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 – June - August 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 



The Headlines

CAS Decision on Manchester City FC Case

After the UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control’s (CFCB) decision earlier this year to ban Manchester City FC for two seasons, observers waited impatiently to see the outcome of this high profile dispute. The CFCB’s decision had found that Manchester City FC overstated sponsorship revenues and in its break-even information given to UEFA. While some feared this showdown could lead to the demise of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the now publicized CAS panel’s decision is more nuanced. The panel’s decision turned on (see analysis here and here) (a) whether the ‘Leaked Emails’ were authentic and could be admissible evidence, (b) whether the ‘CFCB breached its obligations of due process’, (c) whether the conclusions of the 2014 Settlement Agreement prevents the CFCB from charging Manchester City FC, (d) whether the charges are time-barred, (e) the applicable standard of proof, (f) whether Manchester City FC masked equity funding as sponsorship contributions, and (g) whether Manchester City FC failed to cooperate with CFCB. In the end, among other findings, the Panel held that some of the alleged breaches were time-barred but maintained that Manchester City FC had failed to cooperate with CFCB’s investigation. In light of this, the Panel significantly reduced the sanction placed on Manchester City FC by removing the two-season suspension and reducing the sanction from 30 million euros to 10 million euros.


Qatar Labour Law Reforms Effectively Abolishes the Kafala System

Just a few days after Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report on abusive practices suffered by migrant workers in Qatar, Qatar adopted a series of laws that effectively gets rid of the Kafala system by no longer requiring migrant workers to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from their employer in order to start another job. The International Labour Organization declared that this development along with the elimination of the ‘exit permit requirements’ from earlier this year means that the kafala system has been effectively abolished. In addition to these changes, Qatar has also adopted a minimum wage that covers all workers and requires that employers who do not provide food or housing at least give a minimum allowance for both of these living costs. Lastly, the new laws better define the procedure for the termination of employment contracts.

In reaction to these changes, Amnesty International welcomed the reforms and called for them to be ‘swiftly and properly implemented’. Indeed, while these amendments to Qatar’s labour laws are a step in the right direction, Amnesty International also cautions that the minimum wage may still be too low, and in order to be effective, these new laws will have to be followed with ‘strong inspection and complaint mechanisms’.


CAS Decision Concerning Keramuddin Karim Abuse Case

In June of last year, Keramuddin Karim, former president of Afghanistan’s soccer federation, was banned by FIFA for life (see the decision of the adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee) after reports of sexual and physical abuse that emerged in late 2018. Following a lengthy and tumultuous investigation in Afghanistan, Afghan officials came forward with an arrest warrant for Mr. Karim. Nevertheless, despite attempts to apprehend Mr. Karim, Mr. Karim has still avoided arrest over a year later. Most recently in August, Afghan Special Operation officers attempted to apprehend him but he was not at the residence when they arrived.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karim had appealed FIFA’s lifetime ban to the CAS and the CAS Panel’s decision has recently been released. In its decision, the Panel upheld both the lifetime ban and the 1,000,000 CHF fine, finding that due to the particular egregious nature of Karim’s acts, ‘they warrant the most severe sanction possible available under the FCE’. Since both Karim and his witnesses were unable to be heard, the case raises questions connected to the respect of fundamental procedural rights at the CAS.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March-May 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 


The Headlines

Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Over Sports

Since the last monthly report, the coronavirus pandemic has completely taken over the headlines and has had enormous impacts on the sports field. The most significant of these impacts so far was the rather slow (see here and here) decision by the IOC to move the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 after a widespread push among athlete stakeholders to do so. Concerns were raised that besides the wellbeing of the participants, athletes under lockdowns would not have the access to the training facilities, meaning preparations for the Games would suffer. The IOC has already started its new planning for Tokyo 2021 and sees this new opportunity to be ‘an Olympic flame’ at the end of a ‘dark tunnel’ for the entire world.

Besides the Olympics, football has also experienced colossal effects as this crisis landed right as leagues were approaching the end of their season. In this context, FIFA has released specific guidelines on player contracts and transfer windows, which has included extending player contracts to the new postponed end of season dates. It has also organized a working group on COVID-19, which has already made recommendations to postpone all men and women’s international matches that were to be played during the June 2020 window. Earlier in March, UEFA had already announced that the EURO 2020 was also postponed by 12 months and has also recently approved guidelines on domestic competitions. These guidelines place emphasis on ‘sporting merit’ and urge ‘National Associations and Leagues to explore all possible options to play all top domestic competitions giving access to UEFA club competitions to their natural conclusion’. Nevertheless, UEFA also emphasizes that the health of all stakeholders must remain the top priority.

In the end, numerous sport federations have also had to amend their calendars due to the pandemic (see UCI and FIBA) and a variety of sport stakeholders have been confronted with immense financial strain (e.g. football, tennis and cycling). For example, UEFA has acted preemptively in releasing club benefit payments to try to alleviate the economic pressure faced by clubs. There have also been efforts to support athletes directly (e.g. FIG and ITF). All in all, the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on sport have been unprecedented and will require creative solutions while continuing to place public health as the top priority.

