The case of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) v. International Olympic Committee (IOC) (CAS 2011/O/2422) concerned the validity and enforceability of a particular IOC regulation prohibiting drug violators from competing in the next edition of the Olympic Games following their period of suspension.
The IOC rule was known as the “Osaka rule” and was enacted in Japan on 27 June 2008:
“The IOC Executive Board, in accordance with Rule 19.3.10 OC and pursuant to Rule 45 OC, hereby issues the following rules regarding participation in the Olympic Games:
- Any person who has been sanctioned with a suspension of more than six months by any anti-doping organization for any violation of any anti-doping regulations may not participate, in any capacity, in the next edition of the Games of the Olympiad and of the Olympic Winter Games following the date of expiry of such suspension.
- These regulations apply to violations of any anti-doping regulations that are committed as of 1 July 2008. They are notified to all International Federations, to all National Olympic Committee and to all Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games.“
While this rule applied to all Olympic athletes, in practice only a certain sub-set of athletes were affected:
- Athletes not guilty of a doping violation – rule does not apply
- Athletes guilty of a doping violation (with less than 6 months suspension) – rule does not apply
- Athletes guilty of a doping violation (over 6 months suspension) who wish to compete in non-Olympic competitions – rule does not apply
- Athletes guilty of a doping violation (over 6 months suspension), but not selected by their National Olympic Committee (NOC) – rule does not apply
- Athlete guilty of a doping violation, still serving their suspension – rule has no immediate effect
- Athlete guilty of a doping violation at an Olympic Games – rule has no immediate effect
- Athlete guilty of a doping violation (over 6 months suspension), and selected by their National Olympic Committee (NOC) – RULE APPLIES
The case was brought against the IOC because one of those affected athletes, LaShawn Merritt was prevented by the rule from representing the USA at London 2012. Merritt had previously tested positive in an out-of-competition test for ExtenZe (a ‘male performance’ product containing the banned substance DHEA); and while the doping panel accepted that the substance was used inadvertently and that there was no intention to dope, Merritt still received a ban from competitions.
The crux of the case can be seen from Merritt’s current position. His ban ended earlier this year on 27 July 2011, however despite his eligibility to compete in any other competition, Merritt was still prevented from competing in next summer’s 2012 Olympics Games. He and USOC argue that this additional ban is unfair for two main reasons, because it violated the principle of double jeopardy (ne bis in idem) [7.2] and that the imposition of an additional doping sanction was in contravention of the WADA Code (article 23.2.2). USOC also argued that the rule resulted in unjustifiable discrimination between athletes and that the IOC rule should be “cancelled and declared null and void, or alternatively, that a mechanism be allowed for a case by case review of the appropriateness of the applicability of the Decision to each specific athlete” [2.9]
By contrast, the IOC argued that the rule constituted an eligibility rule [7.4] as to who could qualify as a competitor in the Olympics under Rule 45.2 of the Olympic Charter rather than as an additional sanction, that the rule protected the values of the Olympic Movement from the “scourge of doping” [7.5], that athletes had no automatic right to participate in an Olympic event [7.8] and that the rule did not conflict with double jeopardy (ne bis in idem), as it pursued a wholly different purpose than an anti-doping ineligibility sanction [7.8].
THE CAS RULING
All parties recognised that uncertainty surrounding the application of the decision was unhelpful, particularly since CAS had previously provided two Advisory Opinions in this area, one requested by the IOC had concluded that Rule 45.2 was an eligibility rule [8.7], while a Confidential Opinion to an unnamed International Sporting Federation (ISF) held that the application of a similar rule by an ISF was intended to be penal in nature and therefore could not constitute an eligibility rule [8.8].
It was therefore agreed that CAS had the ability to definitively settle the dispute (R27 of the CAS Code) and three arbitrators were chosen to hear the case: Professor Richard H McLaren (Canada), Me. Michele Bernasconi (Switzerland), and David w. Rivkin, Esq. (USA).
