The Court of Arbitration for Sport

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is seemingly mentioned increasingly in relation to high profile sporting cases and is something which seems to get a lot of journalistic print when discussing punishments and penalties handed down right across the worldwide sporting world.

This article provides the basics of what needs to be known about the Court of Arbitration for Sport or the CAS as it is more often known.

What is the Court of Arbitration for Sport?

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is a body or institution which is independent of any sporting body or organisation meaning that it has no connection to any of the large sporting governing bodies such as FIFA or the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

It was first created in 1984 and in relation to the administrative and financial side it is placed under the authority of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS).

What is the primary function of the Court of Arbitration for Sport?

The primary function of the CAS is to provide services in order to facilitate the settlement of sports related disputes either through arbitration or through mediation.

The case undertakes this function trough the establishment of procedural rules which have been adapted to fit in with the specific needs of the sports world.

Advisory Opinions

In addition to this the CAS often gives advisory opinions concerning various legal questions which are of particular relevance to sport.

Non-Permanent Tribunals

The CAS also sets up non-permanent tribunals at major sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. The purpose of these non-permanent tribunals is to initiate proceedings concerned specifically with those events and also taking into account the circumstances of each of those particular events establishing special procedural rules specific to that event.

Where is the Court of Arbitration for Sport based?

The CAS has its headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland) and also has courts in both Denver (USA) and Sydney (Australia).

What kinds of dispute does the Court of Arbitration for Sport preside over?

The CAS deals with any sports related disputes which are submitted to it. Thus the scope of the cases presented in front of the CAS can be extremely wide ranging and being anything from commercial disputes in relation to sponsorship agreements or contractual provisions in a sporting persons contract to such issues as doping faced by individual athletes and sportsmen.

Sanctions handed down by worldwide governing bodies to their members are often also challenged in front of the CAS, such as a football club being handed a transfer ban by the worldwide governing body of football – FIFA.

In order for a body to be able to bring a dispute in front of the CAS that body must be an individual or a legal entity with capacity to act and which is involved in the sporting context. This is a wide ranging definition meaning that the following body’s and individuals may apply to the CAS to settle a sporting dispute:

  • Individual athletes

  • Clubs

  • Sports Federations

  • The organising committee’s behind sporting events

  • Sponsors of sporting events and sporting federations

  • Television companies who own or who wish to own the rights to certain sporting contexts

The wide definition of who may apply to the CAS for arbitration and the wide definition of sports related disputes means that the CAS presides over a vast array of different issues connected with the sporting world.

Agreement in Writing

For a dispute to be submitted to the CAS the parties must have agreed in writing that in the situation of a dispute arising this can be referred to the CAS for arbitration. This agreement in writing will often be found within the statutes or regulations of sporting organisation or in the contracts between the organisation and its particular member associations.

Does this agreement have to be prior to a dispute arising?

Often the agreement will exist prior to the dispute arising in one of the above scenarios. However, if there is not an agreement as such before a dispute arises both parties can agree in writing that they will submit the dispute to the CAS.

What procedures does the Court of Arbitration for Sport have in place to settle disputes?

The procedures that the CAS has in place to settle various disputes will depend upon the nature of the dispute that is placed in front of it.

For example if a dispute is concerning contractual relations or a civil tort then the normal arbitration procedure involved with this area of the law will be applied by the CAS.

If the dispute is concerned more with a sporting decision which may have been taken by those bodies which are involved with or which govern a particular sport then the CAS appeals arbitration procedure will be available.

Often sporting bodies do not wish for a dispute to be settled in front of the CAS instead they wish to get the CAS to provide them with an advisory opinion in relation to a particular sport or an activity relating to sport where there is no specific legal process or process laid down by that particular sport.

In this case however, this will not constitute a legally binding decision and will simply constitute the opinion of the CAS.

What Law is applied by the Court of Arbitration for Sport?

Obviously the CAS is based in Switzerland and it hears cases from all over the world and often cases between bodies from different parts of the world. The law that governs the arbitration procedure is therefore of vast significance.

As the parties will have to agree in writing to submit the dispute to the CAS they will often decide which jurisdiction of law will apply to the proceedings, the parties being free to agree on which law should apply considering the merits of the dispute.

If the parties cannot agree or if they do not state which law should be applicable then the CAS will apply Swiss law.

Can either of the parties involved appeal a decision which has been handed down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport?

There are limited grounds to appeal a decision of the CAS to the Swiss Federal Tribunal. These grounds are as follows:

  • Lack of jurisdiction

  • Violation of elementary procedural rules

  • Incompatibility with public policy

It is clear that if either of the parties do not agree with the decision they cannot appeal unless one of the above limited criteria is met which do not usually go to the context of the decision. This means that the CAS fulfils it’s duty as the last possible decision maker on a variety of sporting issues.