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The rebalancing of power - the need for greater transparency in sports tribunals

Handshake by a gavel on the table
Tuesday, 02 May 2017 By William Clerk

Sports governing bodies (“SGBs”) sit at the pinnacle of the sports that they regulate and they wield great power over their athletes. This power is most obviously shown when SGBs exercise disciplinary jurisdiction over their participants and act in their capacity as prosecuting authorities within their sport. 

Most SGBs have the power to sanction participants for breaches of their rules, and these sanctions can be severe – for example, the power to impose lifetime bans on players who are found to have committed match-fixing offences.[1]

However, despite the profound effect that a SGB’s exercise of its powers can have upon an athlete, in the author’s view this power is all-too frequently operated in the shadows, away from the public view and, as a result, without any or adequate interrogation or accountability.

This article examines the legal framework within which SGBs exercise their powers over athletes, and questions the duties that may exist upon SGBs when they are acting as prosecuting authorities. Specifically, it looks at:

  • Applicability of regulations – an explanation of how and why athletes are bound by an SGB’s rules and regulations (terms used interchangeably).

  • Construction of the regulations and restrictions on powers – the application of the law of contract.

  • The role that public law plays in overseeing SGBs exercise of power.

  • Specific duties and/or universal standards – is there an obligation to disclose relevant previous cases?

  • Author’s comment

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Written by

William Clerk

William Clerk

William is a barrister specialising in civil and commercial law at 2 Temple Gardens (see  He is rapidly developing a busy sports practice with a strong focus on the commercial, disciplinary, and regulatory aspects of sports disputes across all major sports.  He is frequently instructed to advise on the interpretation and application of sports bodies’ regulations.

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