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.
Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the
IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting
its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’
have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g.
professionalism in sport),
while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and
manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g.
protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of
legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space. For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts
to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns
against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’
ability to represent their personal sponsors). Nowadays,
the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security
operations created to protect the Olympic sites.
Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has
long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More
recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC
Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the
Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard
Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual
respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people
this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided
vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of
their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people
and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world
only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set
one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they
must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and
of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible
to separate politics and sport?
Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at
least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.
However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism
to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression
during the Games (see here,
Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy
that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor
there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own
political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the
most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand
on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless,
what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games
and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity
enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country
versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter
frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events
and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal. Sport
nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a
country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to
validate its global prowess and stature.
To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical
approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed
by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and
the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be
argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games
but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively.
The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that
attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which
also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s
approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its
treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...
Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal
news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on
the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser.
IOC Athlete Commission
releases its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020
The IOC Athlete Commission
presented its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020 at its annual joint meeting with the IOC Executive
Board. It comes as Thomas Bach had recently underlined the importance of political
neutrality for the IOC and the Olympic Games in his New Year’s message. Generally, rule 50 of
the Olympic Charter prohibits any political and religious expression by
athletes and their team during the Games, subject to certain exceptions. The
Guidelines clarify that this includes the ‘field of play’, anywhere inside the
Olympic Village, ‘during Olympic medal ceremonies’ and ‘during the Opening,
Closing and other official ceremonies’. On the other hand, athletes may express
their views ‘during press conferences and interview’, ‘at team meetings’ and
‘on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. While rule 50 is
nothing new, the Guidelines have reignited a debate on whether it could be
considered as a justified restriction on one’s freedom of expression.
The IOC has made the case
that it is defending the neutrality of sport and that the Olympics is an
international forum that should help bring people together instead of focusing
on divisions. Specifically, Richard Pound has recently made the
argument that the Guidelines have been formulated by the athletes themselves and
are a justified restriction on free expression with its basis in ‘mutual
respect’. However, many commentators have expressed their skepticism to this
view (see here, here and here) citing that politics and
the Olympics are inherently mixed, that the IOC is heavily involved in politics,
and that the Olympics has often served as the grounds for some of history’s
most iconic political protests. All in all, the Guidelines have certainly been
a catalyst for a discussion on the extent to which the Olympics can be
considered neutral. It also further highlights a divide between athlete
committees from within the Olympic Movement structures and other independent
athlete representation groups (see Global Athlete and FIFPro’s statements on rule 50).
Doping and Corruption
Allegations in Weightlifting
Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has found itself embroiled in a doping and
corruption scandal after an ARD documentary was aired early in
January which raised a wide array of allegations, including against the
President of the IWF, Tamás Aján. The documentary also included hidden camera interviews
from a Thai Olympic medalist who admits having taken anabolic steroids before
having won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games and from a team
doctor from the Moldovan national team who describes paying for clean doping
tests. The IWF’s initial reaction to the documentary was
hostile, describing the allegations as ‘insinuations, unfounded accusations and
distorted information’ and ‘categorically denies the unsubstantiated’
accusations. It further claims that it has ‘immediately acted’ concerning the
situation with the Thai athletes, and WADA has stated that it will follow up
with the concerned actors. However, as the matter gained further attention in
the main stream media and faced increasing criticism, the IWF moved to try to ‘restore’ its reputation. In practice, this means
that Tamás Aján has ‘delegated a range of operation responsibilities’ to Ursual
Papandrea, IWF Vice President, while ‘independent experts’ will conduct a
review of the allegations made in the ARD documentary. Richard McLaren has been
announced to lead the investigation
and ‘is empowered to take whatever measures he sees fit to ensure each and
every allegation is fully investigated and reported’. The IWF has also stated
that it will open a whistleblower line to help aid the investigation.More...
My latest article has just been published online by the Journal of Law and Society. It is available open access here.
The article stems from a conference organised by Jiri Priban from Cardiff University on Gunther Teubner's idea of societal constitutionalism applied to transnational regimes. My role was to test whether his descriptive and normative framework was readily applicable to the lex sportiva, and in particular its overarching "constitutional" text: the Olympic Charter.
As you will see my conclusion is mixed. I find that the Olympic Charter (OC) displays many constitutional features and is even able to regularly defend successfully its autonomy vis-à-vis national states and their laws. However, while I document some inception of limitative constitutional rules, such as the ban on discrimination or the principle of fair play, I also conclude that those have limited impact in practice. While constitutional changes to the OC can be triggered by scandal, resistance and contestation, as illustrated by the emergence of environmental concerns after the Albertville Games and the governance reshuffle of the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal, I am also sceptical that these were sufficient to tackle the underlying problems, as became obvious with the unmatched environmental damage caused by the Sotchi Games in 2014.
In conclusion, more than sporadic public outrage, I believe that the intervention of national law and, even more, European Union law will be capable and needed to rein the Olympic regime and impose external constitutional constraints on its (at least sometimes) destructive operations.
Here is the abstract of the article: This article examines various aspects of Teubner's theory of societal constitutionalism using the lex sportiva as an empirical terrain. The case study focuses on the operation of the Olympic Charter as a transnational constitution of the Olympic movement. It shows that recourse to a constitutional vocabulary is not out of place in qualifying the function and authority of the Charter inside and outside the Olympic movement. Yet, the findings of the case study also nuance some of Teubner's descriptive claims and question his normative strategy.
Good read! (And do not hesitate to share your feedback)