Despina Mavromati is a “brilliant and accomplished” lawyer, well renowned for having “built a great name and profile in the market”.
Despina Mavromati is a Swiss and Greek attorney based in Lausanne with extensive experience in international sports law and arbitration, representing athletes, clubs and federations in international sports arbitration matters. Despina has acted as counsel, expert or arbitrator in more than 60 recent sports arbitrations in many jurisdictions, involving contractual, governance, doping-related and other disciplinary matters. A former managing counsel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Despina sits on various tribunals of international federations including the UEFA Appeals Body, and teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne.
How has the commercial and sports arbitration world adapted to the covid-19 crisis?
The covid-19 pandemic definitely had an impact on arbitration and its impact is still unfolding. For example, the CAS swiftly amended its rules in order to allow for the electronic filing of submissions without the consent of both parties. The covid-19 crisis has provisionally made full virtual hearings the rule. Full online hearings are not suitable for all cases, particularly for extremely lengthy and complex disputes or cases where the examination of witnesses needs to take place in person. Another limitation to virtual hearings is the communication with client and co-counsel, but this can fortunately be substituted, to a great extent, by group chats or virtual breakout rooms during the hearing.
What are the advantages and unique aspects of sports arbitration compared with other forms of dispute resolution?
Most of the unique aspects of sports arbitration are also its advantages. Speed is a crucial and much-needed element in the resolution of sports disputes, notwithstanding the increasing complexity of some highly publicised sports disputes seen in the last years. The specialisation of arbitrators is another advantage: through the systematic publication of the CAS awards on the CAS database, the parties can obtain important information as to prior arbitrators’ appointments. This also indirectly leads to increased consistency in the decision making. Self-enforcement mechanisms within international federations are another unique characteristic in sports arbitration. Finally, the existence of a legal aid funding for individuals lacking the financial means to bring their dispute to the CAS is definitively another distinctive element of sports arbitration.
To what extent does the CAS policy of maintaining a closed list of arbitrators help or hinder arbitration proceedings?
The CAS has not just one but several lists of arbitrators according to the type of proceedings. These lists bring along increased specialisation and a quick conflict check, easily conducted by the parties’ counsel through the CAS database that includes the names of arbitrators previously involved in other CAS proceedings. The lists are regularly updated, and new arbitrators are frequently added from practically every part of the world, so that the parties’ choice is fairly large. I would therefore say that at present, the mandatory lists work well within the CAS system and render CAS proceedings more efficient.
If you could implement one reform in international sports arbitration, what would it be?
I would institutionalise the use of preliminary case management meetings in sports arbitration and make expedited proceedings with a sole arbitrator the rule for small-value disputes, unless both parties agree otherwise. However, specifically in sports arbitration, the complexity or importance of a sporting dispute is often not determined by its disputed value, hence we need to determine alternative criteria for cases that can best be resolved on an expedited basis.
Can you name some procedural trends in sport arbitration?
Sports arbitration is becoming more and more complex notwithstanding the increasing use of technology. In the last year or so, I have seen lengthier submissions and increasing procedural objections, including hopeless challenges and other dilatory practices. Moreover, motions to set aside CAS awards are becoming commonplace, ignoring the basic rule on the finality of arbitral awards and the formal nature of the appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal. All this eventually operates to the detriment of the parties, who bear the increased costs both for counsel and expert fees but also the arbitrators’ fees in paying CAS procedures.
What advice would you give other arbitrators in order to increase the efficiency of arbitration proceedings?
It is crucial to prepare for the hearing ahead of time in order to anticipate procedural issues and try to resolve them on time. This is also justified by the growing number of cases that require a response on behalf of the arbitrator, such as requests for provisional measures, determination on bifurcation or requests for production of documents. All these issues require a deep understanding of the underlying legal issues, the parties’ arguments and evidence. Additionally, early preparation always renders the proceedings more efficient and is ultimately in the interest of all parties involved. The systematic use of preliminary meetings or case management conferences can motivate arbitrators to prepare for the hearing on time.
Apart from the CAS Commentary (published with Wolters Kluwer in 2015), you have published extensively on international sports arbitration. What are the opportunities and challenges of publishing in this field?
I started my career in an academic environment and I have always found it natural to write on challenging issues in sports arbitration. I also enjoy writing and trying to simplify, decipher and interpret decisions and complex legal issues, just as much as I enjoy reading the work of other colleagues in the field. In our own way, we are each contributing to the understanding and knowledge of this ever-evolving field.