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 – January 2019 - 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 plight of Hakeem al-Araibi – the 25-year-old refugee footballer who was arrested last November in Bangkok upon his arrival from Australia on the basis of a red notice issued by Interpol in contravention of its own policies which afford protection to refugees and asylum-seekers – continued throughout the month of January. Bahrain – the country Hakeem al-Araibi fled in 2014 due to a (well-founded) fear of persecution stemming from his previous experience when he was imprisoned and tortured as part of the crackdown on pro-democracy athletes who had protested against the royal family during the Arab spring – maintained a firm stance, demanding that Hakeem be extradited to serve a prison sentence over a conviction for vandalism charges, which was allegedly based on coerced confessions and ignored evidence.

While international sports governing bodies were critised from the very beginning for not using enough leverage with the governments of Bahrain and Thailand to ensure that Hakeem’s human rights are protected, they have gradually added their voice to the intense campaign for Hakeem’s release led by civil society groups. FIFA, for example, has sent a letter directly to the Prime Minister of Thailand, urging the Thai authorities ‘to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards’. Yet many activists have found this action insufficient and called for sporting sanctions to be imposed on the national football associations of Bahrain and Thailand.      

When it looked like Hakeem will continue to be detained in Thailand at least until April this year, the news broke that the Thai authorities agreed to release Hakeem due to the fact that for now the Bahraini government had given up on the idea of bringing Hakeem ‘home’ – a moment that was praised as historic for the sport and human rights movement.

Russia avoids further sanctions from WADA despite missing the deadline for handing over doping data from the Moscow laboratory 

WADA has been back in turmoil ever since the new year began as the Russian authorities failed to provide it with access to crucial doping data from the former Moscow laboratory within the required deadline which expired on 31 December 2018, insisting that the equipment WADA intended to use for the data extraction was not certified under Russian law. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency thus failed to meet one of the two conditions under which its three-year suspension was controversially lifted in September 2018. The missed deadline sparked outrage among many athletes and national anti-doping organisations, who blamed WADA for not applying enough muscle against the Russian authorities.

Following the expiry of the respective deadline, it appeared that further sanctions could be imposed on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, but such an option was on the table only until WADA finally managed to access the Moscow laboratory and retrieve the doping data on 17 January 2019. Shortly thereafter, WADA President Sir Craig Reedie hailed the progress as a major breakthrough for clean sport and members of the WADA Executive Committee agreed that no further sanctions were needed despite the missed deadline. However, doubts remain as to whether the data have not been manipulated. Before WADA delivers on its promise and builds strong cases against the athletes who doped – to be handled by international sports federations – it first needs to do its homework and verify whether the retrieved data are indeed genuine.  

British track cyclist Jessica Varnish not an employee according to UK employment tribunal

On 16 January 2019, an employment tribunal in Manchester rendered a judgment with wider implications for athletes and sports governing bodies in the United Kingdom, ruling that the female track cyclist Jessica Varnish was neither an employee nor a worker of the national governing body British Cycling and the funding agency UK Sport. The 28-year-old multiple medal winner from the world and European championships takes part in professional sport as an independent contractor but sought to establish before the tribunal that she was in fact an employee of the two organisations. This would enable her to sue either organisation for unfair dismissal as she was dropped from the British cycling squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and her funding agreement was not renewed, allegedly in response to her critical remarks about some of the previous coaching decisions.

The tribunal eventually dismissed her challenge, concluding that ‘she was not personally performing work provided by the respondent – rather she was personally performing a commitment to train in accordance with the individual rider agreement in the hope of achieving success at international competitions’. Despite the outcome of the dispute, Jessica Varnish has insisted that her legal challenge contributed to a positive change in the structure, policies and personnel of British Cycling and UK Sport, while both organisations have communicated they had already taken action to strengthen the duty of care and welfare provided to athletes.  


Sports Law Related Decisions

Official Documents and Press Releases


In the news




Academic Materials

International Sports Law Journal



Law in Sport



Upcoming Events

Call for papers - Third Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 24 and 25 October 2019 - Asser Institute

The Editors of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invite you to submit abstracts for the third ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 24 and 25 October 2019 at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ, published by Springer and Asser Press, is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. The conference is a unique occasion to discuss the main legal issues affecting international sports with renowned academic experts and practitioners.

