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

The State of Football Governance - Advocate General Szpunar Paves the Way for a Critical Assessment of the Status Quo - By Robby Houben (University of Antwerp) & Siniša Petrović (University of Zagreb)

Editor's noteRobby Houben is a professor at the University of Antwerp, specializing in sports enterprise law and corporate law. He founded the University of Antwerp’s Football College, championing good governance in professional football. He is editor of the Research Handbook on the Law of Professional Football Clubs (Edward Elgar Publishing 2023). Siniša Petrović is a professor at the University of Zagreb, specializing in sports law and corporate law.

Mid-March, the YouTube channel The Overlap released an interview with Aleksander Čeferin, the current president of UEFA. Asked about the Super League’s court case against UEFA, Čeferin referred to it as ‘mainly symbolical’. This statement reveals a deep trust in the status quo. In this short note we assess if such trust is justified. On the basis of advocate general (AG) Szpunar’s recent opinion in a case on home grown player rules, we argue it is not. 

What is it about? On 9 March, AG Szpunar of the Court of Justice of the EU (‘CJEU’) delivered his opinion in the case of Royal Antwerp FC against the Royal Belgian Football Association (‘RBFA’) and the European Football Association UEFA. The case relates to the so-called ‘home grown players’ rule (‘HGP rule’). This rule requires clubs to include at least 8 locally trained players in the list of 25 players that make the A team. According to Szpunar, this likely amounts to an indirect nationality discrimination and, at least, to a restriction of the free movement rights of football players under Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (‘TFEU’). Nevertheless, the AG considers the HGP rule valid as such, as, according to him, it serves the legitimate aims of stimulating the training of youth players and increasing the competitive balance between clubs. Only insofar as it allows that home grown players includes players trained by another club in the same league (under the UEFA HGP rule, 4 out of 8 home grown players), instead of by the club itself, the HGP rule is not suitable to achieve these aims. His recommendation to the court is, hence, to partially invalidate the HGP rule. He would likely find a (future) HGP rule requiring home grown players to be trained only at the club compatible with EU law. 

Is sport so special that it deserves special treatment? On the basis of Wouters and Meca-Medina it is widely accepted that restrictions of competition in sports can be justified if they proportionately pursue legitimate aims. Interestingly, in his assessment of the proportionality of the HGP rule, AG Szpunar seems to do Wouters away as a peculiar case. He finds ‘it difficult to deduce a general principle … according to which private entities bound by Article 45 TFEU would have a greater discretion than that of Member States in comparable situations’. Moreover, he argues, such greater discretion may be warranted in matters transcending classical economic policy, but the HGP rule has a strong economic component and is not such a matter (paras 76-78). As a result, Szpunar sees no reason ‘to afford UEFA and the RBFA a wider discretion than would be the norm for a Member State to justify a restriction of Article 45 TFEU’ (para 78). So, no specific exceptions for football that do not apply to other economic sectors! Wrong, because, at the same time, the AG allows to justify the HGP rule in view of legitimate aims, in this case youth development and competitive balance. Hence, while closing the back door for exceptional treatment of football in his assessment of proportionality, he opens the front door for such exceptional treatment as a matter of principle quite widely - without really underpinning why, nor providing evidence of why football is so special compared to let’s say universities or hospitals, who educate youngsters too, undoubtedly for the public good, and don’t enjoy such special treatment. 

But let’s assume sport is somehow special and deserves a special treatment. Does the HGP rule serve both the aim of youth development and increasing competitive balance? Probably not. It seems the aims are conflated here. Yes, the HGP rule serves the aim of encouraging the training of players (at professional football clubs that is), and arguably it makes sense to incentivize clubs to train players. But it is unlikely that this will contribute to more competitive balance between clubs. This has to do with the territorial model of football: ‘domestic’ competitions are organized along national borders. Clubs from larger countries logically have a larger talent pool to recruit young players from than clubs from smaller countries, and therefore they likely have a competitive advantage. Moreover, assuming the pool of talented young players is larger in bigger countries, it is likely that these youngsters will add sporting value to the A-team. That’s a win-win. In smaller countries, clubs will typically have a tougher job recruiting domestic top talent, simply because the pool is smaller. Adding to that is that the real top youngsters of smaller countries will probably sign their first professional player contract with a club of a top tier foreign competition, leaving only the ‘best of the rest’ for the local clubs. At the age of 16, the next Kevin De Bruyne will of course become a ‘club-trained’ local player somewhere, but not in a Belgian club. Cutting a long story short, from the perspective of fair competition, the HGP rule is not neutral and favors clubs that happen to reside in larger countries. 

