Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

New Article Published! The Olympic Charter: A Transnational Constitution Without a State?

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)

New Position - Internship in International Sports Law - Deadline 15 August

The T.M.C. Asser Instituut offers post-graduate students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the field of international and European sports law.  The T.M.C. Asser Instituut, located in The Hague, is an inter-university research institute specialized in international and European law. Since 2002, it is the home of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, a pioneer in the field of European and international sports law. More...

Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.

The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...

Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 25 & 26 October - Asser Institute, The Hague

 Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2018

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is inviting you to submit abstracts for its second ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ published by Springer in collaboration with Asser Press is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes academics and many practitioners active in the field. This call is open to researchers as well as practitioners. 

We are also delighted to announce that Prof. Franck Latty (Université Paris Nanterre), Prof. Margareta Baddeley (Université de Genève), and Silvia Schenk (member of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board) have confirmed their participation as keynote speakers.

Abstracts could, for example, tackle questions linked to the following international sports law subjects:

  • The interaction between EU law and sport
  • Antitrust and sports regulation
  • International sports arbitration (CAS, BAT, etc.)
  • The functioning of the world anti-doping system (WADA, WADC, etc.)
  • The global governance of sports
  • The regulation of mega sporting events (Olympics, FIFA World Cup, etc.)
  • The transnational regulation of football (e.g. the operation of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players or the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations)
  • The global fight against corruption in sport  
  • Comparative sports law
  • Human rights in sport 

Please send your abstract (no more than 300 words) and CV no later than 30 April 2018 to Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2018. All papers presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special edition of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference edition of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2018.  Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and will provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 300€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please justify your request in your submission. 

Stepping Outside the New York Convention - Practical Lessons on the Indirect Enforcement of CAS-Awards in Football Matters - By Etienne Gard

Editor’s Note: Etienne Gard graduated from the University of Zurich and from King's College London. He currently manages a project in the field of digitalization with Bratschi Ltd., a major Swiss law firm where he did his traineeship with a focus in international commercial arbitration.

1. Prelude

On the 10th of June, 1958, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, widely known as the “New York Convention”, was signed in New York by 10 countries.[1] This rather shy figure progressively grew over the decades to now reach 157 signatory countries, turning the New York Convention into the global recognition and enforcement instrument it is today. As V.V. Veeder’s puts it, “One English law lord is said to have said, extra judicially, that the New York Convention is both the Best Thing since sliced bread and also whatever was the Best Thing before sliced bread replaced it as the Best Thing.”[2]

However, among the overall appraisal regarding the New York Convention, some criticisms have been expressed. For instance, some states use their public policy rather as a pretext not to enforce an award than an actual ground for refusal.[3]  A further issue is the recurring bias in favor of local companies.[4] Additionally, recognition and enforcement procedures in application of the New York Convention take place in front of State authorities, for the most part in front of courts of law, according to national proceeding rules. This usually leads to the retaining of a local law firm, the translation of several documents, written submissions and one, if not several hearings. Hence, the efficiency of the New York Convention as a recognition and enforcement mechanism comes to the expense of both money and time of both parties of the arbitral procedure.

In contrast with the field of commercial arbitration, where the New York Convention is often considered the only viable option in order to enforce an award, international football organizations, together with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”), offer an effective enforcement alternative. This article aims at outlining the main features of the indirect enforcement of CAS awards in football matters in light of a recent case. More...

The International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) and the quest for good governance: Of brave men and rotting fish - By Thomas Kruessmann

Editor's note: Prof. Thomas Kruessmann is key expert in the EU Technical Assistant Project "Strengthening Teaching and Research Capacity at ADA University" in Baku (Azerbaijan). At the same time, he is co-ordinator of the Jean-Monnet Network "Developing European Studies in the Caucasus" with Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia).

The notion that “fish rots from the head down” is known to many cultures and serves as a practical reminder on what is at stake in the current wave of anti-corruption / integrity and good governance initiatives. The purpose of this blog post is to provide a short update on the recent founding of the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), intermittently known as the International Sports Integrity Partnership (IPAS), and to propose some critical perspectives from a legal scholar’s point of view.

During the past couple of years, the sports world has seen a never-ending wave of corruption allegations, often followed by revelations, incriminations and new allegation. There are ongoing investigations, most notably in the United States where the U.S. Department of Justice has just recently intensified its probe into corruption at the major sports governing bodies (SGBs). By all accounts, we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg. And after ten years of debate and half-hearted reforms, there is the widespread notion, as expressed by the Council of Europe’s (CoE’s) Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Resolution 2199/2018 that “the sports movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

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 overlooked. 

The Headlines 

Anti-doping whereabouts requirements declared compatible with the athletes' right to privacy and family life

On 18 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment with important consequences for the world of sport in general and the anti-doping regime in particular. The Strasbourg-based court was called upon to decide whether the anti-doping whereabouts system – which requires that a limited number of top elite athletes provide their National Anti-Doping Organisation or International Federation with regular information about their location, including identifying for each day one specific 60-minute time slot where the athlete will be available for testing at a pre-determined location – is compatible with the athletes' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and their freedom of movement pursuant to Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention. The case was brought by the French cyclist Jeannie Longo and five French athlete unions that had filed their application on behalf of 99 professional handball, football, rugby, and basketball players.

While acknowledging that the whereabouts requirements clash with the athletes' right to private and family life, the judges took the view that such a restriction is necessary in order to protect the health of athletes and ensure a level playing field in sports competitions. They held that ''the reduction or removal of the relevant obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports, and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control''. Accordingly, the judges found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, in a similar vein, ruled that Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention was not applicable to the case.


Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

It has been a record-breaking January transfer window with Premier League clubs having spent an eye-watering £430 million on signing new acquisitions. These spiralling transfer fees enable football agents, nowadays also called intermediaries, to charge impressive sums for their services. However, this might soon no longer be the case as the main stakeholders in European football are preparing to take action. UEFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the European Professional Football Leagues acknowledge in their joint resolution that the 2015 FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries failed to address serious concerns in relation to the activities of intermediaries/agents. They recognise in broad terms that a more effective regulatory framework is needed and call among other things for a reasonable and proportionate cap on fees for intermediaries/agents, enhanced transparency and accountability, or stronger provisions to protect minors.


