Arbitration In Sports


The Indian sports industry is earning a significant amount for the economy of the country. Money is scattered unequally depending on popularity and the industry has many legal disputes as well. Arbitration has worked well in western countries making Switzerland a hub for sports arbitration. Also, the flexibility of Swiss law makes the process of dispute resolution even more attractive to settle disputes. 

Sports arbitration differs from other commercial arbitration proceedings in terms of enforcement of awards and subject matter. The New York Convention does not apply to sports arbitration because the governing bodies have internal rules and regulations in place to deal with disputes. Also, disputes which are criminal in nature can be submitted to internal dispute resolution systems according to the guidelines of the regulatory boards. 

In India, sports law was founded by R.K. Jain and Arun Kumar Mishra in 1986. India has seldom approached the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). Although, CAS judgements are cited in most countries and cases. Therefore, we can encourage third-party dispute resolution providers to partner with sports organisations to solve internal and external disputes in the sports industry. 


Overview of Sports Laws

India does not have specific sports law legislation. Usually, the laws are governed by contracts, disciplinary guidelines of organisations and boards, online media laws, intellectual property laws, ethical issues, gambling, torts, anti-doping etc. 

The Ministry of Youth Affair and Sports is the authority responsible for policies regarding sports in India. Other important authorities are the National Sports Federation, Sports Law and Welfare Association of India, Sports Authority of India etc. 

There are different governing bodies for different sports as well. Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), All India Football Federation, Hockey India (HI), Badminton Association of India (BAI), All India Tennis Association (AITA), The Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) etc.

There are several subjects of law that become part of sports law. Many countries have their own internal grievance redressal mechanism to tackle disputes within the organisation. Other countries rely on third-party dispute resolution providers or opt for judicial recourse. Contract Law, Criminal Law, Personal Injury Law, Trademark Law, Criminal Law, Property Law, Labour and Employment Law play a pivotal role in Sports Law. 

Not just boards and athletes, but sports law also involves coaches, trainers, managers, stadiums, other playing and practising venues, broadcasters, endorsements and advertisement agencies. 


Disputes that can be submitted for Arbitration

Disputes can arise between athletes or other parties to the contract due to a breach of contract or any non-performance of the contract. The following are a few examples of the same: 

1. Athletes and members of governing bodies:

This includes disputes arising out of a non-disclosure agreement, employment agreement, artist promotion, contract for rights, brand deals, personal service agreement, disputes arising out of security, deficiency of services or breach of rules under the governing body by an athlete. 

2. Third-party/service providers and governing bodies:

Contractual compliance agreement disputes, IT asset management disputes, digital asset management disputes, contractual maintenance disputes, management of intangible assets disputes, supply agreement contracts disputes, non-disclosure agreement disputes, investment agreement disputes, employment agreement disputes, consulting Service agreement disputes, distribution agreement disputes, risk and data management services disputes, technology licensing, software dispute etc. can be submitted to arbitration. 

  • Trademark agreements protect players and their teams. Merchandising and apparels also contribute huge sums to teams and their net worth.
  • Broadcasting rights of popular tournaments usually sell for millions and billions. Therefore, disputes may arise between service providers and tournament boards.

Disputes can also arise due to disciplinary and ethical rules and regulations of governing bodies. The following are a few examples of the same. 

The world Anti-Doping Code defines 10 anti-doping rule violations and states that if any athlete:

  • Sample has the presence of prohibited substance according to Sports Pharmacist System and Global Drug Reference Online.
  • Attempted or used any prohibited substance by a prohibited method.
  • Evades, refuses or fails to submit sample collection.
  • Attempted tampering or tampers any doping control.
  • Fails to notify whereabouts for out-of-competition testing.
  • Possess prohibited substances or a prohibited method.
  • Trafficking or attempted trafficking in any prohibited substance or prohibited method.
  • Administration or attempted administration to any athlete of any prohibited substance or prohibited method.
  • Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, conspiring, covering up or any other type of intentional complicity involving an anti-doping rule violation.
  • Association in a professional or sport-related capacity with a person who has been involved in an anti-doping rule violation.

Various disputes also arise because of elections within the governing bodies. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) adjudicated whether Boris van der Vorst should have been eligible to stand in the International Boxing Association (IBA) presidential election. 

Personal injury laws are applicable to any venue hosting sporting events. It becomes a legal issue if the sports venue is negligent in the maintenance of the property. Disputes between national and international governing bodies are also possible. In any organisation, including a sports governing body, domestic or international, there is a danger that those in control may confuse their individual interests with those of the organisation as a whole and in consequence, overact and misuse their powers vis à Vis those who oppose them. For example, in 2020, The International Olympic Committee initiated an inquiry into the International Boxing Association (AIBA) which could have led to the suspension of the organisation and participation in the Tokyo Olympics.


Centre for Arbitration for Sports (CAS)

The Court of Arbitration for Sports has appellate and original jurisdiction. In the case of an existing contract where CAS has been referred to, it will be an original jurisdiction. For ethical or doping laws, it will be an appellate jurisdiction depending on the regulatory body of the sport concerned. The processing fee is 3000 Swiss which must be compulsorily registered. There is a strict liability rule under the anti-doping laws. The sportsperson is immediately disqualified and abstained from participation, winning medals or recognitions from tournaments. India boxer Laishram Sarita Devi was banned for refusing to accept the bronze medal at the Asian Games podium ceremony in South Korea by the governing authority. She filed a public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court seeking direction to the Centre to take due cognizance of the rules and regulations framed by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) situated in Lausanne for settling disputes. The Delhi High Court refused to interfere citing a lack of jurisdiction. Therefore, assuring independence is a key element in arbitration. CAS also has its own statutes, a set of trained and qualified arbitrators, several languages, and pre-defined procedural rules. Ordinarily, the arbitration proceedings last from 6-12 months which has proven to be faster than many commercial proceedings. 


In conclusion, Dispute Resolution in Sports Law is progressing gradually. This has led to several opportunities for dispute resolution providers to partner with boards, athletes and sporting tournaments. With the growing liberalism in choosing sports as a career, the Indian sports scene is an emerging market. The arbitration will solve most of the problems existing in the sports law industry. Sports Arbitration Centre of India (SACI) was inaugurated by Minister of Law and Justice, Kiren Rijiju in September 2021 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat to serve as an independent body to fast-track disputes in the sports sector and serve as a mechanism to redress issues related to sports. This will raise immense awareness about sports arbitration and pave the way for third-party dispute resolution providers.