The establishment of clear and effective policies and procedures is a particularly important aspect of good governance and management in sporting clubs and organisations. Ideally this should be done in the establishment of the club or organisation, however commonly this is not the case and it is not until the club or organisation has been in operation for some time until issues or lack of detailed policies and procedures are discovered. That does not mean it is too late to fix these problems as policies and procures can be amended or drafted at any stage through a club or organisation’s operation.

It is common for a sporting club or organisation to concentrate on what are perceived to be the big ticket policies and procedures, such as playing codes of conduct, drug and alcohol policies etc. Certainly after the recent drug related issues in Rugby Union, Rugby League and Horse Racing, drug and alcohol policies are at the forefront of the minds of sports administrators. However, one of the most important and useful, yet often forgotten, aspects of a club’s policies and procedures is an effective dispute resolution policy. This article outlines the benefits of an effective dispute resolution policy and provides some tips to help effective establishment of such a policy.

WHAT IS DISPUTE RESOLUTION?

Dispute resolution is the process by which disputes are resolved or finalised. This can occur through:

  • A negotiated outcome, determined between the parties involved in the dispute;
  • A mediated outcome, where the parties use the services of an independent mediator to assist in resolving the dispute and coming to agreement; or
  • An arbitrated outcome, where an independent arbitrator or court determines how the dispute is to be resolved by making a binding order.

BENEFITS OF EFFECTIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION

An effective dispute resolution framework can assist clubs and organisations to establish and maintain good relationships with a raft of individuals and groups within the club or organization, including a club’s members, teams, players, employees, volunteers etc. Simply the knowledge that there are avenues and processes for the resolution of grievances will assist in more open, cooperative and productive relationships across the board.

An effective dispute resolution process can also be a cost cutting measure. If disputes can be effectively resolved ‘in-house’, then the costs of resolving disputes externally through external arbitrators or mediators can be avoided.

Courts have gone as far as to say that sporting bodies and tribunals, or various committees established by sporting bodies, often have greater expertise in resolving disputes than external bodies or courts. The knowledge within a sporting body, club or organisation is particularly important and valuable, and an effective dispute resolution process can harness and utilize this knowledge to resolve disputes effectively and in a timely and cost effective manner.

FEATURES OF A DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCESS

An effective and best practice dispute resolution process should ideally:

  • Be simple, clear and concise;
  • Be readily available to all relevant parties so that everyone is aware of the process and their rights; and
  • Allow appropriate stages so that matters can, wherever possible, be resolved within the club or organization.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides a large amount of information in relation to dispute resolution in the employee/employer context which can be useful and applied to the various relationships in sporting clubs and organisations. The Ombudsman provides that best practice dispute resolution outcomes should be:

  • Quick – the issues should be resolved quickly rather than allowing them to escalate through inaction;
  • Fair – all relevant parties should be consulted so that all aspects of the dispute are taken into account;
  • Handled sensitively – disputes should, where possible and appropriate, be resolved in a confidential context in order to minimize impact on other parties not affected by the dispute; and
  • Transparent – the procedure should be made known to all parties it is applicable to.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Clubs and organisations should be regularly reviewing their policies and procedures including those in relation to dispute resolution.