The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website an arbitral award delivered on 4 August 2017 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the dispute between the Ghanian football referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey and FIFA. The CAS sided with FIFA and dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Lamptey against an earlier decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee which (i) found him to have violated Article 69(1) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code as he unlawfully influenced the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal that took place on 12 November 2016; (ii) as a consequence, banned him for life from taking part in any football-related activity; and (iii) ordered the match in question to be replayed. In reaching its conclusion, the CAS relied heavily on multiple reports of irregular betting activities that significantly deviated from usual market developments.  More...

Towards a Suitable Policy Framework for Cricket Betting in India - By Deeksha Malik

Editor's note: Deeksha Malik is a final-year student at National Law Institute University, India. Her main interest areas are corporate law, arbitration, and sports law. She can be reached at

In 2015, while interrogating cricketer Sreesanth and others accused in the IPL match-fixing case, Justice Neena Bansal, sitting as Additional Sessions Judge, made the following observations as regards betting on cricket matches.

“Cricket as a game of skill requires hand-eye-coordination for throwing, catching and hitting. It requires microscopic levels of precision and mental alertness for batsmen to find gaps or for bowlers to produce variety of styles of deliveries’ (medium pace, fast, inswing, outswing, offspin, legspin, googly). The sport requires strategic masterminds that can select the most efficient fielding positions for piling pressure on the batsmen. Based on above description, cricket cannot be described anything, but as a game of skill.”

The debate on the issue of betting in sports has since resurfaced and gained the attention of sportspersons, media, sports bodies, policymakers, and the general public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order directing the government to come up with an appropriate framework for regulating betting in sports. The arguments put forth in the PIL present various dimensions. One of these pertains to economic considerations, a submission that regulated betting would be able to generate annual revenue of Rs. 12,000 crores by bringing the earnings therefrom within the tax net. As for policy considerations, it was submitted that a proper regulation in this area would enable the government to distinguish harmless betting from activities that impair the integrity of the game such as match-fixing. Further, betting on cricket matches largely depends on the skill of the concerned players, thereby distinguishing it from pure chance-based activities.

The issue of sports betting witnesses a divided opinion till this day. This is understandable, for both sides to the issue have equally pressing arguments. Aside from its regulation being a daunting task for authorities, sports betting is susceptible to corruption and other unscrupulous activities. At the same time, it is argued that it would be better for both the game and the economy if the same is legalised. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – December 2017. By Tomáš Grell

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 overlooked.


The Headlines 

The International Skating Union's eligibility rules declared incompatible with EU competition law

On 8 December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had rendered a decision in the case against the International Skating Union (ISU). The Commission upheld the complaint lodged in October 2015 by two Dutch professional speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, represented in this case by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval (you can read their joint statement here), and ruled that the ISU's eligibility rules preventing athletes from participating in speed skating competitions not approved by the ISU under the threat of severe penalties are in violation of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission held that these rules restrict the commercial freedom of (i) athletes who may be deprived of additional source of income as they are not allowed to participate in speed skating competitions other than those authorised by the ISU; and (ii) independent organisers who are unable to attract top athletes. And while the Commission recognised that sporting rules with restrictive effects might be compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective such as the protection of athletes' health and safety or the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, it found that the ISU's eligibility rules pursue only its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and independent organisers of speed skating competitions. The ISU eventually escaped financial sanctions, but it must modify or abolish its eligibility rules within 90 days; otherwise it would be liable for non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily turnover. For more information on this topic, we invite you to read our recent blog written by Professor Stefano Bastianon.


The International Olympic Committee bans Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games

The world has been waiting impatiently for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. This was finally communicated on 5 December 2017. Having deliberated on the findings of the Schmid Commission, the IOC Executive Board decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee with immediate effect, meaning that only those Russian athletes who demonstrate that they had not benefited from the state-sponsored doping programme will be able to participate in the Games. Such clean athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic Flag, bearing the name 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' on their uniforms. Further to this, the IOC Executive Board sanctioned several officials implicated in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, including Mr Vitaly Mutko, currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and formerly the Minister of Sport. Mounting public pressure subsequently forced Mr Mutko to step down as head of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Meanwhile, 21 individual Russian athletes were sanctioned (see here, here, here, and here) in December (in addition to 22 athletes in November) by the IOC Oswald Commission that is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Oswald Commission also published two full decisions in the cases against Evgeny Belov and Aleksandr Tretiakov who were both banned from all future editions of the Games. It is now clear that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have quite some work in the coming weeks as the banned athletes are turning to this Swiss-based arbitral tribunal to have their sanctions reviewed (see here and here).


Universal Declaration of Player Rights

14 December 2017 was a great day for athletes all over the globe. On this day, representatives of the world's leading player associations met in Washington D.C. to unveil the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a landmark document developed under the aegis of the World Players Association that strives to protect athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. The World Players Association's Executive Director Brendan Schwab emphasised that the current system of sports governance ''lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport'' and stated that ''athlete rights can no longer be ignored''. Among other rights, the Declaration recognises the right of athletes to equality of opportunity, fair and just working conditions, privacy and the protection of personal data, due process, or effective remedy.


Chris Froome failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España

The world of cycling suffered yet another blow when it transpired that one of its superstars Chris Froome had failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España, a race he had eventually emerged victorious from for the first time in his career. His urine sample collected on 7 September 2017 contained twice the amount of salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma, than permissible under the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2017 Prohibited List. Kenyan-born Froome has now hired a team of medical and legal experts to put forward a convincing explanation for the abnormal levels of salbutamol in his urine and thus to avoid sanctions being imposed on him. More...

