German court upholds sport arbitration in ruling against Pechstein

German speed skater Claudia Pechstein has lost a damages claim at the country's highest civil court against governing skating body ISU in a ruling upholding the system of sport arbitration.

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) Tuesday rejected the claim in connection with a doping-related ban in a ruling.

Pechstein, 44, argued that athletes should always have recourse through civil courts and not be bound by rulings from sports arbitration panels such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

A ruling in her favour could have revolutionised the system of sport arbitration allowing the country's athletes recourse on suspensions and other disputes to make claims in civil courts.

Germany's most decorated winter Olympian with a 5-2-2 medal haul argued that CAS was not independent in her fight for more than 5 million euros (5.4 million dollars) in damages from the ISU over a two-year competition ban.

Pechstein reacted with anger at the ruling, saying: "Every refugee who arrives in Germany and is registered enjoys legal protection. But not we athletes."

Her lawyer said she would now appeal to Germany's constitutional court.

"We are deeply disappointed. That was not the final word," lawyer Thomas Summerer said.

He said the court "completely ignored the significance and the scope of basic rights for athletes" and showed that athletes were "only second-class citizens."

BGH president Bettina Limperg dismissed a main contention of Pechstein's case, saying in the ruling that "the overall picture of the international Court of Arbitration for Sport is independent and neutral. It is a genuine arbitration."

The case had gone to the federal court - Germany's highest court for civil and criminal law - on appeal by the ISU after Pechstein had won a ruling by a Munich regional court.

The Munich court had ruled previous arbitration agreements between her and the ISU, including a CAS ruling on the case, to be invalid.

Pechstein was banned for two years in 2009 by the ISU over elevated blood levels in her biological passport, a ruling confirmed by CAS.

She always protested her innocence, and doctors later diagnosed a genetic defect. But the ISU said this did not adequately explain the abnormal levels.

Pechstein had argued that arbitration bodies such as CAS were not fully independent because the judges were chosen by the sports federations.

The CAS was satisfied with the decision, saying in a statement: "This is the confirmation that Claudia Pechstein had a fair trial, not only before the CAS but also before the SFT (Swiss Federal Tribunal), and that the judgment of the SFT, which remains in force, settled this matter definitively in 2010."

The CAS also said it means the German courts have no jurisdiction to revisit a final CAS decision.

"It is also the confirmation that the CAS arbitration clauses inserted in the regulations of sports organizations are valid," the statement continued.

The International Olympic Committee meanwhile also welcomed the ruling, saying it was a reinforcement of the authority of the CAS.

Germany's highest civil court is in line with other high-ranking courts, first and foremost the Swiss court.

"The ruling contributes to the legality of the fight against doping," an IOC spokesman said Tuesday in Lausanne.

The German Olympic sport association DOSB said the ruling upheld the process of sport arbitration, but a statement said it was "personally sorry for Claudia Pechstein that her long battle for damages before a German civil court was not successful."

Germany's national anti doping agency NADA said it took note of the ruling.

"For us it is important to strengthen confidence in arbitration," it said.

"Independently of the ruling we have already strengthened considerably the rights of athletes in the arbitration process."

The International Skating Union hailed the decision, which came down during an ISU Congress in Mlini, Croatia. A majority of the 500 delegates applauded when the ruling was announced.

Last update: Thu, 14/07/2016 - 10:23
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