The underdog team brings in an adorable animal to play for them (often exploiting the fact that rules of the game do not explicitly forbid this) and wins the big game.
The classic setup: The new kid in town joins the local sports team populated by the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. What they lack in skill, they make up for in Team Spirit, but on paper the next match looks hopeless. The Opposing Sports Team is in town and gunning for the championship. Their coach is a Drill Sergeant Nasty and the town bully is their star player.
Just then, the power of plot reveals that the new kid owns Tropey the Wonder Dog, an animal with astounding abilities which could make him a contender in this very sport! He petitions the team coach to try Tropey, where the dog's natural aptitude makes him an instant success. Come the night of the big game, out trots Tropey — the other team may rant and rave, but there's nothing they can do about it. Why? Ain't no specific rule agin' it! This is the Animal Athlete Loophole.
But in reality, such a move would be stymied by other rules. Age restrictions, for one: Try finding an arthritis-free dog large enough and old enough to play outside Little League Baseball. Then there are registration requirements: a legal name and school affiliation. Obeying the rules of play are a whole other issue: A dog is physically incapable of dribbling a basketball and there is no known ape or monkey other than humans with legs properly developed to kick a soccer ball. Most sports also have a broad rule against things that would bring the sport into disrepute, which is used to bar absurd shenanigans like these without having to make a rule against each one.
Still, family films aplenty adopt the premise and take it to the heartwarming if illogical conclusion.
Dogs and monkeys are usually the go-to animals for these kinds of film, but any size animal will fit through the loophole. A particularly rare but still notable inversion is a human applying to a sport that is not meant for one (at least on paper) and exploiting this loophole if asked.
Animal Athlete Loophole is a subtrope of Loophole Abuse. Overlaps with Artistic License Sports. If the events of the plot cause someone to add a specific ban on Animal Athletes, it's an Obvious Rule Patch.
- A beer commercial from several years back had two groups of horses playing football in an open field. One team scores and kicks the extra point. Two humans are watching this against a wire fence. One guy says "Do they always do this?" The other guy: "Nah...they usually go for two."
- In this GEICO ad, there is apparently no rule preventing an NHL team from making a walrus their goaltender. Duncan the walrus is not depicted as being able to use or wear human-compatible hockey equipment which is mandatory under the actual rules of ice hockey.
- Used, surprisingly, in Samurai Champloo. In a baseball game against the Eagleland Navy, ninja Kagemaru is a little shorthanded. Even after conscripting Mugen, Jin and Fuu, he needs five more players. So he gets a really old man (who dies in his first at-bat), Fuu's pet flying squirrel Momo, and a dog. When one of the American sailors objects, the umpire consults a rulebook, and rules that "I can't find anything about dogs in the rulebook. He's good." note
- The pitcher proceeds to get rid of the dog by hitting it with a pitch. (He had no other choice - the dog's so small that the strike zone is laughable.) The dog runs off with a yelp, and Kagemaru concedes, "Of course, he's still a dog."
- In one chapter of the manga Kochikame, Ryotsu is asked to play on a hockey team. The opposing team has a polar bear and penguin playing, and point out that there is no rule saying they can't.
- Rune Soldier Louie: A horse wins a race, as the rules did not specify that the winner has to be a human, and "The great god Mylee never discriminates against anyone."
- Comic Cavalcade: Katie's uncle in Australia sends her a Kangaroo named Myrtle, that turns out to be the best player by far on Katie's baseball team as none of the kids can catch the ball no matter how perfect a toss was.
- In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, edificeering has become a competitive, if extreme, sport. A trade skill taught by Assassins and Thieves, what was originally the Boggis-Downey Cup For Edificeering Excellence (a competition between the two Guilds) has expanded to encompass teams from the Guild of Steeplejacks, the Post Office (whose postmen get everywhere to deliver mail), the Extreme Sports Society - and the City Watch. This last team is prone to Loophole Abuse and fielded Gargoyles. In Llamedosian Rules Fifteen-a-Side football, the Watch pointed out there was no specific law that all players had to be human. therefore the core of its scrum was a Golem and two Trolls. And the University's edificeering side was centred on the Librarian...
- Inverted Trope in Boldores And Boomsticks. Due to a precedent involving human martial artists entering a local, non-league Pokémon fighting tournament in its early history, a human fighter is able to enter the Tournament Arc. The human fighter in question being one certain Yang Xiao-Long, she does manage to get second place.
- The Bolt Chronicles: In The Baseball Game, an arcane Single-A rule allows honorary team mascot Bolt to be pressed into playing service. He wins the game for his team.