Platini’s ECtHR Appeal Falls Flat

There have also been a few other stories that have (understandably) been overshadowed by the pandemic. One of these include Michel Platini’s unsuccessful appeal to the ECtHR challenging his 2015 football ban. The ECtHR’s decision concerned the admissibility of his appeal and in the end found it to be ‘manifestly ill-founded’. This is because he failed to raise his procedural rights concerns under Article 6 (1) ECHR in his proceedings at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Besides rejecting his other claims based on Article 7 and 8 ECHR, the ECtHR decision also touched upon the issue of CAS’ procedural and institutional independence. In doing so, it referred to its Pechstein decision and once more affirmed that the CAS is sufficiently independent and impartial (see para 65), further giving credence to this notion from its case law. However, there are still concerns on this matter as was highlighted in the Pechstein dissent. Overall, the decision indicates that the ECtHR is willing to give the CAS the benefit of the doubt so long as it sufficiently takes into account the ECHR in its awards.

Mark Dry – UKAD Dispute

In February, Mark Dry was suspended by UKAD after a decision of the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) Appeal Tribunal  for four years after having given a ‘false account’ in order to ‘subvert the Doping Control process’. Specifically, Dry had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing after he had missed a test at his residence. After further investigation, Dry admitted that he had forgotten to update his whereabouts while he was actually visiting his parents in Scotland and in panic, had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing. Following the decision of the NADP Appeal Tribunal, athlete stakeholders have argued the four-year ban was disproportionate in this case. In particular, Global Athlete contended that Whereabouts Anti-Doping Rule Violations only occur in cases where an athlete misses three tests or filing failures within a year. Furthermore, even if Dry had ‘tampered or attempted to tamper’, a four-year sanction is too harsh. Subsequently, UKAD responded with a statement, arguing that ‘deliberately providing false information’ is ‘a serious breach of the rules’ and that the UKAD NADP Appeal Tribunal ‘operates independently’. In light of the mounting pressure, Witold Bańka, WADA President, also responded on Twitter that he is ‘committed to ensuring that athletes’ rights are upheld under the World Anti-Doping Code’. More...

Anti-Doping in Times of COVID-19: A Difficult Balancing Exercise for WADA - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.

I.               Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the manner in which we approach human interactions that suppose close and prolonged physical contact. Across the world, authorities are having to design ways to resume essential activities without jeopardising participants’ health, all the while guaranteeing that other fundamental rights are paid due respect. The fight against doping is no exception. Anti-doping organizations – whether public or private – have to be held to the same standards, including respect for physical integrity and privacy, and considerate application of the cornerstone principle of proportionality.

Throughout this global crisis, the World Anti-Doping Agency (‘WADA’) has carefully monitored the situation, providing anti-doping organizations and athletes with updates and advice. On 6 May 2020, WADA issued the document called ‘ADO Guidance for Resuming Testing’ (‘COVID Guidance’). A COVID-19 ‘Q&A’ for athletes (‘Athlete Q&A’) is also available on WADA’s website, and has been last updated on 25 May 2020. This article focuses on these two latest documents, and analyses the solutions proposed therein, and their impact on athletes.

Like many public or private recommendations issued for other societal activities, the WADA COVID Guidance is primarily aimed at conducting doping control while limiting the risk of transmission of the virus and ensuing harm to individuals. More specifically, one can identify two situations of interest for athletes that are notified for testing:

  1. The athlete has or suspects that they may have been infected with COVID-19, or has come in close contact with someone having COVID-19;
  2. The athlete fears to be in touch with doping control personnel that may be infected with COVID-19.

Quite obviously, either situation has the potential to create significant challenges when it comes to balancing the interests of anti-doping, with individual rights and data protection concerns. This article summarises how the latest WADA COVID Guidance and Athlete Q&A address both situations. It explores how the solutions suggested fit in with the WADA regulatory framework and how these might be assessed from a legal perspective.

The focus will be on the hypothesis in which international sports federations – i.e. private entities usually organised as associations or similar structures – are asked to implement the COVID Guidance within their sport. National anti-doping organizations are strongly embedded in their national legal system and their status and obligations as public or semi-public organisations are likely to be much more dependent on the legislative landscape put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in each country. Nevertheless, the general principles described in this article would apply to all anti-doping organizations alike, whether at international or national level. More...

(A)Political Games: A Critical History of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’ have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g. professionalism in sport),[1] while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g. protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space.  For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’ ability to represent their personal sponsors[2]). Nowadays, the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security operations created to protect the Olympic sites.

Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people together’.[3] In this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set aside’?[4] Should one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible to separate politics and sport?  

Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.[5] However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression during the Games (see here, here and here). Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless, what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal.[6] Sport nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to validate its global prowess and stature.

To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively. The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2020 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 


The Headlines

Manchester City sanctioned by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play

Manchester City has been sanctioned under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations for two seasons for ‘overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information’ it had provided UEFA. The February 14 decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) likely heralds the start of a long and bitter legal war between Manchester City and UEFA, which may end up settling many of the questions surrounding the legality of FFP rules. Since its introduction in 2010, the compatibility of FFP with EU law, especially in terms of free movement and competition law, has been a continued point of contention amongst the parties concerned and commentators (see discussion here, here and here). It was only a matter of time that a case would arise to test this issue and the present circumstances seem to indicate that this may go all the way.                                 

