Those following the sports pages of our local papers might have noticed an uptick in news about disputes in the area. The catalyst for this trend is the maturation of Singapore’s sporting scene, which is increasingly churning out world-class athletes. But as sports in Singapore go global, the chances of disputes between athletes and sporting associations grows, says Mr Mark Chay, a Nominated Member of Parliament.

Commenting on the recent spate of disputes, the Olympian says, “It has been quite ugly for both sides. The reason a lot of this gets out into the public space is that the parties have taken a litigious route … that opens it up for the whole world to see. You lose confidence and integrity this way.”

Other industries—from shipping to construction—have caught on to these potential downsides of litigation as a dispute resolution tool and have embraced others like mediation and arbitration. While mediation in sports is a familiar tool in sporting disputes, the same can’t be said about arbitration. Mr Chay believes that it may be because of a simple lack of awareness. “Just this morning, I was telling a coach about arbitration and his reaction was ‘Like that also can, ah?’”

Mr Peter Koh, a former senior consultant at two large firms in Singapore and currently a Senior Consultant at a Chinese law firm, knows this situation all too well. Being an accredited arbitrator with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, he is familiar with arbitration’s advantages for sport. But he tells SAL that all his work is carried out in Europe, the Middle East and China.

“That’s something people who are looking to get into sports arbitration need to know: there is a big market out there but it is not in Singapore yet. But you can start here and build your network.” He adds that it’s important for practitioners to know how the types of cases commonly seen in different jurisdictions. “Matters in Europe usually centre on doping while match-fixing and corruption cases are more common in the Middle East.”

Meanwhile, in Singapore, Mr Chay agrees that demand is currently soft. But he expects this to pick up as a result of Singapore’s jockeying to be a global sports hub. “With this, the complexity of the sporting contracts, as well as dispute, is definitely going to go up. So we may benefit from arbitration tribunals that have the deep subject matter expertise that judicial bodies may lack.”

Mr Mark Chay and Mr Peter Koh will be speaking on sports arbitration at an upcoming webinar on the topic. Other speakers include Mr Nick De Marco QC (Blackstone Chambers) and Mr Lau Kok Keng (Rajah & Tann). Registrations for the session on 18 May are now open.