- The premise of There's No Rule That Says A Wolf Can't Be A Jedi is that a lothwolf named Swift applies to join the Jedi Order. As he's fully sapient and clearly Force-sensitive, there isn't necessarily a problem, but the Council is still a bit stumped by how to respond to an applicant who is fully mature despite being only a year old, and has no hands to wield a lightsaber with.
Yoda: Treat Swift like everyone else, we could. A standard helmet, a training lightsaber, give him. Fit, they would not.
- Early Man: Dug assumes that there IS a rule against this sort of thing in Bronze Age football, and thus forbids his porcine pet Hognob from joining the tribe's team. It turns out there isn't. The commentators are incredulous at the sight, but no-one raises issue with Hognob subbing in goal for Chief after he's injured.
- Turbo is entirely built around the concept of a snail competing in a race meant for cars.
Tito: Actually, I've been doing a lot of research, and there's nothing in the rules that says a snail can't enter the race.
Angelo: Yeah, well, there's nothing that says this sponge can't enter the race either, but that doesn't mean it's ever gonna happen!
- Subverted in Peanuts, where there ain't no rule that says a dog can't play baseball... but he plays just like every other member of the team (and it's Charlie Brown's team), and Snoopy sometimes gets mistaken for a short kid with a big nose. Except in the TV specials Charlie Brown's All Stars and It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown, where in order to get into an organized league, the team must abide by its rules against animal players. In the latter, Lucy was not allowed as a girl, but Little League Baseball had changed its policies just in time for Lucy to play.
- In the direct-to-video film Baby Hueys Great Easter Adventure, ain't no rule that says a dog can't play baseball!
- Soccer Dog and Soccer Dog: European Pup: Ain't no rule that says a dog can't play soccer!
- The Air Bud series: There's no rule that a dog can't play basketball/football/soccer/baseball/volleyball/skateboard! In the first film, the referees even check the rulebook to make sure of it. The opposing coaches still object to Buddy playing until Coach Chaney goads them into allowing it by asking if they're afraid they'll lose to a dog.
- The Most Valuable Primate series: Ain't no rule that says a chimp can't play hockey/skateboarding/snowboarding!
- Funky Monkey: Ain't no rule that says a monkey can't play football!
- Ed: Ain't no rule that says a chimp can't play baseball!
- Gus: Ain't no rule that says a mule can't play football!
- The Horse That Played Center-Field: Ain't no rule that says... you know what.
- Babe: Ain't no rule that says a pig can't compete in a sheep-herding dog trial! Actually discussed quite thoroughly: the competition registration form requires "Name of Entry", and the narrator even mentions that had it read "Name of Dog", Mr. Hoggett would have aborted the plan as EXPLICITLY dishonest. The judges are not happy, but agree to let Babe compete based on the letter of the rules not covering this—though clearly they think the situation will resolve itself via Hoggett making a fool of himself in public. For their part, the commentators covering the trials wonder aloud if Hoggett is trying to make some sort of political protest.
- In the film version of Stuart Little, most of the boats in the race are being operated by remote control. Guess there ain't no rule that says a mouse can't be sailing one.
- Racing Stripes, a kids' movie about a zebra that wants to be a racehorse. To quote The Other Wiki's summary, It is similar in the style to the 1995 movie Babe, in that the protagonist is a talking animal who lives on a farm and succeeds at an activity not expected of his species. While there's a greater similarity between horses and zebras than there are in most examples of the trope, even most horses can't compete as racehorses, because races are generally limited to a very specific breed of horse (thoroughbreds, quarter horses, etc.) and these terms are minutely defined (often even to how the animal was conceived); funny as it might sound, there's no way you could enter a zebra as a "quarter horse" (with the implication being that the other three quarters are zebranote ).
- Inverted in Space Jam—the Toons challenge the tiny aliens to a game of basketball, not expecting them to cheat and steal the talents of actual basketball players, necessitating them to add Michael Jordan to the team.
- In Francis Goes to West Point, Francis The Talking Mule gets a spot on the West Point football team as a placekicker.
- In the Leaping Lizards entry of the Nintendo Adventure Books series, the Mario brothers and company are competing in the Mushroom Games. Why? The king of the Mushroom Kingdom has been turned into a rabbit and the prize is a magic whistle that will change him back. This rabbit form however is advantageous; depending on what choices you make, you can have the king in rabbit form complete the high jump event and win big! Of course, the Koopas complain about this selection not being fair — which turns out to be bizarre as they themselves cheat throughout the games.
- The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith: Ain't no rule that says a pig can't compete in a sheep herding dog trial! Actually, that one's more a trick of semantics, as the trial registration form requires "Name of Entry", saving Babe's owner from the implicit lie that would have been involved had it been "Name of Dog".