Regardless, the ban will not be enforced this season and in light of the appeal process, it is hard to predict when the CFCB’s decision will have any effect. Indeed, Manchester City has shown an incredible willingness to fighting this out in the courts and shows no signs of backing down. The next stop will be the CAS and perhaps followed by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. It should also be recalled that the CAS has already examined FFP in its Galatasaray award, where it found FFP compatible with EU law (see commentary here). There is even a decent chance that this emerging saga may end up in front of the European Commission and eventually the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Sun Yang CAS award published

After a much-anticipated public hearing, the Panel’s award in the Sun Yang case has finally been published, sanctioning Sun Yang with an eight-year period of ineligibility (see here for a detailed commentary). The decision does not reveal anything groundbreaking in terms of its legal reasoning and in many ways the case will most likely be remembered for its historical significance: the case that jumpstarted a new era of increased public hearings at the CAS.

Perhaps of some interest is the extent to which the panel took into account Sun Yang’s behavior during the proceedings in order to support its assessment of the case. For example, the panel describes how Sun Yang had ignored the procedural rules of the hearing by inviting ‘an unknown and unannounced person from the public gallery to join him at his table and act as an impromptu interpreter’. The Panel interpreted this as Sun Yang attempting ‘to take matters into his own hands’ which it found resembled the athlete’s behavior in the case (see para 358). The Panel also found it ‘striking’ that Sun Yang did not express any remorse concerning his actions during the proceedings. Since the proceedings were held publicly and have been recorded, it is possible to verify the Panel’s assessment in this regard.

In the end, it is possible that Sun Yang may seek to reduce the period of ineligibility once the 2021 WADA Code comes into force (see para 368). For now, Sung Yang may also try to appeal the award to the Swiss Federal Tribunal on procedural grounds, and has already indicated his wish to do so. More...

Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1.     Introduction

 On March 05, the T.M.C. Asser Institute hosted ‘Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play?’ a Multiplier Sporting Event organized in the framework of a European research project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. This project funded by the European Commission through its Erasmus+ program aims to help the EU adopt a strategic approach to sports diplomacy and to provide evidence of instances where sport can help amplify EU diplomatic messages and forge better relations with third countries. In particular, Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute is focusing on the role of EU sports diplomacy to strengthen human rights in the context of mega sporting events (MSE) both in Europe and abroad. To this end, he organized the two panels of the day focusing, on the one hand, on the ability of sport governing bodies (SGB) to leverage their diplomatic power to promote human rights, particularly in the context of MSEs and, on the other, on the EU’s role and capacity to strengthened human rights around MSEs. The following report summarizes the main points raised during the discussions. More...

Special Issue Call for Papers: Legal Aspects of Fantasy Sports - International Sports Law Journal

The International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invites submissions to a special issue focusing on legal aspects of fantasy sports. For some time, fantasy sports has been a major phenomena in North America and this has been reflected in the sports law literature. Fantasy sports have more recently grown in popularity in the rest of world, raising a number of novel legal questions. The ISLJ wants to support fruitful global discussions about these questions through a special issue. We welcome contributions from different jurisdictions analyzing fantasy sports from the perspective of various areas of law including, but not limited to, intellectual property law, gambling law, and competition law.

Please submit proposed papers through the ISLJ submission system ( no later than November 15, 2020. Submissions should have a reccomended length of 8,000–12,000 words and be prepared in accordance with the ISLJ's house style guidelines ( All submissions will be subject to double-blind peer review.

Question about the special issue can be directed to the Editor–in-Chief, Johan Lindholm (

Free Event! Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - 5 March at the Asser Institute in The Hague

The upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and its links to human rights violations has been the subject of many debates in the media and beyond. In particular, the respect of migrant workers’ labour rights was at the forefront of much public criticisms directed against FIFA. Similarly, past Olympics in Rio, Sochi or Beijing have also been in the limelight for various human rights issues, such as the lack of freedom of the press, systematic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or forced evictions. These controversies have led sports governing bodies (SGBs) to slowly embrace human rights as an integral part of their core values and policies. Leading to an increased expectation for SGBs to put their (private) diplomatic capital at the service of human rights by using their leverage vis-à-vis host countries of their mega-sporting events (MSEs). In turn, this also raises the question of the need for the EU to accompany this change by putting human rights at the heart of its own sports diplomacy.

Research collective 
This Multiplier Sporting Event, organised in the framework of the transnational project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’ funded by the Erasmus + Programme, aims to trigger discussions on the role of an EU sports diplomacy in strengthening respect for human rights in the context of MSEs both at home and abroad. It will feature two roundtables focused on the one hand on the diplomatic power and capacity of SGBs to fend for human rights during MSEs and on the other on the EU’s integration of human rights considerations linked to MSEs in its own sports diplomacy.


13:20 – 14:00 – Welcome and opening speech –Antoine Duval (Asser Institute)
14:00 - 15:30 - Panel 1: Leveraging the Diplomatic Power of the Sports Governing Bodies for Human Rights

  • Lucy Amis (Unicef UK/Institute for Human Rights and Business)
  • Guido Battaglia (Centre for Sport and Human Rights)
  • Florian Kirschner (World Players Association/UNI Global Union)
  • Claire Jenkin (University of Hertfordshire)

15:30 – 16:00 - Coffee Break

16:00 - 17:30 - Panel 2: A Human Rights Dimension for the EU’s Sports Diplomacy?

