Court of Arbitration for Sport: Flawed but Essential

By: Karli Cozen

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has played an active role in the international sporting arena since its inception in 1984. CAS is an independent quasi-judicial body with arbitral jurisdiction to resolve both commercial and disciplinary sport-related disputes. It was developed to provide an outlet to resolve disputes in response to the growing number of international sporting disputes. CAS has been implemented by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and many International sporting federations as the chosen method of recourse in dispute resolution.

Most recently, in Maria Sharapova v. International Tennis Federation, CAS reduced professional tennis player Maria Sharapova’s two-year ban from professional competition to 15 months of ineligibility on an appeal from a ruling of the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) appointed independent tribunal.

Sharapova is a Russian-born tennis superstar with an impressive resume that includes formerly holding the number one rank in the world and five grand slam championships.

In January 2016, at the Australian Open, Sharapova tested positive for taking Melodonium. Melodonium is a drug that was added to the list of banned substances in the World Anti-Doping Code as of January 1, 2016. Sharapova took Melodonium for ten years prior due to a magnesium deficiency, and the substance was prevalent among Eastern European athletes.

Sharapova admitted to ingesting the substance. She, however, claimed to be unaware of the newly changed status of the drug and faulted the IFT for their poor communication of the ban. The CAS reduced Sharapova’s professional eligibility ban to 15 months, finding “no significant fault” on the part of Sharapova and allowing her to return to professional tennis in time for the French Open in May.

This case is just one of many disputes that has reached the CAS. These include an action against the IOC for the disqualification of South Korean Kim Dong-Sung in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games short track speed skating event; arbitration involving many doping violations implicating athletes for the 2016 Rio Olympics; and a 2010 dispute between the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association over player selection.

Athletics unite countries and cultures throughout the world. They allow people from different backgrounds and societies to share a common interest, celebrate in victory, and commiserate in defeat. Additionally, international sporting events foster friendship, mutual understanding, and cooperation among athletes and participating countries.

In order to foster these relationships, the international community needs a neutral body to which to turn, a body that can objectively resolve international sporting disputes without the appearance of bias or national favoritism. The CAS meets that need, and plays a vital role in international sports.

The CAS, however, is not without flaws. The organization has been questioned for its close relationship to the IOC. In fact, the IOC was the founding organization behind the CAS, and provided the funding to run the CAS until 1994 when the “International Council of Arbitration for Sport” (ICAS) was founded to oversee the CAS and its funding.  These close ties to the IOC can raise concerns about the IOC’s the neutrality, particularly when disputes involving the Olympics arise.

Additionally, a fundamental principle of arbitration is the ability of parties to select their own arbitrator. However, this is not always the case in CAS. According to sports lawyer, Brendan Schwab, CAS is controlled by international sporting federations. These are the same federations that also control the World Anti-Doping Authority(WADA) which raises questions of neutrality for doping disputes. Additionally, Schwab criticizes a “one-size-fits-all approach” for dealing with doping across different sports and nations.

Some feel that the CAS is inadequate and does not provide adequate structure and process to protect players rights. For example, Olympic speed-skater Claudia Pechstein was banned from the sport after accusations of doping. Not only was Pechstein unhappy with the CAS due to her less-than-equal power in the appointment of an arbitrator, she asserts to have had no choice but to agree to arbitrating issues with the CAS in order to participate in speed skating at the international level.

Despite these flaws, CAS organization provides an essential avenue for dispute resolution—an avenue which allows international parties to resolve athletic conflicts in a flexible, quick, and inexpensive manner. The benefits of having such an organization far outweigh issues that have arisen with the CAS, issues which can be addressed through minor reforms such as athlete involvement in arbitrator selection. With cultural understanding, cooperation, and national relations in the balance, CAS is vital to ensure fair competition and dispute resolution in the international sports arena.




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