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

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...

Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 2). 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. 

Part 2. EU competition law and sports funding

The first analysed impact of Brexit on sport was the one regarding EU internal market rules and free movement. However, all sport areas that are of interest to the European Union will be impacted by the result of the future Brexit negotiations. This second part of the blog will focus on EU competition law and the media sector as well as direct funding opportunities keeping in mind that if the UK reaches for an EEA type agreement competition law and state aid rules will remain applicable as much as the funding programs.  More...

With or without them? Russia’s state doping system and the Olympic fate of Russian athletes. By Antoine Duval, Kester Mekenkamp and Oskar van Maren

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.



Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 1). 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.

The result of the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 took the European Union (almost) by surprise. A lot has been said and written about the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. As in all other areas, the British sport sector will also face the effects of the modification of the relationship between the EU and its (probable) former Member State, the UK. It is nearly impossible to foresee all consequences as the UK has not even triggered article 50 TFEU yet to officially start the exit negotiations. However, as the UK position toward the EU will change in any case, this two-part blog aims to examine the main practical implications of such an exit for the UK, but also for the EU, in relation to the actual application of EU law in sport and the EU sport policy.

Unless stated otherwise, the use of the terms Brexit in this blog should be understood as a complete exit of the UK from the European Union. This blog focus in particular on this worst case scenario and its consequences for UK sport. However, it is highly improbable that the future Brexit negotiations with the EU will end up without some kind of special agreement between the two parties the first of which being an EEA type of agreement with full access to the internal market and applicability of EU law. 

The first part of this blog will examined the consequences for UK sport in terms of access to the EU internal market and the applicability of free movement principles. The second part is focused on specific impacts with regard of others domain of EU law for professional and grassroots UK sport.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June 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

What a month June turned out to be. Waking up the morning after the 23rd, the results of the UK referendum on EU membership were final. The words of Mark Twain: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today”, might provide the most apt description of the mood felt at the time.[1] The Leave campaign’s narrow victory has brought along tremendous economic, political and legal uncertainties for both the UK and the (other) Member States. To give but one example, with regard to the implications of Brexit on Europe’s most profiting football league, we recommend an older blog by Daniel Geey and Jonny Madill. More...

The EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – May 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 might have overlooked.   

The Headlines

Challenged membership put a lot of emphasis on football federations in May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) has rendered an award, on 27 April 2016, ordering the FIFA Council to submit the application of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) for FIFA membership to the FIFA Congress (the body authorised to admit new members to FIFA). The GFA has sought since 1999 to become a member of UEFA and FIFA. In May 2013, it became a member of the UEFA and went on to seek membership of FIFA. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Can (national or EU) public policy stop CAS awards? By Marco van der Harst (LL.M, PhD Candidate and researcher at the AISLC)

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

Can (national or EU) public policy stop CAS awards? By Marco van der Harst (LL.M, PhD Candidate and researcher at the AISLC)


The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) registers approximately 300 cases every year. Recently, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court – which is the sole judicial authority to review arbitral awards rendered in Switzerland – reminded in the Matuzalém Case (Case 4A_558/2011) that CAS awards may be enforced in other States that are parties to the New York Convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.

However, in that case, the Federal Court failed to recognize the main intent of FIFA, which is to avoid foreign State courts’ interference – even to the detriment of a plaintiff’s right of having the option to challenge a CAS award in a non-Swiss jurisdiction. Article 67(2-3) FIFA Statutes requires that provision shall be made to CAS arbitration and prohibits FIFA members to have recourse to courts of law unless provided for by FIFA regulations. Member associations must accordingly insert an arbitral agreement in their statutes on the recognition of CAS to resolve disputes under Article 10(4)(c) FIFA Statutes. Regarding labour-related disputes, Article 22 FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players in conjunction with Article 5 FIFA Statutes 2003 has carved out an exception to the aforesaid FIFA ‘exclusion’ and ‘allows’ FIFA members to seek redress before civil courts. Nonetheless, FIFA could still use its disciplinary power to enforce decisions (e.g. CAS awards). In addition, Article 64(1) FIFA Disciplinary Code explicitly stipulates that ‘[a]nyone who fails to pay another person […] or FIFA … money…, even though instructed to do so by … a subsequent CAS appeal decision …, or anyone who fails to comply with another [CAS appeal] decision …, will be disciplinary sanctioned (e.g., fine, ban on any football-related activities, expulsion (member association), relegation (club) and transfer ban (club)). This is a typical case of so-called ‘arbitration with a reduced consensual character’ (Steingruber 2012), which is contrary to the consensual spirit that underlies private arbitration.

