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

Pistorius revisited: A comment on the CAS award in Blake Leeper v. IAAF - By Marjolaine Viret

On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).[1] The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall competitive advantage.

The award is remarkable in that it declared the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the underlying rules.

This article focuses on some key aspects of the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of sports regulations such as anti-doping.

The award also analyses broader questions regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 2: The African Reality – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

Having considered the history and justifications for the FIFA training compensation and solidarity mechanisms in my previous blog, I will now consider these systems in the African context. This appears to be a worthwhile undertaking given these global mechanisms were largely a result of European influence, so understanding their (extraterritorial) impact beyond the EU seems particularly important. Moreover, much has been written about the “muscle drain” affecting African football and the need for such drain to either be brought to a halt, or, more likely and perhaps more practical, to put in place an adequate system of redistribution to ensure the flourishing of African football that has essentially acted as a nursery for European football for at least a century. In the present blog, I intend to draw on my experiences as a football agent to expand on how FIFA’s redistributive mechanisms function in practice when an African player signs in Europe via one of the many kinds of entities that develop or purport to develop talent in Africa. I will throughout address the question of whether these mechanisms are effective in a general sense and more specifically in relation to their operation in Africa.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

The Headlines

Aguero and Massey-Ellis incident: An Opportunity for Change and Education?

In mid-October a clip went viral of Argentinian star Sergio Aguero putting his hands on sideline referee, Sian Massey-Ellis. A heated debate ensued in many circles, some claiming that Aguero’s conduct was commonplace, others taking aim at the appropriateness of the action, around players touching official and a male touching a female with an unsolicited arm around the back, the squeeze and pull in. Putting the normative arguments aside for a moment, the irony of the debate was that all sides had a point. Football, almost exclusively, has grown a culture of acceptance for touching officials despite the regulations. Male officials who have let such conduct slide, have arguably let their female colleague down in this instance.

Whilst a partial defence of Aguero might be that this kind of conduct takes place regularly, the incident could serve as a learning experience. If Massey-Ellis’ reaction was not enough, the backlash from some of the public might provide Aguero and other players the lesson, that touching a woman in this way is not acceptable.

Returning to football, the respect and protection of officials in sport, the key here appears to be cracking down on touching officials entirely. This is not a foreign concept and football need only look at the rugby codes. Under no circumstances does the regulations or the culture permit that a player from the rugby codes touch a referee. It is likely the case that the obvious extra level of respect for officials in these sports derives from a firm culture of no touching, no crowding officials, communicating with officials through the team captain only, with harsh sanctions if one does not comply.

The Football Association of England has decided no action was necessary, raising questions of how seriously they take the safety of officials, and gender issues. This is ultimately a global football issue though, so the confederations or international bodies may need step in to ensure the protections that appear at best fragile.  

Rugby Trans issue

The World Rugby Transgender guideline has been released and contains a comprehensive unpacking of the science behind much of the regulatory framework. Despite many experts applauding World Rugby on the guidelines and the extensive project to reach them, the England Rugby Football Union is the first to defy the World Rugby ruling and transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future. This clash between national bodies and the international body on an important issue is concerning and will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on.


CAS rejects the appeal of Munir El Haddadi and the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football (FRMF)

The refusal to authorise a footballer to change national federation is in the headlines with the CAS dismissing the appeal of the player and Moroccan federation, confirming the original determination of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.

This has been given considerable recent attention and seemingly worth following, perhaps best summed up by FIFA Director of Football Regulatory, James Kitching, where in a tweet he notes: “The new eligibility rules adopted by the FIFA Congress on 18 September 2020 have passed their first test. We will be publishing our commentary on the rules in the next fortnight. Watch this space.” More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part.1: The historical, legal and political foundations - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

In 2019, training compensation and solidarity contributions based on FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) amounted to US$ 75,5 million. This transfer of wealth from the clubs in the core of the football hierarchy to the clubs where the professional players originated is a peculiar arrangement unknown in other global industries. Beyond briefly pointing out or reminding the reader of how these systems work and the history behind them, this blog series aims to revisit the justifications for FIFA-imposed training compensation and the solidarity mechanism, assess their efficacy and effects through a case study of their operation in the African context, and finally analyse the potential impact of upcoming reforms of the FIFA RSTP in this context.

First, it is important to go back to the roots of this, arguably, strange practice. The current transfer system and the legal mechanisms constituting it were largely the result of a complex negotiation between European football’s main stakeholders and the European Commission dating back to 2001. The conclusion of these negotiations led to a new regulatory system enshrined in Article 20 and Annex 4 of the RSTP in the case of training compensation, and at Article 21 and Annex 5 in the case of the solidarity mechanism. Before paying some attention to the historical influences and how we arrived at these changes, as well as the justifications from the relevant bodies for their existence, let us briefly recall what training compensation and the solidarity mechanisms actually are. More...

Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

Editor's note: Björn Hessert is a research assistant at the University of Zurich and a lawyer admitted to the German bar.


The discussion revolving around the invalidity of arbitration clauses in organised sport in favour of national and international sports arbitral tribunals has been at the centre of the discussion in German courtrooms.[1] After the decisions of the German Federal Tribunal[2] (“BGH”) and the European Court of Human Rights[3] (“ECtHR”) in the infamous Pechstein case, this discussion seemed to have finally come to an end. Well…not according to the District Court (LG) of Frankfurt.[4] On 7 October 2020, the District Court rendered a press release in which the court confirmed its jurisdiction due to the invalidity of the arbitration clause contained in the contracts between two beach volleyball players and the German Volleyball Federation[5] (“DVV”) – but one step at a time. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – September - October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

The Headlines

Human rights and sport  

Caster Semenya

Human rights issues are taking the headlines in the sporting world at present. A short time ago, Caster Semenya’s appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal against the CAS decision was dismissed, perhaps raising more questions than answering them. Within the last few days however, the message from the Semenya camp has been that this is not over (see here).  See the contributions from a range of authors at Asser International Sports Law Blog for a comprehensive analysis of the Semenya case(s) to date.

Navid Afkari

As the sporting world heard of the execution of Iranian Wrestler Navid Afkari, a multitude of legal and ethical questions bubbled to the surface. Not least of all and not a new question: what is the responsibility of sport and the governing bodies therein, in the space of human rights?  And, if an athlete is to acquire a high profile through sporting excellence, does that render athletes vulnerable to be made an example of and therefore in need of greater protection than is currently afforded to them? There are differing views on how to proceed. Consider the following from the World Players Association (Navid Afkari: How sport must respond) and that from the IOC (IOC Statement on the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari) which shows no indication through this press releases and other commentary, of undertaking the measures demanded by World Players Association and other socially active organisations. (See also, Benjamin Weinthal - Olympics refuses to discuss Iranian regime’s murder of wrestler).

Yelena Leuchanka

As this is written and relevant to the above, Yelena Leuchanka is behind bars for her participation in protests, resulting in several sporting bodies calling for her immediate release and for reform in the sporting world around how it ought to deal with these issues. As a member of the “Belarus women's national basketball team, a former player at several WNBA clubs in the United States and a two-time Olympian”, Leuchanka has quite the profile and it is alleged that she is being made an example of. (see here)

Uighur Muslims and Beijing Winter Olympics

British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab does not rule out Winter Olympics boycott over Uighur Muslims. ‘The foreign secretary said it was his "instinct to separate sport from diplomacy and politics" but that there "comes a point where that might not be possible".’ Though Raab’s comments are fresh, this issue is shaping as a “watch this space” scenario, as other governments might echo a similar sentiment as a result of mounting pressure from human rights activist groups and similar, in lead up to the Winter Games. More...

The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 2 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.

1. EU law and the CAS case-law

Bearing in mind these questions, it is possible to affirm that under EU law, the specificity of sport

i) refers to the inherent characteristics of sport that set it apart from other economic and social activities and which have to be taken into account in assessing the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law; and

ii) under EU law these inherent characteristics of sport must be  considered on a case by case  basis, per the Wouters test as developed by the ECJ in the Meca Medina ruling.

Both aspects can be found in the CAS case-law too, although the CAS case-law shows some remarkable differences and peculiarities. From a general point of view, the application of the principle of specificity of sport in the CAS case-law represents an aspect of the more general issue related to the application of EU law by the CAS. However, the purpose of this paper is not to fully examine if and to what extent the CAS arbitrators apply EU law rules on free movement and competition; rather, the aim is to analyse the way the CAS deals with the concept of the specificity of sport, highlighting similarities and differences compared to the ECJ.

