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

Seraing vs. FIFA: Why the rumours of CAS’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Rumours are swirling around the decision (available in French here) of the Court of Appeal of Brussels in the case opposing RFC Seraing United to FIFA (as well as UEFA and the Belgian Football Federation, URSBFA) over the latter’s ban on third-party ownership. The headlines in various media are quite dramatic (see here and here), references are made to a new Bosman, or to a shaken sport’s legal system. Yet, after swiftly reading the decision for the first time on 29th August, I did not have, unlike with the Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München, the immediate impression that this would be a major game-changer for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the role of arbitration in sports in general. After careful re-reading, I understand how certain parts of the ruling can be misunderstood or over-interpreted. I believe that much of the press coverage failed to accurately reflect the reasoning of the court and to capture the real impact of the decision. In order to explain why, I decided to write a short Q&A (including the (not water-proof) English translations of some of the key paragraphs of the decision).


New Article Published! The Olympic Charter: A Transnational Constitution Without a State?

My latest article has just been published online by the Journal of Law and Society. It is available open access here.

The article stems from a conference organised by Jiri Priban from Cardiff University on Gunther Teubner's idea of societal constitutionalism applied to transnational regimes. My role was to test whether his descriptive and normative framework was readily applicable to the lex sportiva, and in particular its overarching "constitutional" text: the Olympic Charter.

As you will see my conclusion is mixed. I find that the Olympic Charter (OC) displays many constitutional features and is even able to regularly defend successfully its autonomy vis-à-vis national states and their laws. However, while I document some inception of limitative constitutional rules, such as the ban on discrimination or the principle of fair play, I also conclude that those have limited impact in practice. While constitutional changes to the OC can be triggered by scandal, resistance and contestation, as illustrated by the emergence of environmental concerns after the Albertville Games and the governance reshuffle of the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal, I am also sceptical that these were sufficient to tackle the underlying problems, as became obvious with the unmatched environmental damage caused by the Sotchi Games in 2014.

In conclusion, more than sporadic public outrage, I believe that the intervention of national law and, even more, European Union law will be capable and needed to rein the Olympic regime and impose external constitutional constraints on its (at least sometimes) destructive operations.

Here is the abstract of the article: This article examines various aspects of Teubner's theory of societal constitutionalism using the lex sportiva as an empirical terrain. The case study focuses on the operation of the Olympic Charter as a transnational constitution of the Olympic movement. It shows that recourse to a constitutional vocabulary is not out of place in qualifying the function and authority of the Charter inside and outside the Olympic movement. Yet, the findings of the case study also nuance some of Teubner's descriptive claims and question his normative strategy.

Good read! (And do not hesitate to share your feedback)

New Position - Internship in International Sports Law - Deadline 15 August

The T.M.C. Asser Instituut offers post-graduate students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the field of international and European sports law.  The T.M.C. Asser Instituut, located in The Hague, is an inter-university research institute specialized in international and European law. Since 2002, it is the home of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, a pioneer in the field of European and international sports law. More...

Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.

The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...

Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 25 & 26 October - Asser Institute, The Hague

 Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2018

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is inviting you to submit abstracts for its second ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ published by Springer in collaboration with Asser Press is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes academics and many practitioners active in the field. This call is open to researchers as well as practitioners. 

We are also delighted to announce that Prof. Franck Latty (Université Paris Nanterre), Prof. Margareta Baddeley (Université de Genève), and Silvia Schenk (member of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board) have confirmed their participation as keynote speakers.

Abstracts could, for example, tackle questions linked to the following international sports law subjects:

  • The interaction between EU law and sport
  • Antitrust and sports regulation
  • International sports arbitration (CAS, BAT, etc.)
  • The functioning of the world anti-doping system (WADA, WADC, etc.)
  • The global governance of sports
  • The regulation of mega sporting events (Olympics, FIFA World Cup, etc.)
  • The transnational regulation of football (e.g. the operation of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players or the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations)
  • The global fight against corruption in sport  
  • Comparative sports law
  • Human rights in sport 

Please send your abstract (no more than 300 words) and CV no later than 30 April 2018 to Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2018. All papers presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special edition of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference edition of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2018.  Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and will provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 300€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please justify your request in your submission. 

