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

Why we should stop focusing on Caster Semenya 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.

Over the past days, we have been flooded by media reports discussing the “Caster Semenya-case”, reports rapidly relayed in social networks. Since the debate has a distinct legal component and since almost every report appears to draw significantly from the legal background, I granted myself permission – as compensation so to speak - to publish a somewhat more personal, less legal, post than I usually would.

Let me make one thing clear from the outset – I am still ‘agnostic’ about the question of how to solve the issues surrounding the male versus female divide in sports. Each time I have been asked to write or speak on the subject, I have tried to stick to describing the legal situation and its implications. I do not have the miracle solution as to how to handle this infinitely complex issue. And I am not sure anyone can claim to hold that solution at this point. Like everyone, I am doing my research and trying to be humble enough to stay within the realm of my competences. More...




Sporting nationality and the Olympic Games: selected issues by Yann Hafner (University of Neuchâtel)

Editor’s note: Yann Hafner is a Phd researcher at the University of Neuchâtel specialized in sports and nationality issues. He is also Legal Affairs Manager at the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball. Yann is an editor of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog and has previously published on the blog on nationality conundrums at the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil (see here).  

This contribution aims to decipher the relationship between sporting nationality and the Olympic Games. To this end, the author will first define sporting nationality and discuss athletes’ eligibility in national team in the context of the Olympic Games. Then, selected issues in relation with sporting nationality and the Olympic Games (with an emphasis on issues related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games) will be investigated. More...



Regulating the human body in sports: Lessons learned from the Dutee Chand case - by Dr Marjolaine Viret & Emily Wisnosky

Editor's note: Marjolaine Viret and Emily Wisnosky are both editors of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog specialized in anti-doping matters, they are also involved in the World Anti-Doping Commentary project funded by the Swiss National Science Fund.

Introduction

A remarkable aspect of the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games was the stream of negative media reports portraying broad-scale public mistrust in sport, with the most prominent topic being the doping scandals in athletics and questions surrounding the participation of Russia.  

A different controversy, but one also directed at the credibility of sports, has exposed a few female Olympians to repeated, and at times rather intrusive, media scrutiny. In June 2016, it was reported that Indian track-and-field athlete Dutee Chand had qualified for the Rio Olympic Games by breaking the national record, thus to become the first Indian athlete to run the 100m at the Olympics since 1980. The attention that Dutee Chand’s qualification attracted within international media, however, was not related only to her outstanding results. It came as part of a medical, ethical and legal controversy that has existed for many years relating to ‘policing’ the male versus female divide in sports. Another athlete who has found herself in the midst of this controversy is South African runner Semenya Caster, whose participation in the Olympics has been the object of much conjecture.

The divide between male and female athletes forms the core of most sports’ competition rules, including athletics. The justification for this basic divide has rarely been questioned as such, but has been a matter for debate when it comes to handling atypical situations on both sides of the ‘dividing line’ ­ such as ‘transgender’ or ‘intersex’ athletes. A category of athletes that has, especially, been viewed as a challenge to the divide is composed of female athletes affected by ‘hyperandrogenism’, a health condition that results in naturally elevated androgen levels, including testosterone levels.

On 24 July 2015, a CAS panel rendered a decision involving Dutee Chand (“Dutee Chand” or “the Athlete”) that has fuelled the ongoing debate about the policies regulating hyperandrogenism in sport. Much has been reported in the media about the case: controversial issues include whether the CAS was the appropriate forum to assess these questions; whether the decision was appropriate, both on the merits and on the procedure; and what the consequences of the CAS award would be, for the parties, for athletics and for the sporting community at large.

Much like the current crisis surrounding doping in sports, the public attention on women with (proven or suspected) hyperandrogenism is driven by a concern that an athlete’s physiology – natural or artificially induced ­ could distort competition, destroying the ‘level playing field’ that supports the Olympic ideal. Both topics are also often brought back to the goal of protecting an athlete’s health. Parallels are further found in the strong reactions both topics evoke, and the steps taken by the regulating authorities to convince the public that everything in their power is being done to preserve a level playing field.

