Virtual Olympics

International commercial arbitration competitions adopted a non-face-to-face model due to Covid-19

By Sérgio Siscaro

Law students from all over the world who want to pursue a career in alternate dispute resolution (ADR) methods have a unique opportunity to experience, in practice, the activity.  The international arbitration competitions simulate the challenges that will be faced in professional life. Several similar initiatives are held annually, and the most reputed in the commercial arbitration area is the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (Vis Moot), which takes place in Vienna and Hong Kong (East Moot).

However, the pandemic scenario of the new coronavirus had a direct impact on these events in 2020. According to the CAM-CCBC Deputy General Secretary Luíza Kömel, several competitions previously scheduled to take place throughout the year have been cancelled, and others have adapted to the virtual environment.

This was the case of the 27th edition of Vis Moot, held in March, which brought together 249 universities in a virtual environment. From Brazil, 19 teams participated; and among them, five moved on to the eliminatory stages: University of Brasília (UnB), Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), State University of São Paulo (USP), Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The student João Gabriel Libório, from UFRJ, won the third place as the best individual speaker of the competition.

Participation of the CAM-CCBC

The Center has been the main supporter of Brazilian universities in the competition, sponsoring several teams annually and organizing or supporting pre-Moots, which are the previous sessions in which teams practice the presentation of their cases (to learn more, please visit:

Held in February, the 11th edition of the CAM-CCBC Pre-Moot 2020 still had the possibility to follow the face-to-face model, before the coronavirus was spread in Brazil. Organized in partnership with Cescon Barrieu Law Firm, the event brought together 36 teams (surpassing the previous editions), and two of which were foreign – one from Germany and one from Argentina. A group of 150 arbitrators dedicated themselves to the students training.

In addition to Vis Moot, for about a decade the Center has supported several other competitions, such as IBA-VIAC CDRC Vienna, an international mediation competition, and arbitration and mediation competitions in several regions of Brazil. At least 70% of the CAM-CCBC Secretariat members have participated in arbitration competitions as students – most of them in Vis Moot.

Differentiated approach

The experience of the participants in the two competitions was quite different. The CAM-CCBC pre-Moot could maintain all the features of previous editions, while the Vienna Vis Moot was, for the first time, fully virtual. “The pre-Moot 2020 was important because it was, for many teams , the only (or last) opportunity to have a face-to-face experience of participating in the competition. Some teams  did not even participated in the Vis Moot virtual competition, so the CAM-CCBC Pre-Moot experience ended up being the highest point for these students”, says Kömel.

Regarding the Vienna Vis Moot, she points out the importance of the fact that the competition has not been cancelled. “I really think that the decision to hold the competition virtually was important. Although it is difficult to adjust the technological difficulties, the time gap, the last-minute cancellations of arbitrators and teams, in addition to loosing much of the face-to-face interaction with students and professionals around the world, I feel that the students’ dedication has been recognized by the effort to maintain the competition”. This effort, continues Kömel, was amazing because of the short time available for organizing the event and the large number of participants involved.

Due to the migration to the virtual environment, significant changes were introduced in the criteria used to evaluate students – such as those related to visual contact, gestures, teamwork, voice projection and degree of nervousness. Similarly, the interaction between competitors and arbitrators – at the time of answering questions, for example – was changed, and participants did not have enough time to adapt.

“I believe that some small arrangements have made a big difference. Some students chose to leave the camera more distant, so that the arbitrators could see their hands, so that they had a better idea of their gestural expressions, and the table containing the binder [material consulted during the session]”, she explains.

At one point, however, the virtual experience was not so positive yet: the lack of experience for competitors to interact directly with teams  and arbitrators from other countries, networking and evolution in the preparation of the staff itself.

The future

The next edition of Vis Moot has already been announced for next year, and will be held again in the virtual model – and therefore teams  will have more time to adapt, taking into account this year’s experiences. When announcing the competition, Vis Moot organization justified the decision based on the uncertainties that still surround the global spread of Covid-19.

According to Kömel, the fact that social distancing measures may still be imposed for some time will lead to changes in the way participants will prepare for competitions – both regarding the use of distance communication tools and the strategies to be used in the tests.

“It is undeniable that the degree of attention required from the arbitrator when watching a computer argument is different from a live presentation. So, everything should be changed to the digital version: from the way the speech is structured to the tone of voice used, the oratory resources and the moments of speech”, she evaluates.

Aware of possible changes in the pandemic scenario, the CAM-CCBC is already researching the best format for the pre-Moot 2021. “With the same speed that the recommendations on the prevention of Covid-19 change, technological resources have also been developing. We believe that, until then, we will have an interesting solution that does not harm the usefulness of the competition by all involved”, she concludes.  The CAM-CCBC pre-Moot will be held early next year.

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