The ISU Commission's Decision and the Slippery Side of Eligibility Rules - By Stefano Bastianon (University of Bergamo)

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in European Law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar. He is also member of the IVth Division of the High Court of Sport Justice (Collegio di Garanzia dello sport) at the National Olympic Committee.

1. From the very beginning, the outcome of the ISU case was highly predictable, at least for those who are familiar with the basics of antitrust law. Nevertheless, more than twenty years after the Bosman judgment, the sports sector has shown the same shortsightedness and inability to see the forest for the trees. Even this attitude was highly predictable, at least for those who know the basics of sports governance. The final result is a clear-cut decision capable of influencing the entire sports movement. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | WISLaw Blog Symposium - Freedom of Expression in Article 10 of the ECHR and Rule 50 of the IOC Charter: Are these polar opposites? - By Nuray Ekşi

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Freedom of Expression in Article 10 of the ECHR and Rule 50 of the IOC Charter: Are these polar opposites? - By Nuray Ekşi

Editor's note: Prof. Dr. Ekşi is a full-time lecturer and chair of Department of Private International Law at Özyeğin University Faculty of Law. Prof. Ekşi is the founder and also editor in chief of the Istanbul Journal of Sports Law which has been in publication since 2019.

While Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) secures the right to freedom of expression, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter of 17 July 2020 (‘Olympic Charter’) restricts this freedom. Following the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) relating to sports, national and international sports federations have incorporated human rights-related provisions into their statutes and regulations. They also emphasized respect for human rights. For example, Article 3 of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (‘FIFA’) Statutes, September 2020 edition, provides that “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights”. Likewise, the Fundamental Principles of Olympism which are listed after the Preamble of the of the Olympic Charter 2020 also contains human rights related provisions. Paragraph 4 of Fundamental Principles of Olympism provides that the practice of sport is a human right. Paragraph 6 forbids discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. In addition, the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’) inserted human rights obligations in the 2024 and 2028 Host City Contract.[1] The IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration even goes further and aspires to promote the ability and opportunity of athletes to practise sport and compete without being subject to discrimination. Fair and equal gender representation, privacy including protection of personal information, freedom of expression, due process including the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial panel, the right to request a public hearing and the right to an effective remedy are the other human rights and principles stated in the IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration. Despite sports federations’ clear commitment to the protection of human rights, it is arguable that their statutes and regulations contain restrictions on athletes and sports governing bodies exercising their human rights during competitions or in the field. In this regard, particular attention should be given to the right to freedom of expression on which certain restrictions are imposed by the federations even if it done with good intentions and with the aim of raising awareness.


The provisions prohibiting propaganda and political demonstrations are enshrined in the statutes and regulations of international and national federations. For example, International Football Association Board (‘IFAB’) Laws of the Game 2020/2021 states that players must not reveal undergarments that display any political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer’s logo.[2] As with any offence, the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or by FIFA. On the one hand, freedom of expression is listed among the rights of athletes in Paragraph 11 of the IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration[3], on the other hand, Rule 50(2) of the Olympic Charter restricts demonstrations or political, religious or racial propaganda, which may adversely affect freedom of expression. The propaganda ban was first introduced by the 1967 Olympic Charter.[4] This ban has been retained in later versions with minor modifications. Under the title of “propaganda advertising, demonstration”, Rule 50(2) of the current version of the Olympic Charter[5] provides that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”. The aim of Rule 50(2) of the Olympic Charter in prohibiting political statements is to maintain the neutrality of sport.[6] Rule 50(2) is only applicable in Olympic venues, namely on the field of play, in the Olympic Village, during Olympic medal ceremonies or during the opening, closing and other official ceremonies.[7] Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands, gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling, and refusal to follow the ceremonies protocol are some examples of what would constitute a protest, as opposed to expressing views non-exhaustingly indicated in Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission.[8]


A disciplinary sanction can be applied against an athlete who has breached Rule 50(2) of the Olympic Charter. This sanction can be reviewed by the ad hoc division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) established for the Olympic Games.[9] An arbitral award of CAS can be challenged before the Swiss Federal Court on the grounds listed in Article 190 of the Swiss Private International Law including public policy.[10] Since freedom of expression is among the fundamental human rights guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Swiss Federal Tribunal may rule that a CAS arbitral award is incompatible with public policy. The limitations set out in the statutes and regulations of the national and international sports federations pertaining to the freedom of expression are aimed to protect the neutrality of sport and separate it from political, religious or any other type of interference; however, one cannot exclude potential challenges to be filed against Switzerland before the ECtHR. As in the Pechstein and Mutu cases, the sports community, including CAS, anxiously awaited what the ECtHR would decide. The judgements of the ECtHR have been taken into consideration and respect for human rights has been integrated in the statutes of some SGBs, including the IOC Charter.


Although the IOC is established as an association under the Swiss Association Law, the rules of its Charter may adversely affect the enjoyment of certain human rights. Freedom of expression is enshrined not only in Article 10 of the ECHR but also in other international human rights legislative instruments, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 17(1) of Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 10 of the ECHR covers not only the disclosure of political ideas, but also the freedom to disclose any literary, commercial and other ideas. The freedom of expression protected under Article 10 of the ECHR is not limited to words, written or spoken, but it extends to pictures and images including tv or radio broadcasts, films as well as electronic information etc.[11] The right to freedom of expression can be restricted in certain circumstances provided in the provisions of the human rights instruments. Although these instruments are hard law for the Member States, statutes and regulations of the international or national SGBs contain restrictions as to the right to freedom of expression. International or national SGBs are mostly established as associations.[12] The problem so far has arisen as to how national or international sports federations can restrict the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the national constitutions and international conventions.


