Football and cricket! Both these games are quite popular among all the sports fanatics around the world. The amount of TV viewership generated by these sports is second to none. Though football is seen all around the globe and cricket is predominant only in Asia, Australia, and the UK, it has managed a broad audience every time. With all the love and support these games receive, the onus is on the governing bodies to make them controversy-free. The International Cricket Council’s (“ICC”) Dispute Resolution Committee looks at all disputes arising in the world of cricket. At the same time, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) has its Dispute Resolution Chamber and also the FIFA Players’ Status Committee (“FIFA PSC”) to look after its disputes.
Football being a club-based sport is very complicated when it comes to its transfers and all the logistics associated with it. Most disputes occur when there is a transfer of one player from one association to another. Cricket meanwhile is mainly played by countries which are the members of ICC, which currently are very few. So, the task of FIFA is more convoluted than that of the ICC. This is evident from the fact that the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber has given over 750 decisions till 2018, and the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee has just a solitary decision related to the India-Pakistan dispute regarding a series which had been cancelled.
The FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber isn’t an arbitral court like the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but a quasi-arbitral tribunal[i]. So, the decisions rendered by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber are generally not international arbitral awards. They are only implemented through FIFA’s statutes and regulations. The decisions are critical amongst the football fraternity in the sense that all the FIFA members should adhere to the decisions of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber. It is the job of the national associations to make sure that the players and the clubs of their respective nations fully comply with the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber’s decisions. The FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber was set up to take over certain disputes from the Players’ Status Committee (PSC) because of the variety of conflicts that arose in the footballing world at the start of the 21st century. The jurisdiction of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee (or its Single Judge) is to hear disputes between a club or an association or during some conflicts related to the transfer of a player.
Meanwhile, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber deals with four types of disputes mentioned in Article 22(a), (b), (d), and (e) of the FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP). These include disputes between clubs and players concerning the maintenance of contractual stability where there exists an International Transfer Certificate (“ITC”) request, an international level employment dispute, training compensation disputes, solidarity mechanism disputes between clubs of same and different associations and finally differences between clubs belonging to different associations of different continents. If there is any uncertainty regarding the jurisdiction between the FIFA PSC and the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, the Chairman of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee must decide which body has actual authority.
Meanwhile, the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee functions differently to FIFA’s. The ICC appoints a “Dispute Panel” to hear and resolve disputes between the members by the process of arbitration. The panel operates as an arbitral tribunal, and the proceedings constitute ‘arbitration proceedings’ under the English Arbitration Act of 1996. It is the sole body to hear any disputes that arise. All the conflicts are per the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee Terms of Reference. Section 34 of the Arbitration Act provides the Dispute Panel with the flexibility to decide all procedural and evidential matters. English courts will have restrictive jurisdiction over the disputes emerging out of any dispute before the Dispute Panel. But the panel doesn’t have the powers of a court under Sections 45 and 69 of the Arbitration Act. The decision of the panel will be final and binding, and the parties will lose the power of appeal to any court of law or any higher arbitral body according to Sections 67 and 68 of the Arbitration Act. The panel will act independently without any affiliations to ICC and other higher authorities of ICC. Cricket is called the gentleman’s game, and it is known for its robust and principled approach towards the game. ICC, therefore, has adopted a model called the ‘Code of Ethics‘ as it establishes clear ethical standards to supervise everyone related to ICC and oversee their work in the long term. Like the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, the Code of Ethics is also governed by English Law. The ICC Dispute Resolution Committee has an additional job of solving disputes which relate to the Code of Ethics if the Ethics Tribunal is not created in the specified time, and it shall have exclusive jurisdiction to it.
The composition of FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber and ICC Dispute Resolution Committee panel are quite similar. The FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber consists of 26 members in all (13 club representatives and 13 player representatives). There is a provision for a chairperson and a deputy chairperson too. Out of 26 members, generally, three form the panel to adjudicate any decision. The ICC Dispute Resolution Committee comprises nine members in total compared to 26 of FIFA’s. It is composed of a chairperson, an independent Ethics Officer, and seven additional members. The ICC panel must consist of three members from the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee at the maximum. Both parties get the chance to appoint one person from the current ICC Dispute Resolution Committee (other than the chairperson). The Chairman has the discretion to select a one-member panel also depending upon the urgency and resources of the case.
In FIFA’s Circular 827, FIFA finally agreed to recognize the jurisdiction of the CAS to act as a final appeal body for decisions taken by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber[ii]. Article 24 of the RSTP states that the decisions reached by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber or the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber Judge may be appealed before the CAS. But ICC Dispute Resolution Committee doesn’t have any provision for appeal to CAS, and the panel’s decision shall remain final and binding to all parties according to Article 10.4 of the Terms of Reference.
Conclusion and Way Forward
While the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber has confronted various difficulties and analysis throughout the years, it remains a relevant body for its invaluable help in football-related disputes. Meanwhile, the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee has been called to action just once, but it is likely to grow. The emergence of IPL and other global league tournaments and maybe a transfer policy soon will make the ICC Dispute Resolution Committee a more active body than it is now. Both ICC and FIFA, with all their efforts, are trying for an improved legal framework and have managed to decently well in keeping the games controversy-free.
With respect to the COVID-19 situation which has affected the games, it becomes an important task for the boards to maintain the sanity of the game. Considering that the players have been unemployed for a long time, there is a possibility of them using some other methods to earn some money. Against such a background disputes will frequently arise between players and the clubs. The FIFA must continue their efforts to improve and modernize the legal fabric in which its DRC operates.
Cricket’s popularity is yet to reach the bar set by football. And looking at the current scenario, it doesn’t give the impression that ICC is ready to expand the game into unseen territories. But the author believes ICC should take more help from CAS in fixing the issues that arise. There may be a need for some wholesome changes to the legal structure of ICC’s dispute resolution then. The mechanism to settle disputes is crucial regardless of the industry in which it is operating. Institutions like CAS and the respective DRC’s not only help rapid settlement of conflicts but also aid in the strict enforcement of sports law. The evolvement of the law of sports has possibly wide consequences for the improvement of national and international laws in the field of ADR, which much of the time are not seen. Moreover, lawful researchers ought to know about the judicial decisions regarding sports taken by these bodies which may open the door for a broader application in law.
[i] Ian Blackshaw, ‘ADR and Sport: Settling Disputes through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, and the WIPO Arbitration & Mediation Center’ (2013) 24 Marquette Sports Law Review 1.
[ii] Frans De Weger, The Jurisprudence of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2016).