When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The implication of this statement in Nigerian sports is far reaching – from the leadership tussle in the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF), to that of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) a couple of months ago. Described as the most followed sports in Nigeria, the sporting associations have had issues that can easily be solved through a ceasefire – arbitration. It leaves one wondering why both parties decide to go all out in terms of eliminating everything in their path, and catching innocent bystanders in the process. Disputes such as these give rise to the need for arbitration bodies to have jurisdiction in sporting disputes.
The importance of arbitration cannot be overemphasised. While it cannot be said to relegate litigation, it has served as an alternative to litigation. Arbitration has served more like dialogue, with the parties in dispute tabling their grievances before the arbitrator who reviews the entire dispute and then awards what is called an ‘arbitral award’. An arbitral award can be binding, or non – binding. If the arbitration is binding, then the parties are required to treat the arbitrator’s decision as a final decision.
However, if it is not binding, then the parties are not legally bound by the arbitrator’s decision, and can litigate the issue in court if they are dissatisfied with the outcome from the arbitration process – an argument can however be made against this fact. This is due to the fact that there would be no need for arbitration in a dispute if both parties are unwilling to be bound by the decision(s) of the arbitrator.
The Football Scene
Nigerian football has been filled with a number of disputes, many of which have involved the use of the civil courts to either stop or disrupt footballing activities. In more simple terms, rather than resort to dialogue, one or both parties rather call in reinforcements to push their cause for the top position. The after effect of the dispute is however concerning. In 2018, the Nigerian Professional Football League (The Nigerian version of the English Premier League, the top tier league) went on a six-month break. At first, it was due to the FIFA world cup taking place in Russia, and then things changed when there was rancour as to who the legitimate NFF President was. In this case, the innocent bystanders – the players, were adversely affected by this crisis. A number of them travelled overseas for greener pastures, and a number of those who stayed behind either lost form or were still being owed salaries.
Those who were being owed salaries had no ways of enforcing their contractual rights of having their salaries paid as at when due. FIFA has encouraged member nations to establish their own National Dispute Resolution Chamber (NDRC). However, Nigeria is yet to do this. Why? This is a question that cannot be duly answered.
Thus, after being caught in a gun battle that is not their doing, the innocent bystanders are also being hit with the lack of payment of their salaries. Would a NDRC solve this issue? The answer is positive. The major reason the DRC was established was to decide on contractual disputes as well as certain labour matters, and the major reason FIFA has implored member nations to create their own NDRC is to reduce the amount of cases brought to the DRC regularly. The lack of a NDRC can be likened to the innocent bystanders not being protected by those who should have their best interest at heart.
The Basketball Scene
On the other hand, the Basketball Federation has also faced almost the same issue as their football counterparts. However, the issue has raged on for almost two years, with the world Basketball governing body FIBA, imploring both parties to come to a conclusion and create a new constitution and proceed with a new election which would see the emergence of a president. This however, has not been done and has torn the basketball world in Nigeria in two, literally. The league has been on a holiday for most parts of the year with clubs on either side of the divide. This basically means in a 20 team league, at least 10 teams are on either divide. The effect of this is reduced competition and the fact that the players are unable to compete against the best locally.
Again, like their football counterparts, the Basketball Federation has also had its fair share of litigation actions. Once again, two fighting parties, and only party feels the effect the most – the players.
It is the opinion of the writer that arbitration would help solve a lot of issues in Nigerian sports. It would be more preferable if the Sports Associations agree to establish a Sports Arbitration Council to solve its disputes. This way, disputes as regards electoral matters, as well as player and clubs disputes, or player and Association dispute can be brought before the Council.
While this might seem to be a long shot, it is the most effective solution to the disputes that arise every time a dispute as regards an election into a Sports Association occurs. The arbitrator gets to make final decision on the dispute, making it easier and also not as messy as it most times is.
The battle between both parties need not be as dirty as it usually is. There is an alternative, it’s time to use it.
Ayomide ‘Toba Eribake is a Sports Law enthusiast, and also has interests in Human Rights and ADR. He also loves researching and reading various subjects of interest.