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NHL Geographical Expansion – Does Relocation Require Unanimous Consent?

November 23, 2015


By Aasim Hirji – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

On June 24, 2015, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the NHL is officially exploring expansion plans. The window for applications was to be between July 6 and August 10 with the application fee being $10 million, $2 million of which was non-refundable. At the time, Bettman noted that the expansion fees would be at least $500 million.

The Board of Governors of the NHL control the expansion process in the NHL, as governed by the Constitution and ByLaws of the NHL. Article 3.3 of the Constitution states that there must be a vote of 3/4 of the Board of Governors in order to allow a new member into the NHL.

Only two markets sufficiently followed the NHL protocol to continue on to the next expansion phase, Quebec City and Las Vegas. Surprisingly, no expansion team was bid on in the Greater Toronto Area.

In the NHL Constitution, in Article 4.3, there is a “veto” right to member teams. “No franchise shall be granted for a home territory within the home territory of a member, without the written consent of such member.” The implications of this clause are very important. It would mean to infringe on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rights, it would require the Maple Leafs consent for another team to come in that region. Article 4.1 defined the territorial rights as being within fifty miles of that city’s corporate limits.

In Re Dewy Ranch Hockey LLC, where Jim Balsille attempted to sidestep the process, Article 4.3 was challenged as a potential antitrust issue. Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL stated that they are not enforcing that provision, rather relying on bylaw 36, which states that approval of 3/4 of the Board of Governors would ratify a transfer. Bettman also stated that there have been no objections to the league not enforcing Article 4.3, despite a letter dated November 29, 2006 from the Maple Leafs to the NHL stating that they believe a unanimous vote would be required, thus giving the Maple Leafs a veto.

The Canadian Competition Bureau (CCB) analyzed the NHL’s policies in 2008 regarding potential antitrust issues with the relocation policies. The Competition Bureau aimed to determine if the 50-mile home territory rule was an undue restriction of competition. The CCB believed that the veto rule has not been in effect since 1993, precisely what Gary Bettman had stated in Dewy Ranch. Without the veto rule, the CCB determined that there is no legal issue with needing 3/4 of approval from the Board of Governors.

The NHL has not been tested on enforcing Article 4.3 should 3/4 of the Board of Governors agree to relocate a franchise within the territorial rights of another. Relocation and expansion fees can be as high as $500 million, which gets distributed amongst the member teams. As a team in the Toronto region would be incredibly valuable, the fee could even be higher. There may be incentive for certain markets to vote in the affirmative due to receiving a share of the expansion or relocation fee (a 1/30th share).

In the United States, in LA Coliseum 1, the NFL was found to be violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by preventing the Raiders from moving to LA from Oakland. On appeal, the court vacated the damages and offered clarification on the result from Coliseum 1. The court stated that due to the unique nature of professional athletic leagues, territorial restrictions may be required. The court further stated that “objective factors such as population, economic projections and the like would be more likely to pass antitrust scrutiny”. These factors were included in the NBA franchise relocation rules after the San Diego Clippers moved to Los Angeles.

It is clear that infringement of territorial limits would likely lead to long and complex legal cases, whether it be for the Leafs or any other franchise. Since the 2006 letter, the Leafs have unequivocally stated that they believe infringing on territorial limits requires unanimous approval, thus giving every team a veto.

Should a franchise attempt to move into the Toronto area, based on precedent, the Leafs are unlikely to be pleased with the result. There is a significant benefit for other owners to allow a team into the GTA, as there is revenue sharing in the NHL. It is unlikely that the courts would allow the Leafs to exercise a veto, based on the US cases of Coliseum and San Diego Clippers. Even when looking at objective measures outlined in these cases, there is sufficient population, and strong economic projections to launch another team in the GTA.



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Extreme Weight Cutting within the UFC

November 22, 2015


By Azadeh Taghizadeh – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

There has always been an issue within the sport of fighting that is so widespread that it is seen as part of the sport. It is the issue of weight cutting, and over the years athletes have gone to extreme and dangerous lengths to cut large amounts of weight in a short period of time. Many people have had serious complications from it, and some even have died. Given the seriousness of this issue, should there be any regulations against extreme weight cutting?

The World Anti-Doping Code offers some insight to an approach which may be analogous to the case at hand. WADA prohibits substances that fall within at least two of the three requirements: (1) Medical or other scientific evidence, pharmacological effect or experience that the substance or method alone or in combination with other substances or methods, has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance; (2)…represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete; (3) … violates the spirit of sport. Weight cutting could be classified under the first two requirements.

Firstly, extreme weight cutting can enhance sport performance since those who cut weight end up being in weight classes that are much lower than their actual weight, which inevitably gives them an unfair advantage on actual fight day when they have gained their weight back, while the other opponent may be much closer naturally to that weight class. For example, Chris Weidman, a UFC fighter who fights at 185 pounds (lbs) under the middleweight division, is naturally 205 lbs, which should classify him for the heavyweight division.

Heavyweight class has one of the largest weight differences. It runs from 205-265 lbs. Most fighters who are at 225 lbs cut weight to make the light heavyweight class. Unfortunately for those who are around 235 lbs, it may be harder to cut enough weight to be in the light heavyweight division and they may potentially end up fighting someone who weighs 265 lbs. Those who are at 265 lbs may actually be 285 lbs and cut enough weight to be eligible for the heavyweight division.

Not only can this large gap be an advantage for the heavier opponent, but can also be a violation of the second WADA Code requirement that the method not represent an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete. Cutting such as large amount of weight in a short period of time can have ill effects on the athletes body, both psychological such as mood swings, hormonal imbalances and eating disorders, as well as physical such as dehydration and in extreme cases, death, due to a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure.

In 2013, 26-year old Leandro “Feijao” Souza, a Brazilian MMA fighter, died due to a stroke right before his weigh-in for a scheduled fight in Rio de Janeiro. He was to lose 33 pounds in one week, and according to, Souza was taking Lasix, a diuretic pill, which is prohibited under the WADA Code.

Recently, Johny Hendrick was hospitalized due to his weight cutting issues. He had kidney stones and intestinal blockage. He weighs around 200-215 lbs and was to cut down to 170 lbs for his fight.

Given the commonality and dire effects of weight cutting, steps are now being taken to start to control weight cutting within the UCF and other amateur fighting sports. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has announced that fighters will no longer be able to rehydrate using intravenous (IV) methods. Also, within the amateur arena, Arkansas has been the first state or province within North America to enact weight-cutting rules. Arkansas State Athletics Commission has now stated in Chapter 1 of the Rules and Regulations of Extreme Rule to Reduce Weight Cutting in the Amateur Class of Combative Sports: “Any Amateur Combative Sports fighter shall not gain more than .075 (7.5%) of his advance weigh-in body weight, and in no case, shall any fighter be allowed to gain weight sufficient to move up more than ONE published weight class for his specific sport.”

Hopefully these regulations will be the start of controlling this transparent issue of weight cutting within the sport of fighting and the widespread habit will become controlled and less extreme.


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The “Sport of Kings” Adopts Cloning to Prolong the Polo Pony Dynasty

November 18, 2015


By Danielle Oliver – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

In Canada and the United States you don’t have to be a sports fanatic to know the hot topics making their way around in the media. Discussions of “Deflategate” and murmurs of “McJesus” have reached anyone with Twitter, Facebook, cable, radio access, or a set of ears.

