As a result of the FIFA ban on Nigeria and in line with efforts to forestall similar crisis in future, the Minister of Sports, Tammy Danagogo has stated that he will immediately set in motion machinery to encourage the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) to quickly activate the Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport (NCAS). This specialized court would be the venue for adjudication of sports disputes, away from the regular courts –which has been a source of run-ins with the world football governing body (FIFA) in times past. It is common knowledge that FIFA prohibits the taking of sports disputes to the ordinary courts of law and sports in general globally adopts alternative dispute resolution for sports disputes. Hence, the decision of the Minister is in line with international best practices.
The Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport, when set up, will be the national equivalent of the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, CAS was set up by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1984 as the judicial body that sits over sports disputes. Its jurisdiction is mostly of international dimension, thus there is need for countries to set up their national equivalent. For instance, Sports Resolutions UK is the national body that serves the purpose of sports-specific dispute resolution in the United Kingdom, while the Arbitration Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) is the appointed dispute resolution body for sports federations in South Africa. In Nigeria, with domestic sporting disputes often finding their way to ordinary courts in times past and the consequent threat of international sanctions, the current football crisis is a repeat scenario. Consequently, setting up of NCAS has been on the front burner for quite some time.
Interestingly, there is not a lot of work left to be done with regard to the setting up of NCAS. The National Council on Sports of Nigeria had already endorsed the decision of the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC) to establish the Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport as a solution to the recurrent sports (mostly football) disputes being taken to ordinary courts. On the 9th of June, 2011 a Planning Committee comprising lawyers from different parts of Nigeria was inaugurated by the NOC to develop the legal framework/guidelines for the establishment of NCAS. The committee, which was headed by the renowned Adokiye Amiesimaka, submitted its report to the NOC during the Annual General Meeting on the 25th of May, 2012. However, since then, it is not apparent that further steps have been taken by the NOC to actually constitute and establish the NCAS.
It is commendable that the Minister of Sport has embraced the need to set up the body. Now, rather than expend time and resources in commencing the process all over, all that needs to be done is to revert to the report of the Amiesimaka-led committee. Based on available commentaries, the job done by the committee included wide consultations and comprehensive review of Nigerian law and sports regulations, all culminating in the following conclusions:
- Under Nigerian law, there are no statutory impediments to the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms for the resolution of sports disputes, rather Nigerian law encourages the use of ADR;
- the rules and regulations of Nigerian sports federations (including the Nigeria Football Federation) need to be amended to include recognition of the jurisdiction of NCAS, which is prerequisite to NCAS assuming jurisdiction;
- the NCAS will save time and cost, as well as enhance affable and pragmatic resolution of sports disputes in Nigeria.
Indeed, the establishment of the Nigerian Court of Arbitration for Sport will be a huge step towards averting similar problems for the development of Nigerian football in particular and sports in general.