Both parties agreed that the applicable regulations of the arbitration (R58 of the CAS Code) should be:
- Swiss Law (including fundamental principles)
- the Olympic Charter (OC), in particular, rules 41 (eligibility), 44 (applicability of WADA Code) & 45 (Olympic participation)
- and the WADA Code, in particular, s.10.2 (sanctions for 1st violation), s20.1.1 (IOC implementation of Code), 23.2.2 (prohibition against substantive changes to the Code) and appendix 1 (definition of ineligibility)
WADA also independently submitted an amicus curiae brief on 13 July 2011 to ensure that the arbitration panel would have as comprehensive a view as possible of the potential issues surrounding the IOC regulation, particularly since there was a suspicion that tribunal doping sanctions were being manipulated to stay under 6 months to avoid being caught by this rule [3.11].
Previous CAS Jurisprudence (RFEC v. Alejandro Valverde v. UCI (CAS 2007/O/1381 ) suggested that: “qualifying or eligibility rules are those that serve to facilitate the organization of an event and to ensure that the athlete meets the performance ability for the type of competition in question.” [8.9]. In particular it was noted that qualifying (eligibility) rules define certain attributes or formalities required of athletes, rather than sanctioning undesirable behaviour.
Because IOC Rule 44 expressly incorporated the WADA Code as underpinning the Olympic Games, the IOC were bound by WADA’s definition of ineligibility. Unfortunately for them, under Article 10 of the WADA Code, ineligibility was held to be a sanction. In making this decision, the Panel held that the fact that an athlete could participate at other International competitions was irrelevant [8.16].
From this conclusion, the IOC was always going to lose as under Article 23.2.2 of the WADA Code, signatories of the Code could not add any additional provisions “which change the effect of […] the periods of eligibility provided for in Article 10 of the WADA Code.”
Because Rule 44 increased the period of ineligibility from the original doping violation (between 6months to 2 years) to the number of days until the next Olympics Games, the IOC regulation was not in compliance with the WADA Code and as such had to be struck out as invalid [8.44].
The Panel did not state that such an additional sanction could never occur, simply that such a rule needed to be incorporated within Article 10 of the WADA Code when the Code was next reviewed. To satisfy any proportionality requirements, the Panel also recommended that a first instance adjudicatory body should review any appeals [8.27].
The British Olympic Association (BOA) By-law
Much of the talk this week has been over whether the BOA by-law is legitimate in the wake of this ruling, and what implications this might have for Dwayne Chambers and David Millar. BOA Bylaw 25 sets out that:
“any person who is found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation will be ineligible for membership or selection to the Great Britain Olympic team”.
Importantly, the bye-law also gives individuals the right to appeal (something that distinguishes the BOA Bye-Law from that of other NOCs).
Taken at face value though, the same issues from the USOC case apply, in that any athlete guilty of a doping violation is ineligible for selection on a British Olympic team. If this USOC decision was extended to the BOA, then it is strongly arguable that this requirement also constitutes a sanction attributable to the same behaviour and resulting in the same consequence (ineligibility from competition) [8.36]. Or more colloquially, If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!
Again, taken at face value, the only significant difference between the two rules would seem to be that the BOA by-law has an inherent appeals process, which would negate any proportionality requirement.
Is this enough though, arguably no.
There is one alternative argument though that may solve the BOA problem. At footnote 11 of the USOC decision, the CAS Panel noted that:
“If the IOC issued a rule that persons convicted of a violent felony were not eligible to participate in the Olympic Games, such a rule would likely not violate the principle of ne bis in idem, because the effective purpose of that sanction would be different from the purpose of the criminal penalty associated with that violent felony.”
Therein might lie a possible defence for the BOA. If the BOA rule was based around a different purpose than simply a sanction associated with taking drugs, but was linked to eligibility, for example an athlete’s role as an ambassador representing their country, then following footnote 11, it could be argued that the by-law had a different purpose and was therefore valid and enforceable. Such a stance echoes the comments of Colin Jackson, interviewed immediately after the judgment by the BBC:
If the BOA by-law was interpreted as a ‘moral / ethical behaviour clause’, should it be limited to just drugs and doping violations though? Do we want athletes representing our country who were guilty of criminal offences? If the by-law was extended this would also help in removing the WADA ‘consistency’ argument, as different jurisdictions around the world impose different criminal sanctions and offences.
Or should we just fall into line with WADA and the rest of the world and reduce our rules to the lowest common denominator?