On 6 October 2014, the
CAS upheld the appeal filed by the former General Secretary of the World Karate
Federation (WKF), George Yerolimpos, against the 6 February 2014 decision of
the WKF Appeal Tribunal. With the award, the CAS confirmed a six-months
membership suspension imposed upon the Appellant by the WKF Disciplinary
Tribunal. At a first glance, the
case at issue seems to be an ordinary challenge of a disciplinary sanction
imposed by a sports governing body. Nevertheless, this appeal lies at the heart
of a highly acrimonious political fight for the leadership of the WKF, featuring
two former ‘comrades’: Mr Yerolimpos and
Mr Espinos (current president of WKF). As the CAS puts it very lucidly, "this
is a story about a power struggle within an international sporting body", a story reminding the Saturn devouring his son myth.
This case, therefore, brings
the dirty laundry of sports politics to the fore. Interestingly enough, this
time the CAS does not hesitate to grapple with the political dimension of the case.
Background and Facts of
the Case: ‘The K on its way’ to leadership battles
The third successive
failure of the WKF to have Karate included in the Programme of the 2020 Tokyo
Olympics -after the failed campaigns for inclusion in the 2012 London and 2016
Rio Olympics, respectively- spared disappointment in the ranks of the WKF and gave
rise to a political war, led by the former ‘crony’ Mr Yerolimpos who used these
failures to challenge WKF president Espinos.
In the wake of concerns
raised by some members of national Karate federations, in June and July 2013,
the Appellant emailed the WKF Treasurer twice, questioning the lack of
transparency on financial matters and challenging the leadership of the current
president. The second email where the Appellant directly accused Espinos of serious mismanagements was copied
to all Executive Committee (EC) members and to the presidents of all Karate NF‘s.
Following this “dirty manifesto” - in the words of WKF Treasurer, Espinos considered that the
Appellant’s behavior amounted to a serious breach of the necessary relationship
of confidence with the president. As a result, by application of Article 14.7
of the WKF Statutes, he revoked by email the Appellant from his position as Secretary
General of WKF. The email battle continued with the Appellant accusing Espinos of
manipulating the democratic processes. However, on 14 August 2013, the
Appellant’s revocation was ratified by the EC members through an electronic
vote, pursuant to Article 13.20 of the WKF Statutes.
Then, on a request by
the WKF Executive Bureau, the Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) of the WKF
Disciplinary Legal Commission (TDC) opened disciplinary proceedings against the
Appellant in order to examine whether the Appellant’s emails resulted in
infringement of Article 9 of the WKF Statutes, i.e. his duty to act in a
manner commensurate with his role at the WKF. On 30 October 2013, the DT
decided to suspend the Appellant from membership of the WKF and EC for six
months. It found that the Appellant’s conduct was in breach of his duties
entrenched in Articles 9 and 13.2.5 of the WKF Statutes, since his criticism
against the WKF president relied on subjective, unproven and unsubstantiated
considerations. More importantly, his
criticism was directly circulated to the Karate NFs, without having previously
debated them within the WFK Executive Bureau. The DT decision was appealed
before the WKF Appeal Tribunal (AT), which on 6 February 2014 confirmed the
first instance decision, finding that the content of the Appellants’ emails was
prejudicial, defamatory, amounting to a serious violation of Article 9.2 and
13.25 (3) of the WKF Statutes.
Lastly, the Appellant’s appeal before CAS
dating from 26 February 2014, was set aside on 6 October 2014.
Two main axes in the CAS
In his appeal, the
Appellant submitted a set of contentions. Specifically, he alleged: (1) the
improper initiation of the disciplinary proceedings; (2) the non-identification
of relevant offence in Articles 9 and 13.25.3 of the WKF Statutes; (3) the non-violation
of these articles by the Appellant; (4) the violation of the principle ne bis in idem in double sanctioning the
Appellant; (5) the violation of due process by the DT and AT Panels and finally;
(6) the violation of the principle of proportionality in the sanctions imposed
by the DT and AT Panels.
