International Sports Law
By Amy Burchfield
Amy Burchfield is an International and Foreign Law Reference Librarian at the John Wolff International & Comparative Law Library at the Georgetown University Law Center. She graduated from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and from Kent State University with a MLIS and MA in German translation. She is the author of International Criminal Courts for the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone: A Guide to Online and Print Resources.
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Table of Contents
At its most noble level, sport is a powerful societal phenomenon that unites communities and fosters international exchange and friendship. At its basest level, the fervor sport induces can trigger violence and the desire to engage in illegal activities in order to gain a competitive edge. And at all levels, sport in today’s global community is about big money and the disputes that naturally follow. This guide is intended to highlight some of the resources researchers can use to explore many aspects of international sports law.
This guide covers the key institutions and organizations that govern international sports. Attention is paid to the structure and key documents of these institutions. Dispute settlement mechanisms for sport are included, with reference to sources of sports decisions. International treaties that relate to sports are highlighted, along with key policy documents. Finally, out of the many themes that arise in relation to international sports law, these themes are briefly covered in this guide: human rights, discrimination, violence, women and sports, and sports and the EU.
Sports law is an area that relies heavily on abbreviations, which can be confusing to those starting out in their research. With this in mind, the following is a list of the most important sports-related abbreviations that will be used in this guide. This is not a complete list of all abbreviations.
CAS – Court of Arbitration for Sport
FIFA – Fédération Internationale de Football Association
IF – International Federation
ICAS – International Council of Arbitration for Sport
IOC – International Olympic Committee
NOC – National Olympic Committee
OCOG – Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games
WADA – World Anti-Doping Agency
On a worldwide level, individual sports are regulated by the international federation (IF) that governs that sport. For example, soccer (football) is governed at the global level by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). FIFA establishes the rules of game play as well as regulations governing players, agents, and referees. FIFA ensures compliance with its Disciplinary Code [pdf]. FIFA’s Dispute Settlement Chamber hears labor disputes and disputes over training compensation and solidarity contribution. Selective decisions of the Dispute Settlement Chamber are available online from 2002 to the present.
Other international federations include
The governance structure for soccer is further supported by regional sports organizations (such as the UEFA – Union of European Football Associations) and national-level organizations (such as FIA – Football Association of Ireland).
Along with the FIFA World Cup, the Olympic Games is the world’s most recognized international sporting event. Started in ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were revived in modern times in 1896. This timeline summarizes the Games from 1896 to the present time. This section will explain the organizational structure of the Olympic Games and illustrate the law-related functions of the various entities. For related information, see the International Paralympic Committee.
The founding document of the Olympic Movement is the Olympic Charter [pdf], which addresses the legal status of the International Olympic Committee, the role of the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees, the World Anti-Doping Code, as well as the Olympic flag, emblems, motto and flame, among other things. The Olympic Charter also states that all disputes that arise in connection with the Olympic Games shall be submitted exclusively to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) [see section below].
Founded on June 23, 1894 by the French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is an international non-governmental organization that is the final authority on the Olympic Movement. The IOC owns the rights to the Olympic symbols, flag, motto and anthem.
The Executive Board of the IOC assumes many of the legislative functions of the organization and is responsible for enacting all regulations necessary for the full implementation of the Olympic Charter. The Executive Board is assisted in its administrative function by several commissions, including ethics, TV rights and new media, and sports and law.
The individual members of the IOC represent the IOC in their respective countries. Unlike congressional or parliamentary members, they do not represent the interests of their individual countries to the IOC. There are currently 115 members in the IOC.
International Federations (IFs) are non-governmental organizations that are responsible for the administration of one or more sports at the world level. IFs are recognized by the IOC and cooperate with it in ensuring that their activities comply with the Olympic Charter.
The IFs are organized into three categories which are in turn each organized under its own supervising body. These are illustrated in the table below.
