Dispute Resolution Services
Disputes can take the form of complaints, allegations of conflict of interest, appeals of a decision, improper application of rules or procedures, bias in decision-making, tampering, and other issues of conflict or disagreement. Here’s how we can help:
- Individuals or clubs that have a dispute and don’t know if their organization has internal policies to resolve the dispute should first contact their organization. If their organization does not have internal policies, then the organization should be encouraged to contact us so we can handle the dispute using policies we would provide. Both parties (the individual/club and the organization) must agree to use the policy.
- Our services are right for your organization if:
- You have a dispute and you do not have internal policies for the resolution of that dispute; or
- You have a dispute, you have internal policies for dispute resolution, and you would like us to manage that dispute by using your policies; or
- You have a dispute, you have internal policies for dispute resolution, you have made a decision on your dispute, but the decision is being appealed and you would like us to manage the appeal.
The dispute resolution process will generally unfold as described on the Resolving a Dispute section of this webpage.
Resolving a Dispute
Disputes between athletes / participants / members and sport organizations can be about anything – from minor issues about eligibility or selection to major issues involving harassment or other serious misconduct. Our Writings on dispute resolution review some of the more common topics for disputes in sport and how they might arise. Organizations are frequently challenged to resolve these disputes in a manner that is least disruptive within the organization.
Sport organizations are ‘private tribunals’ which means they can discipline members and resolve their own disputes. But such a system must be procedurally fair and must adhere to the laws of natural justice. We help organizations and their athletes / members / participants resolve disputes efficiently, inexpensively, and fairly.
This section outlines the step-by-step process for how disputes are resolved.
Step 1 – Identifying the Dispute
Individuals submit disputes against organizations or other individuals for various reasons. Common disputes include allegations of conflict of interest, bias, improper application of eligibility or selection policies, harassment, denying a release, bullying, tampering, or other misconduct. The individual submitting the dispute should be able to identify exactly which actions/decisions are being disputed, which body (individual or organization) made the disputed decisions/actions, and why those actions/decisions should be cause for a dispute.
Step 2– Identifying the parties
The ‘complainant’ (the party raising the issue for dispute) is usually an athlete/member/participant who feels that a decision made (or not made) or an action taken was unfair in some way or violated the organization’s bylaws or policies. The party responding to the complaint or the dispute, the ‘respondent’, is typically the organization or another athlete/member/participant. Also, individuals who may be affected by a change in the decision made would be ‘affected parties’. For example, if the complainant believed that he or she should be selected to a team, the individual who he or she would replace on the team would be affected by a change in the decision and would be an ‘affected party’.
Step 3 – Identifying the Existing Policies
The internal dispute resolution mechanisms used by organizations may not exist or may be incomplete. For example, some organizations have internal dispute resolution policies that are appropriate for resolving disputes between a member and the organization – but not between two members. Other organizations may not have an internal dispute resolution policy at all. This step of the process is necessary to identify which existing policies may have jurisdiction over the current dispute.
Step 4 – Administering the Dispute
Disputes should have a neutral administrator. This is a person who can act as the liaison between both parties (so that the parties do not need to interact directly), who can ensure procedural fairness throughout the process, and who does not have any interest in the result of the dispute. Acting as the neutral administrator is part of the dispute resolution service that we offer.
The administration of the dispute includes determining which policies apply (under Step 3). As a private tribunal, a sport organization can use an external dispute resolution policy provided that all parties to the dispute agree to the policy being used. The policies we have developed meet standards of procedural fairness and reference important elements like the description of the hearing process, the appointment of the Panel, the possible discipline, the confidentiality of the decision, and how to appeal.
Along with selecting the policy to be used, administering the dispute consists of enacting the policy, choosing a format for the dispute, and appointing the Panel. Policies typically provide options for the format of the hearing (typically an exchange of documents and/or an in-person hearing by conference call).
The role of the Panel is to read the exchanged documents and/or listen to oral arguments at the hearing and determine an outcome to the dispute. The role of the Panel is not to find a compromise or make both parties happy. The Panel is typically limited to making a decision that is permitted by the policy being used. The organization may choose to use its own Panel (consisting of individuals from within the organization who are not connected to the dispute) and we have a long list of experienced independent sport arbitrators that we would consult when appointing a Panel. The Panel is expected to follow the policy and issue a decision, with written reasons, within seven days following the hearing.
Step 5 – Mediation
Mediation is possible at any point in the process. The parties may identify that they are open to mediation and finding a compromise to the dispute. As part of our dispute resolution services, we can facilitate a mediation process and/or provide you with a policy to assist you in resolving the dispute yourselves. We can also appoint an experienced mediator or, in certain cases, act informally as a mediator ourselves.
Step 6 – Exchanging Submissions/Documents
The hearing typically involves the exchange of documents between the parties. Each side presents material that they feel supports their case and gives evidence for the dispute being resolved in their favour. This material can consist of written emails, evidence where the organization broke its own rules, testimonials from individuals or witnesses, or other material. The process usually involves the complainant submitting documents first, the respondent submitting a ‘response’ to the submitted material, and the complainant being offered the final opportunity to submit a short ‘rebuttal’ to the response. Occasionally a party may hire a lawyer to help prepare their submission. Instead of submitting the documents to each other, the parties submit the documents to us. We then share the documents with the other party. We are also the only link between the parties and the Panel. This arrangement ensures a smoother exchange of documents and limits hostility or bias in the process. Once the hearing process begins, it may continue even if one party chooses not to make submissions.