Overboard with domestic borders then? That is what small Luxemburg club Swift Hespérange claims. Swift argues its free movement rights and free competition is infringed because it has to play football within the Luxembourg borders. As a result, it cannot grow and become competitive with clubs from surrounding leagues. Szpunar’s opinion provides food for thought for this case too, as he recognizes that the territorial model of football favors clubs in larger countries more than clubs in smaller countries (paras 68 and 70). His opinion therefore seems to accord with Swift’s intuition. 

How could a HGP rule become more neutral in a territorial model of football, with club football organized along domestic borders? Arguably, the rule could concentrate on the under 21 teams, and/or under 23 teams, where training actually takes place, allowing clubs to compose their A-teams with the best players, regardless of where they were trained. Talented club-trained young players will make their way to A-teams on the basis of merit. Clubs could be incentivized to field club-trained players in their A-team through increased solidarity payments from centralized earnings. Such an approach could serve both the aims of stimulating the training of players and increasing (or better: not deteriorating) the competitiveness of local clubs. 

Is this THE solution? We don’t know, and we don’t pretend to know. We raise it to illustrate a point: the importance of alternative systems to the HGP rule in the Antwerp case. AG Szpunar rightly asserts that the burden of proof to evidence that a rule is proportionate in view of legitimate aims, so that it can be upheld instead of invalidated, lies with the claimant of such exception, in the Antwerp case UEFA and the RBFA (para 61). Remarkably, the proportionality of the HGP rule is subsequently simply assumed. Moreover, alternatives brought forward by Antwerp, whereas the burden of proof lay with UEFA and the RBFA, were put aside as more restrictive, and considered not to be equally effective without much consideration (paras 79-81). Is it not more in line with logic that when the burden of proof falls upon a party, if it fails to discharge it then its claim is simply denied? More fundamentally, if rules are simply assumed to pursue legitimate objectives instead of evidenced to do so, is this not an open invitation for ‘sports washing’, the equivalent of green washing in sports? Of course, judges are not industry experts. As a result, we may not reasonably expect too much. Regulators must have leeway to make choices. But judges can and should perform oversight, assuring: i) rules are at least aiming for the target, ii) the regulator effectively considered alternatives, iii) there are good reasons for the regulator to prefer the chosen solution over another. If the questioned rule fails this test, it should be declared invalid – and the regulator should be sent back to the drawing board.[1]

So, AG Szpunar’s opinion is not perfect. Yet, it certainly puts the finger on the sore spot of football governance: double hatting and the inherent conflicts of interest that brings. In this respect, AG Szpunar’s opinion seems to provide counterweight to AG Rantos’ opinion in the European Super League (‘ESL’) case (see the subtill ‘in this respect’ in fn 39 of Szpunar’s opinion). In essence, AG Rantos argues that UEFA’s potential design errors are irrelevant, as the ESL, because of its (at the time) semi-closed set-up, should have been rejected anyway. He even asserts that open sport competitions are a constitutional principle of EU law, enshrined in Article 165 TFEU. This is a (too) far stretch, notably not repeated by AG Szpunar. Moreover, Szpunar makes UEFA’s governance deficit so much more explicit than Rantos. Because UEFA is both the regulator and monopolist of European club football, Szpunar considers that conflicts of interest are ‘bound to arise’ (in the French official version: ‘inévitable’; in Dutch: ‘onvermijdelijk’ – so: inevitable). Moreover, confronted with such conflict, he believes UEFA and domestic football regulators will have a natural reflex to let their own commercial interests prevail over the public interest (para 58). 