It should also be noted that in the Cañas case (Case 4P.172.2006, par. the Swiss Federal Supreme Court recognized and tolerated the athlete’s reduced consent to arbitration (under Article 2 of the Player's Consent and Agreement to ATP Official Rulebook) in order to be able to practice tennis as a professional. It is moreover ‘based on the continuing possibility of an appeal acting as a counterbalance to the “benevolence” with which it is necessary to examine the consensual nature of recourse to arbitration where sporting matters are concerned’ (Case 4P.172.2006, para. In other words, the application of ex post reviews of CAS awards by the Federal Court is a sine qua non to its acceptance of an athlete’s reduced consent to arbitration.

CAS awards could be challenged before courts, however, if they are incompatible with public policy (of Switzerland or EU Member States et cetera). 

CAS awards – Swiss notion of substantive public policy

As far as arbitration is concerned, national courts generally adopt a deferent attitude to arbitration, mainly reviewing the due process components and only entering substantial matters if they are incompatible with substantive public policy. Accordingly, the parties involved can only challenge arbitral awards on substantive grounds if they contravene the national notion of substantive public policy.

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court has only once annulled an international arbitral award rendered in Switzerland for being incompatible with substantive public policy. Interestingly, the case concerns a CAS (appeal) award.

In case an international arbitral award such as a CAS award is rendered in disregard of fundamental principles of substantive law, and consequently cannot be reconciled with the essential and widely recognized system of values that from a Swiss perspective should be part of any legal order, it violates the Swiss notion of substantive public policy. 

In the Matuzalém case (Case 4A_558/2011) of 2012, the Federal Court annulled a CAS award for being an excessive restriction of Matuzalém’s economic freedom and therefore contrary to the Swiss notion of substantive public policy. Moreover, the Federal Court found that:

-          The ban imposed for an unlimited period for being unwilling or being unable to pay the large amount of damages that was awarded in the first CAS award of 2011, is a self-constituted violation of public policy.

-          Matuzalém’s ban from all football-related activities is inappropriate because it would deprive him of the possibility to earn his working income as a professional footballer to fulfill his obligations, namely to pay the aforesaid debts.

-          The aforesaid ban on request of Shaktar Donetsk is unnecessary because the first CAS award may be enforced under the New York convention.

-          The abstract objective of enforcing compliance by Matuzalém was to be regarded as less important by CAS than his ban from all football-related activities. 

It should be noted that the national notion of public policy may vary per jurisdiction. Accordingly, enforcing arbitral awards that have been annulled at the seat of arbitration – e.g. the Matuzalém case – could still be enforced in e.g. Austria, Croatia, Denmark, France[2], Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands[3], Poland and Spain.[4] However, arbitral awards that have been set aside at the seat of arbitration are likely to be refused enforcement in e.g. Germany, Hungary, Italy and the United Kingdom.[5] 

CAS awards – EU notion of substantive public policy

From an EU law perspective, it must be taken into consideration that enforcing arbitral awards like, e.g., CAS awards by Member States’ courts may affect the internal market. The Court of Justice already dealt with this topic and introduced a broad notion of public policy in the Eco Swiss Case (Case C-126/97) by ruling that Article 101 TFEU may be regarded as a public policy matter in the sense of Article V(2)(b) of the New York convention. In the Manfredi Case (Joined cases C-295/04 to C-298/04), the Court further stated (para. 31): ’Articles … [101-102 TFEU] are a matter of public policy which must be automatically applied by national courts …’. In other words, national courts do have an ex officio duty to exercise control during inter alia enforcement proceedings of arbitral awards. In the Nordsee Case (C-102/81), the Court further stressed the importance of ex post reviews of arbitral awards by national courts.

The latter is especially relevant in reference to their obligation to ensure the uniform application of EU law. The Court stated (para 13) that private arbitral tribunals are not to be considered as ‘any court or tribunal’ under Article 267 TFEU and therefore are not allowed to directly submit an application for a preliminary ruling on EU law. However, in case an arbitral tribunal is, inter alia, established by law, permanent, independent, has a compulsory jurisdiction, its procedure is inter partes and it applies rules of law, the Court of Justice recently (Case C‑555/13) characterised it as ‘any court or tribunal’. Consequently, a mandatory arbitral tribunal established in a Member State may refer questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.

