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As part of the increasingly busy practice of sports law, Valparaiso University School of Law has opened what is believed to be the nation’s first clinic providing free legal assistance to athletes and coaches in amateur sports. The VU Sports Law Clinic at the Indiana university is designed to serve amateur athletes and coaches who lack financial resources to pay for legal representation in matters of doping, eligibility, immigration and more. The clinic’s debut is part of the growing sports law market, one that has spurred several law firms in recent years to establish sports practices, although many of those firms handle professional matters. Michael Straubel, director of the VU Sports Law Clinic and an associate law professor at Valparaiso, said that amateur athletes increasingly are involved in legal matters, but many are unable to hire attorneys for representation. “Amateur athletes frequently don’t have the resources to deal with national sports governing bodies,” he said. Amateur and professional sports make up a $213 billion industry in the United States, according to Sports Business Journal. This year alone, six law firms in The National Law Journal‘s 2005 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms, launched or expanded their sports law groups. Most of those firms represent the management side of sports, rather than the athletes. [See Page 12.] Much of the work involves contract negotiations, labor disputes, naming rights and stadium deals, said Clark Griffith, chairman of the sports law division of the American Bar Association. Griffith added that Valparaiso’s clinic will provide a valuable service to amateur athletes, who may run the risk of losing their amateur status if they receive incompetent representation. The clinic already successfully represented diver Cassandra Cardinell in a dispute over whether she placed third on the world championship team. It also is helping world-class runner Anthony Kabara obtain a special visa to allow him to train in the United States, and is representing champion speed skater Shani Davis in a dispute with the U.S. speed skating governing board over uniform logos. The VU Sports Law Clinic receives some of its cases from the U.S. Olympic ombudsman and plans to provide free on-site legal assistance at the next Olympic Games. Several disputes over disqualifications related to drugs and doping marred the 2004 Games.

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