The Sc Villa-Bull decision is a negative precedent and goes against the Field of Play doctrine in Sports Law


What you need to know:

A doctrine has been developed over time in Sports Law termed “The Field of Play doctrine”. This doctrine applies to the interpretation of the “rules of the game” by referees, umpires, and match officials.

Right on the heels of Onduparaka-KCCA, the FUFA Competitions Disciplinary (FUFA CPD) panel ordered another replay in a Uganda Cup tie between S.C Villa and Bul FC. This was after S.C Villa’s goal in the 88th minute scored by Charles Bbaale was adjudged offside by the second assistant referee, Mr. Muyaga Khalid. According to the FUFA CPD, the player was on-side and the referee had indeed admitted that he had made an incorrect decision and regretted it.

The Tribunal relied on Article 6 (3) of the FUFA Competition Rules which mandates the FUFA Disciplinary Committee to “enforce on-field breaches of the FCR and all other Regulations that do not require investigations, urgent or raise no difficult factual or legal issues”. Did this decision raise “factual” or “legal issues”? Like everyone else, I have only read the summarized decision because as FUFA’s judicial bodies always tell us, if we want to read the full decision, we must write to it. I doubt there is anything more to glean from the full decision.

A doctrine has been developed over time in Sports Law termed “The Field of Play doctrine”. This doctrine applies to the interpretation of the “rules of the game” by referees, umpires, and match officials. It posits that referees and match officials are the technical experts in their sports and non-technical experts such as those who sit on tribunals and committees should only in the rarest of circumstances overturn their decisions. The rationale of this doctrine is to preserve the finality and clarity of sporting decisions made by officials in line with the rules of the game. Sport cannot be continuously interrupted by whoever is aggrieved by an unfavourable decision appealing it to outside decision-makers.

The Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) for instance has the power to review and overturn Field of Play decisions but overtime in its jurisprudence has set a very high standard-there must be direct evidence that an official’s decision is tainted by fraud, corruption, bad faith, bias, and arbitrariness. Was there evidence of any of this? Did the referee’s admission amount to fraud or bad faith or bias? Is FUFA perhaps privy to something that they have not told us?

CAS especially its ad hoc division at Olympic games has time and again been faced with matters concerning technical errors by the referees and has often declined to overturn Field of Play decisions or go into the merits of umpires’ decisions without any serious evidence of bias. CAS has previously stated “Every participant in a sport in which referees have to make decisions about events on the field of play must accept that the referee sees an incident from a particular position, and makes his decision on the basis of what he or she sees. Sometimes mistakes are made by referees, as they are by players. That is an inevitable fact of life and one that all participants in sporting events must accept.”

It is fact that referees being human beings will make mistakes and that is something that all and sundry must make peace with even those that run sports. The referee admitted that he had made a mistake and seemingly it could have been a bonafide one in a league that doesn’t have VAR. But as we have seen, even in VAR leagues, these mistakes persist as recently witnessed with Arsenal being on the receiving end of some harsh decisions which perhaps could have been replayed if it was a Ugandan club.

More technical support is what these referees need and looks like the introduction of VAR in Ugandan football is nigh. Now that we have a Sports Act passed by Parliament, it will also come in handy in tackling match-fixing allegations if proven.

These negative precedents are going to open floodgates of litigation and it is upon FUFA to correct them.

Ojakol is a Sports Lawyer, Partner at Matrix Advocates, and Law Lecturer at IUEA

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