Sports Arbitration in the UAE: An Interview with the Appeals Committee of the Disciplinary Board of the Football Association

  • Market Insight 05 July 2024 05 July 2024
  • Middle East

  • Disputes - Regulatory Risk

This is the seventh article in Clyde & Co’s international arbitration series covering the topic of Sports Arbitration. In this piece, Moamen Elwan interviews Dr Saleh Al Hamrani Chairman of the Appeals Committee, Disciplinary Board Decisions of the UAE Football Association and Mr Faisal Al Hazmi, Vice Chairman of the Board to examine the UAE’s growing sports law arbitration landscape.

Our interviewees

Dr Saleh AlHamrani is a legal professional with a PhD in Law. Throughout the years, he has held various positions in the sports disputes domain and currently sits as the Chairman of the Appeal Committee handling appeals against the decisions of the Disciplinary Committee of the UAE Football Association. 

Faisal Alhazmi, is an experienced Emirati lawyer with vast experience in litigation and arbitration in the Middle East. Faisal is recognised for his proficiency in sports disputes, boasting over 13 years of experience in resolving such cases and contributing to drafting various sports legislation in the UAE. He currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the Appeal Committee, which handles appeals against the decisions of the Disciplinary Committee of the UAE Football Association.

1.    Can you give us a brief background on the regulation of sports in the UAE?

Dr Saleh responded that Sports are governed by several laws in the UAE including Federal Sports Law No. 4 of 2023 (Sports Law). The Sports Law allows the establishment of federations for sports. Once established, or if already established before the issuance of the Sports Law, the Sports Federations regulate their own sport by virtue of regulations that are issued by them. For example, the football federation has its own regulations, and the same goes for the basketball federation and nearly all the major sports federations.

2.    What are the relevant arbitration laws and sports arbitration centres in the UAE?

Faisal responded that the UAE Sports Arbitration Centre (UAESAC) is the only sports arbitration centre in the UAE which was established by virtue of Federal Law No. 16 of 2016 (UAESAC Law). The UAESAC has its own Arbitration Rules that deal with several aspects of the sports arbitration proceedings (Rules). Normally, if any issue is not dealt with by UAESAC Law or the Rules the Federal Arbitration Law number 6 of 2018 (the Arbitration Law) applies. 

Dr Saleh added that the UAESAC Law provides that awards issued by the UAESAC have executory power as a court judgment. The rationale behind this is to distance Sports issues, as much as possible, from regular disputes to ensure swift resolution given that there are issues that might affect the ability of a player to practice sports during the resolution of a dispute that might put the sport and sportsmen's career at stake.  

Faisal added that the UAE prides itself on taking the lead in establishing a sports arbitration centre in the region, striving to be among the most modern, quick, and convenient sports centres in the world. While it is a young centre compared to established institutions like the CAS in Switzerland, it holds significant potential. In all cases, and as is the situation with commercial arbitration, choosing experienced arbitrators is key to achieving fair and just awards.

3.    How is the enforcement of Sports Arbitration Awards carried out?

Dr Saleh responded that other than the absence of a requirement to obtain an exequatur, and while sports governing bodies are under an obligation under the UAESAC Law to enforce awards issued by the UAESAC, sports arbitration awards can make use of the procedures provided under the UAE Arbitration Law, if necessary. 

A distinctive feature of sports arbitration awards is that the sports federations or the respective authorities can impose penalties on clubs or players refusing to enforce an award. This provides a tool to enforce sports arbitration awards swiftly.  

4.    Can the Sports Arbitration Awards be subject to set aside proceedings?

Faisal responded that there was a controversy regarding this subject which was eventually settled by the Dubai Court of Cassation in Challenge No. 295 of 2022, in which the court decided that the executory power given by the UAESAC Law to the awards issued by the UAESAC does not immune such decisions from the supervisory powers of the court. Therefore, the validity of such awards can be challenged by way of set-aside proceedings before the ordinary courts.  

5.    How is the Sports Arbitration agreement concluded in the UAE?

Faisal responded that as is the case before the CAS, an interesting feature of sports arbitration is that an agreement can be considered concluded either by (a) an arbitration clause contained in a contract or regulations, (b) a subsequent agreement to arbitrate, or (c) if the dispute is an appeal against a decision rendered by a federation, association or sports-related body where the statutes or regulations of such bodies, or a specific agreement providing for filing an appeal to UAESAC. Once a player or club joins a sports federation, this constitutes an acceptance of such rules provided by the federation, including the referral of disputes to the UAESAC where provided.

It is noteworthy that the UAESAC Law requires sports federations to include a provision in their regulations referring disputes to arbitration.

Dr Saleh added that spreading the culture of arbitration in the context of sports is of extreme importance. It is intended to preserve the particularities of the sport instead of taking such disputes to court, where the Court might lack in-depth knowledge of the sport and to avoid making sports disputes public. 

6.    What are key areas of development for Sports Arbitration in the UAE in the coming years? 

Dr Saleh considered that there is a general lack of awareness and knowledge of the current international and national regulations of Sports. Many disputes are novel to the UAE sports sector. Nowadays, disputes arise daily between clubs and players he field is in constant development.  

Faisal highlighted the rapid progress of the UAE in this field, emphasizing the importance of training and developing the abilities of young local legal professionals interested in sports arbitration to further advance this practice domestically. The UAESAC plays a crucial role in this development by offering an accessible venue and opportunities for local arbitrators to work alongside international counterparts, facilitating knowledge transfer to local practitioners. 

The series continues next week with a perspective from the USA.


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