Taking for granted that ‘a CAS panel is not only allowed, but also obliged to deal with the issues involving the application of [EU] law’,[1] as far as the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law is concerned the CAS case-law shows different degrees of engagement. For instance, in the ENIC award concerning the so-called UEFA integrity rule, the CAS panel went through a complete competition-law analysis in perfect harmony with the Wouters et al. ruling by the ECJ.[2] On the contrary, in the above-quoted Mutu case, the issue of compatibility of the FIFA’s transfer regulations with EU competition law was analysed in a rather simple way, merely stating that the FIFA rules at stake were not anti-competitive under EU competition law without giving any reason to support this conclusion. More recently, in the Galatasaray and Milan A.C. awards, concerning the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations, the CAS  applied a detailed analysis of EU competition law. However, in both cases, according to the CAS the proportionate character of sanctions listed in the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations cannot affect the evaluation of the legitimacy of these regulations under Art. 101 TFEU. This conclusion represents a clear breaking point with respect to the ECJ case-law, according to which the evaluation of the restrictive effects of a rule necessarily presupposes the analysis of the proportionate character of the sanction imposed in the event of a violation of that rule as well.[3]   In regard to EU free movement, the CAS case-law tends to be less analytical in terms of the principle of proportionality. For instance, in the RFC Seraing award  which concerned both EU free movement and competition law, the CAS panel mainly focused on the legitimate objectives of the contested rule (FIFA’s ban on Third-Party Ownership – TPO), merely affirming that the restrictive measures under EU free movement were justified and inherent in the pursuit of those objectives.More...

The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 1 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.*


1. Introduction.

The so-called specificity of sport represents one of the most debated, if not the most debated, but still undefined issue under European Union (EU) law. A noteworthy peculiarity is that the specificity of sport is frequently mentioned in several legislative and political documents issued by EU institutions, however it is not expressly referred to in any judgment by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).Conversely, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) case-law on Art. 17 of FIFA Regulations on status and transfer of players (RSTP) has repeatedly and expressly referred to the specificity of sport.[1] Apparently, the concept of specificity of sport has different meanings and purposes in the ECJ and CAS jurisprudence. In this blog (divided in two parts), I will try to analyse those two different meanings and to what extent the CAS case-law is consistent with the concept of specificity of sport as elaborated under EU law. More...

SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Editor's note: Andy Brown is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the governance of sport for over 15 years. He is the editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative where this blog appeared first.

For the last three days, I have been struggling with what to write regarding the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) Decision to dismiss a challenge from Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) Decision to dismiss a challenge to the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development), otherwise known as the DSD Regulations. From reading World Athletics’ statement welcoming the ruling, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had won a major trial. Sports journalists, accustomed to covering events now curtailed by Covid-19, focus on the fact that Semenya has ‘lost’ her case against the DSD Regulations. Neither assertion is strictly accurate.

The SFT’s powers to review the CAS’s ruling are severely limited. It can only consider whether the CAS Decision violates ‘widely recognised principles of public order’ on Swiss public policy grounds. The SFT has only reversed a decision based on a a violation of Swiss public policy once in 30 years.

The SFT didn’t reconsider the evidence put forward to the CAS. ‘For there to be incompatibility with public policy, it is not enough that the evidence has been poorly assessed, that a finding of fact is manifestly false or that a rule of law has been clearly violated’, its Decision reads. ‘The only question to be resolved is in fact whether or not the verdict of the CAS renders the referred award incompatible with substantive public policy’. 

There were questions about whether the appeal from Semenya and ASA qualified to be reviewed by the SFT in the first place. World Athletics is a private organisation headquartered in Monaco, and the SFT was troubled as to whether such a complaint brought by a South African athlete against an overseas private organisation is capable of violating Swiss public policy.

‘It is doubtful whether the prohibition of discriminatory measures falls within the scope of the restrictive concept of public order when the discrimination is committed by a private person and occurs in relations between individuals’, the Decision quotes from its pervious 29 July 2019 Decision, which refused the ASA’s request to provisionally suspend the application of the DSD Regulations. ‘In any event, there is no need to examine this question further here since […] the award under appeal does not in any way establish discrimination which would be contrary to public order’

The SFT ruled that the CAS was correct to uphold conditions of participation for 46 XY DSD athletes in order to guarantee fair competition for certain disciplines in female athletics. In doing so, the SFT was ruling on whether the decision taken by the CAS violates public policy, based only on the complaints brought forward by Semenya and ASA. 

Semenya and the ASA had challenged the CAS Decision based around the idea that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory. The CAS held that they are discriminatory, but agreed with the IAAF (as World Athletics was then named) that such discrimination was necessary to protect its female category. The SFT ruled that even if the discriminatory rules of a private organisation such as the IAAF were considered able to pose a threat to public order, Semenya and the ASA had failed to demonstrate that the CAS Decision was so egregious that it posed such a threat.

‘Caster Semenya essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination’, reads the Swiss Federal Supreme Court statement. ‘The CAS has issued a binding decision based on the unanimous opinion of the experts who were consulted that testosterone is the main factor for the different performance levels of the sexes in athletics; according to the CAS, women with the “46 XY DSD” gene variant have a testosterone level comparable to men, which gives them an insurmountable competitive advantage and enables them to beat female athletes without the “46 XY DSD” variant. Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the “women” category.’

