Arbitration Award : Complaint by Ms ME Ravele

During February 2020, Ms ME Ravele wrote a letter of complaint to the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture wherein she requested the Minister to investigate the conduct of the Acting President of SASCOC, Mr Barry Hendricks and the President of Tennis South Africa, Mr Gavin Crookes, for allegedly conspiring to stifle her nomination for the SASCOC presidency. She further alleged that the conduct of Mr Hendricks was unethical.

The Minister then referred the complaint to SASCOC requesting it to facilitate a resolution of the dispute declared by Ms Ravele. The SASCOC Board considered the Minister’s request and resolved to obtain an independent legal opinion. SASCOC’s then attorneys, who also subsequently represented it in the arbitration, briefed Adv Baloyi-Mere to give a legal opinion. At that stage Mr Hendricks was the Acting President and was party to this decision.

Subsequently, Adv Baloyi-Mere issued her opinion and found that there was a prima facie case established by Ms Ravele’s complaint and concluded that Ms Ravele should refer her dispute to arbitration. She further made factual conclusions on Mr Hendricks’ conduct and ethics.

The SASCOC Board considered the legal opinion and resolved that Adv Baloyi-Mere’s opinion and recommendations be adopted. To commence facilitation of the arbitration process, SASCOC made available its lists of arbitrators to Ms Ravele and Messrs Hendricks and Crookes to nominate an arbitrator of their choice. They elected to nominate Adv Freund SC.

The Board then resolved to refer the finding contained in the opinion with regards to Mr Hendricks’ conduct to its Judicial Body in accordance with the provisions of the SASCOC Constitution.

Given the serious nature of the allegations, and the independent legal opinion that the allegations established a prima facie case of misconduct against Mr Hendricks, the Board resolved that it was appropriate in the circumstances to place Mr Hendricks on special leave of absence.

Ms Ravele (who was legally represented), Mr Hendricks (who elected not to be legally represented) and Mr Crookes (who was legally represented), and SASCOC (who were legally represented by the same attorneys who had briefed Adv Baloyi-Mere) had several pre-arbitration meetings which resulted in the parties entering into an arbitration agreement which Mr Crookes refused to sign. The parties also had a meeting with the arbitrator and agreed to exchange pleadings, and agreed a date for the hearing of the arbitration.

SASCOC had no role to play in the arbitration proceedings in terms of the agreement between the parties. SASCOC’s erstwhile attorneys however, exceeded their mandate by cross-examining Ms Ravele and by subpoenaing Mr Crookes as a witness to discredit her notwithstanding his refusal to participate in the proceedings as a party. The SASCOC Acting CEO and the Board had no knowledge of this and it was only when it was brought to their attention by Ms Ravele that the SASCOC Board (after taking legal advice) resolved to attempt to nullify the arbitration proceedings on account of their erstwhile attorney’s misconduct. The reason for this is that SASCOC’s reputation and integrity had been impugned by such conduct. The services of the attorneys representing SASCOC were immediately terminated.

Several meetings were held between the newly appointed legal representatives of SASCOC and Ms Ravele, Mr Hendricks and the arbitrator. Following written and oral argument, the arbitrator directed that a fresh arbitration agreement be concluded by the parties so that a new arbitration may commence as quickly as possible to avoid any prejudice to either Ms Ravele or Mr Hendricks. SASCOC would pay the costs of such an arbitration.

Subsequently however, Mr Hendricks (now legally represented) refused to sign the new arbitration agreement. In the circumstances, Adv Freund SC decided to issue his award because it would have taken SASCOC at least two months to obtain a court order to nullify the proceedings which took place before him.

The arbitrator handed down his award, and SASCOC accepts the outcome because it was never involved in any dispute between Ms Ravele, Mr Hendricks and Mr Crookes. It merely facilitated the arbitration proceedings. The outcome was that Ms Ravele’s complaint of a conspiracy was found not to be substantiated by the evidence.

However, the investigation into Mr Hendricks’ conduct based on the factual conclusions made by Adv Baloyi-Mere, initiated by the Board has still not been concluded. As a result, Mr Hendricks’ leave of absence will continue pending the conclusion of this investigative process.

The Judicial Body is a body established by the SASCOC Constitution and its members are independent of the SASCOC Board. The Board has been advised by the Judicial Body that it is considering the award in relation to the investigation into the conduct of Mr Hendricks and has undertaken to report to the Board by the weekend.

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