The main focal point of
the dispute lies on whether the Appellant’s defamatory emails constitute a
serious misconduct and breach the relevant disciplinary provisions of the WKF
Statutes. Therefore, this commentary will focus on how the CAS dealt with the
interpretation of the disciplinary provisions laid down in Articles 9 and
13.25.3 of the WKF Statutes. Particularly, the commentary will map the CAS
reasoning on the following issues: (a) the nature of the misconduct proscribed by
the disciplinary provisions of the WKF Statutes and (b) the assessment of the
duties bearing on the General Secretary of WKF in the political context of this
violation of Articles 9 and 13.25.3 WKF Statutes.
well established that a sports governing body may impose disciplinary sanctions
upon its members if they are found guilty of a disciplinary offence, which has
to be enshrined in the applicable rules and regulations. In the case at hand,
before examining whether the Appellant by sending the above mentioned emails
acted in violation of Articles 9and 13.25.3 WKF Statutes, the CAS has
to examine what type of conduct is covered by these disciplinary provisions. In
other words, how do the Articles 9 and 13.25.3 define the offence committed by
the Appellant, i.e. the violation of his duty to act in the best interests of
the CAS takes into account that, in principle, the disciplinary provisions of
sports governing bodies statutes are broadly drafted and, therefore, the principle
of criminal law nulla poena sine lege
does not apply in the case at issue. However, the question remains whether the
broadly drafted Articles 9 and 13.25.3 encompass the allegedly offensive
behavior of the Appellant. According to the Panel, it is not sufficient that
the drafters of the WKF disciplinary provisions intended to entail “the
multifarious forms of behavior considered unacceptable”  in karate, but whether
they actually achieved it. Concretely, as far as Article 9.2 is concerned, the
CAS proceeds by identifying two separate obligations for the members: the first
entails compliance with the rules of the sport and the second refers to the
maintenance of an appropriate conduct in any activity performed. Following an
interpretation of the wording of Article 9.2 and particularly of the word "maintaining"
which lies between the two obligations (as juxtaposed to the meaning of the
word "gardant" in the French version of Article 9.2) the CAS
concludes that there is an inextricable link between these obligations. As a result, Article 9.2
sets two prerequisites for the fulfillment of the duty imposed: the members
should comply with the rules of sport and additionally should adopt the
appropriate demeanour. In practice, this means that at first, a rule has to be breached.
While in the case at hand the CAS accepts that the rules of sport can be
interpreted in a broad manner and refer not only to the rules of karate itself,
the CAS notes that neither the Respondent nor the Panel have identified a rule
proscribing the alleged offensive behavior of the Appellant. Thus, the
inappropriate conduct of the Appellant cannot amount to a violation of the duty
enshrined in Article 9.2.
regard to the interpretation of the General Secretary’s duties laid down in
Article 13.25.3, the CAS remarks that its scope does not overlap with Article
9.2. However, even if Article 13.25.3 is examined in isolation of the
requirements of the other disciplinary provisions, the CAS notes that the
Appellant’s conduct cannot be considered as amounting to an inappropriate
demeanour in fulfilling his duties of maintaining relations with international
federations. Indeed, the Appellant’s emails entailed a criticism against the president,
involving national federations as well, but according to the CAS this criticism
does not constitute a breach of the duty envisaged in Article 13.25.3.
having concluded that the alleged conduct of the Appellant does not constitute
the subject matter of any offence provided in the relevant regulations, the
question whether the Appellant acted in breach of any rule has been rendered
(b) The freedom of speech of the General
Secretary of WKF
mentioned above, the CAS had not identified a violation of the existing
disciplinary provisions of the WKF. Nevertheless, it felt the remarkable urge
to complement this reasoning with a broader reflection on the freedom of speech
in sports governing bodies. To this end, the panel engaged in a very interesting
dictum: "The Panel, however,
because of first the importance of the issues; secondly out of respect for the
excellent way in which the submissions were presented, thirdly against the
contingency of an appeal on the Panels conclusion on the absence of any
relevant offence in the WKF code, will deal with them succinctly".