Article 10 of the ECHR can also be applied in the field of sports because athletes can address a wide public during the competitions and may protest human rights violations or political events in their own country or elsewhere. Human rights violations including the right to freedom of expression may also occur in countries where the Olympic Games are held.[13] Generally, the IOC and its international federations take the necessary measures to ensure that athletes do not make political statements during competition. In fact, in 1967 famous boxer Mohammad Ali refused to fight in Vietnam to protest racial segregation.[14] During the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, after winning the gold and the bronze medal in the 200-meter sprint, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos stepped onto the podium barefoot, shared a pair of black gloves and raised their fists in the air when the national anthem played to protest against black poverty and lynching.[15] The IOC reacted swiftly and harshly to this 1968 black power salute, immediately suspending the athletes.[16] The history of sports has recorded various examples of athletes who were sanctioned or ostracized because they had exercised their freedom of expression. Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneeled or sat on the bench while the national anthem was played as a protest against racial discrimination and police brutality against people of colour in the United States.[17] Both players were not contracted in the NFL in the subsequent season.[18] Czech national gymnast Vera Caslayska’s career ended as she protested against Soviet hegemony in her country during a medal ceremony in Mexico in 1968.[19] John Carlos and Tommie Smith were suspended immediately from the United States Olympic Team as a result of the black power salute.  FIFA fined the England Football Association because its members displayed poppies, a symbol of National Armistice Day, during the World Cup qualifier against Scotland. Likewise, Scottish and Irish clubs were fined for flying the Palestinian flag in stadiums.[20] “During the Sochi Games, the IOC even reprimanded athletes for placing small stickers on their helmets in memory of deceased freestyle skier Sarah Burke, calling the gesture political”.[21]


Sometimes an athlete makes futile efforts to obtain permission to protest the situation in their countries. The request by Ukrainian athletes to wear a black headband to remember those who died during the political demonstrations in Kiev was rejected by the IOC as political propaganda. However, protests or demonstrations by athletes may not always contain political content. For example, Cheryl Maas, a Dutch and gay skier, wanted to wear rainbow gloves to protest Russia’s anti-gay legislation, but he was not allowed.  


As there is no judgment of the ECtHR to confirm whether or not Rule 50(2) of the Olympic Charter complies with Article 10 of the ECHR, various arguments have been put forward by academics. Dhonchak thinks the rule set out in Rule 50(2) of the Olympic Charter must be struck down at the earliest.[22] However, Faut puts forward two solutions which could increase compliance with Article 10 of the ECHR. “The first one lies in more transparent and less excessive sanction mechanisms. A second option would be a laxer prohibition on political statements in the Olympic Charter, covering a smaller range of incidents”.[23] Anmol believes that IOC could also re-assess its position and come-up with fresh guidelines that uphold a balanced political speech before the Tokyo Olympics 2021.[24] For example, the IOC could allow the disciplinary body to assess the speech by examining its content and core intentions in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of Olympism set out in the Olympic Charter. Shahlaei states that “perhaps the solution lies somewhere in the middle. To maintain their general political objectivity, sports organizations could continue to prohibit purely domestic political gestures, such as flying a banner in support of a preferred presidential candidate. At the same time, they could allow athletes to express support for human rights, such as racial equality”.[25]


However, it should be noted that Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter in no way eliminates freedom of expression. In accordance with the Rule 50 Guidelines developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission, outside the Olympic venues athletes have the opportunity to express their opinions during press conferences and interviews or at team meetings or on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. Any protest or demonstration outside Olympic venues must obviously comply with local legislation wherever local law prohibits such actions.[26] Nonetheless, this discussion will surely continue until the ECtHR will shed light on the application of Article 10 of the ECHR to Rule 50(2) of the Olympic Charter.

[1] Although certain steps have been taken on human rights by IOC since Sochi Olympics, they are found by Grell unsatisfactory and creates uncertainty in several ways. For more information see Tomáš GRELL, The International Olympic Committee and Human Rights Reforms: Game Changer or Mere Window Dressing?, 17(2018) International Sports Law Journal, p. 161 et seq.

[2] IFAB Laws of the Game 2020/2021, The Players’ Equipment, p. 60: (accessed 17.5.2021).

[3] 18.4.2021).

[4] FAUT, 254-255. For the text of the Olympic Charter of 1967 see (accessed 20.4.2021).

[5] Olympic Charter in force as from 17 July 2020 © International Olympic Committee, Lausanne, 2020.

[6] Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission:

[7] Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission.

[8] Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission: (accessed 17.4.2021).

[9] Johan LINDHOLM, From Carlos to Kaepernick and beyond: Athletes’ Right to Freedom of Expression, 17(2017)1-3 International Sports Law Journal, p. 2.

[10] LINDHOLM, 2.

[11] Frédérique FAUT, The Prohibition of Political Statements by Athletes and its Consistency with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Speech is Silver, Silence is Gold?, 14(2014) International Sports Law Journal, p. 257; Monica MACOVEI, Freedom of Expression Human Rights Handbooks, No. 2 A guide to the Implementation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, 2nd edition, January 2004, p. 7.

[12] For the criticisms about the extraordinary autonomy that sports governing bodies enjoy under Swiss law see Margareta BADDELEY, The Extraordinary Autonomy of Sports Bodies under Swiss Law: Lesson to be Drawn, 20(2020) International Sports Law Journal, p. 3-17.

[13] For the human rights violations occurred in China during Beijing Olympic Games see Bruce KIDD, Human Rights and Olympic Movement after Beijing, 13(2010) Sports in Society, p. 901-909.

[14] Faraz SHAHLAEI, When Sports Stand Against Human Rights: Regulating Restrictions on Athlete Speech in the Global Sports Arena, 38(2017)1 Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, p.100.

[15] ANMOL, 67; SHAHLAEI, 101.

[16] SHAHLAEI, 101.

[17] ANMOL, 66; Brendan SCHWAB, Celebrate Humanity: Reconciling Sport and Human Rights through Athlete Activism, 28(2018)1 Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport, p. 170-171.

[18] SCHWAB, 171 footnote 2.

[19] SCHWAB, 171 footnote 6; ANMOL, 66.

[20] SHAHLAEI, 108.

[21] SHAHLAEI, 108-109.

