'Super court' to rule on sport scandals

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN is to get its first "super sports court". It will have the power to fine and ban top players in every major sport for a wide range of "crimes" - from drug-taking to match-fixing and "unsporting behaviour".

The court will rule on cases such as that of the former England rugby captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, who was fined pounds 15,000 last month and made to pay pounds 10,000 legal costs by the disciplinary tribunal of the Rugby Football Union.

It would also arbitrate on disputes such as that involving Linford Christie, now accused of drug-taking, and Diane Modahl, who is involved in a pounds 1m damages claim against the British Athletics Federation.

Each sport has its own disciplinary body but there is growing concern among many top administrators that the individual bodies are not competent to handle high-profile cases like those of Dallaglio and Modahl.

And there are worries that the "men in blazers" who traditionally dominate disciplinary bodies do not have the legal competence to rule on complex cases and are often quixotic in the application of their rules.

The super court, officially called the Sports Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP), is expected to be operational within the next few months. It will be

fully staffed by professional lawyers.

The SDRP chairman, Charles Woodhouse, a consultant solicitor with Farrer & Co, the Queen's solicitors, said the new body had been formed because of a growing feeling in sport that "there must be a better way" of hearing such cases. He said the court could have resolved the Dallaglio and Modahl cases.

Mr Woodhouse added that the SDRP will offer a resolution service to sports governing bodies in arbitration, mediation and advisory opinions. Recent athletic doping cases, such as those of Christie and the sprinter Dougie Walker, have highlighted the potential for injustice and misdiagnosis. But Modahl's case first revealed the shortcomings of the professional sporting bodies' disciplinary tribunals.

Modahl is seeking pounds 1m in damages after the BAF imposed a four-year drugs ban following urine tests which allegedly showed a high level of testosterone in her body. She claims there was bias during disciplinary proceedings brought against her which resulted in her being banned from international sport for nearly a year before she was cleared on appeal.

If disputes are not resolved early on they can end in expensive, long court battles. A court decision in an athlete's favour years after suspension from competition is unsatisfactory.

The court will be funded by the UK Sports Council, and has the backing of professional players' associations as well as the governing bodies and the British Olympic Association.

Its board of non-executive directors will include the Olympic rower Johnnie Searl, who is also a qualified solicitor, and its new director will be a former Lawn Tennis Association lawyer Jon Siddall.

The court will not be able to intervene in disputes between British athletes and international governing bodies such as the International Olympic Committee or Fifa.

Tony Morton-Hooper, the managing partner of City law firm Mishcon de Reya, who acted for Modahl, said: "The SDRP is a decent idea, as long as you don't have people sitting on it who have strong links with the sporting establishment. It must be totally independent."