Such strong support for the principle behind its DSD Regulations was rightly welcomed by World Athletics. Its statement asserted that the SFT ‘acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions’. I would argue that the SFT ruling didn’t do this, but rather found that a CAS Decision asserting this didn’t violate Swiss public policy. Semantics, perhaps.

Likewise, when World Athletics quotes the SFT Decision as confirming that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’, it is paraphrasing two texts quoted in the SFT Decision. The first is ‘La qualification juridique des rules autonomes des organizations sportive’ by Jérôme Jaquier, 2004. ‘Inborn characteristics specific to athletes in a particular group can also distort the fairness of competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Jaquier. ‘When they enact regulations, the objective of sports federations is to ensure fair and equitable competition’.

The context of the second quote, from ‘Sportrecht – Berücksichtigung der Interessen des Sports in der Rechtsordnung’ by Martin Kaiser, 2011, is even more interesting. It is preceded with a statement from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which reads: ‘It is not for the Federal Court to make, abstractly, comparisons between the disciplines to assess whether a particular athlete has an advantage that makes sporting competition meaningless’

‘It is above all for the sporting federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is liable to distort competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Kaiser. ‘And, if so, to establish legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’. 

Again, such details might be considered as semantics. But – I would argue – important semantics. Reading the media maelstrom that has resulted from the SFT Decision, one could be forgiven for assuming that Semenya has lost her case, and has no chance of ever defending her 800m title. However, a statement issued by her lawyers reveals that she intends to challenge the ruling in European and domestic courts.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am”, the statement continues. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.” More...

The Semenya Decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal: Human Rights on the Bench - By Faraz Shahlaei

Editor's note: Faraz Shahlaei is a JSD Candidate at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. His research and teaching interests are public international law, international sports law, international human rights and dispute resolution.


The issue of international human rights was a central contention in Caster Semenya case ever since the start of her legal battle against the regulations of the IAAF. However, the human rights arguments were poorly considered in the two proceedings related to this case. To put it in perspective, it is like having a key player nailed to the bench throughout the whole game; no coach ever tried to give it a chance while it had the potential to be the game changer for all parties.

In 2019, the Human Rights Council, the inter-governmental human rights body of the UN, expressed concern over issues of discrimination in sports in particular regarding IAAF female classification regulations. In June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the “Intersection of Race and Gender Discrimination in Sport”. The report draws a detailed picture of how human rights in the Semenya case have been violated and also elaborates on the inherent problem of addressing human rights issues in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms favored by the sport governing bodies. However, despite an in-depth discussion of Caster Semenya’s case at both the CAS and then the SFT, the question of human rights, a key concern and a fundamental pillar of the case, hasn’t been adequately answered yet! More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Regulating the human body in sports: Lessons learned from the Dutee Chand case - by Dr Marjolaine Viret & Emily Wisnosky

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

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]

Background of the Case

In 2014, Dutee Chand, an internationally successful, young track-and-field athlete, was provisionally suspended from participation in any athletic events by the Athletics Federation of India (the “AFI”),[2] as a result of a series of medical examinations that suggested her “male hormone” levels were elevated.[3] Dutee Chand filed an appeal against this decision to the CAS, naming both the AFI and the IAAF as respondents. She asked the CAS panel to (i) declare the Hyperandrogenism Regulations invalid, and (ii) overturn the AFI’s decision and clear her to compete. The second request for relief, however, was dropped during the course of the proceeding, thus the award addressed only the issue of the Regulation’s validity.

The IAAF Regulations Governing Eligibility of Females with Hyperandrogenism to Compete in Women’s Competition (“Hyperandrogenism Regulations” or “the Regulations”) govern the eligibility of female athletes with a condition known as ‘hyperandrogenism’ to participate in the female category of athletic events. Schematically, the Regulations provide that in order to be eligible to participate in the female category, a woman must have androgen levels below the “normal male range,” which is defined as testosterone levels falling below a threshold of 10 nmol/L.[4] An athlete with testosterone levels reported above this threshold may still be allowed to compete if she establishes, by a balance of probabilities, that she “derives no competitive advantage from having androgen levels in the normal male range”.[5] Cases of suspected hyperandrogenism may be investigated according to three levels of medical assessment, potentially including tests targeting physical, laboratory, genetic, imaging, and psychological assessments. Should an athlete be eventually diagnosed with hyperandrogenism, the stakes are high: in order to return to competition, athletes need to undergo medical treatment to reduce their testosterone levels below the ‘admissible’ threshold.

