Hailing from the home of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s top-ranked men’s national rugby team, Emily Jackson’s sport of choice used to be rugby.
But as head of legal for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia-New Zealand 2023, the New Zealander is starting to develop an appreciation for soccer.
“It feels like there’s a real groundswell of emotion around it now and a real passion around women’s sport and women’s football particularly. It’s made me really even more excited to be working in this role,” she said.
Jackson is a key part of the team that will deliver the Women’s World Cup, which will take place in Australia and New Zealand in July and August of next year, featuring 32 teams from six continents.
The Sydney-headquartered lawyer and her team of four lawyers have a broad remit that includes managing contracts and enforcing the hosting documentation with various stakeholders, such as the stadiums and training sites. Their responsibilities also include working on the procurement of suppliers, such as temporary buildings, equipment for training sites, hotels for the teams and FIFA staff, and equipment for the media and broadcast facilities.
Previous Football World Cups have been managed by a local football committee such as the nation’s peak soccer body. But for the first time, FIFA is delivering next year’s event through a direct subsidiary. Jackson and her team are working to build legal processes and develop intellectual property in-house that can be used to stage future World Cups.
“It’s an interesting situation where we’re working with one of the best and biggest sporting brands in the world, but there’s still some stuff that they haven’t encountered before so we’re working quite closely with them to build an organizing model,” she said. “It is complex and it is fast moving.”
Jackson also has to ensure that all partners and suppliers meet FIFA standards and requirements for the tournament—such as the pitch, for instance. The lawyers also negotiate any deviation from these requirements and act as a bridge between FIFA and the stakeholders.
In fact, stakeholder management is one of the key challenges of the role. “It is understanding what the drivers are for a specific concern and making sure that that’s communicated in the right way to FIFA and that the right solution is found, she said. “We have to continue to work with these people and maintain the relationships,” she said.
Jackson started her career as a commercial and intellectual property lawyer at firms in New Zealand before joining Westpac bank’s digital, marketing and sponsorship team. The exposure to sports sponsorship from that role led to three years at Cricket Australia before she was headhunted to join Expo 2020 in Dubai.
A year ago, she joined the Women’s World Cup 2023, drawing on both her sports and events experience.
Working as general counsel in sports isn’t vastly different from a GC role anywhere else, Jackson says—“just with a bit of a cooler subject matter.” The GC has to deal with corporate obligations, procurement processes and compliance.
But there are also sometimes very specific, unique scopes of work that wouldn’t come up in other organizations, such as sponsorship or enforcing sporting regulations. At Cricket Australia, she was involved in negotiations with the players’ association, which was a lot like dealing with any other sort of workers’ union except that this one represented some of the best-known and most-admired Australian sportspeople.
Her role with FIFA will end in December 2023, after she has tied up loose ends following next year’s tournament.
Working as in-house counsel for a specific event with a fixed date for the role to end isn’t for everyone, but it suits a certain type of personality, Jackson said.
“For me, the event or fixed‑term contract space is very appealing because there’s a natural narrative end to your role and then you can move on to the next opportunity and maybe the next growth space,” she said.
She also likes the fact that working under a deadline means there isn’t the “cyclical malaise” experienced in long-term roles or long-term organizations.
“It’s a short project. You come on. You have a build phase and a sort of anticipation and excitement builds. You deliver something amazing. You wrap up and then you can move on to something else,” she said.
Jackson says young lawyers should consider working on sporting events and not be deterred by fixed-term contracts. The work provides exposure to interesting, broad-based businesses and allows lawyers to develop skills they can take to other employers, she says.
“And it’s also just really fun,” she added. “It’s really cool at event time to be on the ground at matches, seeing what the teams go through, seeing the emotions. It’s awesome,” she said.
Jackson, who studied law at the University of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, is diplomatic when asked which team she’ll be supporting next year.
“I’ll be supporting whoever is playing that I’m most passionate about. I’m not going to have an official position,” she said.