However, there are contentious sports stories falling under the radar. One that caught my attention pertains to the equestrian sport of polo, particularly the introduction of genetically cloning the finest horses in hopes to replicate their peak performance on the field.

Knowing little about the sport (and after shuffling through the overwhelming amount of Ralph Lauren search results), I found some perspective on the mysterious sport of polo and the implications around cloning prized ponies. The implementation of this technology is young but the concerns were well forecasted going back as early as 2006, many of which are analogous to that of the controversy over doping in sports.

Polo players are rightly concerned that in order to stay competitive in the sport, they must resort to cloning. So far, 85% of clones have performed just as, if not better, than the originals when reared in similar environments. This development will remove a portion of the uncertainty that comes with breeding. Furthermore, players believe that this technology will skew the sport in favour of the rich (as if polo isn’t already extremely skewed in favour of the rich). But when considering that the first clone of Cuartetero – a once prized polo mare – sold for $800,000, it is feasible that cloning will create a disparity of access even among the ridiculously wealthy.

Similarly, in the debate against doping, players don’t want to be forced to dope in order to compete at a high level. Additionally, it has been argued that permitting the use of designer drugs in sports will create a greater advantage for the rich. One may argue that because it’s not the actual athletes who are being tampered with, cloning horses isn’t comparable with doping.

But as polo players will tell you, these ponies have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Despite the commonality in arguments against doping in sport and cloning in polo, the former remains banned while the latter is permitted. Furthermore cloning is completely unregulated. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (IFES) governs and enforces a code of conduct that protects the horses from physical abuse and doping but has remained silent on the issue of cloning. The lack of regulation is peculiar, as it seems that the IFES code of conduct exists to ensure animal welfare and the risks of mutation, disease, and suffering associated with cloning are still unknown. There are currently no protections against these potential risks. Furthermore, without regulation, what is stopping the lab techs from further modifying the genetic make-up of these animals to create an unfair advantage?

Some countries that participate in the sport have recognized these issues. The European Union is talking about banning cloning in sport polo but they have no jurisdiction over the teams coming out of Latin America, India, China, and the Middle East. This means the ban would have little to no effect on the cloning phenomenon that appears to be taking over the “sport of kings”.
Other than the IFES, no other regulatory body can regulate this technology in a uniform manner. As it stands, cloning has gained widespread popularity and, without a ban, will likely take over the sport in the next 5-10 years, regulated or not. Who knows, maybe the introduction of cloning is just what sport polo needs to place the term “Game of Clones” up with the rest of taglines in sports media.

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FIFA: Corruption, Scandal, and Sponsorship: A New Hope

October 12, 2015

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By Tariq Salloum – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the universe’s largest spanning sporting organization with six confederations and 209 national associations, indeed the FIFA Empire stretches nearly across every corner of the globe and there is no sight of its overwhelming success slowing down anytime soon. However, not all is well in the empire, with charges pending against multiple senior level FIFA level officials for corruption in the United States and the five-time elected President Sepp Blatter facing corruptions charges in Switzerland, and the FIFA ethics board internally investigating its top members – it seems the sponsors have had enough.

As FIFA’s top officials find themselves strife with corruption allegations, major sponsors such as Coca Cola, McDonalds, Budweiser and Visa are done with their wait-and-see approach with FIFA’s top officials, each issuing statements within hours of each other voicing their disdain with FIFA’s top officials including the president, Darth Vade …err – Sepp Blatter. So the question becomes, can our world’s top capitalists do what our world’s top governments can’t do, mainly remove Seth Blatter and his inner circle from the helm of the world’s most beautiful game.

FIFA is estimated to make $177 million a year in marketing deals from top tier sponsors such as Visa, Adidas, Hyundai and Coca-Cola, all of which have recently signed eight year deals worth a cumulative total of $993 million just between these four global corporations. In 2014, a World Cup year, FIFA is estimated to have made $2.1 billion dollars in revenue. Indeed, with all the corporate money that FIFA may lose if its top sponsors live up to their threats and were to withdraw its sponsorship and support if Sepp Blatter was to stay in power is considerable. One would suspect that Sepp Blatter’s fate with FIFA had been sealed.

In the most recent developments, it seems as the arm twisting by the sponsors has worked at least in the interim. As FIFA’s ethics committee has decided to suspend President Seth Blatter and those in his inner circle for at least 90 days, with no details being released until their investigation is finalized due to Articles 41 and 42 of the FIFA code of ethics.

However, Blatter issued a statement through his lawyers saying he was “disappointed” the ethics committee had not followed its own code in allowing him an opportunity to be heard, and claimed the suspension was based on “a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland.”

Amidst the united global alliance demanding the resignation of the 79 year old, Blatter still remains defiant and why wouldn’t he be? Up until now he has faced no real consequences for his alleged corruption. In fact, soccer/football and FIFA continue to grow in popularity worldwide year in and year out with no end in sight. No matter what, it seems that the heads of FIFA and the law are going to collide sooner rather than later. Whether it be business law, criminal law, international law, or internal regulations; it’s all sports law at this point and fittingly it seems that the scandals surrounding FIFA are only going to be settled in an adverse arena – albeit a legal arena – nonetheless the score will be settled once and for all … eventually.

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FIFA Considers Move to Winter for Qatari 2022 World Cup

October 4, 2013


By Chelsea Dubeau – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In 2010, FIFA, the international governing body of football, awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The agenda on this week’s meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee meeting is a discussion of the “period of the competition” of this event.

According to the FIFA Statutes, the Organizing Committee follows a “fair and transparent bidding procedure” with “the objective of securing the best possible hosting conditions.”The temperature of Qatar in the summer can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius, prompting concern from the FIFA medical chairman.In the interest of safety for all participants, FIFA is considering moving the month-long tournament to the winter. FIFA’s upcoming decision is unprecedented, as the World Cup has been held during the months of May through July since its inaugural event in 1930.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) recently declared their intention to sue FIFA if the games are officially moved to the winter.Australia was one of the unsuccessful countries that lost during the 2022 bidding process. According to FFA Chairman Frank Lowy, the Australian bid was put forward according to the FIFA requirement that the tournament must occur in June and July. Thus, their bid was put forward under false pretenses.

FIFA has responded to the FFA allegations by saying that the Committee is acting within its governing authority. FIFA’s President, Joseph S. Blatter, has stated that all bids were put forward under the same Bid Registration Agreement, which does not outright say that the games must take place during the summer.Therefore, FIFA does not owe Australia compensation, nor will they owe any other party affected by the move.

FIFA is relying on issues of interpretation. As the Bid Registration Agreements have not been made public, the exact terms of the contract are unknown. However, Blatter has stated that the Agreements refer to FIFA’s wishes for the event to occur in summer, not that the event must be held during this time. As such, no representations were made by FIFA that the World Cup is only a summer event.

If the FFA decides to pursue their legal challenge, it will be up to the courts to rule whether FIFA’s interpretations of the Agreements fit within a fair and transparent process. FIFA’s choice to rely on semantics is questionable, and this argument may not succeed in a court of law. Every tournament in the history of the World Cup has occurred in the summer, and the upcoming events that have been scheduled uphold this tradition. The logical conclusion of a reasonable person, or in this case a reasonable bidder, would be that FIFA intends the games occur in the summer, even in absence of the word ‘must’ in the document.

