The start of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in Russia will see people from all corners of the globe descend upon Sochi in anticipation of sporting glory. Amongst this mix of elite athletes, coaches, spectators and media will be members of the Court of Arbitration for Sport who have set up an ad hoc division of the Court for the duration of the Games. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) is an international quasi-judicial body which was established to settle disputes related to sport. Rule 61 of the Olympic charter specifically states that all disputes in connection with the Olympic Games can only be submitted to this body. Due to the necessity for prompt decisions, which might have an immediate effect on the running of the Olympics, temporary Courts are set up within Olympic host cities. These temporary Courts have the same powers as the normal Courts, however decisions are delivered at an expedited rate and a binding verdict will be delivered within 24 hours.
An example of this in operation was the first decision to come out of the Sochi ad hoc Court concerning the Austrian halfpipe freestyle skier Daniela Bauer. The skier filed an application on 2 February 2014 for CAS to order the Austrian ski governing body to place her on the Olympic team for this event. Her case was that she had met the International Ski Federation qualification requirements and that a place had been promised to her. Having received the application on 2 February, the case was heard on 3 February and the decision to reject the application was delivered immediately. Although the result was probably not what the athlete would have wanted, the speed at which CAS operates during Olympic competitions will have provided some comfort. Although the work of CAS often goes unnoticed, it is as much a lynchpin of the effectiveness of the organisational process as the person who orders blanks for the starter’s pistol. Without this body being in place, disputes would drag on and undoubtedly dramatically affect the competition. With CAS being set up precisely to deliver fast and free verdicts, this is not allowed not happen.
Having said that, there is one area which CAS does not get involved in which relates to on-field decisions. As has frequently been demonstrated, the ad hoc division of CAS has consistently refused to become involved in decisions relating to these sorts of decisions. Examples of which are an appeal brought by a French boxer in 1996 for punching below the belt and, more recently, an appeal brought by a Mexican walker in 2000 for disqualification. In doing so, CAS has stated that the most competent person to deal with such decisions is the referee or official. It is perhaps for this reason that CAS has managed to stay out of the limelight, despite providing an excellent service which has been relied upon by hundreds of Olympic athletes over the years.