By Bernie McGuire in Dubai.
European Tour CEO Keith Pelley would not say whether the Tour is confident of winning a lawsuit early next month in a London court against a number of European Tour players, and now LIV Golf members who launched an appeal against the Tour in being suspended from DP World Tour competition.
Pelley advised he will represent the Tour at a five-day Arbitration Panel Hearing being held at the Sport Resolutions centre in London.
The panel will comprise an independent three-man panel, comprising two Kings Council (KC) members and a former and now retired High Court Judge, His Honour Judge Phillip Sycamore, CBE who will chair the panel.
The hearing will run from February 2nd to February 10th.
At the outset 18 LIV Golf players signed the lawsuit against the actions of the European Tour in being suspended in joining LIV Golf but with another court offering a stay of their suspension that has allowed them to continue competing on the DP World Tour until the outcome of next month’s hearing.
However, three of the original appellants in Sergio Garcia, Charles Schwartzel and Branden Grace have withdrawn their appeal.
That does leave 15 players – Ian Poulter, Adrian Otaegui, Justin Harding, Lee Westwood, Sam Horsfield, Richard Bland, Sean Norris, Laurie Canter, Wade Ormsby, Patrick Reed, Bernd Wiesberger, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer – who are intent in having the suspension formally overturned.
A Tour official stressed that the hearing is not a court cast, meaning there will be no public access across the five days, no public gallery nor media access or news of the hearing related to the media.
“Therefore, nobody will be allowed to report anything at the end of the five days of hearing, as you would normally expect in a normal court hearing,” said the official.
“As such, the hearing will be held behind closed doors and no-one attending the hearing will be permitted to comment until the verdict has been formally delivered.”
It has been advised the outcome will not be known for several weeks post the hearing though there is no definitive timetable when that will be.
The Tour official also advised that the European Tour has not considered what action to take should the decision that banned the LIV players to compete on the European Tour should go against the Tour.
“We cannot answer any question on that topic until it becomes clear following whatever decision is made.” added the Tour official.
“It will be the Tour’s legal team to assess any decision and all we are doing at present is preparing for next month’s five-day hearing.”
In simple terms, the hearing will focus on the European Tour’s tournament release procedures and their ability to enforce it.
“It’s as straightforward as that and the hearing will be very narrow as it has a very specific parameter,” the Tour official said.
“Provisional clarity of the issues are not the same and they are with regards the litigations on the PGA Tour, and not least the difference in the laws in the UK compared to the US.
“It’s also not about us suspending members and banning from this or banning from that which have also been incorrectly reported. It’s not that. It’s simply to regulate on this narrow regulation point.”
The European Tour, and no different to many sports, is a members regulation organisation governed by rules and regulations set by the members, so the Tour is a democratically elected body. The Tour simply administers the rules.
When a player joins the Tour he signs-up for the regulations and pays a membership fee each year, and the ‘conflicting event regulations’ has been a part of the rules for so many years.
“The confliction event regulations are pretty clear and set-out in the rules and we are within our rights to have applied the sanctions”, the official added.
European Tour CEO Keith Pelley will be the sole Tour representative attending the five-day hearing.
However. when quizzed what would happen to the Tour if the ruling was granted in favour of the appellants, he declined to speak on such an outcome.
“That’s a question a lot of people are asking, if the regulation would remain in the rules if the Tour won or what we would do if we lost, as we just can’t answer that at this time,” said Pelley.
However, when asked if he was confident of emerging from the hearing successful, Pelley politely said he would not entertain hypotheticals and instead indicated the Tour was focussing on its presentation to the panel.