AG’s Szpunar’s opinion is authoritative, and probably even more than usual. Szpunar is first advocate general, and primus inter pares. His opinion will weigh in on the other football cases pending before the CJEU too, especially the ESL case and the aforementioned Swift case. As such, it could serve as a ‘canary in the coalmine’ for what is still to come later this year. Anyway, if the CJEU judges in the ESL case follow Szpunar’s assessment of UEFA’s double hatting, those who were celebrating the status quo after the Rantos opinion might be in for a scare soon.  

2023 is a year of truth for the organization of professional football. Dissatisfaction with the status quo has led to a record number of football related cases before the CJEU. These cases are heard separately, but at the same time inevitably interconnected, because they run in parallel on similar subject matters. Szpunar’s opinion makes at least clear that all cards are still on the table and the status quo might not prevail. 

Courts can only do what they are allowed to: apply the law in a given case. They can’t solve football’s governance deficit. Only politicians can ‘save football from itself’ by regulating it and by tackling policy failures exposed by professional football’s commercial explosion fueled primarily by clubs and players. Stakeholders such as clubs and players deserve a seat at the decision-making table in a governance model for pro football 2.0. For example, it is not acceptable any more for football regulators with no skin in the game to continue to congest match calendars (40 or so more matches in the 2026 World Cup !) without consulting clubs and players. Furthermore, the cleanest way to resolve conflicts of interest once and for all would be to separate UEFA’s functions - at least to ensure that adequate procedures are in place to avoid, mitigate and make transparent conflict of interests (in that order), and allowing access to public courts for judicial scrutiny. To be meaningful, such action should be taken at EU level, so as to create a level playing field for clubs across Europe and – because of the ‘Brussels’ effect – beyond.  

We are not naïve. There is no political appetite for reforming football yet. That was made clear during the ESL hearing early July 2022, where more than 20 Member States intervened in support of UEFA and the status quo. But, one, two or three critical decisions of the CJEU might inspire politicians to take action. That way, this wave of court cases may trigger a much more profound reform of the governance of the beautiful game.    

[1] In that sense AG Szpunar seems to go too far when in his answer to the court he suggests to invalidate the current HGP rule and already advises how the new rule should look – the latter is more a matter for the regulator.

Call for Papers - How football changed Qatar (or not): Transnational legal struggles in the shadow of the FIFA World Cup 2022 - Deadline 6 January 2023

The FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar is now well under way, yet the relentless public debates around Qatar’s human rights record, be it regarding the rights of LGBTQ+ or the rights of migrant workers who built the infrastructure that underpin the competition, is not dying down. In fact, the whole build-up towards the event has been defined by an intense public scrutiny of Qatar, with civil society organizations and international labor unions engaging in continuous advocacy to report on and improve the living and working conditions of migrant workers active on Qatar’s many building sites. This issue also attracted attention and critique from both the international media and public authorities all around the globe. In fact, the question of Qatar’s (lack of) compliance with internationally recognized human rights and core labor standards caused so much negative publicity and external pressure that a number of legislative and institutional reforms were initiated, officially aimed at improving the rights and standing of migrant workers in Qatar. While it is highly disputed whether these reforms have led to actual changes on the ground or should be seen only as window-dressing, it remains clear that the global public attention brought to Qatar by its hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022 has forced the Qatari authorities to engage legislative reforms and pay at least lip service to the concerns raised.

In spite of the fact that this issue continues to play a major role in the transnational public discourse, it received until now relatively scant attention in the academic literature, specifically in the international/transnational legal field. Yet, the debates around the Qatar 2022 World Cup are in practice mobilizing a range of legal arguments connected to the interpretation and application of international human rights law and international labor law, as well as activating international (at the ILO) or transnational (at the Swiss OECD National Contact Point) legal processes. Furthermore, they raise well-known questions regarding the compliance of states with international legal commitments and connect with debates on the universality of human rights and their translation in particular social contexts. In short, we believe there is room for a multi-disciplinary engagement with the legal processes and social mobilizations triggered by Qatar’s successful bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 and their impacts on local social and legal rules and institutions. Hence, Qatar’s journey towards the FIFA World Cup 2022 constitutes an interesting case study to investigate more generally the transnational social and legal mechanisms which underpin the concretization of international (human rights/labor) law in a particular context and give it a specific reality.

