Here’s how the international sports court works |

Here’s how the international sports court works

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

With the Tour de France just past and the Olympics now under way, the time is right to take a peek behind the curtains of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This court does not deal exclusively with drug disputes, although in recent times, that certainly seems to be the case.

It is worth noting that the court is an international body with headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland ” not coincidentally, the home of the International Olympic Committee. The court was formed in response to the increase in the number of international sports-related disputes and was meant to fill a void where no independent authority specializing in sports-related problems then existed.

Founded in 1981, the court is patterned after the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. In fact, the first president of the sports court was Keba Mbaye, who was formerly a judge at the international court. Initially, the court for sport was underwritten and almost fully supported by the International Olympic Committee, which bore all costs of operation.

Under its founding rules, the Court of Arbitration for Sport was composed of 60 members appointed by a handful of international sports federations.

Until 1991-92, a wide variety of cases were submitted to the court, involving issues including the nationality of athletes, contracts concerning employment, television rights, sponsorship and licensing. In 1994, owing to a horse doping case and the legal challenges which followed, the court underwent a major reform, largely to make it independent of the International Olympic Committee. The greatest change was the creation of an International Council of Arbitration for Sports to assume both the operation and financing of the court.

Another major change was to create two arbitration divisions, one which would deal with “direct” disputes of sole instance, and another which would deal with appeals arising from a decision taken by a sports body. The divisions are known, formally, as the Ordinary Arbitration Division and the Appeals Arbitration Division. Each division is headed by a president.

Since 1994, all Olympic international federations but one, as well as many national Olympic committees, have recognized the jurisdiction of the court and have incorporated in their statutes an arbitration clause referring disputes to it.

Since 1994, the Code of Sports-related Arbitration has governed the organization and arbitration procedures of the court. The code is divided into two parts ” the statutes of bodies working for the settlement of sports-related disputes, and the procedural rules. Since 1999, the code also has contained a set of mediation rules instituting a nonbinding, informal procedure, which offers parties the option of negotiating an agreement to settle their disputes with the help of a mediator.

There are two phases to arbitration proceedings before the CAS: written proceedings and oral proceedings.

There are nearly 200 court arbitrators who have both legal training and particular expertise in sports disputes. The arbitrators are not affiliated with any particular division of the court and can sit on panels for virtually any of the court’s procedures.

Generally, disputes may be submitted to the court only if there is an arbitration agreement between the parties which specifies recourse to it.

In principle, two types of disputes may be submitted to the CAS ” commercial and disciplinary. The first essentially pertains to contract, liability and similar issues.

Disciplinary matters involve doping cases, violence on the field of play, abuse of officials and ill treatment of horses.

In its roughly 20 years of existence, the court has evolved and grown, handling an ever-expanding load of cases, many of which, in recent years, have made headlines around the world. At is core, the Court of Arbitration for Sport offers a mechanism for dispute resolution, providing a cost-effective and time-effective alternative to traditional lawsuits in the world of sports and sports-related disputes.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address:

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