As regards to doping-related disputes, the WADA Code is mandatory in substance and must be followed by signatories like, e.g., National Anti-Doping Organizations. Moreover, all Member States have designated a National Anti-Doping Organization (Appendix 1 WADA Code) as the primary authority to adopt and implement inter alia anti-doping measures at the national level. In addition, Article 23.2.2 in conjunction with Article 13.2.1 WADA Code refers inter alia to the exclusive jurisdiction of the CAS Appeal Arbitration, which means that CAS has been recognized by all Member States as a mandatory arbitral tribunal (established in Switzerland) with regard to doping-related disputes. However, as opposed to the regulations of sports governing bodies like FIFA, the WADA Code explicitly mentions the application of ex post reviews of CAS awards by national courts.                                                       

According to the Court, reviewing arbitral awards should be limited in scope and refusing to enforce foreign arbitral awards (i.e. CAS awards) by national courts should only be possible in exceptional circumstances, both in the interest of efficient arbitral proceedings. As previously mentioned, national courts are generally deferent towards arbitral awards. Moreover, they do not review the way the law is applied by the arbitrators. A national court’s review is confined to the nature and impact of the decision and its procedural aspects. Accordingly, the Court accepted the national courts’ limited scope of review in reference to the principle of procedural autonomy to implement and enforce national and EU law. Moreover, in the interest of good administration, fundamental principles of procedure recognized by all Member States must prevail. This procedural autonomy finds its limit in the need to warranty the effet utile of EU competition law as fully as other public policy matters (i.e. principle of equivalence). Moreover, according to the Court, EU competition law is a fundamental provision for the realisation of the internal market and must therefore be regarded as a public policy matter by national courts when enforcing arbitral awards. Thus, the Court ruled that a national court’s limited review of arbitral awards must extend to EU competition law, which should be integrated in the Member State’s national notion of public policy in order to ensure that EU law actually takes effect (principle of effectiveness).

The Court furthermore stated that reviewing an arbitral award for being incompatible with public policy should only occur under exceptional circumstances. Only if the effects of enforcing an arbitral award by a national court contravene the most fundamental principles of law in the respective jurisdiction, it may be denied recognition and enforcement for being incompatible with public policy. In order to qualify as such, a competition law violation must therefore be regarded as very serious, e.g. a complete disregard of an obvious and serious violation such as a cartel. In addition, the Court especially referred to the prohibition laid down in Article 101(1) TFEU, which is primarily a matter of substance. In reference to the national courts’ limited scope of review, one can therefore argue that infringements to EU competition law may be regarded as substantive public policy violations during inter alia enforcement proceedings of arbitral awards.

Finally, competition law is not the internal market’s only fundamental provision. It could be extrapolated that the Court relied on a wide notion of public policy in Eco Swiss. For instance, the fundamental provisions of free movement may be applicable in a CAS award’s enforcement proceedings and could, in principle, qualify as public policy matters in exceptional circumstances. If, e.g., enforcement proceedings of the Matuzalém CAS award were sought before Member States’ courts, a violation of the freedom of workers (he played for Lazio Roma between 2008 and 2013) or service providers (e.g., personal sponsorship or endorsement deals) could be invoked to bar the recognition and enforcement of the award.


CAS awards are potentially fragile at the enforcement stage as they may contradict national States’ understanding of the public policy exception. This is even more so if one characterises EU competition law and EU free movement rights as public policy concerns. However, in practice the enforcement of CAS awards is very rarely used[6]. Sport governing bodies can rely on their contractual disciplinary power to ban athletes from the competition they organize and thus do not rely on national courts to enforce CAS awards. Nevertheless, banned athletes could initiate action for damages against sports governing bodies and force them to ask for the recognition and enforcement of the award in their defence plea. Thus, there is a very indirect (and protracted) way to challenge CAS award on the basis of EU public policy, but it is a windy and rocky legal path.


A personal message to Claudia Pechstein - German Speedskater and Olympic Champion (five gold, two silver and two bronze): Pursuant to Article 25(6) of the ISU Constitution, the ISU is also complicit and the respective CAS awards could accordingly be challenged for being incompatible with substantive public policy if they were to be enforced in a Member State …

[1] Notes are mostly ommitted. A comprehensive article will be published in 2014.

[2] E.g., Cour de cassation, 23 March 1994, Yearbook Commercial Arbitration, Vol XX (1995), p. 663.

[3] E.g., Amsterdam Court of Appeal, Case No. 200.005.269/01, April 28, 2009; Amsterdam Court of Appeal, Case No. 200.100.508/01, September 18, 2012.

[4] ICC Guide to national procedures for the recognition and enforcement of awards under the New York convention, ICC Court of Arbitration Bulletin (Vol 23, Special Supplement) 2012, p. 20.

[5] Ibid.

[6] It should be noted that, as far as we know, only one CAS ordinary award has actually been enforced in a Member State: IMFC Licensing B.V. v. R.C.D. Espanyol de Barcelona, Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Catalunya, 30 May 2012 (IMFC Licensing, B.V. v. R.C.D. Espanyol de Barcelona, S.A.D.) Yearbook XXXVIII (2013) pp. 462-464.

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