Games-time accommodation.

BEGOC has contracted with hundreds of local and international specialised providers for these services. A key BEGOC requirement is that a balance must be achieved between sourcing and utilising existing local resources, while also recognising the international expertise on offer for large multi-sport events. From a legal perspective, it is important to anticipate the challenges that such large and complex international projects will face, and ensure that BEGOC has robust, watertight and solution-orientated contracts to allow it to confidently manage complex and often unique arrangements to ensure the successful delivery of the Games.

Multi-national mix

In addition to the challenges of being required to complete such a high volume of agreements within a tight timeframe, we have had to adjust to the methods of doing business in Baku and its obvious cultural differences. BEGOC’s legal function comprises 16 lawyers: 12 locally qualified (from a variety of local and international firms); an English-qualified lawyer (seconded from a London firm); and us. Our client base comprises more than 1,200 BEGOC employees, 400 of which are non-Azerbaijani nationals from at least 45 countries across the world. As well as the obvious language difficulties (who would have thought a Scottish accent would be so difficult to understand?), the variety of people, experience and manner of business practice is such that the business norms we had become accustomed to no longer exist.

Diversity has benefited and enhanced our own skills as lawyers: the business world is becoming increasingly global and (traditionally at least) the opportunities for lawyers to gain overseas experience have been tempered by the jurisdictional constraints of our profession. However, our experience demonstrates that, by pushing the boundaries, overseas practice in unfamiliar jurisdictions is certainly achievable.

Caledonian influence

To that extent, we are grateful for the meticulous training, high standards and integral values expected from the Scottish legal profession, and, engrained in us, these qualities have influenced BEGOC’s growth and helped to develop its legal function into a highly efficient, knowledgeable and valuable asset.

Local lawyers are refreshingly interested in Scots law, particularly since we had to explain that it differs to that of England & Wales. Azerbaijan is a young jurisdiction – the country only gained its independence in 1991 – and there is uncertainty in many areas of its law (the relative number of civil court hearings is very low in comparison to Scotland). There has been a genuine interest from local lawyers as to how Scotland makes, develops and regulates its law, and we hope that sharing such knowledge will allow the local lawyers, as they progress into more senior and government roles, to develop and have more confidence in Azerbaijani law.

Being qualified in Scots law has also been of demonstrable value to BEGOC in terms of assisting the organisation in concluding contracts of varying jurisdictions. More often than not, the jurisdiction of choice for international agreements is England & Wales; and, with many similarities with our neighbours south of the border in the context of commercial contracts, we advise on the majority of BEGOC’s international deals.

Brad Kenworthy, Baku 2015 Director of Finance and Legal, commented: “The addition of Jenna, Euan and Shaun to our legal function has proved hugely beneficial to our project in ensuring that the many thousands of Games contracts are concluded in an efficient and commercially-focused manner. Their success is testament to their professional training and experience.”

Finish line in sight…

With less than three months to go until the opening ceremony, we continue to clear the hurdles put in front of us and focus on delivering a successful European Games. Just as athletes competing at the Baku Games will have benefited from top-class coaches and training, we are grateful that our Scottish legal experiences have opened doors to allow us also to compete successfully on an international stage.

The Author
Jenna Hudson, Euan Faulds and Shaun Gibson are senior lawyers at Baku European Games Operations Committee, the organising committee of the inaugural European Games, to take place in Baku 12-28 June 2015
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