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Riza v Turkey: European Court of Human Rights gives further guidance on establishing independent arbitral tribunals

Justice Artibration
Thursday, 06 February 2020 By Despina Mavromati

On 28 January 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) published its Judgement in the application of Mr. Riza (a footballer), Mr Akal (a referee) and Others v. Turkey[1]. The Judgement found that Turkey had violated Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights[2] (Convention) as Mr. Riza and Mr Akal had not received a fair trial.  The reason for this was due to structural deficiencies in the Arbitration Committee of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), namely:

“….that the executive body of the TFF, the Board of Directors, which had always largely consisted of members or executives of football clubs, had too strong an influence over the organisation and functioning of the Arbitration Committee. Nor did TFF law provide appropriate safeguards to protect members of the Arbitration Committee from any outside pressure.” (see Press Release[3])

As a result, Turkey have been ordered to reform their system for settling football disputes.

Even though the case relates to football disputes in Turkey, the Judgment is likely to have a wider impact on the structure and governance of sports tribunals[4] at other federations and in other jurisdictions. In particular, it imposes higher requirements on the “independence” of such tribunals to the extent that recourse is compulsory and there is no subsequent judicial review by an independent court.  The Judgment comes after the Mutu and Pechstein judgment[5] rendered by the ECtHR in October 2018, which related to the independence of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the right to have a public hearing (for a summary of Mutu and Pechstein, please see this article[6]).

Accordingly, this article examines:
·       the facts of the case,
·       the key findings of the ECtHR;
·       the similarities to Mutu and Pechstein; and
·       key points for sports federations on establishing independent arbitral tribunals.

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Written by

Despina Mavromati

Despina Mavromati

Dr. Despina Mavromati, LL.M., is an attorney (Bar of Thessaloniki / Ordre des Avocats Vaudois) practicing in the field of international sports law and arbitration. She is the founder of a Lausanne-based practice (SportLegis Lausanne) and represents athletes, clubs, and sports federations in all aspects of arbitration, trials, and drafting policies.

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