[22] Dhananjay DHONCHAK, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter-Protesting Racial Inequality, 04.09.20:  (accessed 17.4.2021).

[23] FAUT, 262.

[24] Jain ANMOL, Political Speech in Sports: A Case for Non-Prohibition, 2(2020)1 Journal for Sports Law, Policy and Governance, p. 73.

[25] SHAHLAEI, 116.

[26] Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission.

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Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – August 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp.

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 overlooked.    

The Headlines

For the world of Sport, the elsewhere known “sleepy month” of August turned out to be the total opposite. Having only just recuperated from this year’s Tour de France, including a spectacular uphill sprint on bicycle shoes by later ‘Yellow Jersey’ winner Chris Froome, August brought another feast of marvellous sport (and subsequent legal drama): The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.More...

Sports arbitration and EU Competition law: the Belgian competition authority enters the arena. By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 14 July 2016, the Belgian competition authority refused to grant provisional measures to the White Star Woluwe Football Club (“The White Star”), which would have allowed it to compete in the Belgian top football division. The club was refused a licence to compete in the above mentioned competition first by the Licences Commission of the national football federation (“Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Foootball Association” or “URBSFA”) and then by the Belgian court of arbitration for sports (“Cour Belge d’Arbitrage pour le Sport” or “CBAS”). The White Star lodged a complaint to the national competition authority (“NCA”) and requested provisional measures. The Belgian competition authority rendered a much-overlooked decision (besides one commentary) in which it seems to accept the reviewability of an arbitral award’s conformity with EU competition law (articles 101 and 102 TFEU). More...

From Lord of the Rings to Lord of the Drinks – A legal take on the downfall of Yuri van Gelder at the Rio Olympics. By Guido Hahn (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Editor’s note: Guido graduated cum laude from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He teaches law at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He specializes in sports law and provides legal advice for the professional sports sector.


This blog is a commentary on a recent case that hit like a bombshell in the Netherlands (and beyond) during the recent Olympic Games in Rio. The case concerns a Dutch athlete, Yuri van Gelder, who reached the Olympic finals in his sport, got sent home by ‘his’ NOC (NOC*NSF) after a night out in Rio and launched legal proceedings in front of a Dutch court to claim back his place in the finals. This commentary will attempt to explain the Dutch ruling and evaluate whether a different legal route would have been possible and preferable. More...

Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 2)

This is part two of the blog on the Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions. Where part one served as an introduction on the two cases, part two will analyze the compatibility assessment made by the Commission in two decisions.

The compatibility of the aid to MVV and Willem II (re-)assessed

Even though it was the Netherlands’ task to invoke possible grounds of compatibility and to demonstrate that the conditions for such compatibility were met, the aid granted to both Willem II and MVV was never notified. The Netherland’s failure to fulfill its notification obligation, therefore, appears to be at odds with the Commission’s final decision to declare the aid compatible with EU law. Yet, a closer look at the Commission’s decision of 6 March 2013 to launch the formal investigation shows that the Commission was giving the Netherlands a ‘second chance’ to invoke grounds that would lead to a justification of the measures.More...

Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 1)

The European Commission’s decisions of 4 July 2016 to order the recovery of the State aid granted to seven Spanish professional football clubs[1] were in a previous blog called historic. It was the first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities. Less attention has been given to five other decisions also made public that day, which cleared support measures for five football clubs in the Netherlands. The clubs in question were PSV Eindhoven, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen, FC Den Bosch and Willem II.

Given the inherent political sensitivity of State aid recovery decisions, it is logical that the “Spanish decisions” were covered more widely than the “Dutch decisions”. Furthermore, clubs like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona automatically get more media attention than FC Den Bosch or Willem II. Yet, even though the “Dutch decisions” are of a lower profile, from an EU State aid law perspective, they are not necessarily less interesting.

A few days before entering the quiet month of August, the Commission published the non-confidential versions of its decisions concerning PSV Eindhoven, Willem II and MVV Maastricht (hereinafter: “MVV”). The swiftness of these publications is somewhat surprising, since it often takes at least three months to solve all the confidentiality issues. Nonetheless, nobody will complain (especially not me) about this opportunity to analyze in depth these new decisions. More...

Fear and Loathing in Rio de Janeiro – Displacement and the Olympics by Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

‎Editor's Note: Ryan is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, he defended his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in December 2015. His dissertation examined human rights violations caused by international sporting events, and how international sporting organisations may be held accountable for these violations.


On Sunday, August 21, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will end. The spotlight will dim not only on the athletes who return to their home countries to ply their trade in relative obscurity, but also on the country of Brazil.[1] Once the Games have ended, life will go ‘back to normal’, although for many residents of Rio de Janeiro, what is ‘normal’ is anything but. More...

Why we should stop focusing on Caster Semenya by Marjolaine Viret (University of Neuchâtel)

Editor's Note:  Marjolaine is an attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.  She currently participates as a scientific collaborator at the University of Neuchâtel on a research project to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code.

Over the past days, we have been flooded by media reports discussing the “Caster Semenya-case”, reports rapidly relayed in social networks. Since the debate has a distinct legal component and since almost every report appears to draw significantly from the legal background, I granted myself permission – as compensation so to speak - to publish a somewhat more personal, less legal, post than I usually would.

Let me make one thing clear from the outset – I am still ‘agnostic’ about the question of how to solve the issues surrounding the male versus female divide in sports. Each time I have been asked to write or speak on the subject, I have tried to stick to describing the legal situation and its implications. I do not have the miracle solution as to how to handle this infinitely complex issue. And I am not sure anyone can claim to hold that solution at this point. Like everyone, I am doing my research and trying to be humble enough to stay within the realm of my competences. More...

Sporting nationality and the Olympic Games: selected issues by Yann Hafner (University of Neuchâtel)

Editor’s note: Yann Hafner is a Phd researcher at the University of Neuchâtel specialized in sports and nationality issues. He is also Legal Affairs Manager at the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball. Yann is an editor of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog and has previously published on the blog on nationality conundrums at the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil (see here).  