Stepping Outside the New York Convention - Practical Lessons on the Indirect Enforcement of CAS-Awards in Football Matters - By Etienne Gard

Editor’s Note: Etienne Gard graduated from the University of Zurich and from King's College London. He currently manages a project in the field of digitalization with Bratschi Ltd., a major Swiss law firm where he did his traineeship with a focus in international commercial arbitration.

1. Prelude

On the 10th of June, 1958, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, widely known as the “New York Convention”, was signed in New York by 10 countries.[1] This rather shy figure progressively grew over the decades to now reach 157 signatory countries, turning the New York Convention into the global recognition and enforcement instrument it is today. As V.V. Veeder’s puts it, “One English law lord is said to have said, extra judicially, that the New York Convention is both the Best Thing since sliced bread and also whatever was the Best Thing before sliced bread replaced it as the Best Thing.”[2]

However, among the overall appraisal regarding the New York Convention, some criticisms have been expressed. For instance, some states use their public policy rather as a pretext not to enforce an award than an actual ground for refusal.[3]  A further issue is the recurring bias in favor of local companies.[4] Additionally, recognition and enforcement procedures in application of the New York Convention take place in front of State authorities, for the most part in front of courts of law, according to national proceeding rules. This usually leads to the retaining of a local law firm, the translation of several documents, written submissions and one, if not several hearings. Hence, the efficiency of the New York Convention as a recognition and enforcement mechanism comes to the expense of both money and time of both parties of the arbitral procedure.

In contrast with the field of commercial arbitration, where the New York Convention is often considered the only viable option in order to enforce an award, international football organizations, together with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”), offer an effective enforcement alternative. This article aims at outlining the main features of the indirect enforcement of CAS awards in football matters in light of a recent case. More...

The International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) and the quest for good governance: Of brave men and rotting fish - By Thomas Kruessmann

Editor's note: Prof. Thomas Kruessmann is key expert in the EU Technical Assistant Project "Strengthening Teaching and Research Capacity at ADA University" in Baku (Azerbaijan). At the same time, he is co-ordinator of the Jean-Monnet Network "Developing European Studies in the Caucasus" with Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia).

The notion that “fish rots from the head down” is known to many cultures and serves as a practical reminder on what is at stake in the current wave of anti-corruption / integrity and good governance initiatives. The purpose of this blog post is to provide a short update on the recent founding of the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), intermittently known as the International Sports Integrity Partnership (IPAS), and to propose some critical perspectives from a legal scholar’s point of view.

During the past couple of years, the sports world has seen a never-ending wave of corruption allegations, often followed by revelations, incriminations and new allegation. There are ongoing investigations, most notably in the United States where the U.S. Department of Justice has just recently intensified its probe into corruption at the major sports governing bodies (SGBs). By all accounts, we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg. And after ten years of debate and half-hearted reforms, there is the widespread notion, as expressed by the Council of Europe’s (CoE’s) Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Resolution 2199/2018 that “the sports movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 

The Headlines 

Anti-doping whereabouts requirements declared compatible with the athletes' right to privacy and family life

On 18 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment with important consequences for the world of sport in general and the anti-doping regime in particular. The Strasbourg-based court was called upon to decide whether the anti-doping whereabouts system – which requires that a limited number of top elite athletes provide their National Anti-Doping Organisation or International Federation with regular information about their location, including identifying for each day one specific 60-minute time slot where the athlete will be available for testing at a pre-determined location – is compatible with the athletes' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and their freedom of movement pursuant to Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention. The case was brought by the French cyclist Jeannie Longo and five French athlete unions that had filed their application on behalf of 99 professional handball, football, rugby, and basketball players.

While acknowledging that the whereabouts requirements clash with the athletes' right to private and family life, the judges took the view that such a restriction is necessary in order to protect the health of athletes and ensure a level playing field in sports competitions. They held that ''the reduction or removal of the relevant obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports, and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control''. Accordingly, the judges found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, in a similar vein, ruled that Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention was not applicable to the case.


Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

It has been a record-breaking January transfer window with Premier League clubs having spent an eye-watering £430 million on signing new acquisitions. These spiralling transfer fees enable football agents, nowadays also called intermediaries, to charge impressive sums for their services. However, this might soon no longer be the case as the main stakeholders in European football are preparing to take action. UEFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the European Professional Football Leagues acknowledge in their joint resolution that the 2015 FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries failed to address serious concerns in relation to the activities of intermediaries/agents. They recognise in broad terms that a more effective regulatory framework is needed and call among other things for a reasonable and proportionate cap on fees for intermediaries/agents, enhanced transparency and accountability, or stronger provisions to protect minors.


The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website an arbitral award delivered on 4 August 2017 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the dispute between the Ghanian football referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey and FIFA. The CAS sided with FIFA and dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Lamptey against an earlier decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee which (i) found him to have violated Article 69(1) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code as he unlawfully influenced the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal that took place on 12 November 2016; (ii) as a consequence, banned him for life from taking part in any football-related activity; and (iii) ordered the match in question to be replayed. In reaching its conclusion, the CAS relied heavily on multiple reports of irregular betting activities that significantly deviated from usual market developments.  More...

Towards a Suitable Policy Framework for Cricket Betting in India - By Deeksha Malik

Editor's note: Deeksha Malik is a final-year student at National Law Institute University, India. Her main interest areas are corporate law, arbitration, and sports law. She can be reached at

In 2015, while interrogating cricketer Sreesanth and others accused in the IPL match-fixing case, Justice Neena Bansal, sitting as Additional Sessions Judge, made the following observations as regards betting on cricket matches.

“Cricket as a game of skill requires hand-eye-coordination for throwing, catching and hitting. It requires microscopic levels of precision and mental alertness for batsmen to find gaps or for bowlers to produce variety of styles of deliveries’ (medium pace, fast, inswing, outswing, offspin, legspin, googly). The sport requires strategic masterminds that can select the most efficient fielding positions for piling pressure on the batsmen. Based on above description, cricket cannot be described anything, but as a game of skill.”

The debate on the issue of betting in sports has since resurfaced and gained the attention of sportspersons, media, sports bodies, policymakers, and the general public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order directing the government to come up with an appropriate framework for regulating betting in sports. The arguments put forth in the PIL present various dimensions. One of these pertains to economic considerations, a submission that regulated betting would be able to generate annual revenue of Rs. 12,000 crores by bringing the earnings therefrom within the tax net. As for policy considerations, it was submitted that a proper regulation in this area would enable the government to distinguish harmless betting from activities that impair the integrity of the game such as match-fixing. Further, betting on cricket matches largely depends on the skill of the concerned players, thereby distinguishing it from pure chance-based activities.

The issue of sports betting witnesses a divided opinion till this day. This is understandable, for both sides to the issue have equally pressing arguments. Aside from its regulation being a daunting task for authorities, sports betting is susceptible to corruption and other unscrupulous activities. At the same time, it is argued that it would be better for both the game and the economy if the same is legalised. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – December 2017. By Tomáš Grell

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines 

The International Skating Union's eligibility rules declared incompatible with EU competition law

On 8 December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had rendered a decision in the case against the International Skating Union (ISU). The Commission upheld the complaint lodged in October 2015 by two Dutch professional speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, represented in this case by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval (you can read their joint statement here), and ruled that the ISU's eligibility rules preventing athletes from participating in speed skating competitions not approved by the ISU under the threat of severe penalties are in violation of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission held that these rules restrict the commercial freedom of (i) athletes who may be deprived of additional source of income as they are not allowed to participate in speed skating competitions other than those authorised by the ISU; and (ii) independent organisers who are unable to attract top athletes. And while the Commission recognised that sporting rules with restrictive effects might be compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective such as the protection of athletes' health and safety or the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, it found that the ISU's eligibility rules pursue only its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and independent organisers of speed skating competitions. The ISU eventually escaped financial sanctions, but it must modify or abolish its eligibility rules within 90 days; otherwise it would be liable for non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily turnover. For more information on this topic, we invite you to read our recent blog written by Professor Stefano Bastianon.


