Sports Dispute Resolution
Advice and Support for Organisations and Individuals
Sporting disputes can often be resolved by utilising internal tribunals and disciplinary procedures. In the event that they cannot be resolved internally, these matters may require alternative sport dispute resolution methods.
These methods may include litigation in a Civil or Criminal Court, or Arbitration through CAS – the Court of Arbitration for Sport – an independent, international body established to settle sports related disputes, that is separate to any sporting organisation or body. While its headquarters are in Lausanne, Switzerland, its Courts and offices are located in major cities across the world.
Sports Disputes & Resolution Pathways
There are various disputes that can arise within a sporting context, and knowing the options for how these issues can be resolved is crucial to determine your best next steps.
Some examples of disputes that may arise in the sporting context include:
- Disciplinary disputes
- Anti-doping rule violation disputes
- Selection and eligibility disputes
- Contractual disputes
- Restraint of trade disputes
- Discrimination, harrassment or bullying related disputes
Effectively managing disputes like these begins with good governance and a clear enforcement of regulations at an organisational level.
Internal and External Dispute Resolution
In the event that a dispute arises, an internal resolution can be an effective way to proceed without legal involvement. A tribunal’s main function is to decide whether the athlete/official is guilty of the offence, then on penalties for players/members who break the rules of the organisation, and can issue fines or suspensions if these rules are broken.
In order to arrive at a just and defensible conclusion, a tribunal must give an individual:
An opportunity to show why an adverse action should not be taken
A decision maker whose mind is open to persuasion, or free from bias.
Decisions made through internal processes can be a low-cost and efficient resolution method for organisations, however, in the event that they cannot be resolved internally, these matters may require further attention to be resolved.
External resolution includes litigation in a Civil or Criminal court, or Arbitration through the National Sports Tribunal (NST) Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
- Disciplinary disputes may be able to be conducted internally, without legal involvement. If they cannot, these matters may require other forms of resolution, including litigation in a Civil or Criminal court, or Arbitration through the NST or CAS.
- Anti-doping rule violations can be heard by an internal tribunal or judiciary (as in other disputes), however litigation or arbitration is used where this is not possible.
- Selection and eligibility disputes involve an athlete appealing the decision made by a sporting body or tribunal in relation to selection and/or eligibility. If this is not possible, then it may be resolved through litigation or arbitration.
- Contractual disputes may be able to be managed through the internal tribunal of a sport, or if not resolved there, may require an external hearing before the NST, CAS or the Courts.
- Restraint of trade disputes can be managed at both an internal or external level, depending on the seriousness of the dispute, and the value of the contract involved.
- Discrimination, harrassment or bullying issues can be managed at an organisational level through the strict application of codes of conduct, morality clauses drafted within employment contracts, and enforcement of organisational values. If a complaint or dispute is unable to be resolved internally, then litigation (Court proceedings) or Arbitration (a private alternative to Court) may be necessary.
Sports Dispute Resolution Experience
If a sporting dispute arises within your organisation, club or association, the best chance of resolution is to seek professional advice from lawyers who specialise in sports and employment law. With experience advising both sides of sporting matters, we see the bigger picture that others cannot.
We have acted for a number of sporting organisations, coaches and other individuals in sports tribunal hearings and acted in a range of litigated matters in all State Courts and VCAT:
Organisations & Associations
- Acted for Football Federation Victoria (FFV) in an appeal to the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) Appeals Board by 3 players against 5 year bans for assaulting spectators at an FFV fixture. SportsLawyer successfully argued for the bans to be upheld.
- Conducted a major review of the governance process of a significant Victorian sporting organisation which led to restoration of government funding.
- Acted on behalf of an AFL Club and its players in relation to AFL Tribunal and AFL Tribunal Appeal hearings.
- A hearing into allegations of a breach of the national sporting body’s Member Protection Policy, which resulted in the charges against our client being dismissed.
- Acted on behalf of an Australian company in relation to a contractual dispute with a professional athlete in the USA, and successfully recovered compensation for breach of contract.
Ready to Discuss Your Options? Seeking early legal advice is the best course of action if your organisation or association is facing a dispute. Complete the form at the bottom of this page or contact us via the number below to have a confidential discussion.
- Represented a swimming coach banned for life at the World Swimming Championships for alleged misbehaviour, and had the ban reduced to eight (8) months which was time already served up to the date of the appeal. The case set a new law on defining what constitutes behaviour that “brings a sport into disrepute”. Attended Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing in Lausanne, Switzerland to run the case.
- Acting on behalf of Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson in the AFL Commission hearing into the Essendon supplements matter.
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- Represented a World Champion sportsperson in relation to an alleged breach of anti-doping rules (under WADA Code) and succeeded in having charges fully dismissed.
- Acted on behalf of triathlete Emma Snowsill in an Olympic selection appeal.
- Represented an international level athlete in an investigation conducted by SIA relating to an alleged doping offence, part of a broader investigation. After making comprehensive submissions to ASADA (now SIA) and providing supporting documentation in response to proposed assertions by ASADA of alleged anti-doping violations, and in support of the athlete’s position, the charges were not proceeded with, and the athlete received no penalty.
- Represented a national athlete who was not nominated for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The athlete appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Paul Horvath represented them on the appeal involving complex arguments against the international federation, and “field of play” arguments.
- Applied for an injunction against the suspension of a football player for striking before a grand final in an amateur football league.
- Acted on behalf of a cricketer in relation to a restraint of trade dispute concerning his transfer to another club, with a successful outcome shortly before Court proceedings were filed.
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