We invite paper submissions from different methodological backgrounds (e.g. law, anthropology, sociology, history, public policy) which engage with the many entanglements of Qatar with international (human rights and labor) law in the context of the organizing and hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022. The papers will be first discussed in a digital workshop that will take place on 15 and 16 February 2023. Please note that we have an agreement with the German Law Journal (Open access journal on comparative, European and international law published by Cambridge University Press) to publish a selection of the papers.

If you wish to participate in the workshop and the ensuing publications, please send an abstract of max. 300 words and a CV to by 6 January 2023. The selected participants will be informed by 9 January 2023. Extended abstracts (2000 words) will be due on 6 February 2023.

Supported by German Law Journal


New Event! Governing European football: What role for the European Union? - 16 December - Brussels

Join us for a round table co-organized by GLawNet and the Asser Institute at the Campus Brussels of the Maastricht University (Avenue de Tervueren 153, 1150 Brussels) just one day after the publication of the Opinion of Advocate General Rantos in the European Super League (ESL) case. The discussion between academics and stakeholders will focus on the role played by the EU, as well as the role it ought to play, in determining the way football is organised and governed.

In 2021, the announcement of the creation of a breakaway European Super League (ESL), as well as the drama of its early demise, stunned the world.  Since then, the company behind the ESL and UEFA (as well as FIFA) are locked into a legal battle that will soon come to an end at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Following the preliminary questions raised by a Spanish court, the CJEU will weigh in on whether UEFA and FIFA breached EU competition law with their attempts to thwart the emergence of the ESL. It will not be the first time that the governing bodies of football, both Swiss associations, face scrutiny before the EU courts - many will remember the 1995 Bosman ruling. However, this time around various stakeholders and observers are calling for the EU to not only referee this particular dispute, but to as well start playing a stronger governance role by regulating European football.


15:00 – 15:05 Opening: Mariolina Eliantonio (Maastricht University)

15:05 – 16:30 - Roundtable: Governing European Football: What role for the European Union?
Moderator: Carlo Colombo (Maastricht University)

16:30 Reception

This is an In-Person event only and will take place at the Campus Brussels of the Maastricht University (Avenue de Tervueren 153, 1150 Brussels). If you wish to attend, please register HERE.

Supported by undefined

Time to focus on freedom of expression: Rainbows, armbands, and FIFA’s commitment to human rights - By Prof. Mark James (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Editor's note: Mark James is Professor of Sports Law at Manchester Metropolitan University and the author of a leading Sports Law textbook.

The opening days of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 have already resulted in a number of issues of interest to sports lawyers and human rights lawyers, with FARE’s Piara Powar claiming that this is the most political major sporting event that he has attended. Both FIFA and the local organisers have been active in their suppression of expressions of support for LGBTQIA+ rights by players, fans and journalists alike, calling into question once again the legality of restricting free speech by sporting rules and regulations.

There have been two major flashpoints to date. First, seven European federations had asked FIFA for permission for their captains to wear armbands supporting the ‘OneLove’ campaign. FIFA’s response was to refuse, resulting in the German players covering their mouths for their pre-match photographs in protest at their being silenced. There are several grounds on which FIFA would seek to support its position:

  •  Law 4.5 of the Laws of the Game prohibits any playing equipment from carrying any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.
  • Regulation 4.3.1 of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations and Regulation 27.1 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Regulations prohibits clothing or equipment that includes political, religious, or personal slogans, statements, or images, or otherwise does not comply in full with the Laws of the Game.
  • Regulation 33.3 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Regulations prohibits the display of political, religious or personal messages or slogans of any nature in any language or form by players and officials.
  • Regulation 13.8.1 of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations states that for FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each Team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA (all Regulations available in the FIFA Legal Handbook 2022).

