ICANN has rejected claims that the .sport gTLD contention set was settled by an arbitrator who had undisclosed conflicts of interest with the winning applicant.
Its Board Governance Committee last week decided that Community Objection arbitrator Guido Tawil had no duty to disclose his law firm’s ties to major sports broadcasters when he effectively eliminated Famous Four Media from its fight with SportAccord.
Back in 2013, SportAccord — an applicant backed by pretty much all of the world’s major sporting organizations — won the objection when Tawil ruled that FFM’s fully commercial, open-registration bid could harms its members interests.
FFM complained with Requests for Reconsideration, Ombudsman complaints and then an Independent Review Process complaint.
It discovered, among other things, that Tawil’s law firm was helping broadcaster DirecTV negotiate with the International Olympic Committee (one of SportAccord’s backers) for Olympics broadcasting rights at the time of the Community Objection.
The IRP panel ruled in February this year that the BGC had failed to take FFM’s allegations of Tawil’s “apparent bias” into account when it processed Reconsideration requests back in 2013 and 2014.
So the BGC reopened the two Reconsideration decisions, looking at whether Tawil was required by International Bar Association guidelines to disclosed his firm’s client’s interests.
In a single decision (pdf) late last week, the BGC said that he was not required to make these disclosures.
In each of the three claims of bias, the BGC found that the connections between Tawil and the alleged conflict were too tenuous to have required disclosure under the IBA rules.
It found that the IOC and SportAccord are not “affiliates” under the IBA definition, which requires some kind of cross-ownership interests, even though the IOC is, judging by the .sport application, SportAccord’s most valued supporter.
The BGC also found that because Tawil’s firm was representing DirecTV, rather than the IOC, the relationship did not technically fall within the disclosure guidelines.
For these and other reasons, the BGC rejected FFM’s Reconsideration requests for a second time.
The decision, and the fact that FFM seems to have exhausted ICANN’s appeals mechanisms, means it is now more likely that SportAccord’s application will be allowed to continue negotiating its .sport Registry Agreement with ICANN, where it has been frozen for years.