The International Olympic Committee bans Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games

The world has been waiting impatiently for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. This was finally communicated on 5 December 2017. Having deliberated on the findings of the Schmid Commission, the IOC Executive Board decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee with immediate effect, meaning that only those Russian athletes who demonstrate that they had not benefited from the state-sponsored doping programme will be able to participate in the Games. Such clean athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic Flag, bearing the name 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' on their uniforms. Further to this, the IOC Executive Board sanctioned several officials implicated in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, including Mr Vitaly Mutko, currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and formerly the Minister of Sport. Mounting public pressure subsequently forced Mr Mutko to step down as head of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Meanwhile, 21 individual Russian athletes were sanctioned (see here, here, here, and here) in December (in addition to 22 athletes in November) by the IOC Oswald Commission that is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Oswald Commission also published two full decisions in the cases against Evgeny Belov and Aleksandr Tretiakov who were both banned from all future editions of the Games. It is now clear that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have quite some work in the coming weeks as the banned athletes are turning to this Swiss-based arbitral tribunal to have their sanctions reviewed (see here and here).


Universal Declaration of Player Rights

14 December 2017 was a great day for athletes all over the globe. On this day, representatives of the world's leading player associations met in Washington D.C. to unveil the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a landmark document developed under the aegis of the World Players Association that strives to protect athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. The World Players Association's Executive Director Brendan Schwab emphasised that the current system of sports governance ''lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport'' and stated that ''athlete rights can no longer be ignored''. Among other rights, the Declaration recognises the right of athletes to equality of opportunity, fair and just working conditions, privacy and the protection of personal data, due process, or effective remedy.


Chris Froome failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España

The world of cycling suffered yet another blow when it transpired that one of its superstars Chris Froome had failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España, a race he had eventually emerged victorious from for the first time in his career. His urine sample collected on 7 September 2017 contained twice the amount of salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma, than permissible under the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2017 Prohibited List. Kenyan-born Froome has now hired a team of medical and legal experts to put forward a convincing explanation for the abnormal levels of salbutamol in his urine and thus to avoid sanctions being imposed on him. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | 12th round of Caster Semenya’s legal fight: too close to call? - By Jeremy Abel

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

12th round of Caster Semenya’s legal fight: too close to call? - By Jeremy Abel

Editor's note: Jeremy Abel is a recent graduate of the LL.M in International Business Law and Sports of the University of Lausanne.


1.     Introduction

The famous South African athlete Caster Semenya is in the last lap of her long legal battle for her right to run without changing the natural testosterone in her body. After losing her cases before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Swiss Federal Tribunal, she filed an application before the European Court of Human Rights (Court). In the meantime, the Court has released a summary of her complaint and a series of questions addressed to the parties of the case.

As is well known, she is challenging the World Athletics’ Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Regulations) defining the conditions under which female and intersex athletes with certain types of differences of sex development (DSDs) can compete in international athletics events. Despite the Regulations emanating from World Athletics, the last round of her legal battle is against a new opponent: Switzerland.

The purpose of this article is to revisit the Semenya case from a European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) perspective while considering certain excellent points made by previous contributors (see here, here and here) to this blog. Therefore, the blog will follow the basic structure of an ECHR case. The following issues raised by Semenya shall be analysed: the applicability of the ECHR, Semenya’s right to private life (Article 8 ECHR) and to non discrimination (Article 14 ECHR), as well as the proportionality of the Regulations.

2.     Applicability of the ECHR

An interesting question is how the Court will apply the ECHR to the case at hand. It has two options at its disposal. It can either use the doctrine of positive or negative obligations to resolve the case. The most logical solution would be to favour the positive obligations route. This doctrine allows the Court to hold states accountable in situations involving private parties. It obliges states to intervene in these situations and not to simply sit back and remain passive. In essence, the present case opposes two private parties: Caster Semenya on the one side and World Athletics on the other. The only connection of the case to Switzerland is a judgment by its Federal Tribunal reviewing the award rendered by the CAS. Indeed, unlike most international federations, World Athletics is registered in Monaco and not in Switzerland.

