Take a scenario where a former coach of Team A starts coaching Team B and the two teams are to meet in the World Cup. Can Team A do anything to protect its confidential information, which the coach still has and might use to the advantage of Team B when it plays Team A?

Interestingly, there is very little on the duties of coaches to former teams or team members. That may be because this is most often a matter of contract which will determine the nature and extent of duties, including those of confidentiality. If we assume, for the purposes of this article, that there is no contract, then the primary legal remedy would be for breach of fiduciary duty.

Some US academic writers believe there is a fiduciary relationship between coaches and players, but that is in the context of school and college sport. Those opinions may be less applicable to professional international sport. When considering whether a coach of a team such as the All Blacks owes a fiduciary duty to that team, the test is likely to be whether it was a relationship of trust and confidence. Applying that test, there is certainly the basis for a fiduciary relationship between the coach and the team.

In order to establish a breach of fiduciary duty based on confidentiality and disclosure, the coach’s former team would need to establish the following:

  1. Whether confidential information is held which, if disclosed, is likely to affect the former team’s interests adversely. In the context of an international rugby team, the answer to this question may well be yes. Examples of confidential information would be line out calls, set piece routines and back line moves. If the former coach of Team A were to impart that information to Team B, then Team B may have a significant advantage when the two teams play each other.
  2. Whether in the particular factual circumstances, viewed objectively, there is a real or appreciable risk that the confidential information will be used. The answer to this question would be highly fact and circumstance dependent. The coach could argue that due to the passage of time and new coaching staff, none of the old information remains current.
  3. Whether the significance and importance of the special fiduciary relationship justifies Court intervention. In determining whether to intervene, factors which might be of relevance include the limited pool of highly qualified international rugby coaches and the wider public interest in coaches using their skills to advance the game as a whole, in particular at a Rugby World Cup.

If it was determined that the coach held confidential information and that there was a real risk it could be used by Team B to the detriment of Team A, then one of the remedies available to a Court would be an injunction to prevent the coach from working for Team B.

If you would like to know more about the issues discussed in this article, please contact Peter Hunt

This publication is intended as a general overview and discussion of the content dealt with. It should not be used in any specific situation, in which case you should seek specific legal advice.