Step 7 – Setting up a Hearing
The hearing can be held entirely by the exchange of written submissions. Often there is no real need for the parties to communicate on a conference call unless new information can be added or unless the arbitrator believes that he or she will have questions to ask the parties directly. Once the final rebuttal has been received by the respondent, all material will be sent to the arbitrator who will determine whether or not to hold an in-person hearing (often by conference call). If an in-person hearing is required, one person from each party will be permitted to attend alongside a representative (legal counsel, for example). Minors are also allowed to have parent/guardian present. Affected parties will be invited to the hearing as well as any witnesses who the Panel would like to attend.
Step 8 – Holding an In-Person Hearing
An in-person hearing is not always necessary. Disputes can often be resolved by the exchange of documents. When an in-person hearing is necessary, it is rarely actually held ‘in-person’. Usually the parties get together by conference call and the appointed Panel acts as the Chair of the hearing. We participate on the call in an administrative role. Typically, parties are permitted to present their case and summarize their written submissions. The Chair will ask questions and the parties may be given a limited opportunity to ask questions of each other before making concluding statements. Hearings typically last about an hour.
Step 9 – Issuing the Decision
Following the submission of the rebuttal – or the holding of the in-person hearing depending on the format – the Panel has seven days to issue a written decision with reasons. If there are time constraints, the Panel may issue an oral decision with the reasons to come later. The decision issued by the Panel will respect the possibilities for resolution described in the policy; which can range from dismissing the dispute to enacting discipline. The Panel will send the decision to us (and we will ensure the decision is procedurally fair) and we will distribute it to the parties. The decision will usually be confidential and only communicated to the parties and individuals affected by the decision. The organization may also need to send the decision to a governing organization. Questions about the decision would be sent to us to be forwarded to the Panel and any answers or clarifications would be shared with both parties.
Step 10 – Respecting the Decision
A party that does not respect the decision leaves itself open to further disputes or legal challenges. Some decisions may also be appealed using the organization’s appeal policy. If the organization does not have an appeal policy, we can provide one. Appeals usually must be filed within a certain time frame of the initial decision being made. Decisions involving national sport organizations may be reviewable under the rules of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada.
Frequently Asked Questions
This section is a list of common questions and answers about our dispute resolution services.
What services do you offer?
Here’s what we do:
– Administer your dispute
– Provide guidance
– Ensure everything is procedurally fair and unbiased
– Give you an external policy to use if your internal policies are deficient
– Appoint an experienced and qualified arbitrator to serve as the decision-making Panel
– Ensure the decision is permitted by the policy
– Communicating fairly with each party
– Ensure the dispute resolution process is as painless as possible
How much does this service cost?
We generally do not charge a flat rate because some disputes can be resolved quicker than others. We encourage organizations to first describe their dispute and the policies they have. We will then give you an estimate of the amount of time it may take for the entire process and the cost connected to that time investment. If we appoint an independent arbitrator there will be an additional honorarium for the arbitrator’s time.
We need our dispute resolved in three days – is this possible?
Yes, but the expedited process would require approval from both parties and more intensive time commitment from our end. The arbitrator will be asked to give a summary decision first with the full reasons coming at a later date.
Do we all have to get together to meet in person?
No. Disputes are often resolved without the need for the parties to interact. If an ‘in-person’ hearing is necessary, it would typically be held via conference call. We subscribe to a conferencing system and this is part of the service we offer.
Do you make the decision?
No. Although members of our group have served in the role of arbitrator in other cases, in cases we administer we would not also act as the decision-maker. Instead, we will appoint an outside arbitrator from our list of experienced and qualified sport arbitrators.
The Sport Law & Strategy Group has helped hundreds of organizations with their dispute resolution process over the past twenty years. Quoted below are some organizations that we have assisted. Not all of these organizations had the dispute resolved in their favour!
- “The expertise and experience provided by the members of the Sport Law & Strategy Group has been invaluable to me in dealing with complex and delicate situations. They always approach matters professionally, thoroughly and calmly and provide outstanding guidance and support. I highly recommend their services.”
- “Thank you very much for being patient, informative, and understanding during the past few weeks proceedings. We were new to this process, especially me, and you were great in creating a comfortable environment. It was great to be met with professionalism from [the Arbitrator] and yourself and we understand and accept the ruling decision. I hope this has improved [our sport] on a whole for Canada and for future athletes like myself”
- “Professional advice that really gives us all the information needed to make informed decisions. Timely responses and you’re always available”
- “Very personal service which is friendly and professional. Great balance and very affordable even for the small sport organizations. You keep things simple”
- The Sport Law & Strategy Group has played an integral part in our Discipline, Appeals and Dispute Resolution [processes] for the Ontario Soccer Association. Cases and advice are always handled expeditiously and professionally. We’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of personnel from this group, all of whom have proven to go above and beyond to support our Association around the clock. We are greatly appreciative!
- “You listen”
- “Rowing Canada Aviron and several of its Provincial Association Members have benefited from the Case Management and dispute resolution expertise of Sport Law & Strategy Group over the years. The greatest advantage has been the proactive/preventive advice that has reduced our need to move into dispute resolution or formal appeal processes. They have always been swift in helping us to deal with matters and truly professional in approach.”
The Sport Law & Strategy Group is an independent consulting company operating in the Canadian sport sector. We are a team of seven individuals each with different areas of expertise. We have been working on sport disputes for over 25 years. In 1995, our company created and operated the ADR Program for Amateur Sport, which was the precursor to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (the program that handles major sport disputes for NSOs).
We encourage you to contact us if you need assistance with your disputes:
The following writings on our website contain additional information related to this topic:
- Athletics Canada – One Organization’s Experience with Dispute Management
- Governing Documents: Separating Constitution, Bylaws, Policies, and Rules
- What policies does my sport organization need?
View all our writings tagged with #disputeresolution