Even if you have never skied or touched a curling stone, the Olympics seem to bring all sports fans together in rare shows of nationalism and USA pride. For Paul Greene, the Olympics are a bit more personal. Greene, one of the most renowned sports lawyers in the world, represents many of the athletes competing in the Olympics including recent gold medalist Jamie Anderson. Whether defending against doping allegations, negotiating contracts, or protecting an athlete’s intellectual property, Greene has carved out a niche in international sports law.
And now, just as the Olympic flame was lit in Sochi, Greene has launched his own firm, Global Sports Advocates in Portland, Maine after years in the big firm world. Greene, a University of Maine School of Law graduate, has handled sports law matters around the world, including numerous hearings before the international Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland known as the “Supreme Court for Sports Law.” Greene is also a past contributor to The Legal Blitz, so we decided to pick his brain about Olympic law issues and life as a solo practitioner.
How did you decide to go solo?
I would sit around and dream about this with friends and when you go to Europe a lot you have a lot of time to think on planes. Last summer I had a case in Switzerland and I was talking with Brent Nowicki (the first American legal counsel for the Court of Arbitration for Sport) and he said, “I don’t think you fit into a firm, Paul. You don’t need anyone else. You just need the guts to pull the trigger.” That is hard to think about when you have family and responsibilities, so there was a lot of soul searching. But I think I will ultimately have a soft spot in my heart for Indianapolis because I went out there to speak to track and field agents at a conference. I was over there and something just clicked into my head and I thought about this lyric from Jay-Z where he says, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business man.” Not that I model myself after Jay-Z but it made me think to myself that I have to believe in myself, I can’t be afraid. So I came back from that trip and decided that was it, I’m doing it.
What are the Olympic athletes going through right now in Sochi in terms of doping rules and testing?
The testing at the Olympics is unbelievably advanced and extremely difficult for athletes to deal with. My clients and some others I have talked to who are clean and want to be tested understand that this is part of the price you pay in today’s world that you have to go through this. They may get blood drawn at any moment without notice, they may get pulled over after competition or a practice and have to be urine tested and sit there for hours while the test comes down. That’s the way it goes.
Beyond that there are all sorts of limitations on an athlete’s ability to market themselves during the Olympics, which is unique to the Olympics. During the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning is all over the air with Buick and Papa John’s. The Olympics has a special rule that athletes are not able, during the Olympics window, to do that. So in the biggest, most marketable time for athletes and they can’t do that. The Olympic charter prevents them from doing it in the lead up to the games or the games themselves. So you’ll see ads, but they have to be with official Olympic sponsors.
How are snowboarders allowed to have stickers and artwork from non-official sponsors?
That’s an interesting pick up. I think they finally came to the realization that some of those stickers are not from Olympic sponsors, but the Olympics will not make them change their boards. There is another issue with sneakers. Some of the runners in London did not wear sneakers from official sponsors but they will not make them change shoes. There is no official Olympic shoe or snowboard.
What are the testing requirements after the Olympics end?
Athletes are always subject to random drug testing at any time. It is the way of life for athletes today. At any point they can have a knock on their door. American athletes actually have to do a listing to the US Anti-Doping Agency where they have to tell the Agency where they are going to be everyday per hour. It is called the “Whereabouts Rule.” If they do it wrong it can count as a missed test. Sometimes people forget. They may say they are going to be in Killington training and a friend calls and says, “hey, come meet me in Montreal for lunch.” They get in their car and go to Montreal then the drug tester shows up in Killington. That’s a missed test. If you get three of those then it counts as a positive. I think it is a big burden but it is part of what you need to do to be a professional athlete.
Who regulates agents for Olympic sport athletes?
It depends on the sport. Track and Field does have a regulation and licensing process. The IWAF and USA Track and Field requires a test to become licensed. There are maybe 100 worldwide. Not every sport has such a test.
How are international sports dealing with transgendered athletes?
The best case we have on point is a case from South Africa about Caster Semenya. She was born with both male and female sexual organs and identified herself as a woman. She ran in the world championships in 2009 for track and field and won. Afterwards they did a gender test on her and determined that she was not enough of a woman to compete as a woman. The IWAF then made her go through some sort of year long hormone treatment. It is not really clear what that treatment was, but they wanted to get her testosterone levels lower, even though it was natural for her. They then implemented a very complicated gender testing procedure with the IWAF. It is a complicated issue and I don’t think it is consistent sport to sport. I think it is an issue that sports organizations have struggled with for a very long time. If you go back to the 60s, they used to make women take off their clothes and walk around to make sure they were women because there was a fear that men would try to compete as women.
How do you keep up to date of all the different laws and regulations around the world?
Each case is unique and you just have to become a quick study. Fortunately everything is available today is online. So if a new case comes up with a new federation I haven’t dealt with I’m able to get those rules and learn them. Most are very similar. The doping code is uniform around the world. So that is a rare actual international law. The code is actually about to change in January of 2015 so that will put everything in an upheavel, but it is not much different from any other area of practice.
How does the court of arbitration in Switzerland differ from American courts?
It is an arbitration panel. So everyone is sitting down. Some of the customs are differents in different countries. It Canada it is the Onus of Proof not the Burden of Proof. They have the balance of probability not preponderance of the evidence. So you need to learn the different standards. In Europe they don’t do a big opening statement, but they do a big closing argument.
Is it different watching the Olympics now that you have clients competing in them?
Absolutely, I’m sitting there rooting for Jamie Anderson because I know her and represented her in a contracts case (not doping). I’m excited because I want to see them be successful and I have a connection with them.
How do you get clients? Are you actively recruiting or is your phone ringing now that you are more established?
It is a combination. You always have to be marketing yourself. The people who are best at marketing are always marketing. You have to constantly be trying to find new clients, new referrals and people who can send you work. The more channels you have to get new cases the better.
How do you end up in Portland?
I grew up on Long Island. Both my parents are New Yorkers. I went to Brandeis for college and fell in love with New England. I then went to graduate school at Syracuse for communications, never imagining that I would do anything but broadcasting. Coming out of Syracuse I got my first job on the air in Portland. I had just turned 24 and my best friend from Brandeis was in law school in Portland. I had never spent more than two days of my life in Maine. I didn’t know anything about Maine. I moved up here over a weekend when I got hired and I never thought I would stay. But then I fell in love with it. I love the natural beauty and the values of the people in Maine. Nobody feels like they are entitled to anything. It is very grounding in that sense. It’s a real place to live.