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 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 is 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.

Recent reports such as those of Sutton United FC’s “pie gate” or “pasty gate” come to mind as does the long running saga about alleged misuse of a medicinal substance in UK cycling. Even the fictional world of the Archers has aired controversy about women playing for the village cricket team. Mindful of the complexities that appear to have surrounded the quite recent Blackpool FC shareholder dispute, I wonder what will happen in the wake of Leicester City FC and Claudio Ranieri parting company.

This phenomenon is by no means a UK one. Such events appear to be matched by the Australian controversy about parity for women soccer and rugby league players with their male counterparts. Anecdotal reports also suggest that similar controversies abound in the US. Irrespective of any views about any underlying political issues, one suspects that a time will come when a sporting rift will emerge between spokespeople who have declared for the current US president and those who have not.

The cycling controversy is a 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 reporting but the headlines suggest otherwise and I am drawn to the conclusion that the principal beneficiaries of this controversy have been the media and possibly the legal profession. 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 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 in the context of the 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 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 and the public interest will not be compromised. 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, apologise and if appropriate, to make recompense. It helps the innocent or those caught up in scandal or controversy to make their cases and in some instances to clear their names. It focuses on facts and relevant issues rather than conjecture and offers 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 e.g., actually playing sport.