Editor's note: Michele Krech is a JSD Candidate and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow at NYU School of Law. She was retained as a consultant by counsel for Caster Semenya in the proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport discussed above. She also contributed to two reports mentioned in this blog post: the Report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport (June 2020); and the Human Rights Watch Report, “They’re Chasing Us Away from Sport”: Human Rights Violations in Sex Testing of Elite Women Athletes (December 2020).
This blog was first published by the Völkerrechtsblog and is republished here with authorization. Michele Krech will be joining our next Zoom In webinar on 31 March to discuss the next steps in the Caster Semenya case.
Sport is the field par excellence in which discrimination
against intersex people has been made most visible.
Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Issue Paper: Human rights and intersex people (2015)
Olympic and world champion athlete Caster Semenya
is asking the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to make sure all
women athletes are “allowed to run free, for once and for all”. Semenya
brings her application against Switzerland, which has allowed a private
sport association and a private sport court to decide – with only the
most minimal appellate review by a national judicial authority – what it
takes for women, legally and socially identified as such all their
lives, to count as women in the context of athletics. I consider how
Semenya’s application might bring human rights, sex, and sport into
conversation in ways not yet seen in a judicial forum. More...
On Wednesday 31 March 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret (University of Lausanne), is organising its fourth Zoom In webinar
on the recent developments arising from the decision of the Swiss
Federal Tribunal (SFT) in the case Caster Semenya v. International
Association of Athletics Federations (now World Athletics), delivered on
25 August 2020.
The participation of athletes with
biological sex differences to international competitions is one of the
most controversial issues in transnational sports law. In particular,
since 2019, Caster Semenya, an Olympic champion from South-Africa has
been challenging the World Athletics eligibility rules for Athletes with Differences of Sex Development
(DSD Regulation), which would currently bar her from accessing international competitions (such as the Tokyo Olympics) unless she accepts to undergo medical treatment aimed at
reducing her testosterone levels. In April 2019, the Court of
Arbitration for Sport rejected her challenge against the DSD Regulation
in a lengthy award.
In response, Caster Semenya and the South African Athletics Federation filed
an application to set aside the award before the Swiss Federal Tribunal.
In August 2020, the SFT released its decision rejecting Semenya’s challenge of the award (for an extensive commentary of the ruling see Marjolaine Viret’s article on the Asser International Sports Law Blog).
Recently, on 25 February 2021, Caster Semenya announced her decision to lodge an application
at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against Switzerland on
the basis of this judgment. In this context, we thought it important to
organise a Zoom In webinar around the decision of the SFT and
the pending case before the ECtHR. Indeed, should the ECtHR accept the
case, it will be in a position to provide a definitive assessment of the
human rights compatibility of the DSD Regulation. Moreover, this
decision could have important consequences on the role played by human
rights in the review of the private regulations and decisions of
international sports governing bodies.
Participation is free, register HERE.
The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret is launching a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In.
The first discussion (4 December at 16.00) will zoom in on the recent
arbitral award delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in
the Blake Leeper v. International Association of Athletics Federations
In this decision, reminiscent of the famous Pistorius award
rendered a decade ago, the CAS panel ruled on the validity of an IAAF
rule that places the burden on a disabled athlete to prove that a
mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not
give them an overall competitive advantage. While siding with the
athlete, Blake Leeper, on the burden of proof, the CAS panel did
conclude that Leeper’s prosthesis provided him an undue advantage over
other athletes and hence that the IAAF could bar him from competing in
To reflect on the key aspects of the decision and its implications,
we have invited scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds to join
the zoom discussion.
The webinar is freely available, but registration here is necessary.
On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of
Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered
an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the
Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).
The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that
places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to
compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall
The award is remarkable in that it declared
the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule
so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a
competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper
as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in
casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking
to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this
victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the
case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the
burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving
complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the
This article focuses on some key aspects of
the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive
advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought
regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of
the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible
bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of
sports regulations such as anti-doping.
The award also analyses broader questions
regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as
well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the
European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...
note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B.
candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague
University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently
he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on
International and European Sports Law.
As we begin plunging into a new decade, it can be helpful to look
back and reflect on some of the most influential developments and trends from
2019 that may continue to shape international sports law in 2020 and beyond. Hence,
this piece will not attempt to recount every single sports law news item but
rather identify a few key sports law stories of 2019 that may have a continued
impact in the 2020s. The following sections are not in a particular order.More...
Editor's note: Sofia Balzaretti is a Graduate research assistant and a PhD candidate at
the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) where she is writing a thesis on the Protection against Gender Stereotypes in
International Law. In addition to research in human rights and feminist
legal theory, she has also carried out some research in legal philosophy and on
the relationship between gender and the law.
Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the monitoring body of track and
field athletics, regularly submitted South African middle distance runner and
Olympic gold medalist Mokgadi Caster Semenya to sex verification tests when it
began questioning her sexual characteristics and speculating whether her body
belonged on the Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) spectrum. DSD Syndrome is often
defined as an “intersex condition” which affects the clear development of
either/or genitalia, gonads and chromosomes into one distinctive sex or
another. The spectrum of the intersex condition is particularly wide, and the
disorder can sometimes be minimal - some cases of female infertility can actually
be explained by an intersex condition.
The IAAF deemed the
controversial sex verification tests necessary on the grounds that it was
required to prove Semenya did not have a “medical condition” which could give
her an “unfair advantage”. It was eventually found that, because of an intersex
trait, Semenya did have abnormally high levels of testosterone for a woman,
which, in the IAAF’s opinion, justified a need for regulatory hormonal adjustments
in order for her to keep competing in the women’s category. The IAAF also funded
research to determine how ‘hyperandrogenism’ affects athletic performance. In 2018,
it issued Eligibility Regulations on Female Classification (“Athlete with
Differences of Sexual Development”) for events from 400m to the mile, including
400m, hurdles races, 800m and 1’500m. The IAAF rules indicated that in case of
an existing high level of testosterone, suppression or regulation by
chemotherapy, hormonal castration, and/or iatrogenic irradiation was mandatory
in order to take part in these events.
