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ARBITRATION ON THE OLYMPIC STAGE

Posted by Christina Cribbs
In honor of the Olympic Games, and in a slight departure from our usual blogging topics, we decided to shine a light on the legal backdrop behind the headlines surrounding some prospective and competing 2012 London Olympic athletes. Did you hear about the badminton players who purposely lost matches to avoid playing against certain fierce competitors? What about the handful of athletes from different disciplines disqualified from competition for doping? The double-amputee who won a challenge to his eligibility to compete in running events against able-bodied runners? All of these claims were, or could have been, heard by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).

CAS was created in 1984 and functions as an international court that can handle any case directly or indirectly related to the world of sports. CAS has 300 arbitrators from 87 different countries. CAS handles a wide variety of cases ranging from sponsorship contracts and player transfers to doping accusations. While parties must agree in writing to submit to the jurisdiction of CAS, its judgments have the same enforceability as those made in ordinary courts. A CAS case begins when a party files an arbitration request or statement of appeal. The other side gets a chance to file a response, and then the parties must appear before a panel of three arbitrators to present evidence and argue the case.
CAS is often used as a court of last resort to appeal the final judgment of an individual sports organization. Similar to other international courts, CAS will only hear an appeal of this kind if the appellant has exhausted all internal procedures of the sports organization. Parties may appear on their own behalf or be represented by an assistant, who may or may not be an attorney.

At the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, CAS set up its first ad hoc division designed to fully and finally resolve any disputes arising out of the Olympic Games within 24 hours. The Atlanta ad hoc division arbitrated six cases. Ever since 1996, CAS has created an ad hoc division to handle claims for every summer and winter Olympic Games.

CAS has certainly been busy during the 2012 London Olympic Games. Below are just a few of the claims CAS has weighed in on during the London Games:

Spanish runner, Angel Mullera, was suspended by the Spanish Athletics Federation after allegations of doping. Mullera appealed the decision to CAS, however, and was reinstated on the Olympic team. CAS concluded that Mullera was arbitrarily excluded from the team and scolded the Federation for doing nothing to address the alleged doping until the media latched on to the story.

Vikas Krishan, an Indian boxer, was declared the winner of a boxing match against American boxer, Errol Spence. Later, the International Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) overturned the decision, declaring Spence the winner of the match. Krishan appealed the IABF’s decision to CAS but the appeal was denied. CAS explained that IABF rules did not allow for an appeal of a competition jury’s determination of the winner of a match. Krishan dropped his protest of the decision.

Eight badminton players from three different countries were expelled from the Games for purposely losing matches to avoid playing against certain competitors who were likely to knock them out of the running. Though the players’ claims could have been handled by CAS’s Olympic ad hoc division, none of the players challenged the disciplinary action by filing an appeal with CAS, fueling widespread speculation about why the athletes wanted to avoid the public procedure.

Finally, CAS allowed South African Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee, to run an inspiring 400m race against able-bodied runners. In 2008, CAS overturned a decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations banning Pistorius from competing against able-bodied athletes, which concluded that Pistorius was at an advantage because his prosthetic legs were lighter than human legs and he did not have to expend as much energy while competing. CAS cleared Pistorius to compete in the 2008 Games in Beijing; however, he failed to qualify. In 2012, Pistorius returned to the Games in London, securing a spot in the semi-final round of the 400m race. Incredibly, despite his disability, Pistorius finished 16 out of 47 of the best runners in the world. Pistorius has garnered world-wide media attention, but his inspiring story would not have been possible without CAS’ international arbitration panel.

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