The Business of Disputes in Sports: A Chinese Perspective

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As part of a broader commitment to expand JAMS’ global footprint, the JAMS International Operations group recently organized an event in Beijing, China. The conference, which JAMS co-hosted with the Beijing Arbitration Commission (BAC), was titled “Sports Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution in China: A Perfect Match” and convened on November 1, 2019.

The half-day event opened with remarks by Deputy Secretary-General Dr. Fuyong Chen of the BAC. Following that, Deputy Director Li Zhiquan of the Department of Political Affairs and Law in the General Administration of Sport of China, a government agency concerned with regulating and promoting the growth of sports throughout China, delivered the keynote speech. His address wove together several critical topics, including building alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems, the promotion of rules and regulations, the importance of the role of the private sector in ADR and the development of a sports governance system.

The program featured two interactive panels on various aspects of sports law and ADR. Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) arbitrator Wei (David) Wu mediated the first panel, which featured sports attorney Steve Smith and Wu Yujia of the Chinese Olympic Committee. This panel touched on a range of matters relating to sports law as it pertains to sporting events, including licensing, sponsorship, construction issues, negotiation and disputes. The panelists discussed the various ways people consume sporting events—in person, on television, via the internet—and the challenges associated with all the different distribution rights. They also covered best practices with regard to sponsorship and licensing in sports. Finally, they considered the time constraints associated with building venues for specific sporting events and the unique issues—legal and otherwise—that arise when construction lags behind. (For example, you can’t exactly reschedule the Olympic Games or the World Cup if a venue is not complete!)

The second panel, led by BAC arbitrator Tao Jingzhou of Dechert, centered on the arbitration of disciplinary disputes between athletes and governing bodies. It featured three highly experienced sports attorneys: JAMS neutral Jeffrey Benz, Gong Xiaoyan of East & Concord Partners and Cai Guo of Jin Mao Law Firm. The topic of this panel was particularly relevant, says Benz, because “almost everything in sports right now is decided by arbitration. Doping cases, grievances with athletes—they’re all resolved in arbitration.” Arbitration works in sports because there’s a clear winner—a concept all parties in the industry are very familiar with. For these parties, mediation, which typically results in what might be best described as a tie, brings less of a sense of closure.

The program concluded with an announcement of the formation of a joint panel between JAMS and the BAC to resolve cross-border commercial sports disputes. After all, the BAC and JAMS are the go-to organizations for sports arbitration and mediation. Together, we have the world’s best arbitrators and mediators, and can pull from a variety of practitioners in the United States, Europe and China. While the panel is in its infancy, JAMS and the BAC are a good fit. Both organizations are “receptive to new approaches, new ideas and new ways to promote alternative dispute resolution,” says Benz, whose relationship with the BAC goes back nearly a decade and who helped organize this conference. Further, both organizations “have their ear to the ground with respect to developing new areas where their services might be needed.”

Heartened by the success of the November conference, JAMS and the BAC are currently discussing co-hosting more events related to sports law—perhaps as early as April 2020. These conferences will give both organizations a chance to establish themselves as “the thought leaders and the go-to people in dispute resolution in China,” says Benz.

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