Disciplinary Hearings in Sport

Definition: Disciplinary Hearings are set up to interpret rules and to discipline players and officials who breach these rules or code of conduct.

The disciplinary bodies of all sports are known as domestic tribunals. They are set up by sporting organisations to enforce their own rules and codes of conduct. They are not courts of law.

The penalties handed out by sporting tribunals can have a very significant effect upon individuals. Therefore it is extremely important that disciplinary proceedings be conducted fairly.

If an individual refuses to accept the decision of a tribunal, (i.e. decides to fight against the penalty imposed by the tribunal) they can take the matter to a law court. However courts of law are reluctant to intervene in such matters except when:

Courts have tended to become more involved as professionalism ( the ability to earn substantial income through sport) increases.

Disciplinary Proceedings

When a tribunal sits and makes a decision that an individual has breached a code of conduct or has contravened (broken) the rules of the association, it will decide whether a penalty will be imposed on the individual.

These penalties can be, when necessary, quite drastic. For example:

These penalties are often necessary to motivate participants in sport to play within the rules, to set a good example, to abide by rules of conduct, etc.

The Laws of Natural Justice

It is a general proposition of law that decisions affecting the rights of citizens must be reached only after a fair hearing. The laws relating to a fair hearing are known as the laws of natural Justice. These laws apply to all courts and tribunals, and will also apply to 'domestic tribunals'.

The laws of natural justice basically give the 'accused' protection in the following ways:

  1. The person accused of misconduct should know the nature of the accusation made;
  2. The person should be given an opportunity to state his or her case;
  3. The tribunal should act in good faith.

The accused must have a proper hearing.

  1. The hearing must be conducted according to the rules of the association concerned.
  2. Representations must be heard from both sides
  3. All the evidence against the accused should be 'on the table'.
  4. The accused must know the actual charge and which rule has been breached. Being charged with 'bringing the game into disrepute' under a particular rule is not sufficient.
  5. If tribunal proceedings bring out evidence suggesting further charges it is wise to adjourn until the accused could consider the ramifications of such additional charges.
  6. The accused should be present at a hearing of charges against them. This will not of course apply where the accused has received proper notification of the proceedings and has no reason for not attending.

Notification of Proceedings

It is important to make sure that the person who is to appear before a disciplinary body is given every opportunity to attend. If a person who is to appear cannot attend for a good reason, and there is no need to determine the matter quickly, it might be wise to adjourn the matter until he or she can be present.

A failure to tell a player that they are being investigated has been viewed as 'flagrant breach of the rules of natural 'justice' by courts.

The Right to Representation

Those called before a disciplinary tribunal do not necessarily have the right to be represented by a lawyer. If disciplinary proceedings are conducted in a fair way by people who have a good knowledge of the sport and the rules concerned, the courts may agree with no right to legal representation.

If the rules of an association provide for legal or other representation, it should of course be allowed; if it is not, a breach of the rules will have occurred.

In deciding whether legal representation is allowed those who draft rules for tribunal hearings need to strike a balance between legalistic complication when lawyers are involved and the ramifications of decisions when they are not.

Procedure at Hearings

Both sides to any proceedings should generally be allowed to cross-examine (question) the witnesses of the other, unless this is excluded by the relevant rules. Material not available to both sides should not be used by the adjudicators in reaching a decision.

Proper Penalty

A range of penalties should be specified in the rules of an association. Once a person has been found guilty of a charge, there should be an opportunity to address the tribunal on penalty. When considering the appropriateness of penalty to a particular offence, the tribunal must consider fully the full effect of the penalty on the guilty party. A long suspension, for example, brings a loss of income to those paid by the match.

Good Faith: Unbiased Judges

Members of a disciplinary tribunal or committee must enter into the hearing with an open mind. It would be improper for an adjudicator to give evidence in proceedings or to be the person who made the accusation.

If bias is suspected it must be proved e.g. a committee person of the tribunal told another person that they were going to 'get even' (with the accused).

Principles Involved in Decision-Making

Two other principles to emerge from the cases are:

Tribunal should not surrender their function to their own legal counsel who had been called in to assist. However the committee men of the tribunal are entitled to be have legal representation.

What does a tribunal deal with?

Some interesting examples:

Dean Capobianco · The Australian 200m champion was found positive for an anabolic steroid - stanozolol - at an IAAF meet in the Netherlands of May 27. The Athletics Australia doping tribunal decided against disqualifying him because investigator Bob Ellicott QC did not receive the correct paper work from the doping control officer who took the urine sample.

Craig Walton · suffered a bike puncture in a selection trial when in the lead. He finished in 34th place and failed to gain selection for World Championships. The tribunal of the national sporting body ruled its own selectors had erred in excluding Craig Walton from the world championship team.

Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, cricket's highest-paid stars, were disciplined by a tribunal of the Australian Cricket Board in February 1995 for providing information to an Indian Bookmaker. There was a great deal of concern that such dealing with a bookmaker could be evidence of "match fixing".


Law Quiz
Video Tutorials for Excel