  • Arnout Geeraert (Utrecht University)
  • Agata Dziarnowska (European Commission)
  • Alexandre Mestre (Sport and Citizenship)
  • Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (TBC)

17:30 - Reception

How 2019 Will Shape the International Sports Law of the 2020s - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1.     Introduction

As we begin plunging into a new decade, it can be helpful to look back and reflect on some of the most influential developments and trends from 2019 that may continue to shape international sports law in 2020 and beyond. Hence, this piece will not attempt to recount every single sports law news item but rather identify a few key sports law stories of 2019 that may have a continued impact in the 2020s. The following sections are not in a particular order.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2020 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 


The Headlines

IOC Athlete Commission releases its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020

The IOC Athlete Commission presented its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020 at its annual joint meeting with the IOC Executive Board. It comes as Thomas Bach had recently underlined the importance of political neutrality for the IOC and the Olympic Games in his New Year’s message. Generally, rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits any political and religious expression by athletes and their team during the Games, subject to certain exceptions. The Guidelines clarify that this includes the ‘field of play’, anywhere inside the Olympic Village, ‘during Olympic medal ceremonies’ and ‘during the Opening, Closing and other official ceremonies’. On the other hand, athletes may express their views ‘during press conferences and interview’, ‘at team meetings’ and ‘on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. While rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines have reignited a debate on whether it could be considered as a justified restriction on one’s freedom of expression.


The IOC has made the case that it is defending the neutrality of sport and that the Olympics is an international forum that should help bring people together instead of focusing on divisions. Specifically, Richard Pound has recently made the argument that the Guidelines have been formulated by the athletes themselves and are a justified restriction on free expression with its basis in ‘mutual respect’. However, many commentators have expressed their skepticism to this view (see here, here and here) citing that politics and the Olympics are inherently mixed, that the IOC is heavily involved in politics, and that the Olympics has often served as the grounds for some of history’s most iconic political protests. All in all, the Guidelines have certainly been a catalyst for a discussion on the extent to which the Olympics can be considered neutral. It also further highlights a divide between athlete committees from within the Olympic Movement structures and other independent athlete representation groups (see Global Athlete and FIFPro’s statements on rule 50).


Doping and Corruption Allegations in Weightlifting 

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has found itself embroiled in a doping and corruption scandal after an ARD documentary was aired early in January which raised a wide array of allegations, including against the President of the IWF, Tamás Aján. The documentary also included hidden camera interviews from a Thai Olympic medalist who admits having taken anabolic steroids before having won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games and from a team doctor from the Moldovan national team who describes paying for clean doping tests. The IWF’s initial reaction to the documentary was hostile, describing the allegations as ‘insinuations, unfounded accusations and distorted information’ and ‘categorically denies the unsubstantiated’ accusations. It further claims that it has ‘immediately acted’ concerning the situation with the Thai athletes, and WADA has stated that it will follow up with the concerned actors. However, as the matter gained further attention in the main stream media and faced increasing criticism, the IWF moved to try to ‘restore’ its reputation. In practice, this means that Tamás Aján has ‘delegated a range of operation responsibilities’ to Ursual Papandrea, IWF Vice President, while ‘independent experts’ will conduct a review of the allegations made in the ARD documentary. Richard McLaren has been announced to lead the investigation and ‘is empowered to take whatever measures he sees fit to ensure each and every allegation is fully investigated and reported’. The IWF has also stated that it will open a whistleblower line to help aid the investigation.More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Taking the Blue Pill or the Red Pill: Should Athletes Really Check their Medications against the Prohibited List Personally? - A Comment by Marjolaine Viret (University of Neuchâtel )

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

Taking the Blue Pill or the Red Pill: Should Athletes Really Check their Medications against the Prohibited List Personally? - A Comment by Marjolaine Viret (University of Neuchâtel )

Editor's Note:  Marjolaine is an attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.   She currently participates as a scientific collaborator at the University of Neuchâtel on a research project to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code. Her latest book Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law was published in 2016 in the International Sports Law Book Series of T.M.C. ASSER Press.


On 30 September 2016, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) rendered its award in the matter opposing high-profile tennis player Maria Sharapova to the International Tennis Federation (“ITF”). Maria Sharapova was appealing the two-year ban imposed on her by the ITF Tribunal in June 2016 for her use of Meldonium, a substance newly added to the WADA Prohibited List 2016[1]. Since neither the ITF nor WADA had chosen to challenge the Tribunal’s decision, the stakes of the case were rather simple: would the player convince the CAS panel that she should benefit from a finding of “No Significant Fault or Negligence”[2], thereby allowing for a reduction of the sanction down to a minimum of one year, or should the decision of the Tribunal be upheld? In its award, the CAS panel decided to grant such finding and reduced the sanction to 15 months.

This blog does not purport to be a ‘comment’ on the CAS award. Rather, it seeks to place the Sharapova matter into a broader context with respect to a specific issue: the expectations on Athletes when it comes to their awareness of the prohibited character of a substance, specifically when taking a medication[3]. In July 2016, I presented at the T.M.C Asser Institute in The Hague various current challenges of anti-doping that the Meldonium cases exposed (see the video here). One of these challenges concerned the modalities for including new substances onto the Prohibited List. This blog represents a follow-up on my presentation, in the light of the findings contained in the CAS award.

