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

Doyen vs. Sporting II: The Bitter End of Sporting’s Fight at the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. By Shervine Nafissi

Editor’s Note: Shervine Nafissi (@SNafissi) is a Phd Student in sports law and teaching assistant in corporate law at University of Lausanne (Switzerland), Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC).



The factual background

The dispute concerns a TPO contract entitled “Economic Rights Participation Agreement” (hereinafter “ERPA”) concluded in 2012 between Sporting Lisbon and the investment fund Doyen Sports. The Argentine player was transferred in 2012 by Spartak Moscow to Sporting Lisbon for a transfer fee of €4 million. Actually, Sporting only paid €1 million of the fee while Doyen Sports financed the remaining €3 million. In return, the investment company became the owner of 75% of the economic rights of the player.[1] Thus, in this specific case, the Portuguese club was interested in recruiting Marcos Rojo but was unable to pay the transfer fee required by Spartak Moscow, so that they required the assistance of Doyen Sports. The latter provided them with the necessary funds to pay part of the transfer fee in exchange of an interest on the economic rights of the player.

Given that the facts and circumstances leading to the dispute, as well as the decision of the CAS, were fully described by Antoine Duval in last week’s blog of Doyen vs. Sporting, this blog will solely focus on the decision of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (“FSC”) following Sporting’s appeal against the CAS award. As a preliminary point, the role of the FSC in the appeal against CAS awards should be clarified.More...

Doyen vs. Sporting I: Doyen’s Pyrrhic Victory at the CAS

At the end of December 2015, the CAS decided on a very public contractual dispute between Sporting Clube de Portugal Futebol SAD (Sporting) and Doyen Sports Investments Limited (Doyen). The club was claiming that Doyen’s Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA) was invalid and refused to pay Doyen’s due share on the transfer of Marcos Rojo to Manchester United. The dispute made a lot of noise (see the excellent coverage by Tariq Panja from Bloomberg here, here and here) as it was the first TPO case heard by the CAS after FIFA’s ban. Yet, and it has to be clear from the outset, the case does not affect the legality of FIFA’s TPO ban; it concerned only the compatibility of Doyen’s ERPA with Swiss civil law. The hearing took place in June 2015, but the case was put under a new light by the football leaks revelations unveiled at the end of 2015 (see our blog from December 2015). Despite these revelations, the CAS award favoured Doyen, and was luckily for us quickly made available on the old football leaks website. This blog will provide a commentary of the CAS decision. It will be followed in the coming days by a commentary by Shervine Nafissi on the judgment, on appeal, by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. More...

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations and the Rise of Football’s 1%

On 12 January 2017 UEFA published its eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, concerning the financial year of 2015. In the press release that accompanied the report, UEFA proudly announced that Financial Fair Play (FFP) has had a huge positive impact on European football, creating a more stable financial environment. Important findings included a rise of aggregate operating profits of €1.5bn in the last two years, compared to losses of €700m in the two years immediately prior to the introduction of Financial Fair Play.

Source: UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 107.

 Meanwhile the aggregate losses dropped by 81% from €1.7bn in 2011 to just over €300m in 2015.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2017. By Saverio Spera.

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 Diarra ruling of the Tribunal of Charleroi

On 19 January 2017, the Hainaut Commercial Tribunal – Charleroi rendered its decision on the lawsuit filed by the football player Lassana Diarra against FIFA and the Belgian FA (URBSFA) for damages caused by not being able to exercise the status of a professional football player during the entire 2014/2015 season. The lawsuit is linked to the decision, rendered by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) on April 2015, to support Lokomotiv’s decision to terminate the player’s contract and to order Diarra to pay Lokomotiv the amount of EUR 10,500,000 for having breached his contract. According to the plaintiff, Diarra’s opportunity to be recruited by Sporting Charleroi was denied due to the club being potentially considered jointly liable for Diarra’s compensation pursuant to Article 17 (2) RSTP. The Belgian court held strongly that “when the contract is terminated by the club, the player must have the possibility to sign a new contract with a new employer, without restrictions to his free movement”. This case highlighted, once again, the need to read the RSTP in the light of EU law. Moreover, the decision is laying further ground for broader challenges to the RSTP on the basis of EU law (for a deeper insight into the Diarra ruling, see the recent blog written by our senior researcher Antoine Duval) More...

