Arbitration|Conflict Resolution|International

Conflict Resolution in Sport

A particularly insightful presentation on the use of mediation in sports was offered at last month’s World Mediation Forum in Prague.  Ozlem Susler from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia (whom Forum co-President Colin Wall called “Oz from Oz”) moderated the presentation.  She noted that sports is a substantial economic driver on a global scale.  Soccer alone represents 43% of the global sports economic activity.

Common disputes include trademark and intellectual property, broadcast rights, endorsement agreements, and those involving regulation (including doping).  She also presented on the rise of reporting of instances of racial abuse and taunting in Australian football, and recent efforts to discipline those who engage in it.


Frank Fowlie, Director of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, presented a compelling picture of sports disputes in his country.  The mission of the Centre is to ensure a due process protocol for disciplining or regulating athletes.  Many disputes are time-sensitive, such as challenges by an athlete to a decision not to include her on a national team, only hours before the plane is to leave.

Most respondents in disputes running through the Centre are National Sports Organizations (which select athletes for competition in a particular sport) rather than Multisport Service Organizations (which regulate doping, ethics and other cross-the-board disputes).  In addition to mediation and adjudication, the Centre offers Resolution Facilitation, a neutral fact-finding process and a mandatory step prior to arbitration.  Field-of-play decisions are never subject to review by the Centre, but claims of unwarranted discipline or arbitrary and discriminatory treatment are.

Next, Luigi Fumagalli of the State University of Milan reported on disputes involving soccer, which tend to be either contractual or disciplinary.  UEFA and FIFA take actions against clubs whose fans cause problems or whose players engage in unsportsmanlike conduct.  An anti-discrimination officer has now been appointed by each of those bodies to act swiftly to impose consequences on clubs that facilitate such behavior, or that do not act to prevent it.

I’m a baseball fan and in that game every pitch is adjudicated, as well as every hit, every out, and every play at every base.  Little did I know that such adjudication was only the tip of the iceberg in conflict resolution in sports!

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