Sports Disputes in the Internet Age

Online dispute resolution shoots and scores

Sports Disputes in the Internet Age

♫ We are the bold
We are the free
We are the chosen who were told to dream...

— Music by Veliswa Mehana, Lyrics by © DistroKid, recorded by Veenus

The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (“SDRCC”) was created by Physical Activity and Sport Act of Canada (S.C. 2003, c.2). Section 10 of that Act describes the mission of SDRCC as follows:

“The mission of the Centre is to provide to the sport community a) a national alternative dispute resolution service for sport disputes; and b) expertise and assistance regarding alternative dispute resolution.”

This is an online dispute resolution service established to ensure that timely, independent alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) processes are available to all athletes, coaches, national sports organizations, and others involved in all levels of sport in Canada, at low-cost and in both official languages.

The SDRCC is governed by a 12-member board of directors who are appointed by the minister responsible for sport. The Directors reflect regional, language and gender diversity across Canada; some are lawyers, some are former athletes, other are dispute resolution specialists.

The types of disputes that come before the SDRCC are:

  • Team selection: Team selection accounts for the majority of the disputes brought forward to SDRCC. There are many ways to prevent team selection disputes from arising and many people have an important role to play in this process.
  • Carding (financial support): Sport Canada’s Athlete Assistance Program (“AAP”) allows athletes of international calibre to receive financial assistance with their training and competition needs. There are two steps in the process of identifying AAP funding recipients that may potentially lead to disputes:
    • When a National Sport Organization (“NSO”) recommends a list of athletes for carding to Sport Canada and athletes may be dissatisfied with the decision of their NSO.
    • After an NSO has submitted its recommendations for carding, Sport Canada objects to some of the recommendations if they are deemed not to be in compliance with agreed upon criteria.
  • Doping: The Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada has had jurisdiction to rule on doping-related disputes since June 1, 2004. This date coincided with the coming into force of the Canadian Anti-Doping Program, developed by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport
  • Disciplinary Measures: Sport organizations may have to make decisions to sanction members for unacceptable behaviours, whether they be athletes, coaches, officials, team managers, volunteers, etc.
  • Governance: An increasing number of disputes that are brought to the SDRCC’s attention concern governance issues, including, but not restricted to:
    • improperly conducted decision-making/election processes in sport organizations;
    • abuse of power and authority by board members;
    • conflicting interpretations of by-laws;
    • undeclared conflicts of interests in the management of sport organizations; or
    • affiliation and recognition of member organizations (clubs, provincial organizations, etc.).

The SRDCC uses four methods to resolve disputes:

  • Resolution facilitation;
  • Mediation;
  • Mediation/Arbitration; and
  • Arbitration.

There is also the new Safeguarding Tribunal. This division only deals with matters arising from code of conduct violations, for which the concerned sport organization has an agreement with the SDRCC to conduct hearings.

All SDRCC dispute resolution serves take place online. The SDRCC maintains two lists of lawyers who may act for parties before the SDRCC: (1) Lawyers who have indicated to the SDRCC that they have special interest or expertise in the field of sport law, and (2) Lawyers who have offered to provide free legal advice and services to unrepresented parties involved in disputes before the SDRCC.

Furthermore, the SDRCC’s Arbitrators & Mediators come from every region of Canada and have extensive experience in alternate dispute resolution and sports-related issues. They’ve all received intensive training to ensure an intimate knowledge of the Canadian sport system, sport law issues, and the unique needs of members of the Canadian sport system.

The needs of the Canadian Sport Community for dispute resolution are being met by the SDRCC to serve the bold and free athletes of Canada who are chosen to dream.