The CAS ad hoc Division – fast, fair and free?

The CAS ad hoc Division – fast, fair and free?
Published 21 August 2012 | Authored by: Adam Beach

The ad hoc Division ("AHD") of the Court of Arbitration for Sport ("CAS") plays a vital role in major sporting events, notably the Olympics, but it operates on a level so inconspicuous that its impact is barely recognised.

The CAS, with its seat in Lausanne, Switzerland, is the supreme tribunal for sports disputes across the world. Only a minority of sports bodies (Formula 1 and the Football Association being the most notable) do not refer their disputes to CAS. Among its many services is the AHD, a fast-track tribunal operating to resolve disputes during the course of competitions. View our CAS ad hoc Division cases chart.

The AHD has been ever-present at Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996. The AHD has also sat at each Winter Olympics since Nagano in 1998, the Commonwealth Games in 1998, 2002 and 2006, the European Football Championships since 2000 and the FIFA World Cup since Germany hosted in 2006.

The arbitrators are selected from the list of CAS arbitrators by the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (CAS's supervising body).1 A President and Co-President are also appointed from the ICAS members, who then decide on which three arbitrators will make up each Panel. A CAS press release states that all members of the AHD at the London Olympics are 'either lawyers or professors specialising in sports law and arbitration.'2 The proceedings at the London Games take place in the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, although the arbitrators have VIP access to all of the Olympic venues.3 Wherever the event is held, the tribunal operates under the auspices of Swiss Law to maintain consistency and establish a clear jurisprudence. Additionally, disputes must be decided according to the Olympic Charter, the applicable regulations, general principles of law and the rules of law.4

The AHD has presided over some famous cases, but has also ruled on some unusual disputes. At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, a delegation of athletes from Cape Verde appealed to the AHD to have their disqualification by the Cape Verde National Olympic Committee overturned. The dispute arose during the opening ceremony, where there was disagreement over who should carry the national flag. The administrators selected one of their own to be the flag carrier, much to the displeasure of the athletes. During the ceremony, one of the hurdlers grabbed the flag from the official and proceeded to march round the stadium, resulting in his exclusion. The AHD ruled that the disqualification was invalid and had no effect, thus reinstating the athletes. Ironically, the hurdler turned out to be injured, barely making it out of the starting blocks during his race.

The AHD arbitrates over a variety of disputes, more than can be covered in the scope of this article. The more frequently referred cases for arbitration are generally related to the application of the rules of the International Federations (IFs). Out of the ten cases heard at the Athens Olympics in 2004, seven were disputes of that nature.5 The obvious explanation is the quality of the IFs' rules. Michael Beloff QC, a prominent sports lawyer and veteran of several CAS Panels, believes, "no sporting bodies' rules are perfectly drafted."6 The presence of the AHD has helped to ensure that the governing bodies draft a clear constitution and "reach decisions that are in compliance with their own rules and regulations."7 The AHD has undoubtedly made a positive impact in this area; athletes can be reassured that their participation is governed by clear laws and, when this is not the case, are safe in the knowledge that recourse to the AHD is always a possibility.

The AHD is on call 24/7 during the Games period and as a rule renders its decision within 24 hours. The AHD at the London 2012 Olympics has arbitrated over a variety of disputes. More detailed information on the cases can be found in the 'News' section of this website or on our cases chart. For further information, visit Sports Resolutions UK and the CAS website.

The AHD's jurisdiction has been challenged, most notably by the International Amateur Athletic Federation ("IAAF") at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Dietar Baumann, a German middle distance runner, had been cleared of doping infractions. The IAAF overturned this ruling so Baumann brought an appeal to the AHD. An issue arose as the IAAF operated its own independent Arbitration Panel and did not refer to the CAS in its arbitration clause. Ordinarily this is a prerequisite if the CAS is to arbitrate. The IAAF objected on this basis claiming that the AHD did not have jurisdiction in this instance.

The AHD rejected this stating that because the IAAF was part of the Olympic Movement it subscribed to the arbitration clause contained within Article 74 (now Article 61) of the Olympic Charter. As jurisdiction was established, the IAAF withdrew and 'walked out of the hearing room.'8 This precedent has been followed9 and the AHD's competence is now firmly established.

The AHD is paramount not just in resolving disputes during competitions but also in helping to develop the CAS' wider lex sportiva, a consistent and identifiable sports law jurisprudence.

Perhaps the clearest and most constant stance is the AHD's refusal to arbitrate over disputes relating to on-field decisions. Multiple cases spanning several years have demonstrated the rigidity of the AHD's decision making in this regard. In 1996, French boxer Christopher Mendy brought an appeal against his disqualification for punching below the belt.10 The AHD refused to arbitrate, considering itself incompetent to deal with a sport's technical rules. The AHD believes that the most competent person in such cases is the referee or official, and that interference is only appropriate where there is evidence of bad faith. In 2000, the AHD again declared itself unable to judge on the rules of the game when a Mexican walker, Segura, brought an appeal against his disqualification. At the London 2012 Games, the AHD declared itself unable to review an appeal against the International Triathlon Union because it constituted a 'field-of-play' decision. The unwavering approach of the AHD has created a consistent, unambiguous jurisprudence that will help secure its effectiveness and the future strength of the CAS.

Despite its relative obscurity, the AHD plays a unique and important role at the Olympic Games. The multinational arbitrators ensure impartiality, and the composition and efficiency of the Panel produces binding results within 24 hours. The consistency of its decisions will propel the CAS to further international recognition and legitimacy. Its presence safeguards justice and fairness for the athletes, two maxims that should underpin sporting competition. The AHD is living up to its motto: fast, fair and free.

Written by Adam Beach, LawInSport. 

1 Arbitration Rules for the Olympic Games, Article 32



4 Richard H. McLaren, 'Introducing the Court of Arbitration for Sport: The Ad Hoc Division at the Olympic Games' 12 Marq. Sports L. Rev. (2001) 515.

5 Richard McLaren, 'The CAS Ad Hoc Division at the Athens Olympic Games' 15 Marq. Sports L. Rev. (2004) 175, 176.

6 Michael Beloff QC, 'Is there such a thing as Sports Law?' (2011) 33 The Circuiteer 13, 15.

7 n (4) at 192.

8 Ibid 525.

9 Arbitration CAS ad hoc Division (O.S. Sydney 2000) 015, Mihaela Melinte v. International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), award of 29 September, 2000.

10 Arbitration CAS ad hoc Division (O.G. Atlanta 1996) 006, Mendy v. Association Intemationale de Boxe Amateur (ABA), award of August 1, 1996.

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About the Author

Adam Beach

Adam Beach

Adam (LLB Law, University of Birmingham) joined LawInSport in July 2012, becoming Editorial Assistant in September 2012. His focus is on careers and breaking into sports law. He has published articles on the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the Student Journal of Law.

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