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Arbitrability of employment disputes in professional sports in Russia

1Russian legislator has recognized the arbitrability of employment disputes in professional sports.
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* This remarkable legislative provision received inadequately little attention by sports and arbitration legal community. This post contains some reflections on the peculiarities of the current regulation.

Employment disputes under Russian Law: arbitrability denied but strongly desired

The Civil Procedure Code of the Russian Federation (CPC) plainly provides in Article 22.1 that employment disputes are non-arbitrable. This is unfortunate: it is extremely important to recognize the arbitrability of employment disputes, especially in the sphere of professional sports where the specialized arbitration procedure is necessary to provide an adequate professional and speedy decision.

The above procedure in Russia exists nowadays under the Rules of Arbitration for Sports of the International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (the ICAC).
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It became important also in international arbitration because the most part of employment-related disputes between professional athletes and sports leagues is resolved by mandatory arbitration, mostly in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The arbitrability of a dispute with the participation of the Russian athletes in CAS will very likely be confirmed compliant to the ordre public with regard to Russian regulations that provide for mandatory jurisdiction of public courts. Such practice, by the way, has not been supported by the Supreme court of Switzerland.

Nevertheless, one may have problems with the enforceability of the awards in Russia if a party decides to enforce the arbitration award in Russian courts. Furthermore, the New York Convention is not able to help, providing that the issues of arbitrability are subject to the national regulation.
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Disputes arising out of civil contracts, concerning employment of athletes and coaches should be subject to voluntary arbitration

The general approach of the above Art. 22.1 of the CPC was interpreted in relation to professional sports by the Supreme Court’s Plenary Ruling No. 52 of 24 November 2015. It focused on the application of the legislation concerning the employment relations of athletes and coaches.

The Plenary Ruling specified that where an employment contract may be treated as a complex contract, dealing also with the issues of civil law, disputes arising out of such type of contract should be subject to arbitration if the parties agreed to. This interpretation was very promising for the arbitration community in Russia. Everybody was waiting for the next positive step.

The recognition of the arbitrability of employment disputes in  professional sports

And the next step was done in a very unexpected way. It was the mentioned above adoption of the revised version of the Russian Sports Act, which expressly recognized the arbitrability of the employment disputes in the field of professional sport.

Alexander Muranov in his recent article pointed out the revolutionary approach of the Sports Act and expressed surprise that the arbitration community kept silence about it.

The restrained reaction, however, can be easily explained: unfortunately, this new approach is contrary to the Art. 22.1 of the CPC and also to Articles 5 and 391 of the Labour Code of the Russian Federation.

The collision of the Russian rules on sport employment disputes threatens to devoid the new legislative pro-arbitral rule of its positive meaning.

The changes aiming at coordinating legislation are needed to be introduced into the texts of Codes or the Sports Act.

Sports regulation, including the arbitration of related disputes, has its own special features. The arbitrability of the employment disputes in professional sports is necessary and important but does not seem to be stated appropriately and the position of the legislator seems to be rush.

Maria Andrianova

Ph.D. in Law, Associate Professor at the Department of Private International and Civil Law, MGIMO University.

Arbitrator of the International Commercial Arbitration Court and of the Arbitration Center of the of Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs

[*] Federal Act on Athletics and Sport in the Russian Federation (“the Sports Act”) (revised version as of the 22 November 2016). Article 36.2

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