A less obvious but equally important point of comparison can be found in the issues both topics raise concerning the legal validity of decisions made by sports organizations, especially in a science-related context. This blog focuses on those more ‘legal’ aspects, through the prism of the decision of the CAS in the Dutee Chand matter and its legal implications. After touching briefly on the background of the case, we will comment on two aspects of the Chand award with respect to challenges in regulating hyperandrogenism in sport within the confines of the law: First from the viewpoint of a CAS panel called upon to evaluate the validity of a set of regulations, and second from the viewpoint of the sports organizations seeking to both adequately protect fairness in sport and to provide a legally valid (and effective) regulatory solution.[1]

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International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – July 2016 - By Marine Montejo

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 have overlooked. 

The Headlines

The McLaren Report on Russia’s State Doping System

It is difficult not to start this monthly report without referring to the never-ending Russian doping investigation that is shaking the sporting world. On 18 July, the independent investigation on Sochi 2014 winter Olympics led by Prof. McLaren, a Canadian law professor, and requested by the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), released its report. It confirmed evidence of widespread, State-sponsored doping in Russian sports and called for a full ban on the country from the next Rio Olympics. In response to the report, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) vowed to take the “toughest sanctions available”. However, and despite the race against time in the run-up to Rio 2016, the IOC delayed its decision for several days amid a WADA statement and several press articles calling for a ban of Russia from Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, it did open an investigation against Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, the head official who allegedly supervised the overall doping cover up and explored all possible legal actions against Russia. On 21 July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) rejected the appeal of the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) decisions to suspend All Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) from IAAF membership given the evidence of a state-sponsored doping system. As a consequence, Russian track and field athletes were also banned from Rio 2016 Olympics. With the IAAF welcoming this decision, one could think that nothing was standing in the way of a full Olympic ban for all Russian athletes. While some Russian athletes announced that they would appeal the CAS award to the Swiss Federal Court. Yelena Isinbayeva, the banned pole vault champion, even took it a step further by claiming that she would challenge the IAAF decision as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Yet, it is very improbable that any of these challenges be decided in time for the Rio Games.More...

Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 2). By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. 


Part 2. EU competition law and sports funding

The first analysed impact of Brexit on sport was the one regarding EU internal market rules and free movement. However, all sport areas that are of interest to the European Union will be impacted by the result of the future Brexit negotiations. This second part of the blog will focus on EU competition law and the media sector as well as direct funding opportunities keeping in mind that if the UK reaches for an EEA type agreement competition law and state aid rules will remain applicable as much as the funding programs.  More...


With or without them? Russia’s state doping system and the Olympic fate of Russian athletes. By Antoine Duval, Kester Mekenkamp and Oskar van Maren

On Monday 18 July 2016, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren presented the Independent Person Report to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), regarding the alleged Russian doping program surrounding the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The report was expected to seriously threaten the participation of Russian Athletes to the rapidly approaching Rio Games, starting on 5 August. In the weekend prior to the report’s publishing, Reuters obtained a leaked letter drafted by the CEO’s of the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies, which according to the New York Times was backed by “antidoping officials from at least 10 nations— including those in the United States, Germany, Spain, Japan, Switzerland and Canada — and 20 athlete groups”, urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban all Russian athletes from the upcoming Olympics.

Source: http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/50/23/01/10563667/3/920x920.jpg

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Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 1). By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

The result of the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 took the European Union (almost) by surprise. A lot has been said and written about the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. As in all other areas, the British sport sector will also face the effects of the modification of the relationship between the EU and its (probable) former Member State, the UK. It is nearly impossible to foresee all consequences as the UK has not even triggered article 50 TFEU yet to officially start the exit negotiations. However, as the UK position toward the EU will change in any case, this two-part blog aims to examine the main practical implications of such an exit for the UK, but also for the EU, in relation to the actual application of EU law in sport and the EU sport policy.

Unless stated otherwise, the use of the terms Brexit in this blog should be understood as a complete exit of the UK from the European Union. This blog focus in particular on this worst case scenario and its consequences for UK sport. However, it is highly improbable that the future Brexit negotiations with the EU will end up without some kind of special agreement between the two parties the first of which being an EEA type of agreement with full access to the internal market and applicability of EU law. 