In addition to the FFA, there are many other interested parties that may pose a challenge for FIFA and the Executive Committee if the decision is made to move the World Cup to the winter. The move will interfere with the season for the European leagues, and the IOC has expressed concerns related to the timing of the Winter Olympics.

FOX Sports won the American broadcasting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, paying over $1 billion for the deal.Due to the fact that it has never happened before in the history of the event, it is not likely that FOX considered the change that the broadcast could happen in the winter. With this change, it is now possible for the month-long event to interfere with the NFL schedule, and it could even overlap with the Superbowl. Would FOX have put forward such an impressive bid, knowing that it would be competing for viewers against the most-watched sporting event in the United States? It would not be surprising if FOX proceeds with an action based on a misrepresentation of the contract. FOX can assert that they were induced to enter the contract based on an untrue representation that the event would occur in the summer.

While the decision has not yet been made to move the World Cup, it is clear that there are multiple considerations that FIFA must keep in mind before the final decision is made. Regardless of the outcome, one can expect that this will not be the only challenge faced by the Committee leading up to the 2022 World Cup.

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Reflections on the WADA 2015 Code v2.0

March 3, 2013



The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) 2015 Code review closed earlier this week. It has been a very interesting process following the various revisions and tweaks to the Code and has really made us think about what is important and/or legally defensible.

Attached to the bottom of this post are the comments that Jon and I submitted on behalf of the Centre for International Sports Law (CISL). Special thanks must also go to the LLM International Sports Law students for their constructive comments, in particular thanks to Leigh and Neil for their respective suggestions….

While it is now too late to submit any additional comments or tweaks in this round of revisions, we would still be very interested to know what your thoughts on the Code are?

The CISL Reflections on the Code: WADA 2015 Code Review (final)

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“An injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult”: An analysis of the John Terry Criminal and Regulatory cases

October 10, 2012


  • The judgment of the criminal case at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Mr Howard Riddle presiding) between – R v. John Terry (13 July 2012) will be referred to as [WMC].
  • The ruling of the regulatory commission hearing between the Football Association v. John Terry (24th-27th September 2012) will be referred to as [RegComm].

The incident between Chelsea defender, John Terry (JT) and QPR defender, Anton Ferdinand (AF) occurred during the course of an FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Queens Park Rangers (QPR) on 23rd October 2011. From an initial altercation, both players attempted to wind each other up through the exchange of a number of ‘industrial’ phrases. JT suggested that AF’s breath smelt, while AF responded with a slow fist pump gesture and made abusive allegations about JT sleeping with his “team mate’s missus”. It was following this latter gesture, that JT made the now infamous statement:

“F*** off, F*** off…[missing disputed words]… f***ing black c**t, f***ing knob-head.”[RegComm: 1.5]

On 22nd December 2011, after an unidentified member of the public lodged a formal complaint, JT was charged with a racially aggravated public order offence:

“using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress and the offence was racially aggravated in accordance with Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, contrary to Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31(1)(c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.”

As the criminal case, took priority, the FA disciplinary proceedings were stayed until the conclusion of the criminal case (itself temporarily delayed due to a Chelsea FC request to have it heard after the European Football Championships). It was therefore not until the 27th July 2012 that The FA charged JT with:

“Misconduct pursuant to Rule E.3(1) of it rules and regulations which included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Mr Ferdinand within the meaning of Rule E.3(2).”

Although AF admitted that he used abusive and insulting words and behaviour towards JT contrary to FA Rule E.3(1), he was not charged alongside JT as the FA Policy is to only apply on-field sanctions to breaches of E.3(1) rather than take retrospective action, unless the conduct is directed at a match official or third party (spectator) [RegComm: 3.5].


When is a question a question?

While all parties agree that JT spoke those words, the crux of both the civil and criminal cases hinged on the disputed words in the middle of the sentence. JT argued that AF had accused him of racial abuse first, and therefore his statement should merely be seen as a forceful rebuttal to AF’s initial comments rather than any new insult [RegComm: 3.4 / 6.2]

JT’s account was corroborated by Ashley Cole (AC), indeed JT even went as far as saying that AF was “not telling the truth in denying that he had used the words first” [RegComm: 6.2]

By contrast, both The FA and the Crown argued that JT had spoken the words to insult or abuse AF.

Unfortunately, despite expert analysis from lip-readers in the criminal trial, it was not possible to definitively identify the exact words used in this middle part as although the match was televised live (and clips subsequently uploaded on the internet), two Chelsea players (John Obi Mikel and Ashley Cole) obscured JT’s face during the disputed part of the sentence. There was similarly no clear camera view of what AF had said immediately prior to JT’s statement.

Interestingly, JT was acquitted in the criminal case, but was subsequently found guilty by the FA Regulatory Commission and received both a four match ban and an index-linked financial penalty of £220,000 plus costs.

So why were there different results on what were ostensibly the same facts?


The Criminal Case

While the Chief Magistrate (Mr Riddle) made it clear that he felt that:

  • the prosecution had a ‘strong case’
  • there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial [WMC: Page 7]
  • that JT’s explanation was ‘unlikely’ [WMC: Page 6]
  • and that it was unlikely that AF accused JT on the pitch of calling him a ‘black c**t’ [WMC: Page 14]

ultimately he accepted that “it was possible that Mr Terry believed at the time, and believes now, that such an accusation was made” [WMC: Page 14] and given the lack of hard evidence to rebut this view, this doubt was enough to militate a not guilty verdict.

Had this case been brought in Scotland, this may have been a Not Proven verdict, as Mr Riddle’s comments do not exactly represent a glowing endorsement of either JT or AC’s evidence. Indeed, the Regulatory Commission perceptively note at [RegComm: 6.7] that the Chief magistrate’s analysis was couched in terms of “possible” rather than “probable”.

That said, Mr Riddle does also point to inconsistencies and discrepancies in AF’s evidence [WMC: Page 5] and makes the suggestion that despite his evidence to the contrary, it was possible that AF could have been aware of what JT said at the time “but found it easier to say that he wasn’t” [WMC: Page 6] and when AF went to away team dressing room to meet JT & AC, it could have simply been to put the incident behind him.


The Regulatory Commission of the FA

Although the Regulatory Commission case adopts a very similar approach, it is worth highlighting a number of important issues.

Double Jeopardy?

JT not only denied the substance of the charge, but challenged the very validity of the charge letter and the jurisdiction of the FA suggesting that the case was an abuse of process and procedurally barred under Regulation 6.8 of the FA Disciplinary Regulations [RegComm: 3.2]

This argument was however rightly dismissed by the Commission. In doing so, they made an important clarification that this was not the FA having a second bite of the cherry, but rather its first bite since “the purpose of the criminal proceedings that were brought by the Crown was not to regulate football” [RegComm: 5.16].

In practical terms, this meant that the Commission was not bound by any of the findings of the Chief Magistrate and could revisit the existing evidence, or consider new evidence in light of the lower civil standard of ‘balance of probabilities’ rather than the stricter criminal test of ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. This is a longstanding convention, and has been applied worldwide to cases as diverse as OJ Simpson to doping and hooliganism. In this case however, the Commission laid out 4 potential scenarios for sports regulators who considering bringing a disciplinary case after a civil or criminal action [RegComm: 5.14]. For ease of understanding, I have converted these scenarios into a matrix:

The FA could therefore simply resubmit identical evidence from the criminal trial to be considered by the Regulatory Commission. Ironically, the high-profile nature of JT actually counted against him in this regard, as usually the only clearly known facts that are discernible from a criminal case are the acquittal or conviction, unlike the full narrative verdict given in a civil case. In JT’s criminal trial however, the Chief Magistrate prepared a 15 page written verdict which provided a number of material findings.

