One of the fastest growing fields in sports is not on a playing field. The annual budget for the International Council of Arbitration for Sport is approaching $25 million, an increase of over 50% in the last two years. Arbitration has demonstrated its ability to match the faster, higher, stronger credo of Olympic sports and has become standard practice in most player contracts outside North America.
Speed can make an important difference in sports success. That’s an important reason why FIFA and many other leading international sports organizations trust the International Council of Arbitration for Sport to evaluate the complicated cases clubs cannot resolve on their own. There are many issues outside the bounds of referees and league officials. For example, what can a private club do if an athlete needs to relocate and terminate a contract because of a family issue? How can a club be compensated when athlete “bad boy” behavior gets so bad that sponsors exercise their rights to terminate their sponsorships?
Sports lawyer Jorge Ibarrola has made the intriguing field of sports case arbitration an important part of his sports law practice. This is located in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the International Council of Arbitration for Sport is also located. Ibarrola confirms that most cases are resolved in less than half a year, quickly enough to let teams plan and practice with minimal disruption to their routines. Appeals can stretch out the process beyond a year, but in almost all cases, sports arbitration is much faster than cases handled in civil courts.
The key to success in sports arbitration is usually the same as in sports itself – good preparation. There has to be a written assessment of the evidence for arbitrators to review. Often this is based on scientific evidence, reflecting the relatively large caseload regarding skirting rules to gain an unfair advantage over other competitors.
The International Olympic Committee requires arbitration clauses for all Olympic sports. In addition, FIFA, the international federation of national soccer teams, gives the International Court for Sports Arbitration broad jurisdiction for dispute resolution. Major league sports in the U.S. and Canada, however, generally prefer to resolve disputes in local courts because baseball and American football are largely North American sports with relatively small international components.
The community of sports arbitrators is a small elite. There are only about three hundred in the entire world. They must have a judicial background including a law degree and be fluent in English or French, the two languages used by the International Court for Sports Arbitration in presenting evidence and rendering final judgments. In addition, most sports arbitrators have extensive sports expertise acquired as former athletes or officials at international sports federations. Panels of three arbitrators selected from the full list decide each case. The growing importance of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport means new arbitrators are in demand.
While there are not many sports lawyers and sports arbitrators, working for one of them can be a foundation for an exciting career in sports business. A growing number of universities are offering courses and certificate programs that can help open doors. Rex Sport, a consortium of sports law experts based in Barcelona, Spain is offering intensive summer courses on sports law and sports employment contracts. In the United States, Marquette University Law School publishes the “Sports Law Review” and operates the National Sports Law Institute, providing the students with excellent resources for advanced study in this field.