Bishop & Sewell

The Welsh Rugby Union team suffered a dent to their chances of winning the Six Nations this month when star winger, 22 year old Louis Rees-Zammit announced he has moved to the USA in order to make himself available for the draft to play American Football in the NFL, writes David Little, a Partner in our Corporate and Commercial  department who increasingly handles Sports Law cases too.

Paul Thornburn was another former Welsh rugby international who also tried his hand – or rather his boot, as he could kick like a mule – in grid iron football. The ability to excel in one discipline is impressive, but the rare few who can conquer multiple sports leave an indelible mark on history. Britain has produced a host of legendary athletes who have seamlessly transitioned from one sport to another, showcasing their exceptional versatility and determination.

In the rugby world, the two codes have attracted several notable players who succeeded in both Rugby League and Rugby Union. Jonathan Davies played with distinction at international level in both codes for Wales in the 1980s. More recently England rugby union international Jason Robinson, initially gained fame as a rugby league star, making a name for himself with the Wigan Warriors. Yet, in a bold move, he transitioned to rugby union, playing a crucial role in England’s World Cup victory in 2003. Robinson’s ability to seamlessly adapt his skills across codes solidified his status as one who mastered the switch.

Sir Ian Botham, renowned for his cricketing prowess was a cricketing maestro, making headlines with his incredible all-round skills. However, his venture into professional football with Scunthorpe United in the 1980s was a surprising twist. While his football career may not have reached the same heights as his cricketing success, it demonstrated his tenacity and love of sport.

Dame Sarah Storey is another British sports star who made an astonishing switch. Originally a swimmer, Storey clinched numerous medals at the Paralympics. However, after a serious ear infection led to her switch from swimming to cycling, she continued her winning streak on the velodrome. Dame Sarah Storey’s remarkable transition stands as a testament to her adaptability and unwavering commitment to sporting excellence.

Another unforgettable switch came from Denise Lewis, an Olympic heptathlon gold medallist. Lewis, after conquering the multi-discipline event, switched to bobsleigh. Her foray into the icy world of bobsleigh demonstrated her fearlessness and willingness to embrace new challenges outside her comfort zone.

Victoria Pendleton is today a British jockey, but formerly she was a track cyclist who specialised in the sprint, team sprint and keirin disciplines. A former Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth champion. With two Olympic gold medals and one silver, Pendleton is one of Great Britain’s most successful female Olympians. As a jockey she’s not a bad bet either, just twelve months after first sitting on a horse she confounding her critics by finishing fifth in the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day.

Martina Navratilova particularly stands out as tennis’ global icon. Originally from Czechoslovakia, Navratilova clinched 18 Grand Slam singles titles. However, her versatility extended beyond the tennis court when she tried her hand at professional golf. Although she didn’t reach the same heights in golf as she did in tennis, Navratilova was still able to compete as a fully qualified professional playing off a scratch handicap.

Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time after a spectacular career with the Chicago Bulls, where he won six NBA championships, stunned the sports world by retiring from basketball to pursue a career in professional baseball. Although his baseball stint was relatively short-lived, his return to the NBA with the Bulls further solidified his legendary status. Michael Jordan’s ability to dominate in two distinct sports is a testament to his unparalleled athleticism and competitive spirit.

The Swedish striker, goal machine Zlatan Ibrahimović played in many of the top football leagues in the world, including Serie A, La Liga, and the Premier League. What sets Ibrahimović apart is his short but impactful stint in professional taekwondo during his teenage years. While football ultimately claimed his focus, Ibrahimović’s early years in taekwondo undoubtedly contributed to his agility and physical prowess on the football field.

These sports code switchers not only highlight the extraordinary talent of these athletes but also emphasize the importance of adaptability in competitive sport.

The ability to master one sport is commendable, but those who can successfully switch to another and continue to shine elevate themselves to a league of their own.


Contact our Corporate & Commercial Solicitors

David Little, is a Partner in the Corporate & Commercial team and also Head of Sports Law for the firm. If you would like to contact him please quote Ref CB446 on either 07968 027343 or 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is accurate as at 22 January 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Category: Blog, News | Date: 22nd Jan 2024

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