More concretely, the blog takes as a starting point one finding in the award, made by the CAS panel when evaluating whether the player acted reasonably in entrusting her sport agent – who lacked any medical or other scientific qualification – with ensuring that her medication scheme stayed compliant with the World Anti-Doping Program[4]:

checking a substance against the Prohibited List is not an action for which specific anti-doping training is required. It is expected to be made, as a rule and under Article 3.1.2 of the TADP, by the player personally, and a player does not need to have scientific or medical expertise for such purpose. No standard in the WADC or otherwise raises such a high bar[5].

This statement may have raised some eyebrows among readers familiar with anti-doping, after years of repeated warnings that Athletes should not only consult a doctor before taking a medication, but preferably a doctor versed in sports medicine, and that they have to take responsibility for failing to do so if the medication turns out to be prohibited.


Since many – if not most – substances on the Prohibited List are originally therapeutic products, there is a rich body of CAS case law revolving around the Athlete’s duty to seek specialized advice before taking a medication. As the panel in the Cilic v. ITF matter noted, Athletes have a reinforced duty of care, in particular: “[w]here the product is a medicine designed for a therapeutic purpose. Again, in this scenario, a particular danger arises, that calls for a higher duty of care. This is because medicines are known to have prohibited substances in them”[6].

Though the basic position taken in the Cilic v. ITF appears uncontradicted or even supported in other CAS decisions[7], CAS case law is fluctuating on the level of diligence that can be expected from Athletes when taking a medication. It seems common ground that failure to consult a health professional is a factor pleading against the Athlete when assessing his or her degree of Fault, and, conversely, that seeking professional advice tends to make the Fault lighter[8]. The exact contours of the diligence expected, and the consequences of a failure to exercise such diligence, however, are less uniformly defined. Circumstances taken into account may include: whether the Athlete acted in an emergency or had ample time to do verifications[9]; whether the Athlete did seek some professional advice (although not necessarily fully qualified one) or proactively enquired about risks related to doping[10]; whether the Athlete initially received clearing through a doctor and was simply careless in continuing use of the medication[11], or used the medication without any attempt to seek a prescription altogether[12]; and whether the Athlete subsequently obtained a Therapeutic Use Exemption (“TUE”)[13].

Nevertheless, there seems to be consensus among CAS panels on at least one point: failure to recognize the prohibited character of the active substance in a medication never justifies a finding of No Fault or Negligence, even upon (erroneous) advice from a qualified health professional[14]. This jurisprudence finds explicit support in the Comment to Article 10.4 of the WADC: “Athletes are responsible for their choice of medical personnel and for advising medical personnel that they cannot be given any Prohibited Substance”[15]. The idea behind the jurisprudence is clear: it avoids that Athletes could ‘hide’ behind the advice of a doctor, who would then simply admit to having made an egregious error[16]. The CAS panel’s statement in the Sharapova matter seems to put in question this apparently well-established point of jurisprudence: if, as the panel assumed, the WADC only expects the Athlete to personally check a substance against the Prohibited List, no Fault can be held against the Athlete if it can be shown that the prohibited character of the substance was not recognizable to the Athlete, irrespective of whether such prohibition would have been obvious to a qualified health professional.


Putting aside for a moment the consistency of the Sharapova award with past CAS jurisprudence and its impact on the WADC system as a whole, the finding of the CAS panel raises a more practical question: is it realistic to consider that there is no duty on the Athlete to call on scientific or medical expertise to determine whether a substance is prohibited?

In order to assess this question, let us imagine the situation of an Athlete who plans to take – or is already taking – a medication, and wants to make sure that the substance does not raise any doping issues:

  1. The Athlete would need to know that the substance will (as a rule) not be listed by its brand or trade name, but by the name of the active substance. More precisely, WADA announced in 2014 that it seeks to enhance the clarity of the Prohibited List by using the nomenclature of the WHO International Non-Proprietary Name (“INN”). The rationale for always listing active substances rather than trade names is rooted in a reality of international sports that one and the same active substance may be marketed under different names in different countries. For example, ‘Meldonium’ is a WHO recommended INN, which is marketed, among others, under the name ‘Mildronate’. While the distinction should be obvious to a health professional, it is much less certain that determining the active substance will always lie within the abilities of an Athlete. In the Sharapova matter, the player did in fact argue that both her manager and she “mistakenly, but honestly, believed Mildronate to be the name of the substance and did not realize that it was a brand name”[17].
  2. The Athlete would need to know that the exact chemical name and spelling of a substance may vary depending on usage, language and country[18]. Thus, an automatic search through the Prohibited List is not sufficient. The Athlete would either need to do a search for all potential spellings and/or read through a few hundred substances on the List, since it is hardly imaginable that the Athlete would be able to determine on his or her own within which class of substances the medication falls. In addition, some substances may have synonyms that do not appear on the Prohibited List, but only in accompanying documents such as a WADA Explanatory Note[19]. Searching a drug database established by the Athlete’s National Anti-Doping Organization (“NADO”) is not necessarily a fool proof method either, since NADOs typically only include in their database therapeutic products that are registered or otherwise approved for sale in the relevant country[20]. Thus, a negative search result may simply mean that the medication has not (yet) obtained approval in the country.
  3. An additional factor to take into account is the ‘open’ nature of the Prohibited List. The List is non-exhaustive, in the sense that it does not list each Prohibited Substance by its name. Instead, most classes include a list of examples followed by a catch-all clause. For these non-named, ‘similar’ or ‘related’, substances, the Athlete would thus need to assess whether the medication has a chemical structure and/or effect similar to other substances named on the Prohibited List[21].
  4. Finally, it would be difficult to advise the Athlete as to what entity – prior to the CAS panel in a doping dispute – would have the authority to preventively ‘clear’ a substance upon enquiry. A negative search result on the WADA Prohibited List search engine appears with the following response: “No results: If a Substance or a Method you have searched for is not found, please verify with your Anti-Doping Organization to ensure that this Substance or Method is not prohibited as a related Substance or Method that falls under an existing category”.