This contribution aims to decipher the relationship between sporting nationality and the Olympic Games. To this end, the author will first define sporting nationality and discuss athletes’ eligibility in national team in the context of the Olympic Games. Then, selected issues in relation with sporting nationality and the Olympic Games (with an emphasis on issues related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games) will be investigated. More...

Regulating the human body in sports: Lessons learned from the Dutee Chand case - by Dr Marjolaine Viret & Emily Wisnosky

Editor's note: Marjolaine Viret and Emily Wisnosky are both editors of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog specialized in anti-doping matters, they are also involved in the World Anti-Doping Commentary project funded by the Swiss National Science Fund.


A remarkable aspect of the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games was the stream of negative media reports portraying broad-scale public mistrust in sport, with the most prominent topic being the doping scandals in athletics and questions surrounding the participation of Russia.  

A different controversy, but one also directed at the credibility of sports, has exposed a few female Olympians to repeated, and at times rather intrusive, media scrutiny. In June 2016, it was reported that Indian track-and-field athlete Dutee Chand had qualified for the Rio Olympic Games by breaking the national record, thus to become the first Indian athlete to run the 100m at the Olympics since 1980. The attention that Dutee Chand’s qualification attracted within international media, however, was not related only to her outstanding results. It came as part of a medical, ethical and legal controversy that has existed for many years relating to ‘policing’ the male versus female divide in sports. Another athlete who has found herself in the midst of this controversy is South African runner Semenya Caster, whose participation in the Olympics has been the object of much conjecture.

The divide between male and female athletes forms the core of most sports’ competition rules, including athletics. The justification for this basic divide has rarely been questioned as such, but has been a matter for debate when it comes to handling atypical situations on both sides of the ‘dividing line’ ­ such as ‘transgender’ or ‘intersex’ athletes. A category of athletes that has, especially, been viewed as a challenge to the divide is composed of female athletes affected by ‘hyperandrogenism’, a health condition that results in naturally elevated androgen levels, including testosterone levels.

On 24 July 2015, a CAS panel rendered a decision involving Dutee Chand (“Dutee Chand” or “the Athlete”) that has fuelled the ongoing debate about the policies regulating hyperandrogenism in sport. Much has been reported in the media about the case: controversial issues include whether the CAS was the appropriate forum to assess these questions; whether the decision was appropriate, both on the merits and on the procedure; and what the consequences of the CAS award would be, for the parties, for athletics and for the sporting community at large.

Much like the current crisis surrounding doping in sports, the public attention on women with (proven or suspected) hyperandrogenism is driven by a concern that an athlete’s physiology – natural or artificially induced ­ could distort competition, destroying the ‘level playing field’ that supports the Olympic ideal. Both topics are also often brought back to the goal of protecting an athlete’s health. Parallels are further found in the strong reactions both topics evoke, and the steps taken by the regulating authorities to convince the public that everything in their power is being done to preserve a level playing field.

A less obvious but equally important point of comparison can be found in the issues both topics raise concerning the legal validity of decisions made by sports organizations, especially in a science-related context. This blog focuses on those more ‘legal’ aspects, through the prism of the decision of the CAS in the Dutee Chand matter and its legal implications. After touching briefly on the background of the case, we will comment on two aspects of the Chand award with respect to challenges in regulating hyperandrogenism in sport within the confines of the law: First from the viewpoint of a CAS panel called upon to evaluate the validity of a set of regulations, and second from the viewpoint of the sports organizations seeking to both adequately protect fairness in sport and to provide a legally valid (and effective) regulatory solution.[1]


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – July 2016 - By Marine Montejo

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 have overlooked. 

The Headlines

The McLaren Report on Russia’s State Doping System

It is difficult not to start this monthly report without referring to the never-ending Russian doping investigation that is shaking the sporting world. On 18 July, the independent investigation on Sochi 2014 winter Olympics led by Prof. McLaren, a Canadian law professor, and requested by the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), released its report. It confirmed evidence of widespread, State-sponsored doping in Russian sports and called for a full ban on the country from the next Rio Olympics. In response to the report, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) vowed to take the “toughest sanctions available”. However, and despite the race against time in the run-up to Rio 2016, the IOC delayed its decision for several days amid a WADA statement and several press articles calling for a ban of Russia from Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, it did open an investigation against Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, the head official who allegedly supervised the overall doping cover up and explored all possible legal actions against Russia. On 21 July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) rejected the appeal of the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) decisions to suspend All Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) from IAAF membership given the evidence of a state-sponsored doping system. As a consequence, Russian track and field athletes were also banned from Rio 2016 Olympics. With the IAAF welcoming this decision, one could think that nothing was standing in the way of a full Olympic ban for all Russian athletes. While some Russian athletes announced that they would appeal the CAS award to the Swiss Federal Court. Yelena Isinbayeva, the banned pole vault champion, even took it a step further by claiming that she would challenge the IAAF decision as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Yet, it is very improbable that any of these challenges be decided in time for the Rio Games.More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | (A)Political Games: A Critical History of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter - By Thomas Terraz

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

(A)Political Games: A Critical History of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s 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),[1] 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[2]). 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 together’.[3] In 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 aside’?[4] Should 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.[5] 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, here and 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.[6] 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.

