January 27, 2022
Learning some key cases is a great way to demonstrate your understanding of litigation and dispute resolution and show off your Commercial Awareness.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has reported a steep rise in the number of disputes it has overseen since 2015, concluding 948 cases in 2020 alone. CAS rules on many aspects of the law but the panel has noted a particular increase in the number of doping appeals, particularly since the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

CAS is head-quartered in Lausanne, Switzerland but has permanent courts in Lausanne, New York City and Sydney, and establishes ad hoc courts in the host city of each Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

The non-permanent tribunals follow special procedures rules. The parties are generally free to agree on the law applicable to the merits of the dispute, but failing any agreement, the President of the panel will turn to Swiss law.

Across all Courts of Arbitration for Courts, there are 300 arbitrators from 87 countries, who have specialist knowledge of sports law.

Examples of Sports Disputes

UEFA v Manchester City FC

One of the most contentious commercial disputes concerns UEFA’s expulsion of Manchester City from European competitions for two years, alongside a €30,000,000 fine. UEFA alleged that the English football team breached codes of Financial Fair Play and Club Licensing Regulations after accepting payments in 2012 and 2013 from the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG). Manchester City appealed to CAS, who rescinded the ban, arguing that the club ‘did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship contributions’. Critics remain cynical of the ‘payments’, with La Liga president Javier Tebas accusing the club of ‘financial doping’.

Reviewing ‘Field of Play’ Decisions

Generally, arbitrators do not rule on decisions taken on the playing field by any referees, umpires, judges or officials. CAS Arbitrators have argued that they are not in fact empowered to review these decisions, except where there is evidence that rules may have been applied in bad faith.

This rule if often challenged by claimants. For example, in 2006, boxer Mendy challenged a referee’s decision to disqualify him for a low-blow. Although CAS accepted jurisdiction over game rules, it determined that it was unable to rule on the implementation of these rules. Similarly, in 2013, Mexican race walker Segura referred to the CAS arbitrators over disqualification. In both cases, the Panel stressed it should only rule on the dispute in instances of fraud or corruption.


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Ad Hoc Tribunal

Since 1996, CAS has also operated an ad hoc tribunal at each Olympic Games, set up in the host cities. CAS oversees year-round disputes with an arbitration clause specifying recourse to the the arbitration body, as well as all disputes that may arise during the Olympic Games.

The court derives authority from Rule 61.2 of the Olympic Charter which provides that ‘any dispute arising on the occasion of, or in conjunction with, the Olympic Games shall be submitted exclusively to the Court of Arbitration for Sport’.

Examples of Disputes

In September 2020, South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya appealed a CAS award that she should take testosterone suppression treatment in order to compete in certain female athletics events.

In December 2020, the arbiter ruled that Russia’s four-year ban from global sporting events should be halved, meaning athletes from the country will be allowed to compete under the Russian flag from end of 2022. However, some Russian athletes were able to compete under the acronym ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) during the Tokyo Olympic Games. The ruling came after Russia’s anti-doping body, Rusada, sought but failed to overturn the ban completely.

Talking point:

  • What are the pros and cons of using an ad hoc Arbitration Court during the Olympic Games?


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