Since its creation as an arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1984, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has grown to the stature of a respected independent authority in the resolution of sports-related disputes of every kind. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, with offices in Sydney, Australia, and New York, the CAS hears approximately 200 cases per year.
While it was the international response to the rise in the use of performance-enhancing drugs and the resulting doping cases that fueled the creation of the CAS, the Court is called upon to assist in a wide range of sport conflicts, including sponsorship disputes, the eligibility of a particular athlete in accordance with a sport's constitution, as well as the resolution of disagreements concerning competition results. The determination of issues arising in doping cases remains a significant portion of the CAS caseload.
Unlike a traditional civil court, the CAS acquires its jurisdiction in a particular case only through the mutual consent of the parties involved. This procedure, known as arbitration, is designed to create a resolution binding on all parties (there are very limited rights of appeal permitted from a CAS arbitration). The chief advantage of an arbitration conducted by the CAS is its expertise in sports-related disciplines (there are more than 300 arbitrators from 87 countries qualified to hear CAS disputes); a typical civil judge will not likely possess such sports-specific knowledge. CAS arbitration is also generally a much more expeditious proceeding, with the cases heard and determined within a few months, at a lower legal cost to the participants.
The CAS also offers mediation services to any requesting parties of a sports dispute. Unlike arbitration, the mediation process is not binding—the mediator will provide recommendations, with solutions suggested, but these are not imposed as a result as in the case of arbitration. Mediations are designed to permit the adverse parties an opportunity to air their grievances in an atmosphere aimed at conciliation of the dispute.
The respect afforded the CAS by the international sports community is evidenced by the importance and the impact of the cases that the CAS is requested to decide. In 2003, Canadian cross country skier Becky Scott successfully appealed to the CAS with respect to her claim that she be awarded the 2002 Olympic gold medal in the 5-km pursuit event. Russian skiers Olga Danilova and Larissa Lazutina finished first and second respectively in the competition, with Scott in third place, and each athlete passed their post-event doping test. Danilova and Lazutina each failed a subsequent doping test administered in relation to another Olympic cross-country event, when the presence of a prohibited blood doping agent, darbepoetin, was detected in each skier's sample. Scott appealed her 5-km race result on the basis that both Russian skiers were engaged in ongoing doping practices. The Scott ruling was the first time in Olympic history that a gold medal had been awarded to an athlete as a result of a CAS ruling.
In 2005, the CAS arbitration panel ruled that American sprinter Tim Montgomery be banned from international competition for two years as a result of doping, in spite of the fact that Montgomery had never failed a doping test. The CAS ruled that it could find a doping violation on the basis of the third party evidence called against Montgomery, most of which connected Montgomery to the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) athlete steroid scandal that had arisen in the United States in 2003.
In addition to the resolution of specific disputes, the CAS provides one-time event-wide arbitration services, tailored to the mechanics of disputes rising in the course of competition, such as the Olympics or the Pan American Games. The CAS also provides legal opinions on requests on sports-centered issues; when an international sport organization contemplates legislative change such as a new disciplinary code, the CAS might be requested to offer its views regarding the proposed scheme.