Introducing the new legal challenges of E-Sports. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Editor’s Note: Emre Bilginoglu[1] is an attorney in Istanbul and the co-founder of the Turkish E-Sports Players Association, a non-profit based in Istanbul that aims to provide assistance to professional gamers and to work on the relevant laws affecting them. 

The world is witnessing the rise of a new sport that is growing at an incredible speed: E-Sports. We are only starting to understand its legal implications and challenges.

In recent years, E-Sports has managed to attract thousands of fans to arenas to see a group of people play a video game. These people are literally professional gamers (cyber athletes)[2] who make money by competing in tournaments. Not all video games have tournaments in which professional players compete against each other.

The most played games in E-Sports competitions are League of Legends (LoL), Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). LoL and DotA are both Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, a genre of strategy video games in which the player controls a single character in one of two teams. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s main structure. CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS) game, a genre of video games where the player engages combat through a first-person perspective. The main objective in CS:GO is to eliminate the opposing team or to terrorize or counter-terrorize, planting bombs or rescuing hostages. Other games that have (popular) E-Sports competitions include Starcraft II (real time strategy), Hearthstone (collectible card video game), Call of Duty (FPS) and FIFA (football).

The gaming requires cooperation between team players, a high level of concentration, rapid reactions and some seriously fast clicking. E-Sports is a groovy term to describe organized competitive computer gaming. The E-Sports industry is exponentially growing, amounting to values expressed in billions of dollars. According to Newzoo, a website dedicated to the collection of E-Sports data, there are some 250 million occasional viewers of E-Sports with Asia-Pacific accounting for half of the total amount. The growth of the industry is indubitably supported by online streaming media platforms. This article aims to explain what E-Sports is and to give the readers an insight on the key legal questions raised by it. More...

Time for Transparency at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By Saverio Spera

Editor’s Note: Saverio Spera is an Italian lawyer and LL.M. graduate in International Business Law from King’s College London. He is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

The time is ripe to take a closer look at the CAS and its transparency, as this is one of the ways to ensure its public accountability and its legitimacy. From 1986 to 2013, the number of arbitrations submitted to the CAS has grown from 2 to more than 400 a year. More specifically, the number of appeals submitted almost doubled in less than ten years (from 175 in 2006, to 349 in 2013[1]). Therefore, the Court can be considered the judicial apex of an emerging transnational sports law (or lex sportiva).[2] In turn, the increased authority and power of this institution calls for increased transparency, in order to ensure its legitimacy.[3]


UEFA’s betting fraud detection system: How does the CAS regard this monitoring tool? By Emilio García.

Editor’s note: Emilio García (  is a doctor in law and head of disciplinary and integrity at UEFA. Before joining UEFA, he was the Spanish Football Federation’s legal director (2004–12) and an arbitrator at the CAS (2012–13).In this blog, Emilio García provides a brief review of a recent case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS): Klubi Sportiv Skënderbeu v UEFA (CAS 2016/A/4650)[1], in which he acted as main counsel for UEFA. 

Sport and match-fixing – A quick overview

Match-fixing is now legally defined as “an intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the course of a sports competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sports competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others”.[2] It has been said that there has always been match-fixing in sport.[3] From the ancient Olympic Games to the most important global sports competitions of today, manipulation of results has always been an all-too-frequent occurrence.

We have seen a number of very prominent instances of this kind of issue over the years. One of the most remarkable examples, which was even the subject of a film,[4] was the match-fixing episode during the 1919 World Series, where several players from the Chicago White Sox were found guilty of accepting bribes and deliberately losing matches against the Cincinnati Reds.[5]

The situation has changed considerably since then. In particular, the globalisation of the sports betting industry has had a massive impact, with recent studies estimating that between €200bn and €500bn is betted on sport every year.[6] Match-fixing does not just affect football either;[7] it is also affecting other sports, most notably tennis.[8] More...