However, it is not clear at all under the current system that an International Federation or NADO have the authority to issue a binding clarification in this respect, and WADA does not appear prepared to take on this ‘clearing’ function. In fact, the WADA Q&A on the Prohibited List openly acknowledges that the status of some substances may not be clear-cut and that “it is in the best interest of the athlete to refrain from taking any substance or use any method if its status is unknown or unclear”[22].

Considering the elements above, one may legitimately question the idea expressed in the CAS award that checking a substance against the Prohibited List is an act that is to be performed by the Athlete personally and that there is no expectation in the WADC that the assessment should be done by a qualified professional.


There is some truth to the statement in the Sharapova award in the context of the WADC, but not in the sense one would expect: when it comes to finding that a violation has been committed, the WADC does not care whether one could reasonably expect the Athlete to be aware of the prohibited character of the substance. Article 3.2.1 of the ITF Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (“TADP”) referenced in the award addresses the dynamic character of the prohibition under the WADA Prohibited List and reads, in fine[23]: “It is the responsibility of each Player and each Player Support Personnel to be familiar with the most current version of the Prohibited List”. The expression “responsibility of each Player” – which reflects the duty expressed in Article 2.1 of the WADC – has never been understood as meaning that Athletes are only expected to check the Prohibited List personally. It means that Athletes will need to carry the consequences if they are not aware of its current content.

This regulatory situation is implicit in all awards in which CAS panels are asked to deal with an argument that the Athlete was not aware of the prohibited character of the substance: as soon as a substance is determined to be prohibited and was present in the Sample, there is no question that an anti-doping rule violation was committed under Article 2.1 of the WADC[24]. Rather, the predictability is examined, if at all, under the angle of the degree of Fault, to determine the severity of the applicable sanction under Article 10[25].

By contrast, if the statement by the CAS panel in the Sharapova matter were to be taken literally, the debate would no longer be limited to the degree of Fault, but would directly affect the predictability of the prohibition for the Athlete. If the WADC truly only expected Athletes to personally check a substance against the Prohibited List, the predictability of the prohibited character would have to be defined according to an Athlete’s capabilities. There are arguments to support such a position: anti-doping rules of an International Federation – including the Prohibited List incorporated therein – are made binding on Athletes through contractual (or otherwise consensual) means. As early as 1994, the panel in Quigley v. UIT noted that: “any legal regime should seek to enable its subjects to assess the consequences of their actions”[26]. An analogy with the fiction nemo censeture ignorare legem, developed with respect to state law, is difficult to sustain. In a contractual context, the contents of the parties’ agreement needs to be interpreted based on what the other party could reasonably understand[27]. Even if elite Athletes undertake to keep themselves informed about the evolution of the rules, this implies that there may be certain limits on this undertaking.

Thus, if one were to follow the CAS panel’s findings in Sharapova that Athletes are expected to check the Prohibited List personally, one would need to deny the predictability of the prohibition in each case in which the prohibited character of the substance could not reasonably be recognized by the Athlete him- or herself, and thus find that an element of the anti-doping rule violation is missing. While a literal reading of the statement may evoke such an extreme outcome, it is unlikely that the CAS panel had in mind such implication for its statement. There is no other indication in the award that the CAS panel meant to question the ‘fiction’ of awareness of the prohibition that has been generally accepted in CAS jurisprudence, or its corollary of strict liability. In fact, the arbitrators were not asked to do so, since Maria Sharapova did not challenge the anti-doping rule violation itself.


The reason why CAS panels refrain from analyzing the issue under the angle of legal predictability – apart from the fact that the parties generally do not raise this defence – is probably because, unlike the degree of Fault, predictability of the scope of the prohibition allows for no graduation: either the finding of an anti-doping rule violation can be supported, or it cannot.

Accordingly, CAS panels prefer to attenuate the harshness of the regime by evoking a framework of ‘reciprocal’ duties between Anti-Doping Organizations and Athletes. This is also perceivable in the Sharapova award, in which the CAS panel expressed its view that: “anti-doping organizations should have to take reasonable steps to provide notice to athletes of significant changes to the Prohibited List, such as the addition of a substance, including its brand names”.