- Discworld: No rule saying an orangutan can't play football! Since the wizards are writing the rules of football themselves as they go along, of course, there wouldn't be. The climax relied on this (for non-ape reasons), with the twist that there actually was a rarely-used rule allowing it. It was implied there soon be an Obvious Rule Patch.
- Naturally, the Librarian was already in the habit of using this same Loophole to safely peruse books of arcane secrets "Man" Was Not Meant To Know.
- There's also no rule saying a sentient piece of luggage can't play football. However, it really can't. As in, it has no ability.
- There's also no rule barring an orangutan from the college council, though the wizards looked very hard for one.
- In Thomas E. Spencer's poem "How McDougal Topped the Score, McDougal's dog isn't technically playing cricket... but there ain't no rule that says you can't get your dog to fetch the ball and keep it away from the fielding side while you run 50!
- Double Subverted in Dave Barry's "1987: Look Back in Horror," where, on March 18, the National Collegiate Athletic Association suspends Southern Methodist University's football team upon determining, based on urine samples, that "the school's leading rusher, majoring in communications, is a horse." However, on March 23: "The Southern Methodist University horse is drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs."
- In "Nothing in the Rules" by L. Sprague de Camp, one team at a girls' swimming competition contains a mermaid, who wins everything she enters. (To avoid disqualification for not using the proper swimming form, the mermaid only competes in the freestyle events.) In response to the opposition's outrage, the team coach points out that the rules only specify that all entrants must be female; nothing is said about species. The officials are reluctantly forced to admit that he's right. Whereupon the opposing coach visits the city zoo and borrows a female seal, who (properly incentivized with a bucket of fish) outswims the mermaid.
- In the short story "A verhetetlen tizenegy" ("The unbeatable eleven") by Hungarian writer György Moldova, a Hungarian football trainer assigned to Africa recruits a team of athletically talented great apes and returns with them to Hungary. The apes enter the football league and quickly become champions. Then the trope gets inverted when the team's manager tries to convince the trainer to get his not-too-bright son in the team, saying that there ain't no rule a human can't play in an all-ape team (and suggests that his son might wear a gorilla suit to not stand out too much).
- In Pale, Avery and Nora watch a movie called Gosh Golly Gosling, Dodgeball Darling, starring a distinctly unlovable Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who make it their mission to lie, cheat, and steal their way into a dodgeball championship. Their mascot, the titular Gosh Golly, is an unpleasant, vicious goose they witness attacking a child. As the team escalates their cheating (and their enemies cheat in turn) the situation escalates to the point where they tag in Golly-who promptly attempts to attack an incoming dodgeball, breaking its neck and giving the opposing team a foul while gaining the protagonists the victory (the protagonists had trained Golly with much lighter dodgeballs to ensure this). The movie ends with the Spoof Aesop "Cheaters prosper in this world."
- Punch-Out!!: This is the in-universe reason why Donkey Kong appears in the Wii game. Many prior boxers had exploited the astoundingly lenient rules of the WVBA in different ways, so bringing a wild animal
- Sunless Skies has an unusual example as part of its main quest - ain't no rule says a human can't participate in the Courtesy; as in, the ritualized conspiracy where the Judgements fight and kill each other. Since humanity is so damn far below the participants in power, with a gap even larger than the one separating humans from ants, it's also a particularly exaggerated example.
- Way of the Samurai 4 plays with this during a battle tournament during the main story. In some plot branches, the player may end up facing a man and his dog. The specific loophole used in this case is that any weapons are allowed, so he declares the dog to be one of his weapons.
- Buttersafe has the winning athlete use a Paper-Thin Disguise.
- xkcd's Randall Munroe must really hate this trope, it's been referenced (at least) seven times in his comics and what-ifs
- It's the primary subject of #115 Meerkat, implied in #1552 Rulebook (in which the primary subject is the response to a team attempting to do this) and appears on #1957 2018 CVE List (8th item) .
- And it's referenced in the alt text of #1439 Rack Unit and as alt text for images in What-ifs #77 Growth Rate (third to last image), #103 Vanishing Water (third image) and #111 All the Money (last image).
- Concerned (set in the world of Half-Life 2) shows the erstwhile hero telling a monster called a Gargantua "There's no rule against having a Garg play soccer! This is gonna be the best season EVER!"
- Played with in Boxer Hockey, where anyone can play, "Even good 'ole Fido". That being said the Sydney Screamers' goalie is a kangaroo.
- While the trope itself doesn't appear in 8-Bit Theater, Red Mage refers to "The Air Bud Clause" when explaining how natural twenties work in Rock, Paper, Scissors.
- Parodied in Last Place Comics. When Air Bud wins the 2020 US presidential election, a referee tells Donald Trump and Joe Biden there's no specific rule against a dog being president. But then he realizes the president needs to be at least 35 years old, so Air Bud is disqualified.