Dutee Chand challenged the Regulations’ validity on several grounds, which the CAS panel considered after addressing the parties’ respective burdens and standards of proof in an initial section. The grounds examined were unlawful discrimination, lack of scientific validity, breach of proportionality, and conflict with the World Anti-Doping Code (“WADC”).

Challenges CAS panels face in assessing the validity of sports regulations

The Chand award formidably illustrates the challenges an arbitration panel faces when asked to reach a conclusion on the ‘legal validity’ of a set of sports regulations, especially when such assessment implies delving into complex scientific issues. Each of these challenges can provide valuable ‘lessons learned’ for future CAS panels confronted with comparable issues.

Reconciling the ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’ facets of the dispute

Ostensibly, the object of the CAS proceedings was for Dutee Chand to be cleared to resume competing as a female athlete, in other words, for the decision rendered against her by the AFI to be set aside[6]. But this ‘concrete’ request for relief was dropped at the hearing, leaving the panel with only the ‘abstract’ question of the Regulation’s validity to consider. It appears that the CAS panel was asked between the lines to render an informal advisory opinion on the legitimacy of the current approach to hyperandrogenism in sport; the formal advisory opinion is an instrument no longer available under the CAS Code.[7]

This left the CAS panel in an uncomfortable position: having to decide on abstract legal questions without the benefit of a concrete set of facts to rely upon. Symptomatically, the background presented in the award regarding the Athlete’s actual situation is tenuous. The award does not even discuss whether Dutee Chand’s testosterone levels actually exceeded the 10nmol/L threshold set in the Hyperandrogenism Regulations[8]. The CAS panel simply conducted its entire assessment under the - unverified - assumption of her being genuinely an athlete with hyperandrogenism within the meaning of the Regulations.

Moreover, real questions of defence strategy relevant to counsel appearing before CAS can be raised here: had Dutee Chand not waived her request for relief directed against the AFI decision, the CAS panel would have been forced to render a final award on her case and could not have left her in the legal limbo in which she is now (see below, on the rendering of an interim rather than a final award).

The CAS has often – explicitly or through the decision of its panels ­shown ambition to act as a harmonising body, an ‘international’ or ‘supreme’ court of sport.[9] From a perspective of sports policy, that may be – depending on the opinion – a desirable objective, or an illegitimate attempt for sports governing bodies to shield their regulations from the judicial review of state courts. From a strictly legal perspective, it is questionable whether CAS panels have at their disposal the means to fulfil this ambition. CAS panels are arbitration tribunals in arbitral proceedings conducted under Swiss arbitration law. As such, they only have the power to rule on a dispute brought before them by two – or more – specific parties, and they can only render decisions on requests for relief that a party has submitted to them, within the framework of the facts put forward by the parties. Approaches such as the one taken in the Chand award should not be encouraged, especially in this odd combination in which a CAS panel would accept to rule on abstract requests for relief that are not directly decisive to the outcome of the dispute.

Allocating the burden of proof to prove or disprove the Regulation’s validity

For reasons that are not readily apparent from the award, the CAS panel separated its assessment of the Regulations’ scientific basis into two limbs: i.) one referred to as an assessment of the ‘scientific validity’ of the Regulations, for which Dutee Chand was said to have accepted the burden of proof, and ii.) one referred to as a justification for the prima facie discrimination and considered part of the proportionality assessment, for which the IAAF was assigned the burden of proof[10]. For both limbs, the CAS panel ended up holding that the party bearing the burden of proof failed to discharge its burden, due to lack of sufficient scientific evidence.

The reasoning of the CAS panels in the award makes it rather obvious that the two limbs are conceptually one and the same: Both assess the question of whether the infringement upon female athletes’ rights entailed by the Regulations could be justified by a sufficiently strong scientific basis. Assigning the burden with respect to the general ‘scientific validity’ to Dutee Chand (i.e. the use of testosterone as a valid marker for purposes of the Regulations) and the burden with respect to another aspect of ‘scientific validity’ (i.e. the threshold set in the Regulations for that marker) to the IAAF (via the proportionality test), as the panel did, created an artificial separation in the legal analysis, by dressing the same issue in two different hats.

From the viewpoint of legal technique, this separation appears questionable and unnecessarily complicated. The assumption, from a viewpoint of judicial policy, is that the separation provided the arbitrators with an argument to both support the general thinking underpinning the Regulations (i.e. the use of testosterone levels as a marker) by considering that it was not without scientific basis, while at the same time finding the Regulations lacked sufficient strength in their modalities (i.e. the extent of the advantage conferred to hyperandrogenic athletes by their testosterone levels) to be upheld.