The extent of the “reasonable steps” expected from the Anti-Doping Organizations, and the repercussions in case of a failure to take appropriate steps in a particular matter, however, is not clear[28]. In particular, the Sharapova award does not clarify whether the communication has to be such that the Athlete can genuinely be expected to verify the prohibited character of a substance personally, without specialized assistance. Though the sections in the Sharapova award addressing this issue could convey such an impression, it is unlikely that this was the CAS panel’s intent. Other paragraphs regarding the ‘delegation test’, on the contrary, clearly point at an inevitable need for medical support. As part of their assessment of the player’s Fault, the panel noted a default to instruct and supervise her agent, in particular: “to put him in contact with Dr Skalny [the physician who had prescribed the medication to Maria Sharapova] to understand the nature of the Skalny products”. According to the panel, if an Athlete could simply delegate their obligations to a non-trained third party without properly instructing them, “such a finding would render meaningless the obligation of an athlete to avoid doping”. Between the lines, the CAS panel thus acknowledges that it is part of an Athlete’s duty of diligence to involve a physician when circumstances so warrant.

In our view, the level of communication expected from Anti-Doping Organization must take into account the nature of the substance, as well as the channels through which an Athlete is supposed to come into contact with this substance. As far as medications are concerned, communication that makes the prohibited character of a substance easily identifiable for a health professional (e.g. a doctor or a pharmacist), would appear an adequate and sufficient level of communication. There is no doubt that the Prohibited List has evolved to a degree of complexity that imposes heightened duties on Anti-Doping Organizations to do their share to prevent inadvertent violations. However, while appropriate communication is essential, caution must be applied with respect to communication of information of a very technical nature. The information related to the Prohibited List is at the intersection of two technical domains: it is both a legal and a scientific-medical document. In this constellation, one should also factor in the risk that more communication would merely increase the potential for misunderstanding. It might be preferable for Anti-Doping Organizations to refer to one unique document with accurate and precise language that can be interpreted reliably by the relevant professional, than to draft multiple ‘information notices’, ‘warnings’ etc. attempting to adapt the information to lay-persons also, but in which each minor change of wording may create new ambiguities. Of note, this also supposes an appropriate training and awareness on part of the health professions, in particular those practitioners who know they are regularly dealing with sportspeople.


The finding in the Sharapova v. ITF award that no anti-doping training is needed to ascertain the status of a substance, and that the check is to be conducted, as a rule, by the Athlete personally, without scientific or medical qualifications being required, should not be taken in isolation from its context. It would be dangerous to assign too strong a precedential value to this element in the CAS panel’s analysis. In other sections of the award, the CAS panel acknowledged - at least between the lines - that checking a medication against the Prohibited List without appropriate specialized advice is not commendable and would hardly be sufficient to consider that the Athlete discharged his or her duties of diligence under the WADC.

More generally, CAS panels have so far refrained from assessing the predictability of the prohibited character of a medication as a requirement for establishing an anti-doping rule violation. However, they do seem to recognize that there are certain duties on Anti-Doping Organizations to assist Athletes in properly performing their own duties under the WADC. Communication deemed insufficient will not invalidate an anti-doping rule violation, but may be taken into account in reducing the Athlete’s degree of Fault. This can be viewed as an incentive towards intensified communication efforts on part of the anti-doping movement, but without jeopardizing the prohibition itself in individual cases.

Ultimately, the lesson to retain from the Sharapova award – and the Meldonium cases in general – goes beyond the duty for Athletes to be aware of the prohibited character of a substance. The underlying question that these cases raise is the health risk involved in elite sport, and the Athlete’s willingness to go to great lengths to practise at the highest level. There is widespread abuse of medications – sold over-the-counter or reused after an initial prescription – in the population in general[29]. Athletes are not an exception, but the problem seems to be exacerbated by competitive sport, where Athlete often feel they depend on a ‘quick fix’ to a health condition to meet their goals[30].

As pointed out in a previous comment to the ITF Tribunal Decision in Sharapova, it is not for adjudicatory bodies to deliver a ‘moral’ judgement on the manner in which elite sport should be practised. The CAS panel was asked to consider whether Maria Sharapova was at Fault with respect to her anti-doping duties, not whether she was conveying a ‘respectable’ or ‘responsible’ image of elite sport, or whether she was acting reasonably in terms of healthcare.

Nevertheless, given the WADC’s stated goal of protecting the Athlete’s health, the anti-doping movement cannot entirely disregard the messages that are sent out to Athletes when it comes to the use of medication. CAS awards indirectly reflect the panels’ perceptions on the subject, and the diverging attitudes that also coexist in health systems in general. In the eyes of some CAS panels, including in the matter of Maria Sharapova, taking a medication without medical supervision or outside the purposes for which the medication was prescribed does not seem to constitute Significant Fault[31]. When Athletes are at times held to extremely high standards of care for taking nutritional supplements[32], or even for being sabotaged at a social drink[33], CAS panels should be mindful not to encourage Athletes to view self-medication as part of their training routine.

[1] The decision was commented on

[2] The capitalized words in the text are terms defined in the World Anti-Doping Code (« WADC »).

[3] Defining what is to be considered a ‘medication’ for purposes of anti-doping is a delicate topic in itself and will be the object of a separate analysis in a future blog. Within the context of the Sharapova decision, typical ‘medications’ envisaged here are those in the core domain of prescription drugs, without regard to borderline cases (health supplements, herbal remedies, functional food etc.).