The Court’s case law also appears to favour this option. In Mutu and Pechstein, the Court indirectly stated that Switzerland’s positive obligations were at play (paras 65-67). The problem with this approach is that it makes it difficult to test a set of private regulations directly against the Convention. In its Mutu and Pechstein decision, the Court sidestepped this problem by somewhat ignoring Switzerland’s positive obligations. It simply applied the requirements of Article 6 ECHR directly to the CAS proceedings without worrying about the role of Switzerland and its Federal Tribunal.[1] Mutu and Pechstein suggests that the Court is willing to use the positive obligations doctrine and tweak it where it feels it is necessary to uphold athletes’ Convention rights. It is argued here that the Court’s approach in Semenya will be similar since the case raises several fundamental rights questions which have not been dealt with extensively by previous courts.

3.     Substantive issues

a.      Semenya’s right to private life (Article 8 ECHR)

Another crucial question is whether the Court will be willing to rely on its Article 8 ECHR case law relating to transgender persons. A.P., Garçon and Nicot is of particular importance in this context. This case was about a French law making the recognition of transgender persons’ preferred gender conditional on a sterilisation surgery or treatment. The Court stated that this law presented transgender persons not willing to undergo sterilisation with an “impossible dilemma” (para 132). They had to choose between their physical integrity or the legal recognition of their gender identity. The Court deemed this burden to be unnecessary to guarantee the principle of the inalienability of civil status and the need for consistency and reliability of civil-status records and thus in violation of Article 8 ECHR.

The Regulations create a similar dilemma. Despite having been identified by the South African State and identifying herself as a female, Semenya cannot compete in the female category unless she compromises her right to physical integrity by undergoing testosterone lowering treatment. In addition, noncompliance with the Regulations means that she cannot run the middle-distance events she excels at. It is therefore likely that she must give up her international sports career.[2]

It can be argued that both cases are comparable. While it is true that, unlike the French law, the Regulations aim her sports status and not her legal sex, both rules are not so different when one considers the specificity of her profession. As a famous athlete whose life revolves around sport, a mismatch between her legal sex and “sports” sex has major consequences on her life as a professional athlete and beyond. In these special circumstances, it is difficult to strictly differentiate the legal sex from the “sports” sex. Indeed, she finds herself in the very peculiar situation of suddenly having to explain why, after a lifetime of being female for the purposes of both sex categories, she is still female enough for one but not the other. Another distinction between the Regulations and the French law is that the latter contained a sterilization requirement absent in the former. This distinction can be relativised in two ways. Firstly, both set of rules require the same type of medical treatment: surgery or hormone treatment. Secondly, although the Regulations do not require a permanent physical change, the recommended surgical and hormonal treatment may lead to irreversible changes and ultimately sterility.[3]

b.      Semenya’s right to non discrimination (Article 14 ECHR)

Regarding the potential discriminatory nature of the Regulations in the sense of Article 14 ECHR, Semenya will most likely question why the Regulations only institute a testosterone limit for female athletes. This assertion runs up against the legal hurdle of finding an appropriate comparator. For there to be a discrimination, it must in principle be possible to compare Semenya with a class of persons who are treated more favourably. This task is not made easier by the fact that no intersex case has ever been decided by the Court.[4]

In theory, three comparisons are imaginable[5]: a comparison with male, female, or intersex athletes. The viability of each comparator depends on which definition of sex is used.[6] Sex can be understood from a civil status, gender identity or biological standpoint. It is unclear whether the Court will be convinced by World Athletics’ preference for the biological sex definition. World Athletics used this definition to argue that Semenya is “biologically male” for the purpose of athletics and must therefore be compared to male and not female athletes.[7] If the condition of participation is being “biologically female”, there is no discrimination because Semenya is being treated like all the other athletes who do not fulfil this condition.[8] However, the situation completely changes if the biological sex definition is dropped in favour of the others.