The Diarra Ruling of the Tribunal of Charleroi: The New Pechstein, Bosman or Mutu?

Yesterday the sports law world was buzzing due to the Diarra decision of the Tribunal de Commerce du Hainaut (the Tribunal) based in Charleroi, Belgium. Newspapers were lining up (here, here and here) to spread the carefully crafted announcement of the new triumph of Jean-Louis Dupont over his favourite nemesis: the transfer system. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to receive on this same night a copy of the French text of the judgment. My first reaction while reading quickly through the ruling, was ‘OMG he did it again’! “He” meaning Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, who after a string of defeats in his long shot challenge against FIFA’s TPO ban or UEFA’s FFP (see here and here), had [at least I believed after rushing carelessly through the judgment] manufactured a new “it”: a Bosman. Yet, after carefully re-reading the judgment, it became quickly clear to me that this was rather a new Mutu (in the sense of the latest CAS award in the ‘Mutu saga’, which I have extensively analysed on this blog and in a recent commentary for the new Yearbook of International Sports Arbitration) coupled with some reflections reminding a bit (but not really as will be explicated below) the Pechstein case.

In this blog, I will retrace briefly the story behind the case and then analyse the decision of the Belgium court. In doing so, I will focus on its reasoning regarding its jurisdiction and the compatibility of article 17(2) RSTP with EU law.More...

The Russian Doping Scandal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: The IPC’s Rio Ineligibility of Russian Paralympic Athletes

Editor's note: This blog is part of a special blog series on the Russian doping scandal at the CAS. Last year I analysed the numerous decisions rendered by the CAS ad hoc Division in Rio and earlier this year I reviewed the CAS award in the IAAF case.

Unlike the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was very much unaffected by the Russian doping scandal until the publication of the first McLaren report in July 2016. The report highlighted that Russia’s doping scheme was way more comprehensive than what was previously thought. It extended beyond athletics to other disciplines, including Paralympic sports. Furthermore, unlike the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the IPC had a bit more time to deal with the matter, as the Rio Paralympic Games were due to start “only” in September.

After the release of the McLaren Report, the IPC president Sir Philip Craven was “truly shocked, appalled and deeply saddened at the extent of the state sponsored doping programme implemented in Russia”. He immediately announced the IPC’s intention to review the report’s findings and to act strongly upon them. Shortly thereafter, on 22 July, the IPC decided to open suspension proceedings against the National Paralympic Committee of Russia (NPC Russia) in light of its apparent inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations. In particular, due to “the prevailing doping culture endemic within Russian sport, at the very highest levels, NPC Russia appears unable or unwilling to ensure compliance with and the enforcement of the IPC’s Anti-Doping Code within its own national jurisdiction”. A few weeks later, on 7 August, the IPC Governing Board decided to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee with immediate effect “due to its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory)”. Indeed, these “obligations are a fundamental constitutional requirement for all National Paralympic Committees (NPCs), and are vital to the IPC’s ability to ensure fair competition and to provide a level playing field for all Para athletes around the world”. Consequently, the Russian Paralympic Committee lost all rights and privileges of IPC membership. Specifically, it was not entitled to enter athletes in competitions sanctioned by the IPC, and/or to participate in IPC activities. Thus, “the Russian Paralympic Committee will not be able to enter its athletes in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games”. More...

The Russian Doping Scandal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: The IAAF’s Rio Ineligibility of Russian Athletes