For me, this provided one of the undoubted highlights of the Disciplinary Panel ruling at [RegComm: 5.8] where the Panel noted that:

“Mr Carter-Stephenson [JT’s counsel] argued that the only “facts and matters” in the judgment that are relevant to the result are those that favoured Mr Terry in the decision that was reached and not those that were adverse to him” – bonus points for effort I suppose!



Perhaps the biggest difference between the criminal and civil (disciplinary) approaches was in relation to the evidence.

For example, the Regulatory Commission allowed newspaper and video evidence of a match against Barcelona in order to rebut evidence given in the criminal trial that JT had “unusual qualities of self-control and leadership” [WMC: Page 8]. In doing so, the Regulatory Commission treated hearsay evidence as: 

“being inclusionary and can be given such weight as the court thinks fit, unless and until any other issue as to its admissibility is raised which might limit its exclusion.” [RegComm: 7.15]

In this particular case, the video evidence showed “matters that are relevant to our overall assessment of disposition, demeanour and conduct during the critical phase of the match against QPR.” [RegComm: 7.18] by undermining JT’s credibility and character.

This was very much a theme throughout the disciplinary hearing as the Regulatory Commission took a much more hostile view of the witness testimony, and in particular JT’s decision not to give evidence. While the Panel was at pains to stress that it did not make adverse findings against him for not giving evidence, by allowing inconsistencies and criticism to go unchallenged, this is essentially what happened.

The Commission also effectively all but accused JT, AC and the Chelsea Club Secretary, David Barnard (DB) of lying:

  • “…we are driven to conclude not just that it is ‘highly unlikely’ that Mr Ferdinand accused Mr Terry on the pitch of calling him a ‘black c**t’, but that he did not.” [RegComm: 7.7(i)]
  • “That Mr Terry did not hear, and could not have believed, understood or misunderstood Mr Ferdinand to have used the word ‘black’, or any word(s) that might have suggested that he was accusing Mr Terry of racially abusing him” [RegComm: 7.7(ii)]
  • “That Mr Cole did not hear, and could not have believed, understood or misunderstood Mr Ferdinand to have used the word ‘black’ or any other word beginning with the word ‘B’ that had any reference to, or context with skin colour, race or ethnicity…” [RegComm: 7.7(iii)
  • “There are then further aspects of Mr Terry’s defence that the Commission finds improbable, implausible and contrived…” [RegComm: 7.8]
  • “All of this causes the Commission to have very real concerns about the accuracy of Mr Barnard’s recollections and the motivation for the assertions that he makes in his witness statement about what Mr Cole said in during the FA interview” [RegComm: 7.37]
  •  “….shows Mr Barnard’s recollections to be materially defective.” [RegComm: 7.38]


 Learning Points for the FA

Of possible note for the FA disciplinary team is that the Commission report highlights two learning points. The first is that the debate over whether AC’s evidence had ‘evolved’ or had been misquoted by the FA investigators could have been avoided had the interview been taped and transcribed and this is something the FA may wish to consider for future investigations.

The second relates to concerns about the inadequacy of the disclosure of FA evidence [RegComm: 8.1]. In particular, the Commission was scathing about the lack of “any kind of established system, procedure or protocol for dealing with the type of disclosure order that was made in this case.” [RegComm: 8.2]. Although the Commission did note that it was reasonably satisfied that the FA had complied with its disclosure obligations, this may be something the FA may wish to revisit to avoid any difficulties in future cases.


What constitutes Racism?

Finally, at times both the Magistrates Court and Regulatory Commission seemed to perform linguistic somersaults and contortions worthy of a place on an Olympic Gymnastics team:

“It is not the FA’s case that JT is a racist” [RegComm: 3.4]

And similarly at [WMC: Page 2]: “The issue for this Court to decide is not whether Mr Terry is a racist, in the broadest sense of the word. I have received a substantial volume of unchallenged evidence from witnesses, both in person and in writing, to confirm that he is not…..the issue between the defendant and the Crown is whether Mr Terry uttered the words “f***ing black c**t” by way of insult. If he did then the offence is made out, regardless of what may have motivated him.”

Readers may remember that this was very much a theme that arose in the earlier Suarez incident. It is perhaps worth considering going forward that if using racially aggravated words does not constitute racism, what exactly does? Can one incident be excused or is once one time too many?

For all the media hype surrounding the perceived witch-hunt of John Terry, this case is notable for the confirmation that sport is not above the law, but rather that difficulties in establishing the quality of evidence may mean that internal sporting bodies are better placed to robustly deal with disputes, it is just a shame that on this occasion it has taken so long to do it.

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Lance Armstrong, the USADA & Quantum Mechanics (Round 3 of the CAS Eligibility rules?)

September 2, 2012


Some people have suggested that with the now infamous statement that “enough is enough” by Lance Armstrong on 23rd August 2012, that that statement represents a final conclusion to a long-running saga. In reality though, it may be more accurate to view this as a change of ends, or the start of the fourth quarter. As the implications of the various statements and cases are analysed, it is likely that any future legal entanglement will focus on the role of USADA and the legality of their sanctioning process. In a sense, this challenge has the very real potential to become Round 3 of the CAS eligibility rules debate, an exciting prospect given the previous knock-out victories in the earlier cases:

  • Round 1 was between USOC v. IOC (the Osaka Rule)
  • Round 2 was between BOA v. WADA (the Bye-Law))
  • Will Round 3 be between UCI / WADA v. USADA?

Tygart’s Cat?

So what do Lance Armstrong, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and Quantum Mechanics have in common? The answer comes in the form of a thought experiment by Erwin Schrodinger. Schrodinger postulated that the fate of a cat (sealed in a lead box with a flask of poison and a radioactive object) would be unknown until its contents could be observed. Until somebody could actually open the box and confirm its state, the cat would theroretically be both alive and dead. Ironically, the respective statements by Lance Armstrong and Travis Tygart (CEO of USADA) have now set-up a modern day version of this thought-experiment. It would seem from the public documents and court cases that the USADA case is based not on a positive sample (Armstrong has never tested positive for a performance enhancing drug), but rather on secondary evidence produced from statements, testimonies and samples that may be ‘consistent with doping’ that together form a non-analytical violation (see an excellent overview of this area by Richard McLaren in Marquette Sports Law Review). By refuting these charges but not continuing to engage in any future defence, Lance Armstrong has created a state where he is simultaneously innocent (the lack of any killer evidence of a positive sample violation) and guilty (the USADA non-analytical violation) depending on the observation point.