Semenya and her
lawyers challenged the IAAF Regulations in front of the CAS, who, in a very
controversial decision, deemed the Regulations a necessary, reasonable
and proportionate mean “of achieving the aim of what is described as the
integrity of female athletics and for the upholding of the ‘protected class’ of
female athletes in certain events” (§626). More...
Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and
materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage
provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are
invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to
add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have
ruling of the Tribunal of Charleroi
On 19 January 2017, the Hainaut Commercial Tribunal –
Charleroi rendered its decision on the lawsuit filed by the football player
Lassana Diarra against FIFA and the Belgian FA (URBSFA) for damages caused by
not being able to exercise the status of a professional football player during
the entire 2014/2015 season. The lawsuit is linked to the decision, rendered by
the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) on April 2015, to support Lokomotiv’s
decision to terminate the player’s contract and to order Diarra to pay Lokomotiv
the amount of EUR 10,500,000 for having breached his contract. According to the
plaintiff, Diarra’s opportunity to be recruited by Sporting Charleroi was
denied due to the club being potentially considered jointly liable for Diarra’s
compensation pursuant to Article 17 (2) RSTP. The Belgian court held strongly
that “when the contract is terminated by the club, the player must have the
possibility to sign a new contract with a new employer, without restrictions to
his free movement”. This case highlighted, once again, the need to read
the RSTP in the light of EU law. Moreover, the decision is laying further
ground for broader challenges to the RSTP on the basis of EU law (for a deeper
insight into the Diarra ruling, see the recent blog written by our senior researcher
Antoine Duval) More...
Since the release of the earth-shattering
ARD documentary two years ago, the
athletics world has been in a permanent turmoil. The International Athletics
Association Federation (IAAF) is faced with both a never-ending corruption
scandal (playing out in front of the French police authorities) and the related systematic doping of Russian
athletes. The situation escalated in different phases led by the revelations of
Russian insiders. First, in December 2014 with the ARD documentary, which demonstrated
how widespread (and organized) the recourse to doping was in Russian athletics.
It triggered the Pound investigation financed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which led to two
damaging reports (available here and here) for the Russian
anti-doping system and the IAAF itself. Thereafter, in November 2015, the IAAF
had no other choice but to provisionally suspend the Russian athletics
federation (ARAF then RusAF) and its members from IAAF competitions. Yet, this
was only the beginning as shortly after the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping
laboratory provided a
detailed sketch to the New York Times
of the operation of a general state-led doping scheme in Russia. The system was
designed to avert any positive doping tests for top-level Russian sportspeople and
was going way beyond athletics. These allegations were later largely confirmed
and reinforced by the McLaren investigation initiated by WADA in May 2016, and which published its first report in July 2016 shortly before the Rio Olympics. In June 2016, the IAAF anticipated
the conclusions of the report (it had received most of McLaren’s evidence beforehand) and decided to
maintain the ineligibility of Russian athletes for IAAF competitions, and for
the Rio Olympics. It did, however, foresee a narrow exception for Russian
athletes able to show that they were properly tested outside of Russia.
Nonetheless, the athletes using this exception were to compete under a neutral
flag at the Olympics. Unsurprisingly, Russian athletes led by pole superstar
(and now IOC member), Yelena Isinbayeva, and the Russian Olympic Committee
decided to challenge this decision in front of the Court of Arbitration for
Sport (CAS). Interestingly, while the decision was rendered on 21 July 2016, the
full text of the award was publically released only on 10 October 2016. In September,
I analysed the Rio
CAS Ad Hoc Decisions involving Russian athletes aiming to participate to the
Olympics. I will now turn to the IAAF
decision, which is of great importance to the future of the anti-doping system.
Indeed, it lays out the fundamental legal boundaries of the capacity of
international federations to impose sanctions on their members (and their
members) in order to support the world anti-doping fight. More...
Editor's note: This is the (belated) fifth part/act of our blog series on the Russian eligibility cases at the CAS ad hoc Division in Rio. The other acts are available at:
Act V: Saving the
last (Russian) woman standing: The Klishina miracle
Darya Klishina is now an Olympic
celebrity. She will enter the history books not because she won a gold medal or
beat a world record. Instead, her idiosyncrasy lies in her nationality: she was
the sole Russian athlete authorized to stand in the athletics competitions at
the Rio Olympics. And yet, a few days before the start of the long jumping contest
in which she was due to take part, the IAAF surprisingly decided to revoke her eligibility (‘And Then There Were None’). But Klishina
appealed the decision to the CAS ad hoc Division and, as all of you
well-informed sports lawyers will know, she was allowed to compete at the
Olympics and finished at a decent ninth place of the long jump finals.
Two important questions are raised
by this case:
- Why did the IAAF
changed its mind and decide to retract Klishina’s authorization to participate?
- Why did the CAS
overturn this decision? More...
On Monday 18 July 2016, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren presented the Independent Person Report to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), regarding the alleged Russian
doping program surrounding the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The report was expected
to seriously threaten the participation of Russian Athletes to the rapidly
approaching Rio Games, starting on 5
August. In the weekend prior to the report’s publishing, Reuters obtained a leaked
letter drafted by the CEO’s of the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies,
which according to the New York Times was backed by “antidoping officials from at least 10 nations— including
those in the United States, Germany, Spain, Japan, Switzerland and Canada — and
20 athlete groups”, urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to
ban all Russian athletes from the upcoming Olympics.