Sports and Mediation – Racing to Resolve Disputes [Event Summary]

Apr 10, 2021 | Events, Talks, Thought Leadership

On 31 March 2021, as part of our series of webinars offering insights into specialised areas and industries where mediation has made or can make a difference, CEO of FIDReC and SMP’s very own Ms Eunice Chua had the pleasure of hosting Mr Oon Jin Teik, Mr Mark Mangan and Mr Poh Seng Song to a lively online discussion on the novel topic of Sports and Mediation.

Former Olympian and experienced sports administrator,  Jin Teik shared about the sports ecosystem and its many moving parts and layers.

He described the Singapore Sports ADR Framework launched in 2008, which provided a tiered dispute resolution process (negotiation followed by mediation and arbitration). This Framework was meant to provide the springboard for Singapore Sports to catch up with other countries that had in place more developed sports dispute resolution frameworks. Unfortunately, this Framework does not appear to be in force anymore. He mentioned that mediation is extremely valuable to allow a speedy and amicable win-win resolution of disputes as ultimately, when a dispute disrupts that ecosystem, sports will be the biggest loser. Perhaps it was time to revive the Framework (including the later addition of an Ombudsman) along with its incentive structure that would require national sports associations to adopt the Framework in their Constitutions and procedures to be eligible for funding. It would also be important to increase transparency, e.g. in the area of athlete selection, in order to build trust.

Seng Song, who flew the Singapore flag as a track-and-field sprint athlete and who now also flies our national air carrier as a pilot, spoke of how he personally witnessed the positive impact of open communication when mediation brought an end to a dispute that had gone on for months on end in a matter of a few hours.

This was done while maintaining, and even strengthening parties’ relationships – the parties even had a nice lunch together after the mediation. Such an outcome would not have been possible if the dispute had stayed in the adversarial court system. He shared that athletes often found themselves at a loss when faced with a dispute. Athletes are not well resourced and would far rather focus on their training and nutrition than spend money fighting legal battles. If they could turn to a process like the Singapore Sports ADR Framework, a lot of disputes could well be avoided. It would be good to look at creating more awareness among athletes of their dispute resolution options and providing support for them in the course of the dispute.

Mark, a leading arbitration lawyer with an active sports law practice, provided a different perspective and highlighted that even with the obvious significant benefits of mediation, there are some types of disputes where such a mechanism will not be suitable, such as matters concerning doping and regulatory matters where there is no scope for negotiation – the application of the rules is often binary – were they complied with or not.

However, commercial matters, e.g. sponsorship or broadcast disputes, and matters where there is some element of discretion or ambiguity in the resolution of the dispute could well benefit from mediation. Mark also shared his experiences before international sports bodies such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He suggested technical procedural rules that disadvantaged athletes and discouraged their participation in formal dispute resolution should be avoided and called for greater education on the use of mediation to resolve sports disputes. He agreed with Jin Teik that dispute resolution frameworks and clauses were important and formally embedding them in Constitutions and contracts would facilitate the use of mediation.

SMP would like to thank all participants for attending the webinar and the panellists for sharing those invaluable insights. With the growth of sports in Singapore buoyed by our first Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 and the most recent project announced to Unleash the Roar, we hope that the increase in the participation of sports will be accompanied by an increasing awareness of the value of using mediation to resolve sports disputes.

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