1.     Constructing the Political Neutrality of the Olympics

The roots of political neutrality in many ways can be traced back to the Olympic Truce, a tradition that started in Ancient Greece.[7] The idea of creating a temporal space where nations are at peace is in a way an attempt to separate Games from the political squabbles of the world, and this tradition has continued to the modern day.  Pierre de Coubertin envisioned a space ‘to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility’.[8] In accomplishing this goal, the Olympic Movement  applies a principle of political neutrality,[9] which includes that the IOC must ‘promote its political neutrality’,[10] ‘oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes’,[11] requires new members of the IOC to ‘act independently of commercial and political interests’,[12] and NOCs must ‘resist’ political pressures that ‘may prevent them from complying with the Olympic Charter’.[13] Lastly, international sport is deeply grounded in the idea of universality in which a sport, regardless of where it is played, is played by the same rules, meaning that the sport rules (the rules of the game) are not influenced by the politics or decisions of a particular state (i.e. sport autonomy).[14]

Coubertin also saw the Games as a ‘sacred enclosure’ for the athletes of the world,[15] symbolizing the conceptual genesis of the sanitized space within the modern Games. In these early days of the Games, Coubertin also believed that protecting the ‘sacred enclosure’ also meant keeping women out.[16] While women were first able to participate in the 1900 Olympic Games, albeit in a limited way and resistance to their participation continued,[17] politics remained a black sheep. Avery Brundage, IOC President (1952-1972), also persisted in advocating to keep women out of the Games but was especially a staunch defender of ‘two major Olympic ideals, i.e. amateurism and the non-politicisation of sport’.[18] For him it was not just necessary to keep politics out, but to also ‘actively combat the introduction of politics in the Olympic movement’ and was ‘adamant against the use of the Olympic Games as a tool or as a weapon by an organization’.[19] With Brundage leading the IOC, political neutrality was placed front and center and thus Olympic rules began to reflect this new priority. The 1956 Olympic Charter was the first to include the ‘Information for cities which desire to stage the Olympic Games’ which specifically required that invitations ‘must state that no political demonstrations will be held in the stadium or other sport grounds, or in the Olympic Village, during the Games, and that it is not the intention to use the Games for any other purpose than for the advancement of the Olympic Movement’. This would slowly evolve into the current Rule 50: ‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas’. It is interesting to note that the only earlier explicit mention of politics in the Olympic Charter was the 1946 Olympic Charter which was concerned by ‘the nationalization of sports for political aims’ where there would be ‘a national exultation of success achieved rather than the realization of the common and harmonious objective which is the essential Olympic law’.[20] As will be further elaborated in the second blog, it seems as though the IOC has now placed greater priority on enforcing Rule 50 compared to its rules concerning sport nationalism. All things considered, the IOC perceives and projects itself as a neutral entity, which is further confirmed through its governing rules[21] and even its seat in Switzerland further reflects this self-perception.[22]

2.     Failing to Keep Politics Out of the Games

At this point, it is worth exploring some examples that elucidate how politics have continually found a way into the ‘clean’ Olympic bubble through a variety of agents: be it the general public, the athletes, the IOC or states (both the host and participants).

While perhaps often overlooked when discussing politics in the Games, public protests are important to study, especially because there have been many instances of host nations suppressing such public gatherings. For example, in the 2008 Beijing Games, after great international pressure, the Chinese government had set specific zones for Olympic protests. However, protesters were required to submit an application and could be rejected if the protest would ‘harm national, social and collective interests or public order’. In the end, all seventy-seven applications were denied and some of those who applied were arrested, detained and/or put into forced labor.[23] Similarly, at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, the IOC proudly welcomed the announcement of special protest areas, despite the fact the zones were placed ‘20 minutes by train from the nearest Olympic venue’ and ultimately only attracted a handful of protesters.[24]

Moreover, in the months leading to the Sochi Games, anti-LGBT laws were passed and a ‘crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history’ ensued. Despite these repressive measures, athletes stood defiant, and after the IOC made an exception to Rule 50 allowing political expression during press conferences, many athletes used this platform to take a stand.[25] This shows how athletes can sometimes be a critical source for political protest and dissent amidst an atmosphere of suppression, and history has repeatedly demonstrated how athletes can have a vital role in promoting human rights and raising awareness concerning sensitive issues. One simply has to point to the infamous moment when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the podium in protest or when Vera Caslavska turned her head away while the Soviet anthem played. There is little doubt that there has been an extensive history of athlete protest at the Games, and athletes will likely continue raising the problems close to their hearts irrespective of the restrictions they face.

Politics also permeate the Games through the IOC itself as it is continually faced with political decisions, including the recognition of national Olympic committees,[26] decisions concerning participation of athletes,[27] and the awarding of the Games to a city. The latter has often embroiled the Games in controversies, such as the Salt Lake City bid scandal in which a ‘Special US Senate commission found some 1,375 separate expenditures totaling nearly $3 million’ to try and ‘sway individual IOC members’.[28] The scandal prompted several internal investigations in which ten IOC members ‘either resigned or were expelled’. The current Tokyo Games have not been without controversy as a Japanese businessman admitted to giving gifts to IOC members while lobbying for the Games after having received $8.2 million dollars from the Tokyo bid committee. Taken together, it could be argued that this is a real source of ‘dirty’ politics and a greater threat to the concept of a clean or ‘sacred’ space for the Games. Finally, you’ll find a lot of politics inside the IOC, where some commentators have described the rise to power of IOC Presidents as resembling ‘the ascent of a conventional politician’.[29]

Lastly, countries participating and hosting the Games are also able to introduce politics to the Games through boycotts,[30] hosting the Games to promote internal and geo-political interests, and using one’s performance at the Games for political gain and geo-political posturing. Concerning the first, a decision to boycott is always tied to some political goal, as a boycott usually seeks to instigate political change or send a specific political message, such as disapproval of certain political decisions or even an entire political system. For instance, the 1980 Moscow Olympics had 60 countries, led by the US, boycotting the Games in response to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.[31] Indeed, this kind of political wrangling and posturing heavily plagued the Cold War period. It was also during this time that the ‘Soviet Union and the United States attempted to proclaim the superiority of their political and socioeconomic systems by winning the most Olympic gold medals’.[32] A country’s performance at the Games became an indication of one’s geo-political power status, and the idea that ‘sport for sport’s sake is not a goal; rather it is the means to obtaining other goals’ gained more traction. [33] It could be argued that this trend started even before the Cold War. For instance, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Nazis were obsessed with trying to demonstrate ‘German superiority’, which included the incredibly calculated efforts to make the Games into a propaganda spectacle.[34] In this sense, hosting the Games is a unique way to boost a nation’s image and send political messages on a world stage as a sort of ‘soft power strategy’.[35] This kind of sport nationalism is pure politics, and the IOC has long recognized it, as first enshrined in the 1946 Olympic Charter, as a threat to the fundamental goals of the Olympic Games.

