While legal disputes may seem to be somewhat unsportsmanlike, the fact is that it is a major part of modern professional sports. Sometimes it seems like the days of ole, when a sport was just a simple pastime engaged in by ‘the guys’ during leisure hours, are just a thing of the past. Is there anyone who still plays sports for the love of it? The answer is of course, yes, but when it comes to professional sports teams, leagues, and games are more than fun and entertainment, they are businesses. Business means money, and money means, power, and power means conflict.

The types of disputes that can arise in professional sports are numerous, but the salaries are very often the point of difficult conflicts. Sometimes there are acrimonious disputes that end up in court, a situation in which there is seldom an amicable solution. Either one side wins and the other is left discontented, or the court orders a compromise, which usually satisfies neither.

An Alternative to Traditional Dispute Resolution in Sports

But there is another way – arbitration. In recent years arbitration has been used more and more as an alternative to litigation for settling sports disputes. As in all arbitration proceedings arbitration in sports needs to be agreed to by both parties from the get go. Often the arbitration hearing is conducted by, not only one arbitrator, but an arbitration panel, consisting of three arbitrators. In the case of a three-person panel, each party chooses one of the two arbitrators and then those arbitrators appoint the third arbitrator.

During the proceedings each party presents the details of the dispute to the arbitration panel.


During the arbitration process both parties have the option of allowing the details of the proceedings to be kept private or to allow them to be made public. Therefore details of the disputes and the arbitration decisions are only publicized on condition that both sides agree. Arbitration is usually much faster than a court procedure, which may be critical if the new season is about to begin, or there is some other looming deadline. Another big advantage of arbitration is that it is considerably cheaper than going to court.

Arbitration Details

The parties may agree to arbitration only after a dispute arises, or there may be an arbitration clause built into the initial contract. Sports arbitrators may simply be individuals with a background in labour law or they could even be arbitration firms who specialize in arbitrating sports disputes.

Popularity of Arbitration as a way of Solving Sports Disputes

Arbitration has become such a popular method of dealing with sports disputes there are now even established organizations centred around sports arbitration. For example, there is even an arbitration court that was established specifically for sports disputes, which was established to settle international sports-related disputes. The court is called the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which is an international body headquartered in Lausanne. And that’s not all folks, when city hosts the Olympic Games it also hosts a temporary arbitration court before and during the duration of the games.

Types of Sports Related Disputes

They may be caused by:

• Conduct related issues: Match fixing, drug use or other forms of cheating can give rise to players being banned. Appeals against lengthy bans often end in arbitration.

• Commercial agreements: Disputes often arise between players and sponsors about lack of expected payments.

• Point deductions: These can have an effect on promotion and disputes arise because of their impact on the player’s future career.

• Injuries: Disputes may arise over settlements.

Great Arbitration Example

A famous, and well publicised, arbitration case involved the South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius who was born without the major bones in his legs. Both of his legs were amputated and he was fitted with prosthetics before he learned to walk. In 2008 the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled that his high-tech false limbs gave him an advantage over runners whose legs were only composed by inferior flesh and bone. Later, the same year, the decision of the International Association of Athletics Federations was overruled by the CAS, and he became eligible to participate in the Olympic Games in 2008. After all of that well earned publicity Pistorius failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, but, stay tuned because he plans to compete in the upcoming trials for the upcoming Olympics in London.