So what are the implications of this position for the USADA and WADA? To understand that, we need to examine the charges against him,

The USADA Letter

On 12th June 2012, USADA notified six people:

  • Lance Armstrong [charges 1-6]
  • Johan Bruyneel (Team Manager: USPS / Discovery/ Astana / Radio Shack teams) [charges 2-6]
  • Dr Pedro Celaya (Team Doctor: USPS / Discovery / Radio Shack teams) [charges 2-6]
  • Dr Luis Garcia del Moral (Team Doctor: USPS team) [charges 2-6]
  • Dr Michele Ferrari (Consultant Doctor to USPS and Discovery Channel Teams) [charges 2-6]
  • Pepe Marti (Team Trainer USPS / Discovery / Astana / Radio Shack teams) [charges 2-6]

that it was opening formal action against them for their alleged roles in a wide-ranging doping conspiracy involving the United States Postal Service (USPS) (1996-2004), Discovery Channel (2005-2007), Astana (2009) and Radio Shack (2010) teams, specifically relating to six charges:

  1. Use and/or attempted use of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and/or saline, plasma or glycerol infusions
  2. Possession of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions and related equipment (such as needles, blood bags, storage containers and other transfusion equipment and blood parameters measuring devices), testosterone, corticosteroids and/or saline, plasma or glycerol infusions
  3. Trafficking and/or attempted trafficking of EPO, testosterone, and/or corticosteroids.
  4. Administration and/or attempted administration to others of EPO, testosterone, and/or cortisone.
  5. Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.
  6. Aggravating circumstances justifying a period of ineligibility greater than the standard sanction.

USADA alleged conspirators gave false testimony and statements under oath and in legal proceedings [Page 12, USADA Letter), which may be the reason why media groups may be reconsidering earlier Court defeats: see for example Armstrong v. Times Newspapers Ltd [2006] EWHC 1614 (QB). As of yet though, USADA has not elaborated on what and when the false statements were.

Armstrong challenged the USADA accusations with his own letter and subsequently through the US District Court system (see below). The Court document describes the USADA evidence against Armstrong [page 8]:

  • Testimonies from numerous riders, team personnel and others (based on personal knowledge or apparent admissions from Armstrong to them) that he had used EPO, blood transfusions, and cortisone from 1998 to 2005; and EPO, testosterone and HGH until 1996.
  • Numerous riders will also testify that Lance Armstrong gave to them / encouraged to use and/or assisted them in using doping products and/or methods (including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone) between 1999-2005.
  • Evidence from the Director of the Lausanne Anti-Doping Laboratory (Dr Martial Saugy) that Armstrong’s urine sample from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland was indicative of EPO use which confirmed other witness testimony that a positive test result in 2001 was covered up. (As Lance Armstrong’s counsel later identifies though, this sample no longer exists and in 2011, Dr Saugy was reported as saying that the sample did not constitute a positive test).
  • Data from UCI blood collections in 2009 and 2010 which is fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.

The letter from Robert Luskin (Lance Armstrong’s legal team) also put forward a number of interesting questions:

  • Why has only one rider (Armstrong) from the four teams been charged?
  • How can Armstrong (and effectively the public) overcome concerns over the reliability of the witness evidence? Armstrong perhaps says it best 2/3 down his own statement: “……perverts the system and creates a process where any begrudged ex-teammate can open a USADA case out of spite or for personal gain or a cheating cyclist can cut a sweetheart deal for themselves. It’s an unfair approach, applied selectively, in opposition to all the rules. It’s just not right.”

The WADA Code, Comment to Article 10.5.3 notes that:

“If a portion of the period of Ineligibility is suspended, the decision shall explain the basis for concluding the information provided was credible and was important to discovering or proving the anti-doping rule violation or other offense.”

It will therefore be interesting to see if any ‘reduction in sentences have been applied to previous drug cheats, and if so who.

US Texas District Court (20th August 2012)

Armstrong’s team most recently brought an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to the USADA letter before the District Court. Essentially, the challenges can be summarised into three main themes:

  • USADA lack of authority
  • Violation of his due process rights
  • The USADA process itself

The first theme that USADA lacked authority to bring such charges against him was because of a statute of limitations (8yr), jurisdictional conflict with the UCI (international cycling union), and a failure of any valid arbitration agreement with USADA.

The statute of limitations can be suspended if there is evidence of a cover-up, but USADA has failed to make public any specific documentation or evidence to support this. By contrast, the latter two challenges are comparatively easier to resolve. Essentially USADA Anti-Doping rules (USADA Protocol for Olympic Movement Testing) effectively govern the implementation of anti-doping policies in USOC national governing bodies (of which USA Cycling implements the UCI rules). As a member of both USA Cycling, and an athlete included within the USADA registered testing pool, Lance Armstrong agreed to be bound by this protocol [Page 26].

Armstrong also alleged that USADA’s charging and arbitration procedures violated his due process rights, specifically:

  • Failure to provide an adequate charging document (see below)
  • No right to cross-examine or confront witnesses against him
  • No right to disclosure of exculpatory evidence
  • No right to disclosure of cooperation agreements or inducements provided by USADA
  • No right to obtain investigative witness statements
  • No right to obtain full disclosure of laboratory analyses or an impartial assessment of their accuracy

Many of these points relate to the inherent distinction between discovery rules in (civil) arbitration proceedings as opposed to criminal proceedings and the Court rightly commented [Page 17] that the reliability of these results and testimony can and should be challenged by any arbitration panel. While that coupled with a valid arbitration agreement should have been enough to dismiss the case, the Court noted that the high-stakes nature of the arbitration (Armstrong’s career and reputation vs the credibility of the USADA’s anti-doping framework) and the risk of further substantial costs, meant that it was important to fully evaluate Armstrong’s case. Further to McLaren’s comments in his article (see earlier), these findings on the gravity of the case could be used to suggest that the arbitration evidential standard of comfortable satisfaction “could move to a very high standard that can become indistinguishable from beyond a reasonable doubt.” (page 211)

The District Court was also scathing about the USADA in places, suggesting their “woefully inadequate charging letter” [Page 17] was:

“so vague and unhelpful that it would not pass muster in any court in the United States. The Court is assured, however, that Armstrong will be given adequate notice of the specific allegations against him in a timely fashion prior to arbitration, and proceeds under the assumption this will actually occur.” [page 9] and it was “of serious constitutional concern”[Page 17].

At [Page 14] that:

“USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.”

And later in footnote 36, [Page 27] that:

“Among the Court’s concerns is the fact that USADA has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after his alleged doping violations occurred, and intends to consolidate his case with those of several other alleged offenders, including incredibly–several over whom USA Cycling and USOC apparently have no authority whatsoever. Further, if Armstrong’s allegations are true, and USADA is promising lesser sanctions against other allegedly offending riders in exchange for their testimony against Armstrong, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations to USOC.”

Indeed, the Court noted it was only the practical realities of the time and money having to rehear the same case once the USADA had sent Armstrong a more detailed charging letter that ensured that this suit was not struck out.

Armstrong finally challenged the process itself, complaining of a potential lack of impartiality, no guarantee of an arbitration hearing, and no right to pursue a judicial review by a US court [IV]. These challenges in particular seem to display either an ignorance of sporting regulation, attempts to muddy the waters or a shotgun approach to law. Indeed, the speculation that a potential CAS Panel would be biased seems quite insulting.

Ultimately, the Court agreed with the USADA (and I must say that I do too) that the best mechanism for resolving these allegations is to test them in arbitration and exhaust these internal remedies first [Page 23].

Round 3?

The ineligibility rule in this case came from the sanctions imposed by USADA, but have they the authority to do so? As Rounds 1 (USOC) and 2 (BOA) have shown, the WADA Code is absolute and any incompatibility and inconsistency with the Code renders that respective rule void. Indeed, for the purposes of anti-doping, it is irrelevant whether USADA is sovereign in the USA as it effectively surrendered this sovereignty to WADA.

So what does the Code say?