Although the DFB is considering a challenge to FIFA’s refusal to allow its captain to wear the OneLove armband, which would ultimately be heard before CAS, it is unlikely to succeed in the face of the strict requirements of the above Laws and Regulations. However, what could cause more difficulty for both FIFA and CAS is if the DFB frames its case as a challenge to the compliance of the rules that restrict players’ freedom of expression with Article 3 of FIFA’s Statutes, which states that ‘FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights.’ Article 3, together with the additional detail provided by FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, ensures that freedom of expression as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights are limitative rules that can be applied directly to FIFA’s activities, as has been argued by Bützler and Schöddert. Further, if the affected players and associations can define themselves as human rights defenders, then Article 11 of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy states that, ‘FIFA will respect and not interfere with the work of … human rights defenders who voice concerns about adverse human rights impacts relating to FIFA.’ Any challenge using this approach would be the first real test of the enforceability of the human rights protections to which FIFA claims to be committed. It would also be a test of CAS’s ability to require adherence to the human rights commitments made by ISFs and to prove that they are more than simple window-dressing.

Secondly, members of The Rainbow Wall, a contingent of LGBTQIA+ rights-supporting Welsh fans, were prevented from entering the Ahmed bin Ali stadium whilst wearing bucket hats incorporating a rainbow into its design. No explanation for why was given, however, FIFA and the local organisers would argue that openly supporting LGBTQIA+ rights with the aim of promoting legal change in a country where homosexuality is illegal is a political statement on apparel and therefore entry into the stadium wearing the rainbow hat is in breach of the Regulation 3.1.23 of the Stadium Code of Conduct. A similar argument could be used to justify preventing US journalist Grant Wahl from entering the stadium wearing a t-shirt incorporating a rainbow into its design and Danish journalist Jon Pagh from wearing the OneLove armband. However, it must be stressed that no such explanation for the prohibitions applied to these garments was provided to any of the affected fans or journalists. It must also be recognised that the opinion that promoting LGBTQIA+ rights is a political expression is highly contested. In a statement from FIFPRO, the opposing view was stated succinctly: ‘We maintain that a rainbow flag is not a political statement but an endorsement of equality and thus a universal human right.’

It is clear that, as with Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, the chilling effect that FIFA’s Regulations have on players’ and fans’ freedom of expression is likely to be unlawful, as has been discussed at length both on this blog and on the Verfassungsblog Debate on Freedom of Expression in the Olympic Movement. Instead of revisiting these arguments, which are taken to apply to FIFA’s actions at Qatar 2022, two additional issues related to the FIFA Statutes are explored here.

Articles 3 and 4 of FIFA’s Statutes state that:

3 Human rights

FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.

4 Non-discrimination, equality and neutrality

4.1 Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

FIFA is a long-time supporter of pride events and in its press release for Pride Month 2022 stated:

[The] FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be a celebration of unity and diversity – a joining of people from all walks of life – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – everybody will be welcome.

Claims that all staff involved in the Qatar 2022 including public and private security forces, would be trained on how to accomplish their tasks in a non-discriminatory manner, seem not to have been operationalised effectively.

This begs the question whether FIFA is in breach of its own Statutes by refusing to allow players to express themselves freely on armbands and failing to protect fans’ freedom of expression by wearing rainbows. At the very least, FIFA should have ensured that a protective LGBTQIA+ regime in the stadiums and the fan zones during the World Cup was implemented to enable the ‘celebration of unity and diversity’ it claims that Qatar 2022 should be. FIFA’s actions in Qatar call into question its claims to be an inclusive and supportive leader on anti-discrimination and human rights, and is likely to see a backlash from the LGBTQIA+ community that it claims to support when it engages with Pride 2023; accusations of hypocrisy and virtue signalling are guaranteed.

With no resolution to the debate at the time of writing, Articles 3 and 4 could provide players and fans with the opportunity to demonstrate their support for human rights and anti-discrimination causes. At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Athlete Ally developed the ‘Principle 6 Campaign.’ Instead of criticising directly Russia's so called anti-gay laws, which are currently in the process of being extended, athletes promoted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which at the time stated that, ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ The eventual outcome of this campaign was the addition of sexual orientation to the list of characteristics protected by Principle 6. Unlike at Sochi 2014, there is no need to campaign for a change to either of Articles 3 or 4 of the FIFA Statutes; instead, activists want to ensure that they are being applied. An immediate response for both players and fans would be for them to quote specifically from Articles 3 and 4, as it would be extremely difficult for FIFA to claim that they are making political or personal statements when promoting FIFA’s own foundational values. A creative reminder of what FIFA claims to stand for could enable player and fan activism to continue throughout the tournament, and beyond, whilst affected players and associations can develop a compelling case for the restrictions on freedom of expression to be struck out by CAS, the Swiss Federal Tribunal and/or the European Court of Human Rights.

