George Davies boss takes his sporting chance

Most managing partners miss everyday practice when they take up a position in management. But George Davies managing partner Mark Hovell has found a way to keep up his legal work while indulging his love of sport and continuing to run the Manchester-based firm.

The firm, which has 14 partners and showed a turnover of £6.2m in the last financial year, has a strong sports practice, with clients such as the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Rugby Players’ Association. These longstanding clients helped Hovell make the right connections to become the British representative at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The specialist arbitration court has been in existence since 1984. Its main function is to act as an independent body to settle disputes relating to sport outside the court.

Back in 2002, football’s governing body Fifa decided that the right to final appeal in all cases relating to the sport should go to the CAS in Switzerland. There was one slight problem – there were no football specialists based in the jurisdiction. Hovell’s experience along with his connections with the PFA and its chair Gordon Taylor meant he was selected as the candidate for the job.

“A fax arrived on my desk asking whether I wanted to be an arbitrator,” Hovell explains. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

During his time on the board Hovell says he has been called upon to arbitrate in the most esoteric of cases, including a dispute over the eligibility of lawn bowlers in competitions and a row involving bobsleighing.

Since the beginning of this month Hovell has been on call at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The CAS set up a special unit at the tournament known as the ’ad hoc division’, to deal with legal disputes arising during the games. This has been done since 1998 at both the Olympic anCommonwealth Games to enable competing athletes to sort out ­disputes at the competition and continue to participate when cases are settled.

While the press in this country has spread the word about chaos ensuing at the Delhi games, Hovell says his experience has been somewhat different. First, he shared a flight to New Delhi with Bollywood superstar AR Rahman and then, when he arrived at his hotel, he was surprised to find that a member of the British royal family was staying just down the hall from him.

The games, Hovell says, have been spectacular.

“It’s incredibly well run,” he says. “I was a bit sceptical about security but it has been amazing.”

There is plenty of demand for the court at the Commonwealth Games, with athletes and cyclists getting caught up in doping cases.

Yet for Hovell, the first day of the tournament was a little less controversial after the body was called upon to decide whether a lawn bowler with an Australian passport was eligible to play for the Norfolk Islands.

Doping cases are a bit more extreme. The Delhi games became mired in allegations of doping against two Nigerian athletes, and on 12 October Oludamola Osayomi was stripped of the women’s 100 metres gold medal after she tested positive for traces of a banned stimulant.

For British teams the games have been more successful, and Hovell has visited various events including the swimming, cycling – “it’s really good to see how fast they go” – and rugby sevens.

The games came to a close last Thursday and Hovell flew back to his day job over the weekend.

“Being managing partner of a Manchester-based firm is rewarding, but as managing partners often find, you tend to give up on legal work when you’re in management,” Hovell reflects. “This is a nice way for me to keep my hand in.”

Next on the agenda is the London Olympics in 2012, where Hovell will become one of an army of lawyers involved in the global games. Not bad for a practitioner who says he never set out to be a sports lawyer.