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Can Sports Federations Retroactively Cancel Olympic Qualifying Competitions? A Review Of Karlsson V FEI

Horse Rider
Friday, 07 January 2022 By Luc M. Schelstraete, Piotr M. Wawrzyniak, Sophia P. Elderson Nosti

For most of us, the idea of taking part in the Olympics is just an unattainable dream. For the few who have a real chance of becoming an Olympic athlete, it often becomes the highest achievement in their sports career.                             

Imagine then what it must be like to secure an Olympic spot, only to have it suddenly revoked. The reason? An administrative decision made by the Sports Federation which resulted in the retroactive cancellation of some competitions crucial to Olympic qualification.

This is exactly what happened to show jumper Ms. Mathilda Karlsson (Karlsson) - the first equestrian athlete[1] to compete for Sri Lanka at the Olympics- in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Games. Unwilling to accept the consequences of the decision of the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), Karlsson decided, together with the Sri Lanka Equestrian Association, to take legal action.

Schelstraete Equine Lawyers assisted both in this matter all the way up to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS)[2]. The outcome was a victory which allowed Karlsson to compete at the Olympics for Sri Lanka.

However, the CAS panel’s decision not only benefitted Karlsson as an individual rider. Importantly, the CAS panel has made it clear in this ruling that the FEI's discretion is not unlimited. After all, if the FEI made a mistake, why should others bear the consequences?

The CAS panel’s decision was very significant because it shows that FEI’s authority to retrospectively has certain limits and is not absolute without any restrictions.

This article explores the background of the case and the rationale behind the CAS panel’s decision to reinstate the competitions and permit Karlsson to participate in the Olympic Games.

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Written by

Luc M. Schelstraete

Luc M. Schelstraete

Luc is the Managing Partner at Schelstraete Equine Lawyers. Luc has been practicing law for over 35 years and in 1989 he founded Schelstraete Equine Lawyers. Luc has developed the equine legal business as a niche and today he operates as the Managing Partner of the Firm.  In 2015 Luc initiated  the Alliance Group of European, US and Asian Equine Lawyers which has partners in more than 10 countries.

Piotr M. Wawrzyniak

Piotr M. Wawrzyniak

Piotr is a senior associate at Schelstraete Equine Lawyers.
Piotr leads the firm’s business section and represents clients in sports law related matters (including arbitration before the FEI Tribunal and CAS). He focuses on advising and negotiating commercial contracts, often with a cross-border element.
Sophia P. Elderson Nosti

Sophia P. Elderson Nosti

Sophia is a paralegal at Schelstraete Equine Lawyers and honours student at the Utrecht University Law College. 

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