New Event - Zoom In - Sports Governing Bodies and the Russian invasion of Ukraine - The end of neutrality? - 12 October - 16.00-17.30 CET

Sport is often presented by Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs), and in particular the International Olympic Committee, as apolitical. A neutral endeavor, which ignores the whims of politics and keeps national governments at arm’s length. In short, it is thought of as an autonomous sphere of transnational society wishing to remain unaffected by the political turbulences out there. In fact, many SGBs enforce strict rules banning political speech by individuals, and in the spaces, subjected to their contractual power. Moreover, FIFA, for example, regularly issues effective sanctions against states which are perceived as threatening the autonomy of the governance of football on their territory. Hence, this apolitical ideal of international sports is not only a founding myth of the Olympic Movement, it is actively pursued by SGBs through their private regulatory powers and has hard consequences for athletes, clubs, sport officials alike.

Yet, on 24 February, Russia decided to invade Ukraine, in what has become the most important land war in Europe since the implosion of ex-Yugoslavia. This invasion was quickly followed by condemnations from the IOC and many other SGBs, leading in many cases, most prominently by UEFA and FIFA, to the exclusion of Russian teams and athletes from international sporting competitions. This reaction is difficult to square with the neutrality and autonomy of sport so vigorously defended by the international SGBs until recently. It raises also many questions of double standards: why did this illegal invasion lead to sporting consequences and not others? Furthermore, the Court of Arbitration of Sport recently released two orders (available here and here) concerning UEFA and FIFA’s decisions to exclude Russian national teams and clubs from their football competitions, which outline the legal strategies pursued by the SGBs to reconcile the public urge to exclude Russia(ns) from international sporting competitions, and their commitments to political neutrality.

We are very happy to welcome three outstanding scholars to discuss these issues with us from different methodological perspectives.


  • Prof. Carmen Pérez (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid), who wrote a blog on the reactions of SGBs to Russia’s invasion
  • Dr. Daniela Heerdt (Asser Institute and Centre for Sports and Human Rights), who is the co-author of a blog mapping the reactions of SGBs to Russia’s invasion
  • Carole Gomez (University of Lausanne and Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques), who has been interviewed numerous times by international media on the issue (see here and here)


Register for free HERE!

ISLJ Conference 2022 - Transnational sports law and governance in turbulent times - Early Bird Registration Ends Tomorrow!

On 25 and 26 October 2022, the Asser Institute in The Hague will host the 2022 edition of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference. The ISLJ is the leading academic journal in transnational sports law and governance and is proud to provide a platform for transnational debates on the state of the field. 2022 has put a number of complex issues and disputes on the top of the transnational sports law agenda, which will be at the heart of the conference.

Sports governing bodies react to Russia's invasion of Ukraine
First, Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in February triggered a swift and decisive reaction by a wide range of international sports governing bodies (SGBs), leading in particular to the exclusion of Russian teams and athletes from many international sporting competitions, including most prominently the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. These reactions have shown, once again, that sport is far from immune from the turbulences of international relations and raise the question of its alleged neutrality and apolitical nature. To engage with these issues, we have invited Prof. Jonathan Grix (Metropolitan Manchester University) to deliver a keynote speech and will dedicate a specific panel to discussing the intersection between transnational sports law and international law/relations.

Monopoly of sports governing bodies
Second, the organization of international sports is also currently threatened by challenges to the traditional monopoly position of international SGBs raised under EU antitrust law. Early July 2022, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union heard two crucial cases (International Skating Union and Superleague) concerning the compatibility of the rules of international SGBs aimed at sanctioning athletes and clubs who participate in unauthorized third-party competitions. Dr. Van Rompuy (Leiden University), the driving force behind the ISU case, will be discussing with us the potential impact of competition law on the governance of sport and what to expect from the pending decisions of the CJEU. Additionally, we will host two panels dedicated to the application of competition law to sports governance, both at an international and national level.

