Meet Brent Nowicki: UB Law Alumni to FINA Executive Director

As someone who has always been interested in pursuing a career in sports, getting the opportunity to speak with someone who works in the industry has always been very beneficial to me. This past week I had the pleasure of sitting down with FINA Executive Director Brent Nowicki. I had the opportunity to learn both about his background, as well has his career to date, which appears to be quite busy.

Brent is a Buffalo native. He attended Canisius High School before playing lacrosse at Fairfield University. Following his undergraduate years, he decided to attend the University at Buffalo School of Law to receive his Juris Doctor. Brent stated that law school was not something he always wanted to do. He did not come from a legal family, and he was not sure what triggered his interest. Eventually, Brent decided a career in the law was something that interested him, and he decided to attend law school.

While attending law school, Brent did not have a specific interest of working in the field of sports law. He did not take a sports law class in law school and he did not know this type of career existed. Instead, Brent focused his law school curriculum on classes that he believed a law firm would look for, and the courses that would help him pass the bar.

After graduating from UB School of Law, Brent got his start at Hodgson Russ, where he worked for several years before moving to Europe. While he was working at Hodgson Russ, Brent was approached by friends who wanted him to review their contracts and help with negotiations. As this trend continued, Brent received more calls for similar services, and he realized a career in sports might be something he was interested in. 

Eventually, Brent decided to move to Europe, where he worked in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. One question I thought it was important to ask was the difference between the practice of sports law in Europe compared to the United States. In response, he stated the primary difference was that in Europe there are codified laws and statutes relating to sport, while in the United States lawyers mainly use other law fields and apply them to sport (such as antitrust, labor, and employment law). In addition, he stated the court system in Europe is an arbitral system in which most disputes are resolved through arbitration. Further, Brent stated cases in Europe are much shorter and there are no unions.

When Brent arrived in Switzerland, he did not know anybody, and he looked for ways to meet people. Brent used lacrosse as a tool to meet people in this new place. He became involved with the Swiss National Team, but because he did not have the nationality to play, he began to coach. He was involved with the team for two World Championships and a European Championship. Eventually, Brent was qualified to play for the team, and he played for the team in Vancouver before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down competition.

While working in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Brent was able to adapt to the cultural differences between Europe and the United States. Further, he stated his time at the Court of Arbitration for Sport helped him understand that the value of a contract is very different than one might think. Also, Brent learned how to structure deals, contracts, and negotiations. Overall, Brent believes his time at the Court of Arbitration for Sport helped him learn the law, which he believes has been advantageous in his current position. 

After several years with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Brent changed roles and became the Executive Director of FINA. The first question I asked regarding this position was how his responsibilities have changed compared to his previous position. Brent stated the biggest difference was the magnitude of responsibility. As the CEO of FINA, Brent has significantly more responsibilities compared to his previous role. The decisions he is responsible for affect over two hundred member federations and millions of athletes globally. Along with a higher magnitude of responsibility, Brent stated the scope of his current position is much greater. His decisions have much greater reach now compared to when he was with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. From organizing World Championships and International Events to dealing with commercial sponsors, the scope of employment is greater as the CEO. Brent believes being a lawyer has been advantageous to him in his current position. It allows him to put a legal spin on decisions, and to consider potential sources of liability and how to avoid them when making decisions. 

Finally, I asked Brent whether his time as an athlete has been beneficial to him in his current position as Executive Director of FINA. While Brent was quick to state he does not believe he was ever at the same level as the athletes he deals with, he believes his time as an athlete has allowed him to understand the sacrifices athletes make, as well as the value of training and preparation. Overall, Brent believes his time as an athlete has been helpful in considering an athlete’s perspective in decision making, along with being able to relate to and understand them. 

Getting to learn about Brent’s background and how his career has transpired to date was an incredible opportunity. He is at the top of his field and he has accomplished so much in a short time. The interview with Brent allowed me to get a brief look into the magnitude of decisions that he has to make on a daily basis and the thought process that goes into them. I am very thankful that Brent Nowicki, with all of his responsibilities and his very busy schedule, was able to take the time to sit down with me.

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