4.     Proportionality of the Regulations

Finally, the Court may have to engage in a delicate balancing act between the different interests at stake. On the one hand, there are the interests of World Athletics. As an international federation, it considers it is in the best position to develop the most appropriate rules for dividing females and males for the purpose of athletics. On the other hand, there are the opposing interests of Semenya and her fellow competitors. It is a classic case of competing rights which happen also to be fundamental goals of sport: inclusion vs fairness.[9] Including intersex athletes in the female category might be unfair towards the other female athletes. Contrary to other physical or genetical traits, high levels of testosterone are viewed by some to give intersex athletes an insurmountable advantage over their female competition. By adopting and defending the Regulations, it is clear that World Athletics shares this view and is sensitive to the fairness argument.

One way of avoiding this balancing of interests exercise is to decide that the Regulations are not fit for purpose. Without getting into scientific arguments, it appears safe to affirm that while most experts agree that testosterone has a positive effect on performance, there is still a lack of consensus on the degree of that effect.[10] Both the CAS and the Swiss Federal Tribunal overcame this uncertainty by giving a lot of weight to the statistical overrepresentation of women with DSDs in elite athletics.[11] A striking example of this overrepresentation is the women’s 800 m final at the 2016 Olympics where Semenya and two other athletes with DSDs occupied all three podium places thanks to the suspension of a previous version of the Regulations.

However, an alternative view is plausible. The capability of the Regulations to achieve their goal of ensuring fairness can be called into question on three fronts.

Firstly, there is a twofold problem relating to the quality of the evidence and the conclusions drawn from it. The quality of the evidence is low because in addition to there only existing few studies on the relationship between testosterone and performance, those that do exist rely on flawed data such as double counting athletes and times.[12] Irrespective of the concerns regarding the quality of the evidence used, the conclusions drawn from it are inconsistent because World Athletics’ choice to establish a testosterone limit for some, but not other athletic events is illogical.[13] According to the evidence, female athletes with high levels of testosterone have a competitive advantage in the following athletic disciplines: 400 m (2,73%), 400 m hurdles (2,78%), 800 m (1,78%), hammer throw (4,53%) and pole vault (2,94%).[14] No performance advantage was shown to exist in other athletic disciplines.[15] The inclusion of the 1500 m and one mile events into the Regulations but not the hammer throw and pole vault runs counter to the evidence and the goal of ensuring a level playing field.

Secondly, there appears to be no satisfying answer as to why there is no equivalent testosterone limit for male athletes despite their testosterone levels differing much more significantly[16].

Thirdly, the choice of using testosterone as the determining factor can be called into question. Given the wide range of physical attributes that are helpful in sport, it is not clear what makes testosterone so different from other physical attributes. Would a mix of physical attributes and parameters like the one used in Paralympics not be fairer and more inclusive?[17]

5.     Conclusion

The Semenya case has the potential to appreciably change international federations’ and Switzerland’s relationship with the ECHR. It is shown above that if the Court wants to apply the ECHR directly to the Regulations, it must bend the doctrine of positive obligations. Until now, the Court has not explained its unconventional use of the doctrine. Two explanations are at the Court’s disposal.[18] They are both premised on the idea that Semenya is in a position of dependence towards World Athletics.

Firstly, it is possible to extend the reasoning behind Mutu and Pechstein according to which the CAS (a private Court) must, in situations involving forced arbitration, offer the same fair trial guarantees as a state court, to all types of sports regulations.[19] Indeed, if one accepts that sports arbitration clauses are compulsory, it becomes very difficult to argue that sports regulations in general are not compulsory since the former are contained in the latter.[20]

Secondly, the Court can treat international federations analogous to state-like entities.[21] The relationship between Semenya and World Athletics is akin to that between regular citizens and a state due to the size, power, and monopolistic position it holds in the sport of athletics.[22] The Semenya case exemplifies this power imbalance well. World Athletics’ monopoly means that it can impose the Regulations upon Semenya. She cannot object to this effectively since giving up her international athletics career is not an option as she would put her livelihood at risk.[23]

In the present case, the first explanation is more fitting because World Athletics’ seat is in Monaco and not in Switzerland. If, as argued here, the Court bends the positive obligations doctrine to properly engage with the arguments raised by Semenya, this would give it the opportunity to explain its unusual approach. But even if the Court does not take this opportunity, its unconventional use of the doctrine of positive obligations would still send a message to international federations and Switzerland that they must take ECHR considerations seriously in spite of the private nature of international sports disputes.