Summer Olympic Sports
ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations)
archery, badminton, cycling, gymnastics, triathlon, wrestling
Winter Olympic Sports
AIOWF (Association of International Winter Sports Federations)
biathlon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, skiing
ARISF (Association of the IOC Recognized International Sports Federations)
boules, chess, golf, karate, netball, polo, rugby, surfing, wushu
* Recognized Sports are non-Olympic sports that are recognized by the IOC. According to the list of ARISF members, there are currently 29 recognized sports.
Each country that belongs to the International Olympic Committee has in turn its own National Olympic Committee (NOC). There are currently 202 NOCs, which are illustrated on this map. The 202 NOCs meet periodically in the form of the Association of National Olympic Committees to discuss their role in the Olympic Movement. The NOCs are organized into five regional associations:
The IOC entrusts the organization of the Olympic Games to the NOC of the host country. The local NOC forms an OCOG to accomplish the task of organizing the Olympic Games for a given year.
OCOGs must comply with three sources of authority: the Olympic Charter, the contract entered into between the IOC, the NOC of the host country, and the host city, and the instructions from the IOC Executive Board.
With the substantial economic impact of international sports comes the increased likelihood of dispute. In 1983, the IOC established the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as a court with specialized knowledge in the field of sports. CAS is also know by its French name, Tribunal Arbitral du Sport (TAS).
In 1994, CAS underwent substantial changes in its structure and procedures. From 1983 until 1994, CAS was monitored and solely funded by the IOC. In 1994, the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) was formed to administer and fund CAS. This change secured the independent status of CAS. The creation of ICAS and the changes in the structure of CAS were finalized in a document called the Paris Agreement[i].
The Code of Sports-related Arbitration spells out the two divisions of CAS: the Ordinary Arbitration Division and the Appeals Arbitration Division. The Ordinary Division functions as a court of sole instance. The Appeals Division hears cases brought to it on appeal from the various IFs and other sports organizations. CAS also has the power to issue advisory opinions. In rare instances, CAS decisions can be appealed to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.
In addition to ordinary and appeals divisions, CAS forms special ad hoc divisions to hear urgent cases that arise during the Olympic Games. The turn-around time for arbitration decisions made by the ad hoc division is as short as 24 hours. There will be an ad hoc division of CAS established for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.
Parties generally agree to refer their disputes to CAS in their individual arbitration agreements. All Olympic IFs except one, and many of the NOCs have included a CAS arbitration clause in their agreements.
CAS hears cases on a variety of subjects, including doping, issues of nationality, advertising sponsorship, judging matters and other subjects of a commercial or disciplinary nature. Web and print access to published CAS awards is explained below.
The most recent arbitral awards rendered by CAS are published on the CAS Case law page. Selected older awards are published in print in Recueil des sentences du TAS: Digest of CAS Awards (three volumes, from 1986 to 2003). Not all awards are published in these volumes. Awards are selected for publication on the basis of their impact on CAS case law and on sports law in general. All awards are published in both English and French, the two official languages of CAS.
In addition, CAS published a separate volume, CAS Awards – Sydney 2000 to document the fifteen cases CAS heard in relation to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The majority of these cases are also published in the 1998-2000 edition of Recueil des sentences du TAS: Digest of CAS Awards.
Selected decisions from other Olympics are published in Recueil des sentences du TAS: Digest of CAS Awards. Four of the six cases from the 1996 Atlanta games and two of the five cases from the 1998 Nagano games are reproduced in the 1986-1998 volume of Recueil. All six arbitral awards rendered by CAS in relation to the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake are reproduced in the 2001-2003 volume of Recueil des sentences du TAS: Digest of CAS Awards.
Doping is the use of prohibited substances to enhance performance in sports. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is organized to “to promote and coordinate at the international level the fight against doping in sport in all its forms.” [see WADA’s Constitutive Instrument] WADA cooperates in this endeavor with the IOC, the NOCs, the IFs and national anti-doping organizations.