We are delighted to announce the following confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Beckie Scott (Chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Athlete Committee, Olympic Champion, former member of the WADA Executive Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)),
  • Ulrich Haas (Professor of Law at Univerzität Zürich, CAS arbitrator), and
  • Kimberly Morris (Head of FIFA Transfer Matching System (TMS) Integrity and Compliance).

We welcome abstracts from academics and practitioners on any question related to international sports law. We also welcome panel proposals (including a minimum of three presenters) on a specific issue. For this year’s edition, we specifically invite submissions on the following themes:

  • The role of athletes in the governance of international sports
  • The evolution of sports arbitration, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport
  •  The role and functioning of the FIFA transfer system, including the FIFA TMS
  •  The intersection between criminal law and international sports (in particular issues of corruption, match-fixing, human trafficking, tax evasion)
  • Hooliganism
  • Protection of minor athletes
  • Civil and criminal liability relating to injuries in sports

Please send your abstract of 300 words and CV no later than 30 April 2019 to Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2019. All papers presented at the conference are eligible (subjected to peer-review) for publication in a special issue of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference issue of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2019.  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. 250€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please indicate it in your submission. 

A Reflection on the Second Report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands and works as Research Officer for the Centre for Sports and Human Rights. 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 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.


On November 26th, the Human Rights Advisory Board[1] of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) published its second report. This blog provides a summary and brief evaluation of the report, by drawing a comparison to the previous report issued by the Human Rights Advisory Board (hereinafter: the Board) based on the content of the recommendations and FIFA’s efforts to implement the Board’s recommendations. The third part of this blog briefly reflects on the broader implications of some of the new recommendations issued for FIFA’s internal policies. The conclusion provides five more general points of observation on the report. More...

The Kristoffersen ruling: the EFTA Court targets athlete endorsement deals - By Sven Demeulemeester and Niels Verborgh

Editor’s note: Sven Demeulemeester and Niels Verborgh are sports lawyers at the Belgium law firm, Altius.



In its 16 November 2018 judgment, the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States (the EFTA Court) delivered its eagerly awaited ruling in the case involving Henrik Kristoffersen and the Norwegian Ski Federation (NSF). 

On 17 October 2016, Kristoffersen had taken the NSF to the Oslo District Court over the latter’s refusal to let the renowned alpine skier enter into a sponsorship with Red Bull. At stake were the commercial markings on his helmet and headgear in races organised under the NSF’s umbrella. The NSF refused this sponsorship because it had already granted the advertising on helmet and headgear to its own main sponsor, Telenor. Kristoffersen claimed before the Oslo District Court, that the NSF should be ordered to permit him to enter into an individual marketing contract with Red Bull. In the alternative, Kristoffersen claimed damages up to a maximum of NOK 15 million. By a letter of 25 September 2017, the Oslo District Court referred several legal questions to the EFTA Court in view of shedding light on the compatibility of the rules that the NSF had invoked with EEA law.

If rules do not relate to the conduct of the sport itself, but concern sponsorship rights and hence an economic activity, these rules are subject to EEA law. The EFTA Court ruling is important in that it sets out the framework for dealing with - ever more frequent - cases in which an individual athlete’s endorsement deals conflict with the interest of the national or international sports governing bodies (SGBs) that he or she represents in international competitions.More...

Season 2 of football leaks: A review of the first episodes

Season 2 of #FootballLeaks is now underway since more than a week and already a significant number of episodes (all the articles published can be found on the European Investigative Collaborations’ website) covering various aspect of the (lack of) transnational regulation of football have been released (a short German documentary sums up pretty much the state of play). For me, as a legal scholar, this new series of revelations is an exciting opportunity to discuss in much more detail than usual various questions related to the operation of the transnational private regulations of football imposed by FIFA and UEFA (as we already did during the initial football leaks with our series of blogs on TPO in 2015/2016). Much of what has been unveiled was known or suspected by many, but the scope and precision of the documents published makes a difference. At last, the general public, as well as academics, can have certainty about the nature of various shady practices in the world of football. One key characteristic that explains the lack of information usually available is that football, like many international sports, is actually governed by private administrations (formally Swiss associations), which are not subject to the similar obligations in terms of transparency than public ones (e.g. access to document rules, systematic publication of decisions, etc.). In other words, it’s a total black box! The football leaks are offering a rare sneak peak into that box.