- Kentucky Violated NCAA Rules While Recruiting Basketball-Playing Dog. "There's no rule saying a dog can't play basketball, but there is a rule against a prospect receiving gifts to influence a letter of intent."
- Parodied in this sketch.
- Mentioned in this sketch along with other sports movie types from the perspective of the other team.
- Inverted in Qwerpline with the sport of Sideball. Sideball teams are allowed to field up to six non-human players although raccoons are specifically banned.
- Lampshaded by The Nostalgia Critic in a video on sports movies, where he sardonically asks if there's a rule against rollerskating bears playing basketball. Or porfessionally trained tap dancing orangutans. Or a giant, urinating elephant, with one testicle, who can sing the classical works of Andrew Loyd Webber. Turns out there is one for the elephant.
- Parodied on The Simpsons. After adopting a horse, Homer spends hours training it as a placekicker, then checks the rulebook to see whether horses can play in the National Football League. Turns out, there is a rule.
"Show me where in the rule book it says a human can't be a robot!" "Right here. Rule one."
- Simpsons also averted Human Athlete Loopholes when Homer won at Robot Wars.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Gone Batty" (1954), when the Greenville Goons knock out the heroes' lineup with dirty tricks, the Sweetwater Shnooks put their mascot, a baby elephant named Bobo, in to play for them. The Goons protest, but as the umpire says, in singsong fashion: "There's nothing in the rule book that says an elephant can't pitch! Now play ball!"
- Parodied on Clone High, where Lincoln directs a film called It Takes a Hero, based on the premise that "There's no rule that says a giraffe can't play football."
- Subverted in another episode, where there is a rule at Clone High that says that women and animals cannot play boys' basketball. Joan sneaks in anyway, and so do the animals.
- In the 1980s Dennis the Menace cartoon, there ain't no rule that says a dog can't play football. There is, however, a rule that says plays cannot be made with a player's mouth, so Ruff is disqualified.
- An episode of South Park that parodied (and was slightly named after) You Got Served (and similar movies), had Stan's Ragtag Bunch of Misfits dancing team include a dancing duck. The duck gets injured, forcing Butters to finally join the crew, with disastrous results.
- In Rocky and Bullwinkle "Wossamotta U" story arc, the title duo received football scholarships because of Bullwinkle's throwing ability. The rulebook said that anyone can play college football except for a mouse.
- In Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, there was one episode where the Foolish Magistrate entered Sagwa in a caligraphy contest. Her status as one of the entrants was validated because there was no rule against cats entering the contest. The Magistrate tried to enter the rest of Sagwa's family but there was a rule against having more than one entrant from a same province.
- In King of the Hill, there's a passing reference to a movie about a goat playing football. Peggy tries (and succeeds) to get into the movie for free by showing the ticket seller her press pass (as she worked with a newspaper at the time) and saying she wants to tell the readers if it's really possible for a goat to help a down-and-out football team.
- Subverted in The Hair Bear Bunch episode "King Klong Vs. The Masked Marvel." Bananas the Gorilla, as King Klong, defeats the Masked Marvel (Botch, filling as the Marvel who came down with measles) but loses the offered $500 prize because animals cannot compete as wrestlers.
- Gravity Falls: Used in a Freeze-Frame Bonus in Mabel's Guide to Stickers. A history book about an ancient Aztec ritual slowly devolves into this kind of plot, starring a talking dog playing ollamalitzli.
- Ready Jet Go!: In "Mini-Golf at the DSA", Sunspot helps Mindy score the hole-in-one needed for the kids' team to win. Bergs thinks that they might be cheating, but Mr. Peterson allows it since there's no rule in the rulebook about animal assists.
- In actuality, most if not all sports have a rule in the books that prevents a player or team from any action that is a mockery or is intended to create a travesty of the game. This clearly falls under such a clause.
- For a practical matter, the umpire/referee/officials generally have jurisdiction over stuff that's not covered in the rule book.
- This has actually happened in some instances (not so much any more) causing specific rules to be written. Although this is usually done to prevent college pranks and mascots joining the game.
- Any school or college team trying to pull this off would be out of luck, anyway. The animal would have to be enrolled as a student. note
- Probably as close as we'll ever see to a real life example: a pigeon plays special teams for the Oakland Raiders.
- In 2004 a stray dog invaded the pitch during an International Rules Football match between Ireland and Australia, getting seriously involved in the action for several minutes. Snarky commentators note that he was one of Ireland's best defenders.
- In 2017, a bloodhound ran an entire half-marathon after being let outside to pee near the starting line. She finished in 7th place and was awarded a medal.