By: Abdulla Abuwasel
You may have forgotten the feeling of being packed in a stadium with thousands of other people who are less than six feet apart from you, or that the FIFA World Cup is only two years away. The next FIFA World Cup of 2022 will be held in the State of Qatar. Addressing the possibility of sports-related disputes; the State of Qatar established the Qatar Sports Arbitration Foundation (“QSAF”).
Commencing operations on 19 August 2019, the QSAF is an independent organization with the primary purpose of resolving sport-related disputes through arbitration and mediation. The establishment of the QSAF came as a result of the cooperation between four sports entities in Qatar, namely: Qatar Olympic Committee, Qatar Football Association, Qatar Stars League, and Qatar Players Association. The QSAF aims to address the expected need for an independent judicial body to resolve all sports-related disputes within the State of Qatar. To solve disputes, the State of Qatar and the rest of the region had been relying on the resolution mechanisms described in the statutes of the respective associations or federations. However, the expected increase of sport-related disputes and the corresponding increase in related costs are part of the need for an independent body, namely the QSAF.
Sports-related disputes generally fall into two categories: commercial disputes and disputes of a disciplinary nature. Commercial disputes cover disputes related to the execution of commercial contracts (i.e. broadcasting rights, sponsorship rights, and player transfers); disputes of a disciplinary nature cover alleged breaches of a particular governing body’s regulations, which are designed to protect, inter alia, the integrity of the sport (i.e. match-fixing or performance-enhancing drugs).
Many of us appreciate arbitration for its discrete nature, however, that is not the case when it comes to sports-related arbitration which features a stark contrast. Sports disciplinary cases tend to result in a public judgment and sanction; the International Court of Arbitration for Sports (“ICAS”) and several other international arbitral bodies often publish judgments on their website, in an exemplary nature to the public and fellow athletes.
Furthermore, sports arbitration utilizes public hearings (when desired by the athlete) as a message to the public that the proceedings are upholding their integrity and to ensure transparency. Albeit the lack of confidentiality, expedited procedures are emphasized in sports arbitration as we have frequently seen ad hoc ICAS tribunals hand down decisions within 24 hours, due to the intransigent timetables of athletes and competitions.
The QSAF and its working mechanisms are modeled after ICAS to assure that the best international practices are adopted and to consequently ensure independence in pursuing resolution of sports-related disputes with the utmost impartiality, transparency, and efficiency. Because of this, the QSAF follows similar procedural rules as other institutions and applies the Qatar Sports Arbitration Tribunal Rules, which stipulate the following timeline:
- Claimant files a Notice of Arbitration
- Respondent submits Response within 20 days
- Claimant submits Statement of Claim within 20 days of receipt of the Response
- Respondent submits Statement of Defense within 20 days
In order to trigger arbitration under the Rules, QSAF recommends the following clause be implemented into the contract in question:
“Any dispute arising from or related to the present contract, its validity, constitution, execution, interpretation, nullification or termination shall be submitted exclusively to the Qatar Sports Arbitration Tribunal under Qatar Sports Arbitration Foundation in Doha, Qatar, and resolved definitively in accordance with the approved Arbitration Rules.”
In October of 2019, QSAF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ICAS, to accommodate the ICAS ad hoc division for the FIFA World Cup 2022. Under the agreement, QSAF will be the seat of arbitration for disputes arising out of the World Cup. With the uproar of public and private sector investments in the Middle Eastern sports market via high-profile sponsorship deals, investments in sporting properties, and successful bids for major events, the QSAF may see copious amounts of activity, as the Middle East metamorphoses into a major player in the international sports industry.
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