Based on what I have read so far (this blog was written on Friday 9 November), there are three main aspects I find worthy of discussion:

  • The (lack of) enforcement of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations
  • The European Super League project and EU competition law
  • The (lack of) separation of powers inside FIFA and UEFA More...

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: Altius

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very happy to finish this series of interviews with Sven Demeulemeester from Altius, a Belgian law firm based in Brussels with a very fine (and academically-minded!) sports law team. 

1. Can you explain to our readers the work of Altius in international sports law? 

Across different sports’ sectors, Altius’ sports law practice advises and assists some of the world’s most high-profile sports governing bodies, clubs and athletes, at both the national and the international level. The team has 6 fully-dedicated sports lawyers and adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, which guarantees a broad range of legal expertise for handling specific cases or wider issues related to the sports industry. We are proud to be independent but, in cross-border matters, are able to tap into a worldwide network.

2. How is it to be an international sports lawyer? What are the advantages and challenges of the job? 

Sports law goes beyond one specific field of law. The multiplicity of legal angles keeps the work interesting, even after years of practising, and ensures that a sports lawyer rarely has a dull moment. The main downside is that the sports industry is fairly conservative and sometimes ‘political’. While the law is one thing, what happens in practice is often another. Bringing about change is not always easy. 

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference? 

 The much-anticipated overhaul of the football transfer system is eagerly anticipated and is worth a thorough debate, also in terms of possible, viable alternatives. The impact of EU law - both internal market rules, competition law and fundamental rights – can hardly be underestimated. Also, dispute resolution mechanisms within the realm of sports - and an accessible, transparent, independent and impartial sports arbitration in particular - will remain a ‘hot’ topic in the sector for years to come. Furthermore, ethics and integrity issues should remain top of the agenda, as is being demonstrated by the current money-laundering and match-fixing allegations in Belgium. Finally, in a sector in which the use of data is rife, the newly-adopted GDPR’s impact remains somewhat ‘under the radar’.

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference? 

The ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference is refreshing, both in terms of its topics and participants. The academic and content-driven approach is a welcome addition to other sports law conferences in which the networking aspect often predominates.

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: LawInSport

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very happy to continue this series of interviews with LawInSport, a knowledge hub and educational platform for the community of people working in or with an interest in sport and the law  (many thanks to LawInSport's CEO Sean Cottrell for kindly responding to our questions).

1. Can you explain to our readers what LawInSport is about?

LawInSport is a knowledge hub, educational platform and global community of people working in or with an interest in sport and the law.

Our objective is to help people ‘understand the rules of the game™’. What does this mean? It means people in sport having access to information that enables them to have a better understanding the rules and regulations that govern the relationships, behaviours and processes within sports. This in turn creates a foundation based on the principles of the rule of law, protecting the rights of everyone working and participating in sport.  

2. What are the challenges and perks of being an international sports law 'reporter’ ?

I do not consider myself a reporter, but as the head of an organisation that has a responsibility to provide the highest quality information on legal issues in sport,  focusing on what is important and not just what is popular, whilst trying to stay free from conflicts of interests. These two issues, popularism and conflict of interest, are the two of the biggest challenges.

Popularism and the drive to win attention is, in my opinion, causing a lack of discipline when it comes to factual and legal accuracy in coverage of sports law issues, which on their own may seem harmless, but can cause harm to organisations and individuals (athletes, employees, etc).

Conflict of interest will obviously arise in such a small sector, however, there is not a commonly agreed standard in internationally, let alone in sports law. Therefore, one needs to be diligent when consuming information to understand why someone may or may not hold a point of view, if they have paid to get it published or has someone paid them to write it. For this reason it can be hard to get a full picture of what is happening in the sector.

In terms of perks, I get to do something that is both challenging and rewarding on a daily basis, and as  a business owner I have the additional benefit of work with colleagues I enjoy working with. I have the privilege of meeting world leaders in their respective fields (law, sport, business, science, education, etc) and gain insights from them about their work and life experiences which is incredibly enriching.  Getting access to speak to the people who are on the front line, either athletes, coaches, lawyers, scientists, rather than from a third party is great as it gives you an unfiltered insight into what is going on.