Differentiating between fact-finding and legal appreciation

Whether sports regulations have a sufficiently strong basis in science does not pertain to the fact-finding process, but to the CAS panel’s appreciation of the legal validity ­ or justification (including proportionality) ­ of those regulations. In this particular set-up, the question of ‘scientific validity’ is thus not strictly speaking one related to the burden of proof, as the Chand award would imply, but reflects which party suffers consequences if a CAS panel is not able to make sense of the scientific state-of-knowledge. The prospect of suffering adverse consequences indirectly provides an incentive for parties to present studies and expert opinions in support of their position, but does not qualify as a burden of proof stricto sensu, which only applies to issues of fact[11].

Nevertheless, the outcome of the CAS panel’s reasoning in the Chand matter appears justified: To the extent that the Hyperandrogenism Regulations represent an infringement on certain athletes’ rights (or, as the award considered it, in cases of discrimination), such infringement or discrimination has to be justified to be considered valid. In the case of the Hyperandrogenism Regulations, the alleged justification was based on the scientific basis behind the mechanics of the regulations. Thus, if no such basis could be shown, the CAS panel was bound to consider the Hyperandrogenism Regulations invalid. The CAS panel, in the particular matter, reached the same outcome by assigning the burden of proof on the issue it ultimately declared decisive to the IAAF, i.e. whether the manner in which testosterone was used as marker in the Regulations (especially the threshold value) could claim a sufficiently solid scientific basis.

Accounting for the role of scientific uncertainty

A truly important message to retain from the CAS award on scientific validity is the crucial role that ‘scientific uncertainty’ bears for the legal rule-making or adjudicative process. ‘Scientific uncertainty’ here refers to situations in which no consensus can be found within the scientific community, in which various expert positions coexist, or in which experts agree that the state-of-knowledge does not allow for a definitive answer. In all cases, the science is ‘unsettled’ in a manner that makes it impossible for the legal actors to extract a clear-cut finding that would suit their purposes. By nature, situations of ‘scientific uncertainty’ are the most likely to lead to legal disputes. CAS panels are frequently confronted with this constellation in doping matters or other science-related disputes brought before them.

The result of the panel’s assessment of the scientific foundations for the Regulations – whether desirable or not, justified or not – was hence utterly predictable. It was pre-determined from the moment the CAS panel decided that the IAAF would have the burden of proof on the very issue that would ultimately prove decisive for the outcome of a dispute. Allocating the burden of proof on a scientific issue amounts to assigning to one party (or one category of party) the risk of scientific uncertainty. Since disputed scientific issues are likely to result in the panel being unable to make up its mind one way or another, thus having to fall back on the burden of proof, the party that carries this risk of scientific uncertainty is almost certain to lose its case.

(Avoiding) reaching a legal conclusion on a highly sensitive issue

At the end of their analysis, the CAS arbitrators reached the conclusion that the IAAF had not discharged its burden of proof and that they were therefore unable to uphold the validity of the Hyperandrogenism Regulations based on the evidence before them[12]. The logical (and legal) consequence would have been for the panel to render a final award in accordance with these conclusions and grant the athlete’s request for relief. However, the panel took a different – and unusual ­ option, of issuing a decision they referred to as “interim award” instead.

One fails to see the rationale for such a decision. The approach may well be pragmatic, since it relieved (at least temporarily) the CAS panel of the need to make a final binding decision on a complex social and political issue, and allowed Dutee Chand to resume competition while at the same time providing a (provisional) framework for international athletic competitions with respect to participation of hyperandrogenic athletes.[13] However, issuing an “interim award” in this matter is not justifiable from the perspective of arbitration law. This is all the more true given that none of the parties appears to have requested the issuing of a preliminary decision in the proceedings, nor even to have contemplated this type of outcome. Its legitimacy under the CAS Code – which is conceived to guarantee an efficient procedural framework on CAS proceedings – is equally questionable. Moreover, the choice of issuing an ‘interim award’ has far-reaching legal and practical consequences for the dispute that further call into doubt the nature of Dutee Chand’s ‘victory’, including the following:

