Matthieu Reeb, secretary general of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, provides an insight into the workings of the court, a body independent of any sports organisation that has been specially designed to handle disputes of the sporting world.
Sydney and New York
1984, under the administrative and financial authority of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS)
Cases handled per year:
350 (373 in 2012)
Number of arbitrators:
Nearly 300 from 87 countries
French or English
As secretary general of the CAS, I am in charge of the management of the tribunal which consists of supervising the arbitration procedures, the work of the CAS Court office and the finances. Furthermore, I am responsible for the development and promotion of the institution, the management of the CAS ad hoc divisions at the Olympic Games and at other sports events, and the organisation of seminars and media relations.
Combining my interest in sport and the law seemed a natural choice given my background as a former athlete (I did athletics and rugby). When I started to work in a private practice specialising in international arbitration, I quickly realised that sports arbitration would be a very interesting area to develop; it was very logical that I would be interested in the activities of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The main function of the CAS is the resolution of sports-related disputes through arbitration. The two main categories of disputes that we have to settle are contracts and the transfer of football players; and doping issues. The CAS also offers mediation services.
The biggest difference between sports arbitration and standard commercial or investment cases is that the CAS acts as an appeals body in many procedures. We can review decisions issued by sports federations on the basis of an existing file. CAS also acts as a sole instance when the parties agree to refer a case directly to our institution, but the majority of cases are submitted to CAS by way of appeal.
The qualities that make for an excellent sports arbitrator include experience in international arbitration and/or sports law and a good knowledge of sport in general.
The best profile for a CAS arbitrator is: former high-level athlete, lawyer by profession and expert in international arbitration and sports law.
The strong advantage of CAS arbitration is the speed of its procedures – four to five months on average to solve a dispute – and the limited costs compared to other arbitration institutions. In international and professional sports, it is of the utmost importance for the parties to get final decisions quickly, considering that a sports career may be very short.
The CAS handles around 350 cases per year. The record was established in 2012 at 373 cases, but the number of cases is increasing almost every year.
Since 1996 the CAS has created ad hoc divisions for each Olympic Summer and Winter Games. The ad hoc division in London was composed of two presidents and 12 arbitrators and a court office headed by myself.
Under the CAS rules applicable at the Olympic Games, if during the Games a participant or sports entity wants to submit a dispute to the ad hoc division, he or she must file a request for arbitration with the CAS Court Office located in the Olympic host city. Then, the president of the division sets up a panel of three arbitrators (or sometimes a sole arbitrator) and rapidly convenes a hearing, during which all parties, witnesses and potentially affected third parties are given the opportunity to express their legal arguments and to produce evidence. In principle, there are no written submissions other than the request for arbitration which can be very short.
As a rule, the ad hoc division renders its decisions within 24 hours. This is made possible by specially designed logistics and organisational structures.
Most of the cases that we had at the 2012 London Games were related to qualification and eligibility of athletes (who had not been selected by their National Olympic Committee, nor by the relevant International Federation).
One stand-out decision [in the 2012 Games] was in relation to the gold medal in the women’s triathlon. The appeal was brought by a Swedish athlete, a silver medallist, who disagreed with the interpretation of the photo-finish – she was ranked second [but crossed the line] at the same time as the winner. The CAS Panel ruled that it could not entertain the case because the dispute was related to a field-of-play decision (confirmation of the previous CAS case law saying that decisions rendered by referees, umpires, or juries concerning technical issues cannot be reviewed by the CAS).
During my time at the CAS, there have been several decisions which have made a lasting impression and it is difficult to select one or two in particular. The cases of Floyd Landis, Oscar Pistorius and Alberto Contador have probably been the three biggest cases that we have had, if I think in terms of the volume of documents, the number of witnesses and experts, the duration of the hearings and the media exposure. But the “best” arbitrations are those which never come to an end because of a settlement agreed to by the parties during the procedure, sometimes even at the hearing.
A key aim of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS), the governing body of CAS, is the promotion of sports arbitration in regions where professional sport is growing. Last year, ICAS signed a partnership with the city of Shanghai (Pudong area) to establish a CAS Alternative Hearing Centre (AHC) where hearings and meetings involving parties based in East Asia can be organised. A similar partnership has also been signed with the cities of Abu Dhabi (Middle East), Kuala Lumpur (South East Asia) and Cairo (North Africa). The Centres of Shanghai and Abu Dhabi have already been inaugurated.
Looking to the future, the ICAS will be interested in establishing an AHC in South America as we have a significant number of cases involving South American football players.