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Sports Q&A - Should mediation be used more in sports disputes?

16 October 2020

With sports disputes becoming more and more prevalent, it is more important than ever for parties to consider using alternative means to resolve disputes like mediation rather than the more traditional methods such as arbitration or court proceedings. However, whilst mediation is commonly used to resolve commercial disputes, it is not used as often in sports disputes despite its many benefits.

Our sports disputes expert, John Shea, recently took part in a webinar for the Asian Arbitration Centre discussing how mediation is an underused tool in resolving sports disputes. You can view the webinar by clicking the link above but here are some reasons why you should consider using mediation in sports disputes.

What are the benefits of mediation in sports disputes?

Most sports disputes are resolved by way of arbitration in sport specific tribunals such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport but whilst arbitration is renowned for being a more efficient and confidential way of resolving disputes than court proceedings, it can still be time consuming and costly. This is particularly important in sport where disputes need to be resolved quickly and cost effectively.

This is where mediation can be attractive as it can be arranged very quickly and provide for a cheaper alternative to arbitration whilst remaining private and confidential. Also, whilst there is no guarantee that mediation will result in a settlement, it generally has a high success rate and even if a settlement is not achieved, there is still likely to be a benefit by understanding the other party’s position, narrowing the issues in dispute and gauging the mediator’s opinion on the merits of the case.

What sort of sports disputes are suitable for mediation?

There is a common misconception that mediation is not suitable for sports disputes but whilst that is likely to be the case in disciplinary and regulatory cases (e.g. anti-doping or match fixing) where some form of adjudication is necessary, most other cases should be suitable for mediation, particularly where parties are looking to reduce costs, a speedy solution is required and/or the parties are likely to have ongoing relationships.

What is the current trend regarding mediation in sports disputes?

Whilst mediation in sports disputes is growing in popularity as parties are beginning to see the benefits that mediation can bring in terms of costs, speed, flexibility etc. it is still grossly underused.
In addition to lawyers doing more to sell the benefits of mediation to their clients, governing bodies and regulators can do more to encourage the use of mediation and with the resources of arbitration tribunals getting more and more stretched, it is certainly possible that sanctions may soon be introduced if parties unreasonably refuse to mediate like the English courts have done for a number of years now.

The increasing number of disputes in sport and the need for those cases to be resolved quickly and cost effectively in a private manner means that mediation should always be considered as an option and more should be done by all stakeholders in sport to promote its use.

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