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A 'Chink of Light' in a Frustrating Year for Mediation in Football

Creating a Mediation Convert in the Football World
29th December 2023

As I am sure is the case for a lot of professional mediators, I have come to accept that one of the biggest hurdles in developing a mediation business and building ‘that’ profile, is a matter of education.

Not so much education of yourself as a professional mediator and thereby fine tuning and developing your own mediation skills and style, but moreso the education of others (some of whom should know better) as to what ‘TRUE’ mediation is, its benefits and applications.

So, in endeavouring to bring mediation to the professional sports world and most notably football (soccer), my own journey has been one littered with huge frustration, bewilderment and annoyance at the seeming resistance of many to contemplate mediation or even understand it.

However, despite a frustrating year in trying to open the eyes of the football world to mediation, I wanted to share a story of how using just mediation techniques and mindset alone assisted in helping change the mind of an established and successful football person who was previously dismissive of mediation in professional and commercial disputes.

Hard-Nosed’ Football Agent to ‘Fan’ of Mediation

As already mentioned, in my experience thus far, the football world has largely come to shun mediation, if not be ignorant to it as a means of dispute resolution. Likewise, have a large proportion of the legal profession who work in football.

Yet, dare I say there is a ‘glimmer of light’ as some ears, eyes and minds are starting to open-up to listen to the benefits and applications of mediation in disputes in professional football (and the sports world as a whole).

One such example of this is of a long-time business associate of mine from the football agent community (a very experienced and knowledgeable agent for that matter), who had been involved in a long-standing dispute and investigation with an ‘authority’ organisation in regards to their football agent dealings.

Prior to discussing this specific dispute/matter with them, and when first discussing mediation with them after my retraining and attempting to bestow some of the virtues of mediation to them, along with the pros and cons of mediation and explaining the process, I will honestly say (that like so many others) they were very dismissive of the notion of mediation, having long relied on lawyers and professional advisers in resolving disputes.

In a football context, my associate is quite shrewd in the legal representation they select for dealing with disputes and legal matters relating to their business affairs. Whereas many others in football maintain the belief that the more they pay in legal fees the more likely they are to succeed in ‘winning’ their case or dispute. Whether it be the profile of the lawyers they select, the reputation of the law firm or even the time spent on the case (sometimes due to unnecessary procrastination) or a combination of these; all of which invariably lead to greater expense on most occasions.

However, what my associate did do was afford me time over not just one conversation, but many, to speak about mediation and as such the eyes and ears started to open to the concept, its benefits and how it worked.

‘White Knight to the Rescue’ ……. Not Quite

Now at this point I would love to be able to claim that I figuratively ‘rode into’ the middle of the long-standing dispute as the ‘white knight’ and resolved it.  Although, firstly, it is important to remember that the mediator does NOT resolve the dispute; it is the disputant parties resolve the dispute, whilst the mediator largely facilitates and manages the process.

Merely by sharing with my associate some ‘throw away’ mediation concepts and techniques; as well as trying to help change their mindset to the dispute, recognising the position/viewpoint of the other party and helping them achieve what some term a ‘paradigm shift’ in their view of the dispute, within a couple of weeks, I was really pleased to hear that his dispute had been resolved and the matter was all but closed.

It would be great to claim I can do mediation by some form of ESP, psychic or telepathic ability …. I think it would certainly give me a USP (Unique Selling Point) in the mediation profession.

Despite the credit and gratitude that my associate bestowed upon me (as well as mediation), for which I was really grateful, I do however believe that much of the real credit here goes to my friend; in opening up to the concept of mediation; taking on board the mediation skills and mindset I shared with them and then putting those into practice.

Opening Ears and Minds to Mediation: Can Save Time, Money and Stress

It would be great to see more people in the professional football and sports communities open their ears, eyes and minds to mediation; and the benefits it could bring to them, their clients, colleagues and organisations.

As such, I would value the assistance of those of you who are still reading this article ……………….. if you work in the football industry or know of anyone who does, and they know of disputes ongoing, imminent (or even frustrating and/or costly ones from the past) then I would appreciate the opportunity to speak for 15-30 minutes with them.

Also, others who are tasked with resolving such disputes, appointing legal advisers in a dispute or are even one of the disputant parties themselves – whether they are agents, players, club officials, managers, club owners or even those working for a governing body or authority – mediation can help resolve football disputes quickly, cost effectively and confidentially.

Saving time, money, stress, heartache, avoiding unnecessary distractions and increasing productivity ……. amongst many other things.

Any professional mediator will accept that mediation is not for everyone; and thus not suitable in every dispute ………… but you don’t know, what you don’t know, open ears and minds is all that is required.