  • The CAS proceeding number ‘CAS 2014/A/3759’ is not closed. The CAS panel remains formally constituted for the remainder of the two-year period assigned to the IAAF. If the IAAF does not submit further evidence, the CAS panels will need to make a final award taking note of such failure and drawing the consequences thereof, which could then be appealed before the Swiss Supreme Court;
  • The “interim award” can only be appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court on very restrictive grounds under the Swiss Private International Law Act (Article 190, para. 3). Only an appeal for grounds of irregular composition of the tribunal or lack of jurisdiction could be filed, none of which would seem of relevance to the present matter. The other grounds for challenging an arbitral award – in particular the right to be heard or public policy – cannot be raised in an appeal against an interim award. This de facto bars the parties from appealing the award before the elapse of the two-year period; and
  • The award does not acquire a res iudicata effect and cannot be enforced, though it binds the panel itself to its own determinations (as opposed to a mere procedural order).[14] Its effect for other athletes potentially concerned by decisions made under national regulations implemented to reflect the Hyperandrogenism Regulations is thus uncertain. In theory, but for the panel’s expectations that the IAAF will act based on the sport hierarchy, a national federation that was not a party to the dispute could still make a decision against an athlete.

While CAS panels may order further evidentiary measures on their own initiative and request a party to adduce further evidence, the CAS Code certainly does not envisage that a party could be given a period of two years to do so. Rendering an interim award in these circumstances could be considered to amount to a denial of justice, i.e. a refusal by the CAS panel to rule on the request for relief properly submitted to it. The time limit granted unilaterally, to one of the parties only, could also be seen as conflicting with equality of the parties.[15] Should the IAAF return with additional evidence during the two-year period, would Dutee Chand also be granted an equivalent time limit to respond to the evidence?

Challenges sports organisations face in navigating the interface between law and science

The debate surrounding the definition of male and female is a complex one, not only in sport but in various domains of society. This means that a sports organisation’s task of making policy decisions that adequately account for these complexities is far from straightforward.

Unlike former policies in sport, the manner in which the IAAF – and other sports federations based on the policy of the IOC – set out to deal with hyperandrogenism as of 2012 does not formally aim at defining an athlete’s sex. Hence, it does not represent a ‘gender or sex testing’ process stricto sensu. Instead, the CAS panel in the Dutee Chand case acknowledged that whether a person is to be considered ‘female’ from the viewpoint of participation in athletics relies on the criterion of whether a person is a female as a matter of law[16]. The Hyperandrogenism Regulations do not – at least not from a legal viewpoint ­ purport to decide whether someone is female or not. Ironically, this shift in approach that was to take away from sports authorities the controversial power to assign a ‘gender’ to an individual for purposes of taking part in its competitions is precisely what has brought those authorities into the dilemma of having to introduce corrective factors in the name of a level playing field.

Indeed, the Regulations seek to police a divide based on an issue of law (whether someone is a female ‘as a matter of law’) through a corrective factor that relies on a biological parameter, which is an issue of fact (the person’s level of testosterone); an approach that is bound to lead to a sense of unfairness in borderline situations. Undoubtedly, one major flaw in the system was that the corrective factor had the effect of excluding athletes from the category into which they fit as a matter of law, without offering them the option to compete in the category in which the corrective factor would place them. The IOC Medical & Scientific Commission statement subsequently issued (see below, in the concluding remarks) encourages a solution whereby legally female athletes who fail to meet the requirements of Hyperandrogenism Regulations would be authorized to compete in the male category. This solution would at least have the merits of removing this blatant inconsistency of the system. However, one can legitimately wonder if, de facto, it would not have the same effect of excluding hyperandrogenic women from elite competition entirely.

To entirely reframe the approach to sex categories in sport – without the mixture of legal and biological corrective factors chosen in the Hyperandrogenism Regulations – would suppose one of the following:

  1. redefining the definition of ‘sex’ for purposes of sports categories based only on biological criteria, i.e. the level of testosterone or other biological factors deemed appropriate,
  2. abandoning the use of corrective factors, and referring to an individual’s sex exclusively as a matter of law, or
  3. abandoning any form of sports category related to sex and/or gender altogether.

It seems predictable that any of these options would imply some sort of compromise and entail new legal challenges. In particular, it is important to note that even if one should simply abandon any regulation on hyperandrogenism (or, more generally, on intersex matters), the question of how to legally define a ‘female’ would remain. In particular, the CAS panel in the Chand matter noted that whether someone is a male or female “is a matter of law”[17]. This immediately raises a follow-up question, namely: “what law?”. And, of equal importance, how does the applicable law approach this question? Options could range from self-identification to reliance on a complex set of scientific criteria, with each solution bringing its own challenges. Relying exclusively, as has been suggested[18], on the manner in which a person was raised and/or perceives him-/herself within society might prove difficult to crystallize into a firm legal criterion.