[4] The CAS panel chose a tripartite test known in the liability of the employer in Swiss tort law, based on the ‘three culpa’ : culpa in eligendo (lack of diligence in choosing the person), culpa in instruendo (lack of diligence in instructing the person), or culpa in custodiendo (lack of diligence in supervising the person) (see Sharapova award, para. 85). The details of this test and its appropriateness for the context of anti-doping will be analyzed on the WADC Commentary Anti-Doping Blog .

[5] Sharapova award, para. 88 iii.

[6] CAS 2013/A/3335, Cilic v. ITF, para. 75 b.

[7] CAS 2016/A/4371, Lea v. USADA, para. 91, limiting, however, this duty of diligence to the situation « of an athlete taking prescribed medication fo the first time »; in the Sharapova award, para. 84, the panel also insisted that Athlete cannot be expected in each case to meet all factors proposed in the Cilic guidance.

[8] “Did the athlete consult appropriate experts” is a factor to assess the Athlete’s objective Fault in the guidance issued in CAS 2013/A/3335, Cilic v. ITF, para. 74; CAS 2015/A/3876, Stewart v. FIM, paras 77/78; CAS 2011/A/2645, UCI v. Kolobnev & RCF, para. 92, with further references; CAS 2006/A/1133, WADA v. Stauber, para. 39.

[9] CAS 2006/A/1133, WADA v. Stauber, para. 36.

[10] CAS 2008/A/1565, WADA v. CISM & Turrini, para. 66.

[11] CAS 2011/A/2645, UCI v. Kolobnev & RCF, paras 87 & 93.

[12] CAS 2010/A/2229, WADA v. FIVB & Berrios, para. 100 ; CAS 2011/A/2585, WADA v. Marino & UCRA, para. 112.

[13] CAS 2015/A/3876, Stewart v. FIM, paras 77 & 84.

[14] CAS 2008/A/1565, WADA v. CISM & Turrini, para. 63 ; CAS 2006/A/1133, WADA v. Stauber, para. 35 ; CAS 2005/A/828, Koubek v. ITF, para. 60; even applied to an Athlete who was administered the substance as part of an emergency treatment in hospital but failed to subsequently enquire about the substance that had been administered (CAS 2006/A/1041 Vassilev v/ FIBT & BBTF); even applied if the tournament organization delivered the wrong medication after prescription by the official tournament doctor (CAS 2005/A/951, Cañas v. ATP).

[15] See also Article 21.1.4 of the WADC, whereby Athletes are “to take responsibility to make sure that any medical treatment received does not violate anti-doping policies and rules adopted pursuant to the Code”.

[16] CAS 2006/A/1133, WADA v. Stauber, para. 35.

[17] Sharapova award, para. 43 v.

[18] See e.g. the stimulant spelt “metamfetamine” in the WADA Prohibited List, is spelt “methamphetamine” in FDA-approved drugs.

[19] CAS 2013/A/3075, WADA v. Szabolcz, para. 9.8.

[20] See e.g. the drug enquiry database of Swiss Anti-Doping: “This database contains drugs authorized in Switzerland, only.”

[21] For a critical analysis, see Viret Marjolaine (2016), Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law, T.M.C Asser Press / Springer, The Hague, pp 465-479.

[22] For more details, see Viret Marjolaine (2016), Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law, T.M.C Asser Press / Springer, The Hague, pp 472-477.

[23] This provision concretizes Article 4.1 of the WADC.

[24] In CAS OG 12/07, ICF & Sterba v. COC & IOC, which involved a non-listed stimulant, the CAS panel noted that the use of the substance by the Athlete “could have been avoided if indeed the substance had been expressly included on the Prohibited List or in any other data base that can be easily accessed with modern technology and the internet”, but added that “This, of course, does not change the fact that the Anti-Doping violation occurred”, but was “important and relevant in respect to assessing and examining the level of fault of the Respondent and the consequential sanction” (para. 6.6.18).

[25] See e.g. CAS 2016/A/4371, Lea v. USADA, para. 92, citing the CAS jurisprudence that “athletes should have clear notice of conduct that constitutes an anti-doping rule violation”, but only to determine the degree of fault involved in failing to anticipate the excretion time needed for a substance prohibited In-Competition only.

[26] CAS 94/129, quoted in CAS 2016/A/4371, Lea v. USADA, para. 92.

[27] This was explicitly recognized, though with respect to a violation of failure to submit to Sample collection, in CAS 2008/A/1557, FIGC, Mannini & Possanzini v. WADA, paras 6.15 et seq.

[28] For a more extensive analysis, see the upcoming contribution on the WADC Commentary Anti-Doping Blog,

[29] E.g. the WHO warnings about antibiotics resistance acquired through inadequate use of antibiotics without specialized advice (e.g. prescribed for viral infections, or patients using the rest of their tablets when they experience similar symptoms).

[30] See e.g. the current debate surrounding the use of glucocorticoids among elite Athletes, and the use of TUEs for common health conditions after the data leaks revealed by hackers.

[31] CAS 2016/A/4371, Lea v. USADA, para. 91, in which the Athlete had taken a medication prescribed for pain relief as a sleep aid, as he had witnessed his teammates do.

[32] CAS 2009/A/1870 WADA v. Hardy & USADA, para. 120.

[33] CAS 2008/A/1515, WADA v. Daubney & Swiss Olympic, para. 125.

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