Reading the newspapers and listening to the radio as I do it sometimes seems to me that the whole business of disputes in sport has become a thing all of its own. These days it seems more likely than not that reports in the press of the sporting achievements of a particular individual, team or nation will be matched, possibly even outweighed, by a similar volume of comment, some of it salacious, about managerial sackings, drug testing and the like. Much of this will be personalised and very intrusive. Some of this material has been quite justifiably published and, in some instances, there will be a public interest issue. However, a lot of the time, reports appear to be based on supposition or third hand hearsay. The effect is that individual sportspeople may be unfairly subject to trial by media. Others, who may be less deserving of sympathy may use the storms that such reporting tends to generate, to deflect criticism and possibly even hide their misdeeds.
Press reports such as those relating to last year’s Sutton United FC’s “pie gate” or “pasty gate” come to mind. The recently reported disagreements between West Ham United FC and its landlord, concerns expressed by the same club about the role of football agents and the seemingly endless reports of disputes between football managers and their clubs about player transfers are also cases in point. Even the fictional world of the Archers has aired controversy about women playing for the village cricket team with “senior” players taking very different standpoints.
This phenomenon is by no means limited to the UK. In the recent past, such events as those outlined above have been matched by recent Australian controversy about parity for women soccer and rugby league players and the financial disputes in the past two years or so involving top-level Australian cricketers and their governing body. Anecdotal reports also suggest that similar controversies abound in the US. Irrespective of views about any underlying political issues, one suspects that a time will come when a major sporting rift will emerge between spokespeople who have declared for the current US president and those who have not.
The ongoing controversy about top-level cycling is another case in point. It may appear to an impartial outsider that a multi-faceted dispute has been “tried” in a sequence of media reports and interviews. There has undoubtedly been some good coverage but many of the headlines that have been published in the last few years suggest otherwise and I am drawn to the conclusion that the principal beneficiaries of this controversy have been the media. One suspects that the rights and views of some of the individuals affected have only been addressed in a quite cursory manner and that the public interest has not been well served.
All very well but why would mediation help? Is it a panacea or a cure all? Will it “solve all my sports related problems”?
The short answer has to be that, as effective as it is, mediation is not the equivalent of waving a magic wand. That said it is timely and flexible and, not least in the context of the types of issues being considered in this article, it is confidential. It enables parties in all types of sporting dispute e.g. something in the public domain or a dispute between an agent and a sporting organisation, to air their differences and to communicate with one another in private.
Out of the media spectator gallery and away from prying eyes and ears, those who wish to communicate and try to work things out will be able to do so safe in the knowledge that all concerned have signed a confidentiality clause in their mediation agreements. Mediation is not a shield for wrongdoing or subterfuge and the public interest will not be compromised by its use. The mediator is not an arbitrator or a judge and at appropriate junctures will recommend that the parties take separate legal advice.
Experience does show that mediation engenders candidness and frankness and that it can be used very effectively to hold people to account. It gives those who may have been accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to explain themselves and if necessary, to mitigate and apologise and if appropriate, to offer recompense. It can give the innocent or those caught up in scandal or controversy the opportunity to make their cases and in some instances to clear their names. Mediation focuses on facts and relevant issues rather than conjecture, and engenders clarity of thought, hence enabling those involved to work towards resolution. Equally, mediation is international in outlook and mediators are not constrained by national boundaries or jurisdictions.
Additionally, mediation is very cost effective and saves individuals, sporting organisations and governing bodies considerable sums of money that can be better spent elsewhere i.e. playing sport.
Principal Director of ASMADR, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.