The first part of this blog will examined the consequences for UK sport in terms of access to the EU internal market and the applicability of free movement principles. The second part is focused on specific impacts with regard of others domain of EU law for professional and grassroots UK sport.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp

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

What a month June turned out to be. Waking up the morning after the 23rd, the results of the UK referendum on EU membership were final. The words of Mark Twain: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today”, might provide the most apt description of the mood felt at the time.[1] The Leave campaign’s narrow victory has brought along tremendous economic, political and legal uncertainties for both the UK and the (other) Member States. To give but one example, with regard to the implications of Brexit on Europe’s most profiting football league, we recommend an older blog by Daniel Geey and Jonny Madill. More...


The EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – May 2016. By Marine Montejo

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

Challenged membership put a lot of emphasis on football federations in May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) has rendered an award, on 27 April 2016, ordering the FIFA Council to submit the application of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) for FIFA membership to the FIFA Congress (the body authorised to admit new members to FIFA). The GFA has sought since 1999 to become a member of UEFA and FIFA. In May 2013, it became a member of the UEFA and went on to seek membership of FIFA. More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | WISLaw Blog Symposium - Why the existing athletes' Olympic entering system does not comply with the fundamental principles of Olympism enshrined in the Olympic Charter - By Anna Antseliovich

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

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Why the existing athletes' Olympic entering system does not comply with the fundamental principles of Olympism enshrined in the Olympic Charter - By Anna Antseliovich

Editor's note: Anna Antseliovich heads the sports practice at the Moscow-based legal group Clever Consult. She also works as a senior researcher at the Federal Science Center for Physical Culture and Sport (Russia).


The Olympic Games have always been a source of genuine interest for spectators as Olympians have repeatedly demonstrated astounding capacity of the human body and mind in winning Olympic gold, or by achieving success despite all odds.

At the ancient and even the first modern Olympic Games, there was no concept of a national team; each Olympian represented only himself/herself. However, at the 1906 Intercalated Games[1] for the first time, athletes were nominated by the National Olympic Committees (‘NOCs’) and competed as members of national teams representing their respective countries. At the opening ceremony, the athletes walked under the flags of their countries. This was a major shift, which meant that not only the athletes themselves competed against each other, but so too did the nations in unofficial medal standings.  

The nomination and selection of athletes by their NOCs to compete under their national flag and represent their country is a matter of pride for the vast majority of athletes. However, to what extent does such a scheme correspond to the ideals which the Olympic Games were based on in ancient times? Is it possible to separate sport and politics in the modern world?

Olympic Principles

The ancient Olympics began as a religious celebration in honor of the ancient Greek god Zeus. All freeborn male citizens of Greece could participate. The modern Olympics no longer maintain religious significance and are based on modern ideas and principles.

The principles of Olympism are enshrined in the Olympic Charter under “Fundamental Principles of Olympism”. The first paragraph of the Charter reads: “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” Thus, it should seem obvious that Olympism is centered on a human, his/her body, will, and mind. Nations are not mentioned at all in this section. On the contrary, “sports organizations within the Olympic Movement shall apply political neutrality.”

Moreover, the Olympic Charter enshrines the practice of sport as an inherent human right: “Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”  Paragraph 6 continues with “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms outlined in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Based on the above, we can conclude that anyone has the right to participate in competitions covered directly or indirectly by the Olympic Charter, and no one person or entity can be deprived of this right. The only limitation on participation is an individual athlete’s qualification and eligibility.  

Entering by NOC

The Olympic Charter Rule 40 provides that “the competitor, team official or other team personnel must be entered by his NOC” to participate in the Olympic Games.

Rule 41 and its By-law deal with cases where there are issues with the nationality of an athlete, such as a change of nationality, a change in the status of the territory on which an athlete resides, etc., but clearly states that, as a general rule, an athlete shall be a national of the NOC that is selecting him/her.