Since the release of the earth-shattering ARD documentary two years ago, the athletics world has been in a permanent turmoil. The International Athletics Association Federation (IAAF) is faced with both a never-ending corruption scandal (playing out in front of the French police authorities) and the related systematic doping of Russian athletes. The situation escalated in different phases led by the revelations of Russian insiders. First, in December 2014 with the ARD documentary, which demonstrated how widespread (and organized) the recourse to doping was in Russian athletics. It triggered the Pound investigation financed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which led to two damaging reports (available here and here) for the Russian anti-doping system and the IAAF itself. Thereafter, in November 2015, the IAAF had no other choice but to provisionally suspend the Russian athletics federation (ARAF then RusAF) and its members from IAAF competitions. Yet, this was only the beginning as shortly after the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory provided a detailed sketch to the New York Times of the operation of a general state-led doping scheme in Russia. The system was designed to avert any positive doping tests for top-level Russian sportspeople and was going way beyond athletics. These allegations were later largely confirmed and reinforced by the McLaren investigation initiated by WADA in May 2016, and which published its first report in July 2016 shortly before the Rio Olympics. In June 2016, the IAAF anticipated the conclusions of the report (it had received most of McLaren’s evidence beforehand) and decided to maintain the ineligibility of Russian athletes for IAAF competitions, and for the Rio Olympics. It did, however, foresee a narrow exception for Russian athletes able to show that they were properly tested outside of Russia. Nonetheless, the athletes using this exception were to compete under a neutral flag at the Olympics. Unsurprisingly, Russian athletes led by pole superstar (and now IOC member), Yelena Isinbayeva, and the Russian Olympic Committee decided to challenge this decision in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Interestingly, while the decision was rendered on 21 July 2016, the full text of the award was publically released only on 10 October 2016. In September, I analysed the Rio CAS Ad Hoc Decisions involving Russian athletes aiming to participate to the Olympics. I will now turn to the IAAF decision, which is of great importance to the future of the anti-doping system. Indeed, it lays out the fundamental legal boundaries of the capacity of international federations to impose sanctions on their members (and their members) in order to support the world anti-doping fight. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | “Sport Sex” before the European Court of Human Rights - Caster Semenya v. Switzerland - By Michele Krech

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

“Sport Sex” before the European Court of Human Rights - Caster Semenya v. Switzerland - By Michele Krech

Editor's note: Michele Krech is a JSD Candidate and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow at NYU School of Law. She was retained as a consultant by counsel for Caster Semenya in the proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport discussed above. She also contributed to two reports mentioned in this blog post: the Report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport (June 2020); and the Human Rights Watch Report, “They’re Chasing Us Away from Sport”: Human Rights Violations in Sex Testing of Elite Women Athletes (December 2020).

This blog was first published by the Völkerrechtsblog and is republished here with authorization. Michele Krech will be joining our next Zoom In webinar on 31 March to discuss the next steps in the Caster Semenya case.

Sport is the field par excellence in which discrimination
against intersex people has been made most visible.

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Issue Paper: Human rights and intersex people (2015)

Olympic and world champion athlete Caster Semenya is asking the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to make sure all women athletes are “allowed to run free, for once and for all”. Semenya brings her application against Switzerland, which has allowed a private sport association and a private sport court to decide – with only the most minimal appellate review by a national judicial authority – what it takes for women, legally and socially identified as such all their lives, to count as women in the context of athletics. I consider how Semenya’s application might bring human rights, sex, and sport into conversation in ways not yet seen in a judicial forum.


Semenya, a South African national, competes in the sport of track and field, which is governed internationally by a private association, World Athletics, headquartered in Monaco. A few years ago, World Athletics introduced new Regulations barring women with innate variations of sex characteristics from competing in certain women’s events, unless they medically reduce their atypically high testosterone levels. Semenya first challenged the Regulations before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – an international arbitral tribunal located in Switzerland and commonly known as the “supreme court of sport”. After the majority of the CAS panel upheld the Regulations, Semenya appealed to Switzerland’s highest judicial authority, the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT), which dismissed her claim, leaving the Regulations – and “sport sex” – in place.

All the while, the UN Human Rights Council‘s independent experts and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with Human Rights Watch, the World Medical Association, and various organizations focused on women’s and LGBTQI+ equality in sport, have expressed serious concern that the Regulations contravene international human rights norms and standards. However, no court has squarely decided this question. The CAS panel measured the Regulations against the non-discrimination provisions of the World Athletics Constitution and the Olympic Charter (para. 424), finding it unnecessary to delve into the “detailed principles” of “international human rights law including those that apply in Monaco … and the domestic laws of many countries in which [World Athletics] has members and holds international competitions” (para. 544). Whether the Regulations were contrary to such laws was deemed a matter for the courts of those jurisdictions to decide (para. 555). But because the CAS decision is an international arbitral award, the SFT was restricted, pursuant to the Federal Statute on Private International Law, to reviewing only one substantive ground of appeal: whether the CAS decision was compatible with Swiss public policy (i.e. the most fundamental values that, according to prevailing opinions in Switzerland, should form the basis of any legal order). As the SFT explained, while the principles underpinning the Swiss Constitution or the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) could be considered when defining public policy, the provisions of these instruments could not be directly invoked to challenge the CAS decision (paras. 9.1 to 9.2).

