Tag: dispute resolution

Jos Hosts Crucial Triple-Header on Monday

 

In the build up to any high-profile football match, it is typical to see fans and spectators trooping towards the stadium and focus shifting to match ahead of kick-off. Come Monday, 26th September, 2016, Nigerian football focus will be on the city of Jos for a crucial 9:00am kick off in an unprecedented triple-header. The venue is not the Rwang Pam Stadium; rather it will be the Jos Division of the Court of Appeal.

The assigned Justices of the Court of Appeal shall be the umpires in three football cases listed for hearing on the day. The cases involve the Mr. Chris Giwa-led faction (seeking to lay claim to the mantle of leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation) and the NFF led by Mr. Amaju Pinnick; as well as a couple of cases stemming from the case filed by Mr. Mustapha Abubakar on behalf of Giwa FC, challenging the decision of  the League Management Company to expel Giwa FC for failing to honour three matches as stipulated in the League Rules. In recent years, Nigerian football has been embroiled in legal disputes, but never before have three cases, with the possibility of severe consequences on the administration of the sport, come up on the same day, before the same court at the same location.

So, why is Jos suddenly the host city of modern Nigerian football crisis? Also, why are the High Courts in Jos quick to interfere with sports administration by issuing injunctions and ex-parte orders? There is no disputing the role of courts as a sanctuary for justice; but the issue is not just about whether or not there is a valid grievance. The focal point is the procedure being adopted to seek redress – whether it is a sustainable means for the development of the sport.

It is common knowledge that the globally accepted norms and regulations governing football prohibit the taking of football dispute to ordinary courts of law. The point has often been stressed that this principle is not to deny an aggrieved party access to justice, but to deliver justice in a forum that promotes the speedy, amicable and specialist resolution of whatever sporting dispute there may be. Football administration worldwide favours arbitration and other internal mechanisms, which better serve these purposes.

The ripple effect of the current state of affairs where any aggrieved person can simply approach a court and obtain an injunction to stifle the administration of a professional sport is clearly being felt. It is high time our courts acknowledged the need for a sustainable reaction to sports disputes in Nigeria. This includes the acknowledgement of the peculiar nature of sports administration and the specificity of sport. Two examples of the global standard of sports jurisprudence, from which our courts can learn are illustrated in the decisions of the Court of Appeal of Paris, France and the Federal Court in Switzerland, briefly highlighted below.

In 1998, Laurent Piau filed a complaint against the FIFA Players’ Agents Regulations. The dispute eventually reached the Paris Court of Appeal, which in arriving at its decision to reject the appeal stated that sports organizations know the specific nature of each sport and are in the best position to apply the regulations to meet the objectives and to protect the ethics of the sport. While this is a pointer as to why football matters and disputes should be left to the internal specialist mechanisms, one wonders what would have been if a court had restrained the implementation of the FIFA Players’ Agents Regulations for the whole of the 18 years it took for the case to reach this decision.

Another example is the Swiss Federal Court, which refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Russian athletes to compete at the recently concluded Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In a further appeal against the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to ban Russian athletes from the Games for state-sponsored doping, the Russian Paralympic Committee’s request for an injunction was rejected on the ground that the interest of the sport governing body in fighting doping and in the integrity of the sport ordinarily outweighed the interest of the Russian Paralympic Federation in an immediate lifting of the suspension. What readily comes to mind is how the interest of a single supporter (or even a single club) will outweigh the interest of a governing body in implementing the regulations to preserve the integrity of competition, or the interest of all other participating clubs, players, supporters or even sponsors, etc., to the extent of issuing injunctions or orders to interfere with or even stop a professional league from running.

It will be apt to summarize by borrowing from the words of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. According to Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN) in a recently published interview, the series of court cases on football matters will cripple the sport, if not checked. He advocated for the resolution of football disputes via the internal mechanisms, as is done in other parts of the world. By this, a preliminary check that a court should make when approached with a football matter, is to confirm whether or not the aggrieved party has explored the internal dispute resolution mechanisms. A party that has failed to resort the internal mechanisms is then usually referred back to the sports dispute resolution mechanism. This will certainly serve to prevent the opening of floodgates to endless law suits that will only serve to cripple the administration and development of football in Nigeria.

Setting Up Nigeria’s Court of Arbitration for Sport

As a result of the FIFA ban on Nigeria and in line with efforts to forestall similar crisis in future, the Minister of Sports, Tammy Danagogo has stated that he will immediately set in motion machinery to encourage the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) to quickly activate the Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport (NCAS). This specialized court would be the venue for adjudication of sports disputes, away from the regular courts –which has been a source of run-ins with the world football governing body (FIFA) in times past. It is common knowledge that FIFA prohibits the taking of sports disputes to the ordinary courts of law and sports in general globally adopts alternative dispute resolution for sports disputes. Hence, the decision of the Minister is in line with international best practices.

The Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport, when set up, will be the national equivalent of the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, CAS was set up by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1984 as the judicial body that sits over sports disputes. Its jurisdiction is mostly of international dimension, thus there is need for countries to set up their national equivalent. For instance, Sports Resolutions UK is the national body that serves the purpose of sports-specific dispute resolution in the United Kingdom, while the Arbitration Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) is the appointed dispute resolution body for sports federations in South Africa. In Nigeria, with domestic sporting disputes often finding their way to ordinary courts in times past and the consequent threat of international sanctions, the current football crisis is a repeat scenario. Consequently, setting up of NCAS has been on the front burner for quite some time.

Interestingly, there is not a lot of work left to be done with regard to the setting up of NCAS. The National Council on Sports of Nigeria had already endorsed the decision of the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC) to establish the Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport as a solution to the recurrent sports (mostly football) disputes being taken to ordinary courts. On the 9th of June, 2011 a Planning Committee comprising lawyers from different parts of Nigeria was inaugurated by the NOC to develop the legal framework/guidelines for the establishment of NCAS. The committee, which was headed by the renowned Adokiye Amiesimaka, submitted its report to the NOC during the Annual General Meeting on the 25th of May, 2012. However, since then, it is not apparent that further steps have been taken by the NOC to actually constitute and establish the NCAS.

It is commendable that the Minister of Sport has embraced the need to set up the body. Now, rather than expend time and resources in commencing the process all over, all that needs to be done is to revert to the report of the Amiesimaka-led committee. Based on available commentaries, the job done by the committee included wide consultations and comprehensive review of Nigerian law and sports regulations, all culminating in the following conclusions:

  • Under Nigerian law, there are no statutory impediments to the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms for the resolution of sports disputes, rather Nigerian law encourages the use of ADR;
  • the rules and regulations of Nigerian sports federations (including the Nigeria Football Federation) need to be amended to include recognition of the jurisdiction of NCAS, which is prerequisite to NCAS assuming jurisdiction;
  • the NCAS will save time and cost, as well as enhance affable and pragmatic resolution of sports disputes in Nigeria.

Indeed, the establishment of the Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport will be a huge step towards averting similar problems for the development of Nigerian football in particular and sports in general.

Dispute Resolution in Nigerian Football: the Need for a National Dispute Resolution Chamber

Article published on African Sports Law and Business JournalAfrican Sports Law and Business Bulletin, Issue 2/2014

 

1. Introduction

As sport has grown over the years in terms of commercial value, there has been a corresponding growth in sports-related disputes. This increased commercial significance of sport means that the stakes are higher than ever before. Not only are there heightened expectations from the on-field performance of sports men and women; there are also increasingly significant off-field obligations on all those involved in sports. Where obligations are unfulfilled, there must be a means of enforcing them. Also, when disputes arise, there must be a means of resolving them. These represent fundamental principles on which any society or industry thrives.

Traditionally, the main form of dispute resolution has been court-based legal proceedings i.e. litigation. However, in many jurisdictions, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms have been embraced as a means to circumvent the challenges associated with litigation. These challenges are typically the inordinate length of time it takes for legal proceedings to be concluded by courts, the huge costs often incurred by litigants, as well as the acrimony that characterises such proceedings. The football world has likewise developed its own sport-specific dispute resolution mechanism, based largely on arbitration. The aim is to curtail the recourse to ordinary courts for the settlement of football-related disputes and the attendant disruptive problems associated with it. The point has often been made that where sport lacks a means within its structures to effectively and efficiently resolve sports-related disputes, seeking redress from the ordinary courts would be inevitable. This often disrupts the sports calendar and brings with it the typical challenges associated with litigation by being antagonistic, procedurally slow and relatively expensive.

In Nigeria, as with many other parts of the world, football is the most popular sport and has grown from a mere pastime to a means of economic empowerment. Based on a recommendation by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 2004, the Nigerian Football League (NFL) 1 became established as a professional football league and upon incorporation in 2006, landed its first sponsorship deal (worth N1.1billion over a four year period) with Globacom Nigeria Limited.2 As in other parts of the world, the number of football-related disputes in Nigeria has increased significantly in recent years and with it the ever-increasing need for an efficient football dispute resolution mechanism.

Follow the link to read or download the full article – http://www.africansportslawjournal.com/Bulletin_2_2014_Omuojine.pdf