Even as sports regulations strives towards fairness and removing barriers to ‘pure’ competition, it must be recognized that the best that sports organizations can aim for in this context is to strike a reasonable balance between seeking a level playing field and celebrating natural advantages. On a deeper level, it also supposes a discussion as to how lawyers can and/or may make decisions that will profoundly affect individuals when science appears unable to provide the data needed to make sound legal choices.


Concluding remarks

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Chand matter ­ as revealed by its aftermath ­ is the limited impact a CAS award addressing abstract legal issues can exert in practice.

The Chand award did not end the hyperandrogenism debate. In November 2015 – over four months after the Chand award was published ­ the IOC Medical & Scientific Commission, after holding a Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism, reaffirmed its position by insisting on the need to have rules in place “for the protection of women in sport and the promotion of the principles of fair competition”. The statement also encourages the IAAF, with support of other sports organizations, “to revert to CAS with arguments and evidence to support the reinstatement of its hyperandrogenism rules”. The IOC’s reaction to the interim award rendered shows that little progress was made in resolving the dispute over the validity of the Hyperandrogenism Regulations. As an only sign of a shift in its position, the statement recommends that “to avoid discrimination, if not eligible for female competition the Athlete should be eligible to compete in male competition”.[19] The new IOC position, which in effect represents a step towards considering the testosterone threshold as the only decisive criterion for determining the boundary between male and female athletes, immediately triggered critical reactions – both as to the modalities of its adoption and as to its contents – on part of circles close to Dutee Chand’s defence and opposed to regulations on hyperandrogenism.

Thus, the CAS award does not seem to have altered either camp’s position. This may be in part a side effect of the panel’s decision to opt for an interim award, but also demonstrates more generally the limitations on the power of law, regulatory bodies and judicial authorities to resolve disputes of such scientific and ethical dimension.

[1] For a more detailed analysis of the Chand award, see M Viret and E Wisnosky, Controlling “Femaleness” in Sports: Regulatory challenges at the intersection of health, performance and identity, in A Duval and A Rigozzi, eds., Yearbook of International Sports Arbitration, to be published.

[2] CAS 2014/A/3759, Dutee Chand v. AFI & IAAF, 24 July [27]­[28]. As reported in the award, the text of the Decision Letter read in relevant part: “Based on your medical reports received from Sports Authority of India and a copy of the same has already been handed over to you by SAI in person, you are hereby provisionally stopped from participation in any Competition in athletics with immediate effect.

To be eligible for participation, you are further advised to follow the annexed IAAF guidelines”. [27]. Ms. Chand stated that the letter incorrectly enclosed the IAAF Sex Reassignment Regulations rather than the Hyperandrogenism Regulations [28].

[4] Hyperandrogenism Regulations, art. 6.5(i).

[5] Hyperandrogenism Regulations, art. 6.5(ii).

[6] Dutee Chand initially submitted two requests for relief, namely that a.) “[T]he Hyperandrogenism Regulation[s] be declared invalid and void; and, b.)[T]he Decision Letter [note: rendered by the AFI against Ms. Chand] be set aside and she be declared eligible to compete (Chand award at [104]).

[7] CAS’ consultation proceedings were abrogated in the 2012 review of the CAS Code.

[8] Chand award at [36]

[9] “The ‘Digest of CAS Awards 1986-1998’ recorded the emergence of a lex sportiva through the judicial decisions of the CAS. It is true that one of the interests of this court is to develop a jurisprudence that can be used as a reference by all the actors of world sport, thereby encouraging the harmonisation of the judicial rules and principles applied within the sports world.” (CAS Digest II, Reeb, p. xxix).

[10] A detailed analysis of the CAS panel’s reasoning can be found in Viret and Wisnosky 2016.

[11] For more details, see Viret and Wisnosky 2016, on the lack of clear distinction between issues of fact (which parties can agree upon) and issues of law, such as the burden and standard of proof and scientific validity (which is for a hearing panel to decide) in the Chand award.

[12] Chand award at [536].

[13] J Paulsson, Assessing the Usefulness and Legitimacy of CAS, SchiedsVZ 2015, pp. 263-269, p. 269.

[14] G Kaufmann-Kohler and A Rigozzi, International Arbitration: Law and Practice in Switzerland, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015, paras 7.105-7.106.

[15] See Chand award at [442]. In particular, the Athlete accepted the burden of proof with respect to the “issue of scientific basis” of the Hyperandrogenism Regulations, a burden that the CAS panel considered had equally not been discharged.

[16] Chand award at [510]

[17] Chand award at [510].

[18] See e.g. M Genel, J L Simpson and A de la Chapelle, The Olympic Games and Athletic Sex Assignment, Journal of the American Medical Association, Published online August 04, 2016.

[19] IOC (2015) IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism November 2015

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