Jorge Ibarrola receives plaudits for his “vast experience in football matters before the CAS”. His “great knowledge of the CAS” makes him “very well-known and strong in the market”.
Jorge Ibarrola is a Swiss qualified lawyer (Lic.jur. Lausanne and LLM McGill) and an accredited mediator (CEDR & IMEDEP). Counsel for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from 2003 to 2007, he founded his practice in 2007. Jorge advises and represents sports clients worldwide, in English, French and Spanish, before IF’s bodies, the CAS and Swiss courts.
Jorge chairs the ITTF Tribunal, the Swiss Basketball Disciplinary Chamber and the Vaud Bar Sports Law Commission.
What motivated you to pursue a career in sports law?
It was the perfect way to combine my passions for sports and law. For many years, until 2003, I acted as ad hoc clerk in CAS arbitral proceedings, in parallel to other activities in different areas of law. In 2003 I was hired by the CAS to help cope with the increase of cases due to the adoption by FIFA of the CAS jurisdiction. I learned a lot during four years and a half as a counsel for CAS. This experience helped when I created my own law firm in June 2007. In other terms, I have happily practiced sports law almost exclusively for the last 20 years.
What do clients look for when selecting a sports lawyer?
It depends obviously on the area for which the client seeks a sports lawyer. Cases and regulations have become more and more complex over the past 20 years. Legal counsels tend to specialise no longer only in “sports law”, but more specifically in doping, contractual, governance, disciplinary, ethics law, etc. to be able to provide the required high-level quality legal advice. It also depends on whether there is a dispute or not. In litigation before sports judicial bodies or before arbitration bodies (CAS, BAT, other), the client will need a counsel with significant experience in judicial activities with a strong knowledge of the judicial procedures.
How do you establish a detailed understanding of a client’s business to advise them effectively?
It is important to know the history of individual and institutional clients, and all the applicable regulations (statutes, governance, ethics, disciplinary rules). A lawyer also needs to understand the objectives and plans of the client for the short, mid and long term, and have very fluent communication with him.
What regulatory challenges are sports clients currently encountering, and how are you navigating them?
During the past years, International sports federations have been facing significant issues relating to the adaptation of their rules in order to cope with the difficulties resulting from the pandemic. Currently, many international federations, national federations, athletes and clubs must handle concerns relating to the participation of Russian athletes, clubs and other institutions in competitions during the war in Ukraine.
To respond to our clients’ needs, notably those having their seat in Switzerland, we provide advice in relation not only to sports law in general, but also to Swiss civil laws: association law, commercial law, banking law, governance law, criminal law, etc.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?
Disputes have become more and more complex, requiring the recourse to highly qualified and experienced legal assistance.
Our experience in the past years shows that we need to be prepared to adjust very swiftly, depending on the circumstances, the kind of services we provide to our clients and the way we do it. We are now perfectly equipped to communicate remotely with our clients and with other stakeholders of the sports community, as well as with judicial authorities. We have also developed the required experience and organisation to be able to respond promptly to our clients’ requests. Competence, experience, availability and agility are of the essence.
Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
Having the president of the Thai Football Federation acquitted by the CAS of unfounded accusations after almost five years of proceedings before the FIFA Ethics Committee and before the CAS.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position?
Seek a mentor. I was truly lucky to have the opportunity to work for four years as counsel for the CAS. Other practitioners gained experience working for FIFA, the IOC, WADA or other sports organisations or law firms. This provides the indispensable experience to build one’s credibility in order to acquire and develop a clientship in the short and long term.