Modahl v British Athletic Federation Ltd (No 2)
Reference:  EWCA Civ 1447;  1 WLR 1192
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Mance, Latham and Jonathan Parker LJ
Date of judgment: 12 Oct 2001
Summary: Sport - doping - disciplinary tribunal - athlete banned - bias of tribunal - successful appeal - whether damages available for losses suffered meanwhile - contractual duties of governing body
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An athlete, M, was accused of a doping offence and found guilty by a disciplinary committee appointed by the defendant (BAF). An appeal to an independent appeal body was successful and the ban was lifted. M claimed damages against BAF for the losses suffered between the two decisions, alleging that the committee had been biased and the BAF was in breach of an implied contractual duty to take all reasonable steps to avoid this. Her claim was dismissed and she appealed.
(1) Whether the relationship between M and BAF was contractual (2) If so, whether the contract contained the term alleged (3) If so, whether it had been broken (4) causation.
Dismissing the appeal, (1) (Jonathan Parker LJ dissenting) although there was no express contract, one could be implied from M’s submission to BAF’s rules, which benefited BAF; but (2) BAF’s implied duty was at most to take reasonable steps to ensure a fair procedure overall and it did not have contractual responsibility for the exercise of the disciplinary bodies’ functions; the parties should be taken to have agreed to accept what in the end was a fair result; (3) although there had been apparent bias at the committee stage the judge was justified in finding no actual bias, and there was no breach by BAF (4) further or alternatively, any breach had caused no loss, as the decision would have been the same in any event.
The decision shows that sports regulators do not contractually guarantee that their disciplinary bodies will arrive at a correct result, still less that independent appeal bodies will do so. The obligation to ensure overall fairness is well-established but is limited by what can reasonably be expected of a regulator which allocates decisions to tribunals, and may even be limited to an obligation of good faith. The duties of disciplinary bodies were further considered by Cooke J in Colgan v The Kennel Club and Richards J in Bradley v The Jockey Club, in each of which Modahl was applied.