3.     Conclusion

Despite the IOC’s attempts to create a ‘clean’ apolitical bubble, politics are structurally embedded within the Games due to the array of actors representing a variety of interests that are involved in its planning and execution. In this sense, the Games can never truly take place within an impenetrable bubble that is somehow separated from the societal context in which it takes place.  The ‘opposite assumptions, that sport was both “above and below” the political dimensions of social life’ is simply untenable.[36] In spite of this, the IOC maintains strict restrictions, through Rule 50, on the free speech of athletes and of the fans and continues to pedal the myth of a pure and sanitized Olympic Games. Instead, I believe political expression should not be regarded as a sly specter infiltrating itself within the Games, defiling the ‘sacred enclosure’ but rather something innate to any free society. Perhaps, in the end, a more genuine ‘mutual respect’ could be achieved if individuals were authorized to openly express their identity and convictions without fear of reprisal even in the face of deep rooted differences.[37]  Regardless, politics and the Games remain naturally entangled, and the next blog in this series will unravel the double standard of the IOC when addressing sport nationalism and athletes’ political expression at the Games.

[1] For many years, amateurism was a key criterion in order to participate in the Olympics.

[2] See my recent blog on Rule 40 Olympic Charter.

[3] Richard Pound also views the idea of the Games as a sort of ‘bubble’ in which the Games create ‘ a special phenomenon during which, even if the world as a whole is not working well, there is an oasis at which the youth of the world can gather for peaceful competition, free from the tensions which their elders have created and with which they will be required to cope before and after the Games’ (emphasis added).

[4] The full quote is as follows: ‘First, this is not a new rule and, second, it is one wholly consistent with the underlying context of the Olympic Games, during which politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set aside.’ Richard Pound, ‘Free Speech for Olympic Athletes’ (IOC, 11 February 2020) <> accessed 1 April 2020.

[5] See book written by Richard Pound, ‘Inside the Olympics: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Politics, the Scandals and the Glory of the Games’ (Wiley 2006).

[6] Rule 6 Olympic Charter.

[7] Although the extent of this truce is disputed. See Kristine Toohey and Anthony James Veal, The Olympic Games: A Social Science Perspective (CAB International 2007) 19-20.

[8] ‘Peace Through Sport’ (IOC) <> accessed 1 April 2020.

[9] Fundamental Principles of Olympism, Olympic Charter, point 5.

[10] Rule 2 Olympic Charter.

[11] ibid.

[12] Rule 16 Olympic Charter.

[13] Rule 27 Olympic Charter.

[14] Christopher H Hill, Olympic Politics (Manchester University Press 1996).

[15] Jules Boykoff, Power Games: A Political History of the Olympic Games (Verso 2016) 13.

[16] ‘The Olympic Games must be reserved for men’ – Coubertin quoted in Boykoff (n 15) 17; ‘as to the admission of women to the Games, I remain strongly against it’ – Coubertin quoted in Dikaia Chatziefstathiou and Ian P. Henry, Discourses of Olympism: From the Sorbonne 1894 to London 2012 (Springer 2012) 124.

[17] Boykoff (n 15) 59.

[18] ‘Avery Brundage’ (IOC 2011) <> accessed 1 April 2020.

[19] Boykoff (n 15) 83.

[20] This was also one of Brundage’s greatest concerns. Boykoff (n 15) 84.

[21] See Rule 2 (5) and (11) Olympic Charter and Rule 16 (1.3) Olympic Charter.

[22] See why Lausanne hosts so much of the Olympic Movement: Rebecca Ruiz, ‘Swiss City Is ‘the Silicon Valley of Sports’’ (The New York Times, 22 April 2016) <> accessed 1 April 2020.

[23] Boykoff (n 15) 170; See also ‘China: Police Detain Would-Be Olympic Protesters’ (Human Rights Watch, 13 August 2008) <> accessed 1 April 2020.

[24] It is also worth noting that of the two protests, one concerned the difficulties Russians faced who were born into World War Two, and the other was a pro-Putin demonstration. On the protest zone see also David Herszenhorn, ‘A Russian Protest Zone Where Almost No One Registers a Complaint’ (The New York Times, 13 February 2014) <> accessed 1 April 2020.

[25] Boykoff (n 15) 204.

[26] Hill (n 14) 36. For example, concerning the recognition and naming of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee.

[27] For example, decisions that affect participation of transgender and intersex athletes definitely have a political element. Simply by taking into account the discrepancy in jurisdictions concerning gender identity, the guidelines acknowledge the international political context in which the guidelines operate. See point 1 (b).

[28] Boykoff (n 15) 151.

[29] Hill (n 14) 2 and 60.

[30] Boykoff (n 15) 128.

[31] ibid 127-128.

[32] Andrew Strenk, ‘What Price Victory? The World of International Sports and Politics’ [1979] 445 The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 128; James Nafziger, 'International Sports Law: A Replay of Characteristics and Trends’ [1992] 86 The American Journal of International Law 489; J. Weston Phippen, ‘The Olympics Have Always Been Political’ (The Atlantic, 28 July 2016) <> accessed 1 April 2020; Boykoff (n 15) 82.

[33] Quoting Erich Honnecker (GDR’s head of state - 1971-1989), Strenk (n 31).

[34] Boykoff (n 15) 69.

[35] Jonathan Grix, ‘Sport Politics and the Olympics’ [2013] 11 Political Studies Review 15.

[36] Lincoln Allison, The Changing Politics of Sport (Manchester University Press 1993) 5.

[37] ‘Rule 50 is a reminder that, at the Olympic Games, restraint is an element of that mutual respect.’ Pound (n 4).

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