In previous years, the IOC allowed so-called independent athletes to participate in the Olympic Games (such teams had different names but the same status). In 1992 they were athletes from Macedonia and Yugoslavia, in 2000 from East Timor, in 2012 athletes from the Netherlands Antilles and South Sudan, in 2014 from India, in 2016 from Kuwait and Russia, and in 2018 from Russia. These athletes competed as independent/neutral athletes for various reasons, such as the absence of the NOC, the suspension of the NOC from the IOC, doping scandals, or international sanctions.

The increased role of the State that is expressed by the appearance of the national symbols on the athletes' uniform, the playing of national anthems, and the flying of the national flag at the award ceremony has given rise to an unofficial medal count, which now - whether the IOC wants it or not - plays an extremely important role at each Olympic Games. Spectators intensely monitor which country is leading the medal count - sometimes even more than the competition itself. More and more countries are competing against each other, drawing up medal plans in an attempt to prove that their training system is the best and the most progressive, which, in turn, shows the superiority of their political and/or financial system. This all takes the spectators’ attention away from the purity of revelling in the capabilities of the human body and spirit and admiring the achievements of athletes.

Such an approach to the formation of Olympic teams (at least in individual sports) does not comply with the principle enshrined in Rule 6 of the Olympic Charter “the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries..” and it seems that it is unfair for several reasons.

First, while for most athletes the very opportunity to represent their country at the most important sporting event is a source of great pride, for other athletes, it is not. For example,  refugees who have fled their homeland, for fear of torture and/or death. For them, it is unacceptable to compete under the flag of their country. Their “national” NOC could not enter them in any event. To circumvent this problem, the IOC created a team of 10 refugee athletes who competed under the IOC flag and anthem for the first time at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. In 2018, at the 133rd session of the IOC in Buenos Aires, it was confirmed that the Tokyo Olympics will also feature a refugee team. However, refugees are not the only group of athletes who have difficult relations with the authorities and/or political regimes. There are many places in the world where people are struggling for independence or with repressive regimes. For these athletes to compete under the national symbols used by such authorities is fundamentally and morally impossible because it contradicts their political views (for example, some of the Kurds may not be happy to represent Turkey, some of the Basques may be happy to see any flag but not a Spanish one, some individuals residing in Northern Ireland may feel themselves hurt and unhappy to compete under the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, Tibetans and Uighurs hardly want to glorify the flag of China that suppresses any attempts to show their national identity, etc.).

Second, despite the requirement of the Olympic Charter to observe political neutrality by NOCs, in reality, this is not always respected. A vivid example is a current situation in Belarus, where until February 2021 the NOC was headed by President Aleksandr Lukashenko, after whose election mass protests broke out in the country resulting in numerous human rights violations. Since February 2021, the NOC has been headed by his son, Viktor Lukashenko. Athletes who took part in the protests were persecuted and sometimes even imprisoned. It is obvious that such athletes have no chance to be selected by the NOC for the Tokyo Olympics and even if they were to be entered, they would unlikely be proud to perform under the symbols of a regime that they consider illegitimate.

The two examples demonstrate that performing under a national flag can sometimes have grave significance. Athlete can either be completely barred from competing in the Olympics should they not hold the correct political allegiance, or be forced to compete under a national flag that does not reflect their political views.

The author considers that a solution to the abovementioned problem consists in the registration of an athlete, if he/she meets sports criteria for participation in the Olympic Games, directly by the IOC in the personal capacity. Each athlete will then be able to independently decide to use the national symbols that correspond to his political views, or to refuse to use any symbols in general. This approach is consistent with the abovementioned principles.

Conclusion

The Olympic Games have evolved enormously from local games as part of a religious celebration to a worldwide sports festival watched by millions of people. The Olympics are the epitome of international competition between athletes and between nations. Political controversy and scandals surrounding the Olympics often overshadow athletes' successes. To remove the political underlying basis of the Olympics, the approach of entering athletes by the NOCs should be abandoned, and athletes (at least in individual sports) should be allowed to compete in a personal capacity stripping away political connotations that ought to be extraneous to sports competitions. 


[1] Intercalated Games were supposed to be a series of international competitions held in Athens halfway between Summer Olympic Games. The only such games were held in 1906.


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