Modahl v British Athletic Federation Ltd (No 2) – Case Summary

Modahl v British Athletic Federation Ltd (No 2)

Court of Appeal

Citations: [2001] EWCA Civ 1447; [2002] 1 WLR 1192; (2001) 98(43) LSG 34; (2001) 145 SJLB 238; [2002] CLY 704.


The claimant was a British athlete who failed a urine drugs test at an event in Lisbon. The defendant was the UK’s governing body for athletics. As was the usual policy when an athlete failed a drug test, the defendant suspended the claimant from participating in future competitions. The defendant’s drug advisory committee concluded that the claimant had committed a doping offence and imposed a four-year ban. The claimant successfully appealed their finding based on evidence which not available to the original committee. The defendant lifted the ban.

The claimant sued the defendant for breach of contract. She sought damages for expenses and lost income during the suspension period. She argued that the defendant had breached an implied contractual requirement to take all reasonable steps to ensure a fair and unbiased hearing. The defendant responded that they had no contract with the claimant. Additionally, they argued that the disciplinary hearing had been unbiased and fair.

  1. Was there an implied contract between the claimant and defendant?
  2. If there was an implied contract, had the defendant breached its terms?

The Court of Appeal held that there was an implied contract between the parties.

  • The claimant had entered competitions under the defendant’s auspices. In doing so, she accepted that she would be subject to their rules. These rules were phrased as obligations.
  • In turn, the defendant had implicitly accepted responsibility to administer those rules.
  • It was possible to identify the parties’ basic obligations with certainty.
  • Each party provided consideration. The defendant took on the burden of administering the rules. They also granted the claimant the benefit of knowing that every athlete would compete under the same rules. The claimant accepted the burden of complying with the defendant’s rules.
  • The parties objectively intended to be legally bound by the arrangement.

There was therefore an implied contract in accordance with the defendant’s rules.

However, the defendant was not in breach of that contract. There was no evidence of actual bias nor any real prospect that the committee could have reached a different conclusion based on the evidence before them. Any apparent bias could be corrected by an unbiased appeal process. The defendant had provided an unbiased appeal. The overall process was therefore fair.

This Case is Authority For…

It is possible to imply a contract from the parties’ conduct. The courts will determine the existence of an implied contract by reference to all the surrounding circumstances. The court should not assume that a contract exists.

In this case, several factors indicated that the parties intended to be legally bound by the arrangement:

  • Sport was essentially the claimant’s career;
  • The consequences of breaking the rules were dire to her livelihood in practice;
  • The continuous, long-term nature of the relationship.

Mance LJ described the defendant’s obligation as being ‘to act in good faith and take due care to appoint’ appropriate people to the committee. This indicates that some obligations of good faith can be sufficiently certain to amount to binding contractual terms.

Parker LJ disagreed with the majority on why the claim should fail. He did not think that there was any implied contract. Merely applying to participate at a third-party event over which the defendant had no control could not create legal relations. There was no evidence that the parties intended to create legal relations by these means.

Nor did Parker LJ think a contract was created when the claimant submitted to the disciplinary process. The claimant’s intention was merely to defend herself against the doping allegations. The defendant merely intended to fulfil its organisational obligations. He thought that there was no evidence that they intended to be legally bound, nor did the claimant supply any consideration when she agreed to the disciplinary hearing.