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...