[Comment to 2.2] – “Use or Attempted use may also be established by other reliable means such as admissions by the athlete, witness statements, documentary evidence, conclusions drawn from longitudinal profiling, or other analytical information which does not otherwise satisfy all the requirements to establish “presence” of a prohibited sample under Article 2.1”

The fact that USADA did not feel able to charge Armstrong with article 2.1 (Presence) only echoes the ‘non-analytical’ nature of the violation. The problem however with this approach is what constitutes reliable? As Robert Luskin’s letter notes, there is an obvious discrepancy between USADA holding that the UCI blood data in the 2009-10 seasons supports doping and the UCI’s own experts that took a contrary view? This area will need much more explanation from USADA.

Perhaps the most telling quote comes from the Texas judgment at [Page 29]:

“As mystifying as USADA’s election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies [USADA, USA Cycling & UCI] are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal the regulation and promotion of cycling. However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts.”

While strictly speaking, Lance Armstrong can be declared guilty of a doping violation in absentia:

Under Article 8.3: “the right to a hearing may be waived…expressly…by the Athlete’s or other Person’s failure to challenge an Anti-Doping Organization’s assertion that an anti-doping rule violation has occurred within the specific time period provided in the Anti-Doping Organization’s rules.”

The decision does leave a somewhat bad taste in the mouth, particularly since the USADA has not gone through a full hearing process. In particular, it is difficult to reconcile the feeling that the Texas Court had that the USADA charges were inadequate and an hour after the statement, suddenly they are sufficient for a lifetime ban!

Indeed, it is perhaps worth reiterating the most ominous part of the Texas Court’s judgment contained in footnote 27 on [Page 18]:

“….If it should come to pass that Armstrong does not actually receive adequate notice sufficiently in advance of the arbitration hearing, and it is brought to this Court’s attention in an appropriate manner, USADA is unlikely to appreciate the result.”

USADA have subsequently suggested that they will reveal evidence against him, but do not wish to do so for fear of prejudicing on-going cases against Bruyneel, Celaya and Marti. The problem I have is that this also works both ways. What if the cases against all 3 defendants were thrown out, does that mean that just as Lance Armstrong was declared guilty in absentia, so he can also be declared innocent?

Perhaps the most important question for any legal challenge though, is that assuming the statute of limitations is not activated, what should Armstrong and the others actually be charged and sanctioned with?

10.2: Ineligibility for Presence, Use or Possession (1st offence) – 2yrs

10.3.2: Ineligibility for Trafficking or Administration (1st offence) – 4yrs to lifetime

10.6: For Aggravating circumstances, other than Trafficking or Administration violations, the maximum period of ineligibility to be applied for a standard sanction is 4yrs.

10.7.4: Second anti-violations: “For purposes of imposing sanctions under Article 10.7, an anti-doping rule violation will only be considered a second violation if the Anti-Doping Organization can establish that the Athlete or other Person committed the second antidoping rule violation after the Athlete or other Person received notice pursuant to Article 7 (Results Management), or after the Anti-Doping Organization made reasonable efforts to give notice, of the first anti-doping rule violation; if the Anti-Doping Organization cannot establish this, the violations shall be considered together as one single first violation, and the sanction imposed shall be based on the violation that carries the more severe sanction; however, the occurrence of multiple violations may be considered as a factor in determining aggravating circumstances (Article 10.6).”

It is therefore critical that USADA prove not just the substance (excuse the pun) of some of the doping violations, but that Armstrong was guilty of Administration or Trafficking charges. At present there is only one vague accusation that he distributed EPO to other riders (p.3 USADA Letter), and administration of olive oil and testosterone mix to other riders (p.4 USADA Letter). If these offences cannot be proved, then under 10.7.4, all the other violations should be taken together and his maximum ban should be capped at 4yrs rather than life.

Let’s hope that the UCI and/or WADA challenge the USADA decision, not because I believe that Lance Armstrong is innocent, but because the deficiencies in the USADA process and their lack of any public, credible underpinning evidence for their charges means that at the moment Armstrong is both innocent and guilty. Schrodinger would be turning in his lead box….


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Restoring Respect: Why Mediation could have provided a better solution to the Suarez/Evra case

February 19, 2012


Report of the Independent Regulatory Commission:

See also:;

Rightly (or wrongly), the Suarez/Evra case has dominated discussions in the media since November, while the FA may have felt that Liverpool FC’s decision not to appeal the Commission’s verdict meant that they could draw a line under the incident; following ‘handshake-gate’ last week, the controversy has re-ignited once again. This article will examine whether the use of mediation instead could have provided all parties with a much more effective and lasting solution.



The original incident was sparked by a foul during the 15th October 2011 Premier League fixture between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Anfield. The match was always likely to be fiercely contested, however on this occasion Luis Suarez (Liverpool striker) fouled Patrice Evra (Manchester United captain / left back) in the 58th minute. On the 63rd minute, as Evra was marking Suarez for a Liverpool corner, heated words were exchanged in Spanish between the two players over the earlier foul. Evra subsequently alleged that racist language was used by Suarez towards him.

Following an investigation, on 16th November, the Football Association (FA) charged Suarez with Misconduct contrary to FA Rule E3:

  • using abusive / insulting words and/or behaviour towards Mr Evra contrary to Rule E3(1) [A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour]
  • and inclusion of a reference to Mr Evra’s ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race in breach of E3(2) [In the event of any breach of Rule E3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, face, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an “aggravating factor”), a Regulatory Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction…..]

Suarez denied all the charges and requested a personal hearing.

An independent Regulatory Commission met between 14-20th December 2011 to hear the charges, and after lengthy deliberations, found the charges proved (although not in their entirety). The panel imposed a £40,000 fine, suspension for eight first team matches and warned Suarez as to his future conduct as well as ordering him to pay costs [8].

Last Saturday, having fully served his suspension, Luis Suarez was back in the team to play Manchester United at Old Trafford. In the customary Premier League pre-match handshake, Suarez deliberately bypassed Evra’s outstretched hand and in doing so exacerbated what was already an incendiary situation.

So what could have been done differently?



This article will suggest that had the FA used mediation, instead of, or indeed to supplement their traditional disciplinary mechanism, then the conflict could have been resolved.

The initial Suarez case effectively turned on which player’s account of events you believed. While both players agreed on how the incident started, there was considerable divergence on what exactly was said, when, in what context and by whom. Rightly or wrongly, when the affair then became publicly aired through the media, positions hardened, and given the prospective penalties if either accusation was proved (Suarez is a racist, or Evra is a liar), it is perhaps unsurprising that many people came out in support of their respective favourite (resulting in the now infamous Tshirts worn by the Liverpool players and the Klu Klux Klan mask printed in the Manchester United fanzine). The problem is that each action taken immediately after the match escalated the dispute, raising the stakes and firmly entrenching the battle-lines between each side. By the time of the hearing, the solution was always going to be win-lose.

In light of these tensions, the key question therefore becomes was the disciplinary commission hearing the right solution to this problem, or at worst, did it further inflame the situation? This article will suggest the latter. To understand why, it is worth pausing for a second to define mediation. Essentially mediation is one of the oldest forms of conflict resolution and uses neutral third parties to facilitate discussions with all parties in order to resolve the issues in dispute, in a non-binding process. While it is true that the disciplinary commission was comparatively informal, it could not be further removed from mediation.

