Olympics-Sports court to give athletes more say in choosing arbitrators

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 2 (Reuters) - The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the quasi-judicial body that resolves disputes, has written to almost 100 national sports bodies to clarify some of the changes to its procedures after a German court questioned its impartiality.

CAS President John Coates, speaking at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Malaysia on Sunday, told members the amendments, which include allowing athletes to have a say in the appointment of the arbitrators that decide their cases, had been made in response to the ongoing legal challenge from German speedskater Claudia Pechstein.

A five-time Olympic gold medallist, Pechstein was banned by the International Skating Union (ISU) for two years in 2009 over an irregular blood sample but has been fighting to clear her name ever since.

Pechstein never failed a doping test but was suspended on circumstantial evidence. She strongly denies any wrongdoing, saying the adverse result was caused by a genetic condition.

She appealed to Swiss-based CAS then a Swiss Federal Tribunal, each time without success, so took her case to a regional court in her homeland, which agreed to hear her case.

CAS, which uses nearly 300 arbitrators from 87 countries, all with specialist knowledge in sports, is generally accepted as the final arbitration model in doping cases.

But the decision by the German court to reopen Pechstein’s case could challenge the authority of CAS’s arbitration model, according to CAS, so has attracted widespread attention.

One of the criticisms made by the German court of CAS related to the way the arbitrators are selected.

The arbitrators are selected by the 20-member International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS), a body which was, until 2012, mostly comprised of people appointed by the IOC and international sporting organisations.

Under CAS rules, athletes could select an arbitrator from the international pool to hear their case, but critics said ICAS needed to be more independent.

Coates, an Australian lawyer and current vice-president of the IOC, serves as both president of CAS and ICAS, and said CAS has further changed the way it selects ICAS, allowing athletes to nominate arbitrators.

Coates said he was confident that CAS would remain as the final arbitrator for doping cases regardless of the outcome of Pechstein’s appeal, but CAS wanted to make sure athletes were aware of the procedural changes that had been made.

“As far as CAS is concerned, the arguments of the German court were based on an old CAS model where the athletes didn’t have an opportunity to nominate arbitrators,” Coates told Reuters.

“I’ve written to 96 athlete commissions of the NOCs (National Olympic Committees) and another 22 of the IFs (International Federations) inviting athletes now to start nominating athletes for appointment on the body which appoints arbitrators.”

Coates said the new system of selecting arbitrators was better than the previous model and he understood Germany would introduce laws recommending arbitration as the best way of resolving sports disputes.

“I think it is significantly improved since she went to court. So some of the criticisms of the German court just can’t be sustained any more,” he said.

“In the meantime, it’s likely there will be a doping policy adopted by the German government which will confirm arbitration is the appropriate model for resolving doping disputes.” (Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Pritha Sarkar)