The ECtHR’s consideration of Semenya’s application will therefore mark the first time a court evaluates the private regulations of World Athletics (and, particularly, the role of Switzerland in upholding them) against international human rights law. It may also mark the first time the ECtHR decides a case of discrimination based on sex characteristics. Given such novelty, what else might be new and different before the ECtHR compared to the past (quasi)judicial processes? I consider this question in two (intricately connected) parts – the facts and the law – where the ECtHR could play a remedial role.

The Facts: Sex before the ECtHR

The CAS panel characterized the case as one of “significant scientific complexity” and remarked on both the lack of consensus among experts and the “paucity of evidence” regarding certain matters concerning the effect of testosterone on the athletic performance (para. 582). The majority of the panel found, however, that the totality of the evidence provided adequate support for World Athletics’ claim that the women targeted by the Regulations “enjoy a significant performance advantage over other female athletes, which is of such magnitude as to be capable of subverting fair competition within the female category” (para. 538). This finding was also central to decision of the SFT, which was bound to rule based on the facts found by the CAS. The SFT made clear that, pursuant to its own constitutive law, it could not correct or supplement the arbitrators’ findings, even if the facts had been established in a manifestly incorrect manner or in violation of the law (para. 5.2.2).

Meanwhile, abundant scholarly critiques have been registered against World Athletics’ evidence, ranging from the methodologies used to the conclusions drawn. Moreover, much of this evidence was produced “in-house” by World Athletics; the leaders of its own Health and Science Department conducted the main scientific study relied on to justify the Regulations. Without delving deeper into this apparent lack of independence, it is notable that the conflated “scientific” and “legislative” process here is a private one; no Swiss public authority sought evidence to inform or evaluate the regulatory decision at issue.

To what extent, then, might the ECtHR reassess the evidence? While the Court was not set up as a court of first or fourth instance – that is, to establish the basic facts of a case or to re-evaluate the facts established by a domestic court – it does require parties to substantiate their claims, and is free to assess the admissibility, relevance, and probative value of the evidence put forth. The Court may request additional evidence, draw inferences from the absence of evidence, and even engage in fact-finding if the evidence is contested or unclear. To resolve uncertainty, the Court may rely on evidence from external actors, including experts and academics, as well as a wide variety of third-party interveners.

Considering this range of evidence would reveal that understandings of sex in athletics cannot be detached from understandings of sex beyond the sports sphere. Indeed, sport has been shown to be especially effective at disguising and transmitting socio-scientific ideologies – including those related to testosterone – as self-evident truth. While there are limits to the ECtHR’s ability to decide complex socio-scientific questions, it need not accept factual findings made (tenuously) by the CAS and not by Switzerland. Moreover, it should become clear to the ECtHR that “science” cannot provide a definitive answer to the question before it; in fact, the (selective) way science has been deployed by World Athletics is at the very heart of the alleged human rights violations.

The Law: Sport before the ECtHR

A number of rights guaranteed by the ECHR are pertinent in Semenya’s case. Most obvious is Article 8, which encompasses the right to personal autonomy and identity, including physical, psychological, and moral integrity. The “impossible choices” and documented harms inherent in the Regulations clearly interfere with this right. In addition, Article 14 requires member States to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction all Convention rights “without discrimination on any ground”. The Regulations apply only to women with certain sex characteristics (which the Commissioner for Human Rights has said fall under sex as a prohibited ground of discrimination) and arguably exhibit racial and regional bias.

