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Marc Delehanty writes for LawInSport on the role of the Independent Football Ombudsman
Alternative forms of dispute resolution continue to grow in popularity generally and sport is no different. One such example is that of the Independent Football Ombudsman (“IFO”).
The IFO offers a form of non-binding arbitration for individuals with complaints against football clubs playing in the Premier League, The Football League and all those affiliated to The FA, and can be engaged after internal club and relevant governing body (i.e. The FA, Premier League, or The Football League) procedures have been exhausted. It also handles complaints made against the governing bodies themselves.
The current Ombudsman is Professor Derek Fraser and the deputy is Mr Alan Watson. They are supported in their work by an advisory panel made up of those with experience of relevant legal issues, corporate governance, media & communications, supporters’ issues and community issues. The IFO has been operating in its current guise, under terms of reference agreed between various stakeholders, since the 2008-09 football season.
The nature of the IFO process
The complaints brought before the IFO have covered a wide range of issues, such as ticketing problems, ejections from stadiums, and use of force by stewards. Many of these disputes are not of significant financial value. As a result, the IFO process is attractive because it offers a means of resolution of such disputes without recourse to civil litigation, which would be time consuming, expensive and place the parties, in particular fans, at risk of an adverse costs order. By contrast, the service offered by the IFO is free of charge. (The running costs of the IFO service are met by an annual grant from The FA, the Premier League and The Football League.)