Football Mediation - We Are in the Business of Score Draws

15th March 2023

At risk of criticism and possibly being accused of indirectly drawing parallels to what is referred to by some as the ‘Disgrace of Gijón’ in the 1982 FIFA World Cup or in the worst case condoning ‘match fixing’, I wanted to refer to an analogy whereby football participants should look for a score draw, and be happy with a point, over targeting a 7-0 win.


However, I hasten to add that this suggestion is not related to sporting competition or matters on the pitch, but those off the field disagreements (often more business related) that ultimately end in dispute between various football participants, and have a negative impact upon them. 


Football Expects Winners and Losers

I have been around football long enough to know that almost everyone with an interest in one team or another views every match with the aim of their side being victorious. Whether a player on the pitch, a fan cheering from the stands, an agent seeing their client scoring the decisive goal, a manager securing their job (well at least for one more week), or a club owner seeing their investment pay dividends; the ultimate aim is to win, and subsequently, for the opposition to lose.


This mentality is totally justifiable, football is a competitive sport (and business) where victory is rewarded and failure is more than likely not rewarded but potentially penalised and criticised – whether this be in a sporting sense and/or in business and commercial terms.

The Need to ‘Win’ ………. (often) whatever the cost!

I think I am justified in saying, football is awash with egos amongst its various participants (including some players, managers, club-owners, agents etc), whether they crave the spotlight or operate more covertly. And with this, many want to be seen as the biggest, the best, or at the very least keep their direct rivals and adversaries ‘in their place’ – which again means being a ‘winner’ and victorious often at the expense of others.


Hence when it comes to disputes in football, this ‘only a win will do’ mentality can be a potentially costly and damaging approach to take …………… not least, as ultimately not every match/dispute will be ‘won’, or dare I say can be ‘won’ (well at least not for those who are realistic).


Drawing parallels to some football clubs (and often their owners) in the desire for success ‘on the pitch’, they often throw all they can in terms of resources and finances to secure victories and ‘silverware’. Whilst this often secures short term success and wins over their rivals, more often than not, it results in a net loss, if not even greater damage and losses for them and their associated parties (e.g., fans) in the longer term.


This is no different when it comes to disputes in football where even the ‘winners’ (by name) in a dispute are also ‘losers’ in many ways.  Thus, I think it justified to say that ‘football disputes often result in more losers than winners.

More 'Losers' than 'Winners' in Football Disputes?

In sport, a win for one side invariably results in a loss for the other, much the same as litigation in disputes through the courts, whereby the final judgement will most likely result in a win for one side that is a loss for the other.


This too is reflected in many football disputes, where the judgement or outcome from a dispute again usually results in a winner and loser through long established and prescribed football dispute resolution mechanisms, such as ‘arbitration’.


However, in many cases of disputes in football (as it is with some cases through the courts, and even arbitration), both sides ultimately may end up as ‘losers’ in many ways. By this I mean that despite being victorious in the case of the judgement by the court, the judge, the arbitrator or the panel and possibly being awarded something in light of the dispute – the ‘winner’ could quite realistically end up subject to a net loss.


The financial costs of taking a dispute to litigation or arbitration may well result in the costs of the process, as well as the administration and legal costs (to get the dispute resolved) outweighing any reward given. This is also without taking into account the indirect ‘costs’ and damage that the process may inflict on the individuals involved in the process or their respective companies; such as reputational damage, morale or even the case of being a distraction from other business and opportunities etc.


A ’winner’ in cases of litigation and/or arbitration may well ‘ride a wave’ of euphoria that they are victorious for a while, but how long does that last when they count the costs of going through such a process. Granted, some in football can afford to underwrite the losses if only to ‘massage their own ego’ and claim a victory over a rival party, but many cannot afford such expense.


So, when ‘the dust has settled’ surrounding a football dispute that has been resolved through either litigation or arbitration, how many of those ‘winners’ (and ‘losers’) are left to rue the decision that they took such a route to settle the dispute.


Was it really all worth it? Are they really ‘winners’?  Or in hindsight, should they have settled for a draw and a well-deserved ‘point’?

Mildly & Mutually Satisfied with a Well Deserved ‘Point

One of the first lessons my mediation mentor and trainer taught me (and repeats), is that the aim of mediation is simply to reach a resolution whereby both parties (disputants) agreed a settlement where they were ‘mildly mutually satisfied’. To many, the outcome may not be a win, but it won’t be a loss, not least as surely no one would agree to lose? The only way for someone to truly lose through a mediation settlement is agreeing to lose.

To use football parlance, this approach to mediation is similar to those players, managers and supporters who come Saturday evening when the match is over, and they have had time to reflect, accept that their team came away with a ‘well deserved point’ from the match.

Yes, they wanted a win, but a point is better than nothing.

Even if they believe they should have won, they may well be disappointed but still have something to show for their efforts, and if they consider themselves lucky as they played badly (i.e, a bad case in the dispute), they have got an unexpected bonus.

Although some may not like to admit it, there are times when a ‘hard fought point’ (i.e., from a draw) may be acceptable, if not the original objective – so can this approach be replicated when it comes to disputes in football?

The answer is simply a resounding yes, with the utilisation of mediation in football disputes, as is the case in many other industries, some arguably larger, more competitive and more lucrative than football. This does however, require a shift from the ‘only a win will do’ mentality and the aim of having to ‘thrash the opposition’ etc; as well as an understanding of mediation, for mediation to work in solving a dispute.

A ‘Score Draw’ Meaning Both Sides Can Progress

The reason why I have used the term ‘score draw’ in this article rather than just a ‘draw’, is that mediation not only offers the disputants good time to present their side of the story (if not, their case) in the dispute, but also enables them to justifiably feel as though they have been heard, that they have achieved something and most importantly that they are in control of the outcome (as without their agreement no settlement or resolution can be achieved in mediation).


One of the additional benefits of mediation in regards to this football analogy, is that of saving disputants time and giving them the opportunity to progress with other matters.


Engaging in mediation it is typically quicker than arbitration, and undoubtedly at ‘lightspeed’ when compared to litigation, meaning that the disputants can get the matter (dispute) heard with a view to a mutual settlement being agreed quickly so that they can move on to other matters.


Whilst I would hate to cast aspersions on any manager, player, team or club; I am sure many football fans have sat watching a football match where the teams are winding down the clock and it is obvious that they will settle for a well-deserved point.


Mediation in football disputes helps secure that well deserved point, rather than one party (or both parties) suffering an unnecessary loss.