I attended a fascinating talk yesterday on sports arbitrations.

The speakers were barrister and former General Counsel of World Rugby, Susan Ahern, and Larry Fenelon who heads up the litigation department at Leman Solicitors.

Larry charted the course of sports disputes in Ireland over the past 20-30 years:

  • from the Celtic Tiger era when GAA high court injunctions were rife –
  • to the establishment of the DRA in 2005 for GAA specific disputes and 
  • the establishment of JSI in 2007 for ‘non-GAA’ sports disputes.  

Susan spoke about recent developments within international sports arbitration bodies.

The goal of these bodies is to provide a ‘sports specific’ alternative to the Courts.

DRA 

  • Described as “best in class” in Ireland having built up a solid body of jurisprudence and expertise over the past 13 years. 
  • Expert panels of three - made up of solicitors, barristers and experts, hear appeal cases brought by GAA players or clubs.
  • The subject matter of appeal can be anything from disciplinary matters or eligibility matters to club boundary disputes.  
  • The process is confidential. The decision is final and binding. Court is avoided. The matter is over in days or weeks, as opposed to years – and at a fraction of the cost of Court.
  • Decisions are published on the website. 
  • Since 2005, approximately 250 cases have been before the DRA.
  • 37 arbitrations in 2005, 10 in 2017 - the reason for the decline? That the DRA has forced the GAA to improve internal procedures so less procedural errors are made pre-DRA and frivolous appeals are 'weeded out'.

JSI

  • For all other sports in Ireland, there's JSI (Just Sport Ireland). 
  • Less well known than the DRA.
  • It offers mediation and arbitration.
  • Since 2007, 33 arbitrations and 18 mediations.
  • Now mandatory that NGB’s insert a ‘JSI arbitration clause' in their rules, directing any disputes to JSI as opposed to the courts.
  • Larry suggested that the system would benefit from a body of JSI jurisprudence, akin to DRA.

Sports Resolutions UK (SRUK)

  • The UK equivalent of the DRA/JSI.
  • Est. in 1997 in a similar way to JSI and DRA .
  • Now very advanced.
  • Has heard 100’s if not 1000’s of cases.
  • In 2012 alone, it helped resolve 19 athlete selection disputes in relation to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This includes the disputes between Aaron Cook and Taekwondo UK, and British Rhythmic Gymnastics Group and British Gymnastics.

4 Panels - 1.Anti-Doping Panel, 2. Nat’l Safeguarding panel (for disputes re: minors, 3. Selection, commercial, disciplinary and integrity panel, 4. Football panel......Panels can consist of: 1. Legal arbitrators, 2. Specialist arbitrators (Tribunal wing members) AND 3.  Development arbitrators.

Summary

There is a world renowned body of expertise and jurisprudence within the SRUK - meaning that international sports (such as the International Tennis Federation) are now turning to the SRUK to run their internal appeals.

We’ve come a long way in Ireland since the much publicised sports disputes of the 90’s and 00’s that ended up in the High Court and on tabloid front pages.

But we can do and learn more. The SRUK should be the blueprint for JSI.

It' a case of "a lot done, more to do"!