Human rights and mega-sporting events
Third, with both Beijing and Qatar hosting mega-sporting events this year, it is difficult to ignore the human rights issues raised by international sporting competitions. A fast-growing social movement aimed at urging the SGBs to abide by their human rights responsibilities has been developing around the activism of some NGOs and the creation of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights (CSHR). The CEO of the CSHR, Mary Harvey, will be joining us to share her thoughts on the role of sports lawyers and sports law academics in this discussion. Her intervention will be followed by a panel dedicated to the intersections between human rights and transnational sports law and governance.

Trans and queer participation in sporting competitions
Finally, the question of the participation of transgender athletes in sporting competitions has become an extremely contentious issue of debate in recent years, especially in the United States. Furthermore, International SGBs, such as FINA recently, have started to impose specific requirements to the participation of trans athlete in international competitions. Our closing panel will take a fresh look at this question by foregrounding the way in which trans and queer participation in sporting competitions has been accommodated in South Asia.

Online participation available
For the first time this year, we will allow online participation to the conference for an affordable price. Our aim is to internationalise and diversify further our audience and to reach people who in light of the current challenges, be it Covid-19 or climate change, are not in a position to come in person to The Hague.

Download the full programme.

Register HERE! (Early Bird Registration is available only until 1 October, 23:59CET)

A personal reflection on the Summer Programme on Sports Governance and Human Rights - By Pedro José Mercado Jaén

Editor’s note:Pedro is an intern at the Asser Institute and currently studying the Erasmus Mundus Master Degree in Sports Ethics and Integrity (KU Leuven et al.) He was one of the participants of the first edition of the Summer Programme on Sports Governance and Human Rights.

In early September, the first Summer Programme on the Governance of Sport and Human Rights took place at the Asser Institute. During one week, various experts in the field presented different lectures to a very diverse group of participants with a wide range of professional backgrounds. Being a participant myself, I would like to reflect on this one-week course and share what I learned. More...

Can Formula 1 drive to protect human rights? A case study of the Bahrain GP - By Pedro José Mercado Jaén

Editor's Note: Pedro is an intern at the Asser Institute and currently studying the Erasmus Mundus Master Degree in Sports Ethics and Integrity (KU Leuven et al.) He worked as a research fellow for the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, and his primary research interests lie in the fields of International Human Rights and sport. 

I.               Introduction

“I can’t do everything and I can’t do it alone. I need allies.” These are the words of the seven-time Formula 1 (F1) world champion, Lewis Hamilton. He was urging more support to advocate for the protection of human rights in the countries visited by Formula 1. During the last years, Hamilton together with Sebastian Vettel, have become the leaders of a movement demanding accountability and greater awareness of the impact of F1 on society.

The inclusion of the Bahrain GP on the F1 racing calendar for the first time in 2004 ignited concerns, which have grown with the inclusion of Abu Dhabi in 2007, Russia in 2014, Azerbaijan in 2017, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar in 2021. The inability and lack of commitment of state authorities to protect and respect human rights, the ineffectiveness of judicial procedures and the systematic repression of political opposition are some of the factors that make these countries prone to human rights violations. Academics and CSOs regularly argue that F1, by signing multi-million dollar contracts with these countries, is complicit in sportswashing. Those pulling the sport’s strings deny these accusations and claim that human rights are at the centre of their agenda when they visit these countries. They claim F1 can drive the improvement of human rights standards in a particular country. However, reality tells a different story. The Bahrain GP has been running for more than a decade and the situation in the country has only worsened, without any signs of F1 contributing to the improvement of the protection of human rights there.

This blog aims to provide an overview of the human rights challenges F1 is facing when hosting a Grand Prix. For this purpose, a case study of the Bahrain GP, one of the longest-running on the modern/current F1 calendar, will be carried out. This will allow us to examine in detail the historical evolution of the GP, the complaints from civil society organisations and the reaction of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and other stakeholders to the ongoing allegations of human rights violations.More...

