Dispute Resolution in Nigerian Football: the Need for a National Dispute Resolution Chamber

Article published on African Sports Law and Business JournalAfrican Sports Law and Business Bulletin, Issue 2/2014


1. Introduction

As sport has grown over the years in terms of commercial value, there has been a corresponding growth in sports-related disputes. This increased commercial significance of sport means that the stakes are higher than ever before. Not only are there heightened expectations from the on-field performance of sports men and women; there are also increasingly significant off-field obligations on all those involved in sports. Where obligations are unfulfilled, there must be a means of enforcing them. Also, when disputes arise, there must be a means of resolving them. These represent fundamental principles on which any society or industry thrives.

Traditionally, the main form of dispute resolution has been court-based legal proceedings i.e. litigation. However, in many jurisdictions, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms have been embraced as a means to circumvent the challenges associated with litigation. These challenges are typically the inordinate length of time it takes for legal proceedings to be concluded by courts, the huge costs often incurred by litigants, as well as the acrimony that characterises such proceedings. The football world has likewise developed its own sport-specific dispute resolution mechanism, based largely on arbitration. The aim is to curtail the recourse to ordinary courts for the settlement of football-related disputes and the attendant disruptive problems associated with it. The point has often been made that where sport lacks a means within its structures to effectively and efficiently resolve sports-related disputes, seeking redress from the ordinary courts would be inevitable. This often disrupts the sports calendar and brings with it the typical challenges associated with litigation by being antagonistic, procedurally slow and relatively expensive.

In Nigeria, as with many other parts of the world, football is the most popular sport and has grown from a mere pastime to a means of economic empowerment. Based on a recommendation by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 2004, the Nigerian Football League (NFL) 1 became established as a professional football league and upon incorporation in 2006, landed its first sponsorship deal (worth N1.1billion over a four year period) with Globacom Nigeria Limited.2 As in other parts of the world, the number of football-related disputes in Nigeria has increased significantly in recent years and with it the ever-increasing need for an efficient football dispute resolution mechanism.

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