WADA monitors compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code [pdf], the worldwide standard for anti-doping regulations. Over eighty countries as well as several international sports-governing bodies have adopted the Code. The annually updated Prohibited List spells out precisely which substances are banned from use by athletes in sporting events. Enforcement under the Code is accomplished through sanctions.
The Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport is a non-binding political document through which governments signal their intention to formally recognize and implement the World Anti-Doping Code. WADA and doping are often the subject of posts on the Bioethics and Sports blog.
This selective list of national anti-doping agencies highlights those agencies with a strong Web presence. WADA provides a comprehensive list.
This regional anti-doping treaty was concluded by the Council of Europe and has been ratified by 46 countries.
The final draft of this UNESCO treaty is scheduled to be adopted prior to the start of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
There have been several declarations on anti-doping in sport that have come out of international conventions and other meetings, including:
Several international treaties address the issue of discrimination in sports. National laws, such as the United State’s Title IX, further define this area.
The key international treaty relating to women and sports is CEDAW, discussed above in the section on human rights and anti-discrimination provisions in sports treaties.
One of the long-standing organizations in this area is the International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG), founded in 1994 with the objective of promoting and facilitating the development of girls and women in sports and physical activity worldwide. Three policy statements [Brighton, Windhoek, and Montreal] have been drafted in connection with previous World Conferences on Women and Sport. The next conference [official site] will be held in Kumamoto, Japan in 2006. Other organizations include Women Sport International [advocacy group] and nationally-focused organizations such as Women’s Sports Foundation [US-focused]. While groups like these may not directly issue documents of primary law, they can be helpful background sources in identifying the key issues in the area of women and sports.
The Sport Unit of the European Union’s Directorate General for Education and Culture cooperates with the European Commission and other institutions on sports-related issues. One issue of legal significance is the incorporation of sport into the proposed EU Constitutional Treaty. The EU Constitutional Treaty [consolidated draft version in pdf] refers to sport in terms of “contribut[ing] to the promotion of European sporting issues, given the social and educational function of sport….Union action shall be aimed at developing the European dimension in sport, by promoting fairness in competitions and cooperation between sporting bodies and by protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, especially young sportsmen and sportswomen.”
Soccer-related spectator violence, or football hooliganism as it is often called, has elicited a response from EU policy makers and legislators at several levels. After the 1995 Heysel Stadium disaster [LFC Online article], the Council of Europe drafted the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehavior at Sports Events and in particular at Football Matches, which aims to prevent and control “violence and misbehavior by spectators at football matches.” EU proposals, legislation, recommendations, and other documents related to preventing violence at sporting events are available on the EU Justice and Home Affairs page on football hooliganism.
The Peace Palace Library maintains an extensive multilingual Bibliography on Sports Law that tracks sports treatises, journal articles, organizations and individual documents. The SportDiscus database covers a broad range of sport-related topics, but indexes many of the key sports journals dedicated to sports and the law. See the database’s current periodicals list [pdf] for examples.
Sports law periodicals are a rich source of secondary literature on the subject. Some of the leading periodicals include:
Ian S. Blackshaw, Mediating Sports Disputes: National and International Perspectives (2002)
Roger Blanpain, The Legal Status of Sportsmen and Sportswomen under International, European and Belgian National and Regional Law (2003)
Neville Cox and Alex Schuster, Sport and the Law (2004)
Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler, Arbitration at the Olympics (2001)
James A.R. Nafziger, International Sports Law (2nd ed., 2004)
Robert C.R. Siekmann and Janwillem Soek, Arbitral and Disciplinary Rules of International Sports Organisations (2001)
Robert C.R. Siekmann and Janwillem Soek, Doping Rules of International Sports Organisations (1999)
[i] The Paris Agreement does not appear to be posted on the Web by CAS or any other entity. For a reprint, see Digest of CAS Awards II 1998-2000 (Mattieu Reeb, ed. 2002), under “Agreement related to the constitution of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS).”