Whatever Convention rights are invoked, the ECtHR will have to decide whether any infringement is legally justifiable. To begin, any potential infringement of Article 8 must be “in accordance with the law” – that is, it must have some basis in domestic law. However, unlike antidoping rules enacted by public authorities – which the ECtHR has held meet this test – the Regulations at issue in Semenya’s case are not part of Swiss law or based on any international treaty. Switzerland will therefore be in the strange position of defending Regulations enacted by a private association located in Monaco.

In this regard, Switzerland will have to establish that the Regulations pursue one of the legitimate aims identified in the ECHR. The ECtHR has previously recognized “fair play and equality of opportunity” in sport as constituting such an aim. More critically, however, Switzerland will have to establish that the Regulations are “necessary in a democratic society” to achieve this aim. In addition to the evidentiary shortcomings discussed already, it is not clear that the Regulations serve a “pressing social need” like antidoping “whereabouts” rules do, according to the ECtHR. The need for the latter was based on abundant State-adduced evidence that doping harms the physical and mental health of athletes and sets a dangerous example for youth. The “danger” that Switzerland is seeking (or allowing World Athletics) to avoid in Semenya’s case is much less apparent. In fact, it is Semenya and other athletes targeted by the Regulations, as well as the youth that look up to them, that are put most at risk.

It therefore cannot be said that the ECtHR has established a blanket principle that the pursuit of fairness can justify serious infringements of athletes’ rights, as the SFT implied in its decision (para. Surely mandating medically unnecessary drug use (or surgery) for certain athletes, as a condition of eligibility for the female category of competition, is not analogous to prohibiting it (with therapeutic use exemptions) for all athletes.

In any case, the ECtHR’s practice is to “balance” individual interests and the interests of the community as a whole. But who makes up the relevant community? The majority of the CAS panel found, for example, that because of “constraints on the [its] competence and role” it was neither necessary nor appropriate for it to consider “the possible wider impact” of the Regulations outside the “segment of society” governed by World Athletics (para. 589). However, it is not just Semenya’s athletic career, but her entire life, that is affected by the Regulations. Likewise, it is not just elite women athletes without intersex traits who comprise the community with interests at stake (and little evidence has been adduced to characterize these interests). A much broader community may have an interest in seeing the unhindered potential of every athlete on display, and the whole of the LGBTQI+ community may have an interest in avoiding the stigmatization that flows from mandatory “normalization” procedures in any sphere of life. The fact that sport is “a massively visible social practice, extensively relayed worldwide” makes it all the more important which community or communities are counted and valued in the Court’s assessment.

Finally, the scope of the relevant community will also be important to the ECtHR’s consideration of whether there is a relevant European consensus, which in turn informs how great a “margin of appreciation” (i.e. degree of deference) is to be granted to Switzerland. There may be a common European approach reflected in the calls of the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly to end medically unnecessary sex-“normalizing” interventions without free and fully informed consent. When it comes to sport eligibility rules, though, it could be said that the common approach is to defer to private international governing bodies like World Athletics. But any such “consensus by omission” only highlights the structural failure of States to uphold – proactively, where necessary – human rights in the context of sport. Indeed, World Athletics’ Regulations prevent any consensus (or lack thereof) from emerging among States by restricting athletes’ access to domestic courts. Therefore, Switzerland – as the home of the CAS – and the SFT – as the judicial authority with exclusive jurisdiction to review CAS awards – would seem to have a unique responsibility to secure the human rights of athletes. In other words, because Switzerland is effectively speaking for a worldwide community, its margin of appreciation should be very narrow.

When it comes time for the ECtHR to consider the merits of Semenya’s application, it will have to decide whether the paradoxical concept of “sport sex“, as upheld by the SFT, can be sustained in accordance with the ECHR. The limitations of the judicial processes to date point to the potential – if not the promise – of the ECtHR to (re)consider the full range of facts and to directly apply human rights law within athletics. Whatever the ECtHR decides, its decision will have significant implications far beyond both Switzerland and sport.


The author gratefully acknowledges Gráinne de Búrca, Antoine Duval, Katrina Karkazis, and Gabriele Wadlig for their input on this piece.

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