By its very nature, the disciplinary commission was inherently adversarial and arbitrary. The commission decided any facts in dispute, whether the FA charges had been proved or disproved, and what sanctions, if any, should be awarded. The victim (Evra)’s role in the process was limited to giving evidence on behalf of the FA (witness), while the offender (Suarez) effectively spoke through his legal counsel who made excuses on his behalf (spectator). At no time was there the opportunity to examine and challenge the underlying motivation that led to Suarez’s comments. Instead, once the charge(s) had been proved, a penalty was imposed and the case was closed. Is it any wonder then that after the penalty was spent, tensions between the two players still persisted?

In reality, none of the stakeholders achieved a successful resolution to the conflict:

  • Evra did not receive an apology, indeed he was accused of fabricating malicious lies [327], slighting Suarez’s regional identity (later rejected by the panel [363]) and was ultimately held by the Panel to have initiated the confrontation [240] and used an offensive phrase towards Suarez [87]
  • Suarez was held to have spoken abusive and insulting words which had racial elements to them [392] and was branded as a racist in the media, although the FA [223], Commission [454] and Evra [232] all expressed a belief that Suarez was not a racist
  • The incident flared up again the next time the teams played, causing damage to the FA Respect campaign.


Instead, a better approach would have involved traditional mediation or included an aspect of restorative justice (a Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) inspired by the Canadian ‘Elmira case’).

This latter model is based on four key principles (see E Gillman’s paper for more details):

1) Understanding that the wrong was committed against a specific person (Patrice Evra) rather than necessarily society. While it is true that in saying what he did, Luis Suarez undermined the FA Respect and Kick it Out campaigns, any public protection argument should be balanced with the need to reconcile the two players and repair any damage committed

2) Challenging attitudes toward offender – in particular how to re-integrate the offender (Suarez) back into the community as a positive citizen

3) Challenging the retributive response – the focus of restorative justice is on providing a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and problem solving in order to encourage accountability, rather than simply imposing punitive sanctions (£40,000 fine, eight game suspension)

4) Victim participation in process – those who have been harmed (Evra) by the offender should have a primary, active role in determining what needs to be addressed, being given the opportunity to be acknowledged and heard, having a role in how the resolution should happen and receiving support services for healing and closure.

While such a system is becoming increasingly common in the criminal justice system, disciplinary frameworks in sport are still comparatively traditional and punitive. Interestingly, under Article 1 of its mediation rules, the Court of Arbitration expressly excludes mediation from all disputes relating to disciplinary matters. This article is not suggesting that such an approach would necessarily be appropriate for all potential offences, for example prosecuting doping offences would be an obvious example where attempts at mediation might be inappropriate, however there were three distinct opportunities where mediation techniques could have provided a better solution to the Suarez case.



The first opportunity was to have mediation occur before the commission hearing. Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Chief Executive (Gordon Taylor) did offer to mediate between the two players immediately after the incident, however his offer was rejected.

While I appreciate that it was important to have a full inquiry into the incident, mediation still has its place. One model that could have been used was the German penal model which integrates VOPR into criminal procedure and sanctioning. Such a system encourages voluntary mediation to take place before trial in order to attempt early reconciliation between the parties. Any apology, restitution or compensation that is agreed between the parties prior to the trial can then be used to mitigate any sanctions that would have been imposed subsequently. Such an approach would have had a number of advantages in this case, as the parties might have been less hostile at any commission hearing. If the prime motivation for Evra was to receive an apology and personal redress from Suarez, he would have been far more likely to receive this in a private mediation session rather than the public and considerably more formal commission hearing. It could have also negated much of the hostile media coverage of the incident; Suarez would have similar incentives for participating, as an early admission of his culpability may have defused many of the tensions thereby improving his position in relation to any penalties imposed by the FA. The speed that mediation can occur would also have enabled the incident to have been defused in a much quicker timeframe.

Of note, is that the Mediation process is still valuable even if the parties ultimately fail to agree any resolution as it enables the key issues to be identified for any later hearing and the parties to have at least heard each other’s point of view. Had the clubs (and players) not been of equal international status and resources, mediation would have also been useful for reducing any potential power imbalances between the parties.



Using mediation during the hearing may have broken down a lot of the animosity and helped the panel to reach findings of fact quicker. It would also have enabled the commission to explore underlying motives leading up to the incident, from all parties. As it was, the Commission was focused (hamstrung?) into making a decision on the Charge (and any penalty) and nothing else [222].

As with anything, mediation is not a complete panacea as it will very much depend on the victim (Evra)’s willingness to actively take part in proceedings and explain his reaction and pain in a neutral environment. As it was, Evra’s evidence before the Commission was challenged by Suarez’s legal team as malicious lies in order to exact vengeance for Suarez’s foul and subsequent failure to offer an unrestricted and unequivocal apology! [327]). Indeed, the Commission itself commented that Mr Suarez made what we considered to be such an unarguable assertion in his witness statement, ie that pinching was an attempt to defuse the situation when it plainly was not [249] and again at [267] once more, we were troubled by the fact that Mr Suarez advanced this case to us and relied on it to the extent that he did, when it was unsustainable. Such actions are inherent though in a legal dispute where the burden is on proving fault and casting doubt on the opponent, but could perhaps be avoided by a skilled mediator.

Although the action was initially framed as an investigation into the use of offensive racist language, by the end of the hearing, the focus somewhat shifted into the acceptability of words spoken in the heat of the moment in order to provoke Evra and cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game [414]. This is an important distinction, not in the context of the FA Charge (once it is accepted that the offensive word was repeated seven times, sanctions will ensue), but rather in educating future conduct (both Suarez’s and the wider footballing family).

All parties to the dispute ultimately accepted that cultural differences could represent a source of conflict if they are not respected, valued or understood. Indeed, there were language difficulties by both sides; Suarez spoke little English [235], while Evra’s initial allegation that the Spanish word Suarez had called him translated as n**~$%*, was later withdrawn and replaced with black [274]. What made the matter even more contentious though was that while the panel accepted that the Spanish word ‘negro’ can be employed with the intent to offend and to offend in racial terms [171], it is by no means always used offensively. Indeed, in Uruguay, the term can also be used as a friendly form of address [172], however in all situations, it depends heavily on the context in which it is used [201]. In this incident, in the context of animosity, confrontation and hostility, the Panel held that the language was designed to be abusive and insulting [205], although it is clear from the comments that Suarez posted to Facebook and Twitter the day after the incident that he did not share this perception and he was upset at accusations of racism [161]. Unless Suarez himself accepts genuine contrition for the incident (as opposed to cursory apologies issued by the Club on his behalf), feelings of unfairness may still fester.

It is also worth noting that conflicts may have multiple underlying causes and the incident was perhaps not as one-sided as it was portrayed in the media. While Suarez’s behaviour should rightly be condemned, the fact that Evra was seen to initiate the conflict and use an offensive phrase against Suarez (seemingly condoned by the authorities as the phrase did not contain racial slurs) could leave Suarez feeling somewhat hard done by. This absolutely does not defend what Suarez said subsequently, but certainly could form part of the underlying conflict structure, and was left unaddressed by the Panel and FA. Mediation on the other hand, would have allowed Suarez to express any feelings he might have about this and may have prevented Evra’s exuberant post-match celebrations immediately after the second match (condemned by all sides), which could have acted as a trigger event to a new conflict.



The Commission announced their ruling (plus findings of fact) at 3pm on 20th December. After hearing submissions from both parties (The FA and Suarez) on penalties, it then adjourned at 4:40pm to consider the appropriate sanction(s). It subsequently announced its decision on penalties at 6:20pm that evening [44].

