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Protecting human rights in sports arbitration

Alex McLin, Director of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF), shared his experience in dealing with safeguarding cases during the 7th Conference on International Arbitration and the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), organised virtually by the Universidad Panamericana en Línea, Guadalajara, on 10 February.

The panel on “Commercial and Sports Arbitration: Cross-Fertilisation and Reciprocal Opportunities” focused on the specificity of sporting disputes. In this context, the need for a greater focus on the human rights of the parties, whistleblowers, witnesses, and survivors involved in safeguarding cases was highlighted. The mistreatment of athletes is, unfortunately, an area which is likely to represent an increasing proportion of the future caseload of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS); and it is obviously of concern to the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation every day.

Alex McLin shared his experience in dealing with safeguarding cases.

Procedural complexities in safeguarding cases

GEF Director Alex McLin, also a CAS arbitrator, said during the session:

“Safeguarding cases represent their own procedural complexities. In cases involving allegations of abuse, you have witnesses, whistleblowers and survivors in need of protection. It is essential to engage in a dialogue with them to raise their comfort level during the proceedings. Most importantly the proceedings need to be trauma-informed and ideally restorative. We as practitioners tend to fall back to our traditional adversarial approach, and we need to be aware that cross-examination can compound trauma for survivors of abuse.”

“I believe we are going to see procedural innovations in this area. Likewise, legal practitioners will need to acquire a slightly different skill set for safeguarding cases. Justice would be well served by all of us by gaining these skills as abuse and harassment unfortunately are serious issues in sport.”

The conference featured a top-level line-up of speakers in different areas of commercial and sports arbitration practices, with gender parity across all panels. The programme was created by Edgardo Muñoz, professor at the Universidad Panamericana, Guadalajara, and also a member of the Appeal Tribunal of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation.

Edgardo Muñoz is a member of the Appeal Tribunal of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation.
Edgardo Muñoz

Strengthening safety in gymnastics

Asked why he got involved with the work of the Foundation, Edgardo Muñoz said:

“My motivation is to contribute to the ethics mission of the GEF for the benefit of its sports community. Athletes have raised their voices for a change of culture. They want and deserve a sustainable sports career and environment. The GEF and similar international ethics bodies have the great responsibility of implementing what is needed to achieve this objective. I feel honoured to be part of this movement as a member of the GEF Appeal Tribunal, with all the responsibility that it takes.”

On the legal specifics of safeguarding cases, he said:

“Safeguarding cases are very sensitive and challenging because of the emotional and ethical issues at stake. From a legal point of view, one of the most interesting tasks for the GEF Appeal Tribunal is to determine the type of duty of care that an athlete is owed by her or his National or International Federation, including officers and coaches; what does that duty include and; whether it has been infringed to the athlete's detriment. Also important is to decide the type of available remedies under current sport rules for safeguarding cases and how they may differ from other types of claims.”

Click here to learn more about the event.


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