Beyond the question of the applicability of the Convention, the Semenya case has the potential to have far-reaching consequences for the world of sports. This is because of the wide-ranging reach of the Court’s decisions and the fact that World Athletics’ policy on intersex athletes is based on a recommendation made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As the supreme governing body of global sports, the IOC’s policy on this matter influences sports regulations at all levels throughout the world.

Finally, the case is infused with highly relevant but difficult scientific, sports and societal issues. The discussions around the definition of sex are particularly sensitive in today’s society. The complexity and sensitive nature of the case as well as the clash between two fundamental goals of sport are all ingredients for an extremely contentious fight which will ultimately come down to the judges’ scorecards. Whilst a split decision is likely, controversy is certain.

[1] Franck Latty, "Le TAS marque des points devant la CEDH" (2018) issue 192 Revue juridique et économique du sport 31, 32.

[2] Unless she competes in disciplines not covered by the Regulations. After contemplating competing in events without testosterone limits, Caster Semenya had to give up trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

[3] Mandates of Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group “Special Procedures Communication to the IAAF” (18 September 2018) OL OTH 62/2018 5.

[4] Although this is due to change soon. See C Delrave “Medical “normalisation” of intersex persons: third-party intervention to the ECTHR in the case of M. v. France” (Strasbourg Observers, 7 April 2021).

[5] See generally Robert Wintemute, "Recognising New Kinds of Direct Sex Discrimination: Transsexualism, Sexual Orientation and Dress Codes" (1997) vol 60 issue 3 The Modern Law Review 334, 334-336.

[6] Janis Block, Geschlechtergleichheit im Sport – Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Diskriminierung von trans- und intersexuellen Sportlerinnen unter den Voschriften des Allgemeinen Gleichbehandlungsgesetzes (Schriften zur Gleichstellung Band 39, Nomos 2014) 328-329.

[7] Mokgadi Caster Semenya v International Association of Athletics Federations [2019] Court of Arbitration for Sport 2018/O/57294 para 295.

[8] The same considerations apply under German law (see endnote 6).

[9]The battle over trans athletes in American schools heats up – Inclusivity bumps up against fairnessThe Economist (London, 5 September 2020).

[10] Mokgadi Caster Semenya v International Association of Athletics Federations paras 473-538.

[11] ibid para 527 and Judgment of DSD Regulations [2020] Swiss Federal Tribunal 4A_248/2019 and 4A_398/2019 para

[12] Roger Pielke Jr, Ross Tucker and Erik Boye, “Scientific Integrity and the IAAF testosterone regulations” (2019) vol 19 issue 1-2 International Sports Law Journal 18, 21-22.

[13] See also Matthieu Maisonneuve, "Tribunal arbitral du sport, Mokgadi Caster Semenya & Athletics South Africa c/ International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) c/ Suisse, sentence du 30 avril 2019" (2019) issue 3 Revue de l’Arbitrage 941, 955.

[14] Mokgadi Caster Semenya v International Association of Athletics Federations para 338.

[15] ibid.

[16] The normal range for men is 8-30 nmol/L compared to 0.1-1.8 nmol/L for women. See “What Caster Semenya’s case means for women’s sportThe Economist (London, 8 May 2019).

[17] Maayan Sudai “The testosterone rule – constructing fairness in professional sport” (2017) vol 4 issue 1 Journal of Law and the Biosciences 181, 193.

[18] Maisonneuve (n 13) 964-965.

[19] Björn Hessert, “Cooperation and reporting obligations in sporting investigations” (2020) issue 3-4 International Sports Law Journal 145, 149.

[20] ibid.

[21] Latty (n 1) 32.

[22] French authors speak of the similarity between the "Sporting power" and "State power". See for instance Clémentine Legendre, "La soumission de la Puissance sportive à la Convention européenne des droits de l’homme: réflexions à partir de l’arrêt Mutu et Pechstein" (2020) issue 11 Recueil Dalloz 618.

[23] Hessert (n 20) 149.

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