Call for papers - ISLJ Conference on International Sports Law - Asser Institute - 25 and 26 October 2022


Call for papers

ISLJ Conference on International Sports Law

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2022

The Editors of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invite you to submit abstracts for the ISLJ Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October 2022 at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ, published by Springer and TMC Asser Press, is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. The conference is a unique occasion to discuss the main legal issues affecting international sports and its governance with renowned academic experts.

We are delighted to announce the following confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Jonathan Grix (Professor of Sport Policy and Politics at Manchester Metropolitan University), and
  • Mary Harvey (CEO at the Centre for Sport and Human Rights),
  • Ben Van Rompuy (Assistant Professor at Leiden University).

We welcome abstracts from academics and practitioners on all issues related to international sports law and governance. We also welcome panel proposals (including a minimum of three presenters) on a specific issue. For this year’s edition, we specifically invite submissions on the following themes and subthemes:

  • International sports law and governance in times of conflict:
    • The emergence of the idea(l) of political neutrality of SGBs and its translation in legal/governance practice
    • The intersection between public international law and international sports law and governance in the context of international conflicts
    • The role of sports diplomacy/conditionality in the context of international conflicts
    • International sports law and the Russian invasion of Ukraine

  • Human rights and mega sporting events (MSEs)
    • The adverse or positive impact of MSEs on (specific) human rights
    • The influence of human rights commitments on the organisation of MSEs
    • The effects of MSEs on human rights in organising countries
    • The responsibilities and strategies of SGBs to ensure respect of human rights at MSEs
    • The role and responsibilities of states in ensuring respect of human rights in the context of MSEs

  • Competition law and challenges to the governance monopoly of SGBs
    • The impact of competition law on SGBs and their governance
    • The limits of competition law on effecting change in the governance of sport
    • The specific modalities of application of competition law to sports governance
    • The legitimacy of competition authorities in challenging SGBs

Please send your abstract of 300 words and CV no later than 1 July 2022 to Selected speakers will be informed by 15 July.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 10 October 2022. Papers accepted and presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special issue of the ISLJ subject to peer-review. 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 may provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 250€). If you wish to be considered for a grant, please indicate it in your submission.

Reactions of International Sport Organisations to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: An Overview - By Daniela Heerdt & Guido Battaglia

Editor's note:

Daniela is a researcher at the Asser Institute in the field of sport and human rights. She has a background in public international law and human rights law and defended her PhD project entitled “Blurred Lines of Responsibility and Accountability – Human Rights Abuses at Mega-Sporting Events” in April 2021 at Tilburg University. She also works as independent consultant in the field of sport and human rights for the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, or the European Parliament among other clients from the sports ecosystem

As Head of Policy and Outreach, Guido is in charge of the Centre for Sport & Human Rights engagement with governments, international and intergovernmental organisations and sports organisations. He represents the Centre at conferences, events and bilateral dialogues to reach new audiences and partners and raise public awareness and understanding of the Centre’s work .

On February 24, 2022, the Russian military invaded Ukrainian territory. What followed was an escalation of the war, day by day, causing thousands of victims and forcing millions of people to flee. On March 2, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution deploring "in the strongest possible terms" Russia's aggression against Ukraine by a vote of 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions. On March 29, Russian and Ukrainian representatives met in Istanbul for another round of negotiations. No ceasefire has been agreed and hostilities continue.

Many states, international organizations and corporations quickly took measures in response to this invasion. Hundreds of companies decided to withdraw from Russia. Some countries decided to strengthen economic sanctions against Russia and Belarus and to provide military and economic help to Ukraine. Many civil society actors mobilised to organize and provide humanitarian support for Ukraine. Interestingly, international sports organisations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), World Athletics and many other international federations, issued statements condemning the invasion and imposed bans and sanctions on Russian and Belarussian sports bodies and athletes.

This blog post provides an overview of the measures adopted by a number of international sports federations (IFs) that are part of the Olympic Movement since the beginning of the war and analyses how they relate to the statements issued by the IOC and other sanctions and measures taken by international sports organisations in reaction to (geo)political tensions and conflict.


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.

Comments are closed