«Sport is part of every man and woman’s heritage
and its absence can never be compensated for»,

Pierre de Coubertin (1863 – 1937)

This statement of Baron Pierre de Coubertin reflects optimally the importance and the role that sport plays in our lives.

Sport, or according to its definition by the Council of Europe “all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organized participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels”, is daily around us and affects us in one way or another.

As fans,

As parents of children who practice or want to practice sport but cannot find appropriate playgrounds,

As organizers or players of sports betting,

As residents of areas around or near sports facilities,

As victims or perpetrators of sporting violence,

As owners of sports teams or unions,

As members of sports clubs,

As entrepreneurs,

As manager athletes,

As coaches, as athletes,

As referees,

each of us is, in some capacity, greater or lesser involved or affected -negatively or positively- from sport.

From the nuisance caused by local playgrounds, to the rallies against or in favor of the construction or major sporting facilities;

From the financial claims of athletes, coaches, trainers and others against an amateur club, to the financial claims of top level professional athletes, coaches or manager;

From the parent’ protests against the decision of the coach of a local club related to his young child, to the decision for the qualification of athletes, teams or even countries to participate in the Olympic Games;

From the disagreement between the a 5×5 soccer club owner and the owner of land for the rent, to the claims between multinational companies on issues such as exclusive rights, advertising or even ambush marketing;

From simple disciplinary offenses to violations of anti-doping codes and rules, all those are differences related to sports.

Apart from the so-called differences of “pure sporting nature”, i.e. of differences related to the rules of the game, sport generates plethora of issues, related with matters such as:

  • the relationships between the Federations such as the suspension of a national federation, or the rules of membership, or
  • the way of issuing or modifying rules (regulations, statutes etc).
  • the system used by the Federation for the qualification of athletes in order to participate in official sport events.
  • the organizer right to allow or to refuse the participation of a team in a sport event.
  • sport agents.
  • labor rights of athletes, coaches etc.
  • sponsoring and other pure economic matters.
  • disciplinary matters.
  • the construction of sport facilities.
  • the use of sport facilities.
  • the violence in sport.

Is mediation capable to resolve such disputes?

Undoubtedly. Because mediation allows the parties to escape the confines of the dispute, to work creatively and find their own solution to their dispute in a way that no one else could do. What is, however, more important is that mediation helps the parties to bond to each other and strengthen their relationship.

A good example of the consequences of not using mediation is the dispute between the NHL (National Hockey League) and its players which, on September 2004, led to the lock out of NHL’ players and eventually (five months later and hundreds cancelled games) to the cancelation (for the first time in US major league sports history) of the 2004 – 2005 season. According to experienced negotiators, this dispute came to such a disastrous for all parties end because of what is called as “the vividness bias”; at a certain point not all parties were able to look at what was really important for them (in other words to identify their real interests) and as a result clung on their original ideas, leading the negotiations to a dead-end. An experienced mediator could have foreseen such a danger and could have avoided such an end.

History almost repeated itself in 2011. This time the dispute was between the National Federation of American Football (NFL) and athletes, which also led to a Lock Out. But this time, Judge Nelson ordered the parties to mediate their dispute. And thank to that meditation the dispute was solved and the championship started.

Another characteristic example of the power of mediation is the well-known “Bosman Case”. Just think how different τηε history could have been written for Mr. Bosman who was struggling for his right to work within the European Community, if the parties had sat at the table of mediation and had not driven to case to the Court. And while Mr. Bosman, by winning the case paved the way for other European athletes, he personally didn’t manage to taste the fruits of his victory, because at the time the Court ruled in his favour, his career had come to the end.

Mediation is the ideal method for resolving sport related disputes. And thus, not only because mediation is fast and efficient, but mostly because it has the ability to turn competitors to companions, in accordance with the principles of good sportsmanship, and lead all parties to victory.

For, as Aristotle stated “in good sportsmanship lies the victory”

Give sports mediation a chance...

Sergios Manarakis
Lawyer, Mediator