The Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) was set up in 1984 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to provide a neutral means to resolve disputes arising out of sports. As sport has grown, along with the industry around it, CAS has developed into the pre-eminent institution for sports arbitrations, handling 957 cases in 2020.
Regional sports arbitration
In recent years, however, a number of regional arbitration centres have been established independently of CAS. In Europe, there is the Tribunal Arbitral do Desporto in Portugal, and the German Court of Arbitration for Sport in Germany. In the Middle East, the increasing popularity of football has produced the Saudi Sports Arbitration Centre (SSAC), and most recently, the UAE Sports Arbitration Centre. CAS appears to have anticipated this shift, recognising the need for global representation. CAS have set up alternative hearing centres in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, strategically spanning Asia and the Middle East.
The Gujarat Arbitration Centre
Sport entertainment in India has become increasingly popular and monetised: the Indian Premier League and the Professional Kabaddi League have received significant investment. This demands an adequate means for resolving sports disputes.
The Sports Arbitration Centre of India (SACI) was inaugurated on the 26 September 2021 by Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju in Gujarat, supported by the Ministry of Law and Justice. The SACI will act as an independent body to resolve disputes in the sports sector and also has the support from the Bharatiya Janata Party. At the moment it is unclear how the SACI will be regulated aside from Minister Rijiju’s statement that it will be “headed by credible people”, and governed by the international law of sports.
It is also unclear, given the limited information on the SACI, whether the Gujarat hearing centre will be an independent centre (resembling the SSAC). However, according to the stated objectives of Rijiju in Gujarat, this centre will be set up to strengthen India’s own sports industry, which suggests that it will be an independent centre rather than one to maintain CAS’ global reach.
Regional arbitration centres potentially offer a more cost effective and practical alternative for many sports disputes. The regional “close to the ground” approach also means that arbitrators may be more familiar with regional factors or the nuances of particular sports played regionally rather than internationally (like Kabbadi). Further, as sport becomes bigger and bigger business, the establishment of a sports arbitration centre is a strategic method of increasing credibility of the sports industry in a particular region. CAS will not disappear any time soon of course, but the recent growth of regional centres, underlined by the Gujarat Centre announcement and the increasing use of more mainstream commercial arbitration (for example before the ICC or LCIA) for significant commercial disputes in the sports industry, suggest the potential for challenge to the pre-eminence of CAS as a body for resolving ‘sports’ disputes.
With thanks to Aman Tandon for his contribution to this article.