On the other side of things, we get the opportunity to help people through either having a better understand of the legal and regulatory issues in sports or to understand how to progress themselves towards their goals academically and professionally is probably the most rewarding part of my work. 

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference?

  • The long-term implications of human rights law in sport;
  • The importance of meaningful of stakeholder consultation in the creation and drafting of regulations in sport;
  • Effective international safeguarding in sport.

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference?

We support ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference as it is a non-profit conference that’s purpose is to create a space to explore a wide range of legal issues in sport. The conference is an academic conference that does a great job in bringing a diverse range of speakers and delegates. The discussions and debates that take place will benefit the wider sports law community.  Therefore, as LawInSport’s objective is focused on education it was a straight forward decision to support the conferences as it is aligned with our objectives. 

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: Women in Sports Law

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very proud to start this series of interviews with Women in Sports Law, an association launched in 2016 and which has already done so much to promote and advance the role of women in international sports law (many thanks to Despina Mavromati for kindly responding to our questions on behalf of WISLaw).

1. Can you explain to our readers what WISLaw is about?

Women In Sports Law (WISLaw, is an international association based in Lausanne that unites more than 300 women from 50 countries specializing in sports law. It is a professional network that aims at increasing the visibility of women working in the sector, through a detailed members’ directory and various small-scale talks and events held in different countries around the world. These small-scale events give the opportunity to include everyone in the discussion and enhance the members’ network. Men from the sector and numerous arbitral institutions, conference organizers and universities have come to actively support our initiative.

2. What are the challenges and opportunities for women getting involved in international sports law?

Women used to be invisible in this sector. All-male panels were typical at conferences and nobody seemed to notice this flagrant lack of diversity. WISLaw created this much-needed platform to increase visibility through the members’ directory and through a series of small-scale events where all members, independent of their status or seniority, can attend and be speakers.

Another difficulty is that European football (soccer) is traditionally considered to be a “male-dominated” sport, despite the fact that there are so many great female football teams around the world. The same misperception applies to sports lawyers!

Last, there is a huge number of women lawyers working as in-house counsel and as sports administrators. There is a glass ceiling for many of those women, and the WISLaw annual evaluation of the participation of women in those positions attempts to target their issues and shed more light into this specific problem.

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference?

The ISLJ Annual Conference has already set up a great lineup of topics combining academic and more practical discussions in the most recent issues in international sports law. 

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference?

The Asser International Sports Law Centre has promoted and supported WISLaw since the very beginning. The ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference was the first big conference to officially include a WISLaw lunch talk in its program, allowing thus the conference attendees to be part of a wider informal discussion on a specific topical issue and raise their questions with respect to WISLaw. Another important reason why WISLaw supports this conference is because the conference organizers are making sincere efforts to have increased diversity in the panels : this year’s ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference is probably the first sports law conference to come close to a full gender balance in its panels, with 40% of the speakers being women !

The proportionality test under Art. 101 (1) TFEU and the legitimacy of UEFA Financial fair-play regulations: From the Meca Medina and Majcen ruling of the European Court of Justice to the Galatasaray and AC Milan awards of the Court of Arbitration for Sport – 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. 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. On the 20th July 2018, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (hereinafter referred to as “CAS”) issued its decision in the arbitration procedure between AC Milan and UEFA. The subject matter of this arbitration procedure was the appeal filed by AC Milan against the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Financial Control Body dated 19th June 2018 (hereinafter referred to as “the contested decision”). As many likely know, the CAS has acknowledged that, although AC Milan was in breach of the break-even requirement, the related exclusion of the club from the UEFA Europe League was not proportionate. To date, it is the first time the CAS clearly ruled that the sanction of exclusion from UEFA club competitions for a breach of the break-even requirement was not proportionate. For this reason the CAS award represents a good opportunity to reflect on the proportionality test under Art. 101 TFEU and the relationship between the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (hereinafter referred to as “ECJ”) in the Meca Medina and Majcen affair and the very recent case-law of the CAS. 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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