Sports in Malaysia are a mixture of traditional and Western games that have grown and progressed in size and stature over the decades into a multi million-dollar industry. Dating back to the colonial times of the mid 19th century, the genesis of sports in Malaysia began when British expatriates introduced football, cricket, track and field events, and rugby to the peninsula. What started out as an activity of leisure soon evolved into a profession for sports enthusiasts who played the game at a higher level as opposed to their peers, and a marketable industry for stakeholders who had invested their interest in the commercial aspect of the game.
The rise of sports in Malaysia has seen the emergence of multiple professional and amateur associations being formed to advocate and uphold the interests and well being of their respective fields. As of December 2014, the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) has on record close to fifty-five sports association registered under the Ministry of Youth and Sports, ranging from the popular Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) to relative newcomers like the Malaysia Woodball Association.
The world of sports bridges cultures, provides entertainment and creates emotional attachments and affiliations; be it to a favourite player, team or club. Like everything in this world, there will always be two extreme sides of the game; the beautiful side and the ugly side. When a dispute arises from a sporting incident, if mishandled, the entire sanctity of the game can be brought into disrepute. However, if handled correctly through the right amount of diplomacy and impartiality, the honour and goodwill of the game can be upheld without crossing over to the ugly side.
Arbitration has been known to be an effective medium to resolve disputes amicably and that conviction remains a principal catalyst that led to the inception of the Malaysian Sports Arbitration Tribunal (MSAT). To kick of this motion, KLRCA and the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) recently sent out an exclusive invitation to the relevant stakeholders and observers of the Malaysian sporting industry for a meeting to introduce the setting up and functions of the Malaysian Sports Arbitration Tribunal (MSAT). With the establishment of MSAT, the sports ministry and associations alike will be able to pass on the intricacies of dealing with sporting disputes to the newly formed body and in turn focus on the development and capacity refinement of their respective portfolio.
Headlining this discussion session was the President of the Olympic Council of Malaysia himself, Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar. Joining Tunku Imran on the discussion panel were KLRCA’s Director Datuk Professor Sundra Rajoo, OCM’s Vice President Dato’ Low Beng Choo and international sports arbitration expert Paul Hayes. In attendance were numerous prominent sports association heads, Malaysian sports enthusiasts and members of the media.
KLRCA’s Head of Legal Services, Faris Shehabi kick started the discussion by introducing MSAT in brief before laying out the objectives of holding the discussion. The spotlight then shifted to YAM Tunku Tan Sri Imran as he delivered his opening remarks to a thunderous welcoming applause. Tunku Imran shared with the audience a timeline of the progression of sports in Malaysia and how the inception of the Malaysian Sports Arbitration Tribunal (MSAT) came about. Tunku Imran went on to explain how the mechanics of international sporting disputes worked and how MSAT, being the first of its kind in Asia would be a ground-breaking initiative to fortify and elevate the world of sports in Malaysia to the next level.
The torch was then passed to KLRCA’s Director Datuk Professor Sundra Rajoo as he took stage to introduce the background and expertise of the Centre. Professor Sundra followed through by presenting three comprehensive topics on; ‘Sporting Disputes and the Need for Dispute Resolution’, ‘The Administrative Structure of MSAT’, and ‘The Functions and Procedures of MSAT’.
He began by describing the two aspects that came under sporting disputes; sporting disputes itself and sports business disputes. Professor Sundra elaborated further by stating that the unique nature of disputes requires special legal basis for resolution – A Jus Ludorem (Law of games) or Lex Sportiva, and that sports law spans private and public, domestic and international law. Sporting Disputes in general covers ‘selection disputes’, ‘match fixing’, ‘doping’, and ‘disciplinary matters’.
The audience were also given a brief insight into the current Sports Development Act’s framework pertaining to ‘Internal procedure for resolution of disputes’ that involves Section 23 and Section 24.
Section 23 states that, ‘Every sports body shall resolve any dispute arising amongst its members or with its committee or governing body in accordance with the internal procedures prescribed in the regulations’. Section 24 (1) goes on to stipulate that, ‘Where a dispute cannot be resolved under the internal procedure referred to in Section 23, any aggrieved member or the sports body itself may refer the dispute to the Minister for resolution’. Professor Sundra took this opportunity to reiterate the importance of MSAT as it allowed sports bodies to concentrate on their principal objectives in developing world class athletes while the Minister would be able to dedicate his attention towards policy making decisions without having to dwell with the intricacies and time spent on resolving disputes.
The Director of KLRCA then provided the audience with illustrations of the benefits of arbitrating sports disputes. Amongst those points being, ‘the resolution of disputes by an independent body, ensuring a neutral and just outcome’, ‘disputes are heard by experts in the field especially suited to hear sporting dispute matters’, and ‘transparent procedure aiding in promoting the reputation of and harmony within Malaysian sport’.
At the hour mark, Professor Sundra swiftly moved onto the topic of MSAT’s administrative structure and functions. Key points touched upon were; the governance of MSAT being under a separate structure including a Secretary General, Advisory Board and members of Sporting Community, and KLRCA’s immunities and privileges pursuant to statute and host country agreement being extended to MSAT.
Professor Sundra also informed the audience that there would be a specialised set of MSAT Arbitration Rules that is currently being finalised, a specialist panel of Sports Arbitrators drawing on both arbitration and sports communities, and the drafting of a flexible cost structure. He then entered into the technical aspects of MSAT’s framework and touched on MSAT’s creditability of it being linked to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) through KLRCA’s cooperation agreements, before concluding with a rally call of getting all stakeholders on board to see that MSAT eventually takes off in the near future.
Before transiting into a full-blown discussion session with the audience, experienced sports arbitrator, Paul Hayes took stage briefly to provide his thoughts through an international perspective. A panel consisting of YAM Tunku Imran, Datuk Professor Sundra, Dato’ Low and Paul Hayes then headed an absorbing interactive brainstorm session with the audience. The introductory discussion session drew to a satisfactory close through a resounding show of eager hands, when YAM Tunku Imran concluded proceedings for the morning by requesting a show of solidarity and proactive support in elevating Malaysia’s sporting industry to the next level.