A review of the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal’s first COVID-19 decision (Surmacz v. BM SLAM Stal)

Basketball Court
Published: Thursday, 18 June 2020. Written by Hubert Radke No Comments

On 14 May 2020, the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT), a go-to dispute resolution body in the basketball world, issued an award[1] in a contractual dispute between Grzegorz (Greg) Surmacz, a Polish-Canadian professional basketball player (the Player). and BM SLAM Stal S.A., a basketball club in the top professional basketball league in Poland (the Club). The BAT Arbitrator ruled in favour of the Player and awarded him the full amount in dispute, together with interest and reimbursement of the arbitration costs and legal expenses.

This case may be considered seminal for international basketball for two reasons.  

First and foremost, the BAT issued its first COVID-19 related award. In deciding the dispute, the BAT Arbitrator took into consideration the BAT COVID-19 Guidelines[2] issued on 20 April 2020. The guidelines have been widely regarded a pioneering step by the BAT with respect to sports arbitration and act as guide for parties during the current period of uncertainty[3].

Secondly, the award has been issued with written reasons and published shortly thereafter on the website of FIBA, the world basketball governing body. The BAT President, pursuant to the competence granted to him in the latest BAT Arbitration Rules[4], determined that some of the issues that the case raised, as well as the interests of the basketball community at large, merited a reasoned award, even though the regular value of the dispute threshold[5] for reasoned awards had not been crossed. Publication also means that the BAT has fulfilled its commitment to review the first COVID-19 force majeure case in an expedient manner and to publish the decision in a way that provides relevant guidance and clarity to the professional basketball community[6].

This article reviews the case, specifically examining:

  • The BAT COVID-19 Guidelines
  • Facts of the case;
  • The BAT proceedings;
  • Findings on COVID-19 and force majeure submissions; and
  • Comment.

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About the Author

Hubert Radke

Hubert Radke

Hubert Radke, LL.M., is a sports lawyer practicing at a boutique family law firm Radke Law. He focuses on representing professional athletes and coaches in contract negotiations and in arbitration. He holds a Masters in International Sports Law from ISDE, Madrid, Spain. He has been pursuing a Ph.D. degree in international sports law at the Faculty of Law and Administration at Nicolas Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. He coauthored first modern textbook on sports law in Poland. Before he turned into lawyer, he was a basketball player at the college level in US and at the professional level in Europe. For more detailed information please visit www.hubertradke.pl

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