the CAS underlines the right of the Appellant, and more generally of the
members of sports governing bodies, to freedom of speech. This materializes more
precisely in a fundamental right to criticize, in good faith, the acts and
decisions of the governing authority, even if the criticism includes errors of
facts. While the CAS acknowledges the political motives of the criticism, it
underlines the valuable contribution of this criticism in exposing acts of
mismanagement. These considerations on the democratic principle of the right to
criticize those in positions of authority, are reinforced by the European Court
of Human Rights’ (ECHR) jurisprudence and the principle enshrined in Article 10
of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this sense, the panel takes
two important steps. Firstly, it recognizes the controversial applicability of rights
enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights to disciplinary proceedings
of sports governing bodies, which are purely private entities, by indicating
that the jurisprudence of ECHR is compulsive in jurisdictions to which it
applies, and in any case is at least indicative. Secondly, the panel does not
hesitate to take a clear position –from a sports politics point of view-
establishing that the members of the sports governing bodies have a fundamental
right to exercise their freedom of speech to criticize political authorities.
It seems, therefore, that this CAS panel feels at ease with its role as a
Supreme Court of Sports protecting the fundamental rights of the ‘citizens of
second limb of its reasoning, the CAS suggests the rules of conduct that members
of sports governing bodies should follow when exercising their established
right to criticism.Indeed, according to the
CAS, the exercise of the right of freedom to speech is subject to two
restrictions: the criticism which targets the authority of the sports’
governing body must be lawful and members must demonstrate self-restraint in
the exercise of their right. In this light, the CAS finds that the Appellant
did not act unlawfully or in bad faith, but he rather exceeded the limits by
ignoring the internal procedures available to him. In other words, the
Appellant erred in the way he chose to ventilate his criticisms against the
current president. Thus, damaging the WKF’s image worldwide. This interpretation
elaborated by the CAS seems to be inspired by the so called ‘balancing
exercise’ between Articles 8 and 10 European Convention on Human Rights: an interference in the
internal affairs of a sports governing body can be justified when it is in
accordance with the law and is necessary in the interests of the world sports
previous blogpost, we described the CAS hands-off approach in a political
conflict internal to a sports governing body. We suggested, instead, that a
modicum of interventionism in sports politics would be compatible with the CAS
role. In this light, the WKF case is a good illustration of a CAS panel delving
into sports politics to uphold certain fundamental political rights. From the
preamble to the conclusion of this award, the CAS did not hesitate to interpret
the political motives of the parties and their subsequent acts. More
importantly, taking into account the law making role of CAS panels in promoting
consistency in international sports law, this CAS panel adds to the so-called lex sportiva a democratic resonance,
preserving also the freedom of speech of members of sports governing bodies.
 CAS 2014/A/3516,
George Yerolimpos v. World Karate Federation
 Ibid, para 1.
 Ibid, para 25.
 9.1 National
Federations and individual persons affiliated to the WKF shall undertake to
comply with statutory norms, rules and regulations and all provisions issued by
the Executive Committee.
9.2 Members shall
undertake work in complete compliance with the rules governing the sport,
maintaining a demeanour commensurate with the activity performed.
9.3 Any member in
breach of the conditions as per points 9.1 and 9.2 above shall be liable to
disciplinary action as set forth herein.
 The duties of a
General Secretary shall be: (a) Execute the decisions taken by the Executive
maintain relationships with the continental federations, with the affiliated
National Federations and with outside parties; (c) Draw up and take care of the
minutes of the Executive Committee and of the Congress Meetings.
 CAS 2014/A/3516 (n1), para 105.
 Ibid, para 107.
 Ibid, para 115.
Convention on Human Rights, Article 10
of expression: 1. everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right
shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information
and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of
broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
C Favre-Bulle and others, L’arbitrage
et la Convention Européenne des Droits de l’Homme (2001), 73.
 CAS 2014/A/3516
(n1), para 117.
 ECHR 227 Axel
Springer AG v Germany 39954/08  paras 84-95 & ECHR 228 Von Hannover v Germany
(n2) 40660/08 para 100 .