Is quick justice lasting justice? Indeed it is worth considering what the objective of the Commission actually was and what effect it hoped to have on Suarez? At [454], they stated that “Mr Suarez said in evidence that he will not use the word “negro” on a football pitch in England in the future, and we believe that is his genuine and firm intention”  but does this solve the underlying conflict structure or fulfil Patrice Evra’s needs?

It is perhaps illuminative to look at the FA submissions on what they feel the appropriate penalty should have been: at [408] an increased sanction was required to punish Suarez and also to ensure that it is widely known that the FA deprecates and will not accept racist behaviour. In other words, a deterrent sanction is called for…. [410] aggravated because Suarez is an international footballer of exceptional ability playing for one of the best-known clubs in the world.

Does this mean that the penalty system should be subjective? If you are a rubbish player at a lower league club, and you say exactly the same words, you should be entitled to a lesser penalty? The FA (and ultimately the Commission) view is almost biblical – an eye for an eye, behaviour control through punitive sanctions to act as a deterrent for other wrongdoers.

However, it should be questioned whether alternative approaches would have been more appropriate:

“Much deviance is expressive, a clumsy attempt to say something. Let the crime then become a starting point for a real dialogue, and not for an equally clumsy answer in the form of a spoonful of pain.” (N Christie, Limits to Pain 1981)

If the ultimate aim of the process was to stop the downward spiral and underlying issues, then Suarez should have been re-integrated him back into the football community over a period of time following successful rehabilitation and re-education. It is right that he should be held to account by the community, but he should also be offered forgiveness if he has accepted responsibility for his actions and then expressed genuine remorse. Marking him out as an offender does little to ensure future compliance with rules, although it may be appropriate if public safety was an issue.

It is encouraging that the PFA is once again offering to mediate in the on-going row, but I fear that this may be too little too late. A better future solution would have been to have the hearing if the facts were in doubt, but to mediate before any final sanctioning decision. One model that may be of interest is the Australian approach that referred all AFL cases of racial misconduct to mediation as a key part of the process to educate offenders about the issue of racism.

In particular, T Humphrey gives the example of how in 1999, “Peter Everitt, after abusing Scott Chisholm mid-game, took a compromise settlement at mediation that involved a self-imposed four-week suspension, a $20,000 fine, a racial awareness training program, loss of match payments and a public apology to Chisholm, his family and the aboriginal community.” (Dust in the Balance, ISLR (2008))

If any English post-hearing mediation involved all the relevant stakeholders (the FA, Evra, Suarez and representatives from the wider football community) and guidance was given as to appropriate ranges of sanctions, there is scope for a much more appropriate and agreed solution. Suarez should be punished for what he said, at issue though is how to make him accept that what he did is wrong in order to reduce any risk of re-ofending. Anybody can simply view a punishment as a slap on the wrist and a temporary hurdle to be endured.

Ultimately, the question then becomes: should any or all of these mediation approaches be adopted, would FIFA and the media (as moral arbiters of the game) accept such an outcome?


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Is Sepp Blatter the new poster boy for “sports law”?

November 18, 2011


Photograph licensed by Agencia Brasil under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Brazil license.

In recent days it has been difficult to avoid the furore surrounding Sepp Blatter (President of FIFA)’s recent comments concerning what he sees as the new approach to treat racism in sport:

“I would deny it. There is no racism.  There is maybe one of the players towards another – he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”  (

In the current UK climate where two high-profile premiership footballers are currently being investigated by The Football Association over, as yet unproven, allegations made against them of making racist comments (which both players vehemently deny), Blatter’s recent interview is at best ill-informed, at worst it represents an attempt to trivialise and condone racist language.

Many players (current and former), pundits, administrators and politicians have rightly come out and strongly condemned Blatter’s comments, however until the commercial sponsors also seek to distance themselves from FIFA, I fear that the status quo will continue and this will not be the last controversial statement emanating from FIFA house. After all, President Blatter offended female players in 2004 with his suggestion to enhance the women’s game through players wearing:

‘tighter shorts and low cut shirts… to create a more female aesthetic.

and his 2008 assertion that:

‘there are gay footballers, but they don’t declare it because it will not be accepted in these macho organisations. Look at women’s football – homosexuality is more popular there

Indeed, he clearly warmed to this theme of homophobia, returning to it in 2010 with advice to gay rights campaigners to ‘refrain from any sexual activities’ to avoid breaking any laws and offending the World Cup hosts in Qatar!

What are the odds then on Blatter offending disabled footballers next in his attempts to discriminate against everyone equally?


Much ink, column space and tweets have been spilled dissecting his most recent comments, but everybody seems to be missing something, is Sepp Blatter not in fact the new poster boy for “sports law”?

So what do I mean by this? It has long been a perennial (and somewhat dry) academic debate as to whether sports law exists. Is sport special, where what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, immune from the laws of the land (sports law)? Or should offences be punished wherever and whenever they occur irrespective of the fact they might occur on a sportsfield (sport and the law)? Or is there some sort of middle ground where we take into account the context of the game being played (applied sports law).

When the latest player gets carted off injured, there is inevitably a reluctance for the law to become involved for fears that it might lead to a sterilization of the sport and the vigour with which it is played. However is this not what Sepp is also clumsily advocating (only in the context of racism rather than personal injury), as such, is this not simply a manifestation of an extreme view of what could happen if we allow sport to completely self-regulate itself?

While his comments on racism are rightly condemned, we can see similar language already exists in relation to personal injury, for example, compare Blatter’s later comments on the FIFA website:

“My comments have been misunderstood. What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have ‘battles’ with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong. But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.” 

With the well-known Canadian criminal law ice-hockey case of Agar v Canning (1965) 54 WWR 302, 304:

“The conduct of a player in the heat of the game is instinctive and unpremeditated and should not be judged by standards suited to polite social intercourse.”

Isn’t Blatter merely taking this Agar personal injury concept to the next level and attempting to apply it to every incident on the sports pitch (or on this occasion as an ill-thought out and unacceptable attempt to try to excuse or condone racist behaviour).

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, former player turned pundit, Garth Crooks was quoted as saying that:

“Football has to be very careful. It’s the one industry that somehow sees itself as above the law. It is not. Players, however glorified, are employees and have to abide by the law. Sepp is a man out of time and out of touch.”

However maybe it is actually the rest of us that have to be very careful. With every reaction against verdicts like:

  • the Bosman ruling, or Karen Murphy’s recent European Court victory in her challenge against the Premier League and Sky Sports,
  • the 2010 case of Sagen v. VANOC where Canadian courts upheld womens ski-jumpers argument that their ban from the Winter Olympics was discriminatory but ultimately held that there was nothing that could be done in the face of a lack of constitutional jurisdiction over the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • government ‘meddling’ in the governance arrangements of national governing bodies
  • and perhaps more importantly the impending FC Sion legal dispute

maybe we are actually inching ever closer to Blatter’s extreme view where it is unaccountable sporting authorities that control what happens on the pitch unregulated and effectively immune from any national or international legislation?

The reaction against Blatter’s comments from all walks of life gives me some hope that maybe we are not as far down this route as we might have initially appeared to be, the question now for the public and administrators to decide is how ‘special is sport’ and to what degree do we expect it to meet minimum standards of governance, transparency and equality? Or put simply how far do we trust sport to regulate itself?

Quia Custodet Ipsos Custodes?

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