Jorge Ibarrola, lic iur University of Lausanne and LLM McGill, is a Swiss-qualified lawyer and a CEDR-accredited mediator. He was counsel for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) between 2003 and 2007 and founded his private practice in 2007. Jorge advises and represents sports clients before international federations’ legal bodies, the CAS, Swiss courts, including the Swiss Federal Tribunal. He chairs the International Table Tennis Federation Tribunal and the Disciplinary Chamber of Swiss Basketball. He proceeds in English, Spanish and French.
What do you enjoy most about practising sports law?
Having a passion for both sport and law, combining these two areas in my professional activity constitutes a true privilege. When I joined the CAS in 2003, I realised that reading everyday sports news became part of my job, which was a real luxury.
More concretely, practising “sports law” requires specific knowledge and command not only of sports regulations, but also of many other legal areas, such as private, public, disciplinary and criminal laws and jurisprudence. It thus appears as one of the most diverse activities a lawyer can aspire to, in addition to the pleasure to always practise in a sports background, in permanent contact with athletes and sports leaders.
How has covid-19 affected clients? What do you predict to be the long-term effects of the pandemic on your practice?
Many clubs, leagues, national federations, as well as players, coaches and agents have endured the consequences resulting from covid-19. I have been confronted with situations where clubs were considering amending or terminating employment contracts with players, where leagues were facing issues of suspension of their championship, where national federations had to decide whether or not to hold cup finals, where players and coaches were seeking compensation further to the breach and/or termination of their employment contracts, where agents needed to consider the legal consequence of the advice to give to their clients.
We have all experienced the development of the remote relationship with our clients but also with the members of the sport legal bodies and the CAS. The recourse to Zoom, Webex and Skype was certainly a convenient answer to cope with the extraordinary situation and allowed liaising with clients, holding general assemblies, or attending hearings by videoconference. Thanks to the vaccination progress, most of us are now looking forward to returning to normality, to travelling again and seeing each other in person.
To what extent is the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) an effective body in resolving disputes?
The CAS has no real competitor to rule on sports disputes. Yet, it has many qualities and few disadvantages. As any other institution, it can certainly improve the quality of the services it provides to the world sports community.
In my opinion, the CAS rules deserve to be amended in some aspects: the nomination of the president of the panel by the party-appointed arbitrators, the ruling on provisional measures by arbitrators rather than by members of the CAS Foundation Board (ICAS), the extension of competences of the appointed panel to manage the proceedings and rule in shorter timeframes.
If you could implement one reform in international sports arbitration what would it be?
If there was only one reform to implement, it would be to give the party-appointed arbitrators the exclusive competence to choose and nominate the president of the CAS panel in all CAS proceedings.
What role do you see virtual hearings having in the future of sports disputes?
Holding hearings by videoconference has proven to be, even before the current pandemic, a decent and efficient option in cases where the examination of witnesses or the personal appearance of an athlete or of an official before the CAS arbitrators is not possible. Virtual hearings may also be appropriate to reduce the parties’ costs (arbitration fees, transportation and accommodation costs for the arbitrators, the parties and their counsels, etc).
However, the party’s right to his/her “day in court” is very important, particularly for individuals (as opposed to legal entities), and their expectation in that regard is clearly better achieved by personal appearance than remotely.
Despite the acquired enriching experience to use digital tools to communicate remotely, which will undoubtedly remain highly valuable in the future, the personal relationships between parties, lawyers and judges should, in my opinion, become the rule again.
In what ways does Libra Law distinguish itself from competitors in the Swiss sports market?
Libra Law is a boutique law firm, comprising partners and associates all specialising in sports law, as well as in all other legal areas relevant to sports law. Libra Law’s partners combine more than 50 years of experience in the advising and representation of sports clients, with a pragmatic understanding of their needs and expectations. Libra Law proceeds in English, French and Spanish and has in-house skills in Arabic.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in sports law?
First, to acquire a solid education in law and practice before national courts, and to specialise only thereafter in sports law, by completing graduate studies (LLM, PhD, other) and making him/herself attractive for law firms practising in such areas and/or for sports institutions.
What professional challenges are you expecting to encounter over the next few years, and how do you expect to navigate them?
The sports law industry is permanently growing and has turned into an increasingly attractive activity, enhancing the competition between law firms. In parallel, disputes have become more and more complex, requiring the recourse to highly qualified and experienced legal assistance.
Beyond its professional skills and experience, Libra Law endeavours every day to keep deserving its reputation of being able to respond swiftly and efficiently to the expectations of our clients, maintaining at the same time our outstanding relationship with national and international sports federations, and sport resolution institutions.
Jorge Ibarrola has established a reputation among peers for being “truly one of the best in the world” and particularly “excellent in governance cases”.
Jorge Ibarrola is a Swiss-qualified attorney-at-law, partner and co-founder of the Swiss law firm Libra Law, whose offices are located at the Maison du Sport International, in Lausanne, where the IOC, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and many international sports federations and major companies have their headquarters. Since 2009, Libra Law has specialised in advising and representing clients in the areas of sports and business law.
Jorge Ibarrola holds a law degree from the University of Lausanne and an LLM from McGill University. He is also a CEDR-accredited mediator.
Since 2003, Jorge Ibarrola represents and assists sports and business clients. After more than four years of experience as a CAS in-house counsel, he founded his private practice in 2007. He advises and represents national and international sports federations, sports clubs, athletes, players, coaches and agents, in their day-to-day activities as well as in international arbitration proceedings - notably before the CAS and in judiciary proceedings before Swiss courts, including the Swiss Federal Tribunal. His practice also includes mediation of business and sports disputes.
Jorge Ibarrola is president of the Disciplinary Chamber of Swiss Basketball and a board member of the Swiss Sports Law Association. He chairs the sports law commission of the Bar of Canton de Vaud.
Jorge Ibarrola regularly lectures for sports law programmes, notably at the University of Lleida (INEFC), UEFA Football Law, FIFA Football Law, ISDE (Madrid), St Johns University (New York), AISTS (Lausanne) and SAWI (Lausanne). He regularly publishes contributions in specialised sports law reviews.
He is fluent in English, French and Spanish.