And just what problems does the IHF have (or anticipate) with CAS?

A puzzling article suddenly appeared on the IHF web site a couple of days ago. It came ‘out of the blue’ and it would be interesting to know what the IHF (read: its president) believes it has at stake here. It is stated that the IHF met with representatives of other international federations (IFs) for team sports, and that these (or all?) IFs have joined together, in collaboration with the IOC (!!) to express its concerns with/to CAS (the Court of Arbitration in Sports) in a formal letter.

It was claimed that ‘more and more decisions of Executive Committees and Congresses of IFs are appealed to CAS,’ and it was argued in the letter to CAS that “such appeals obviously undermine the authority of the IFs”. Superficially, such concerns may seem legitimate but, if one is familiar with the background, then they may seem rather farfetched and either laughable or scary, depending on how one wants to interpret the claims.

CAS was established in 1983, at the initiative of the then IOC president Samaranch, as a specialized body to resolve disputes involving issues such as eligibility, sports governance and doping, outside the normal court system. It plays a particular in role relation to issues regarding the Olympic Games. For the most part, the issues that come before the CAS are handled in ways similar to those of normal court cases, with written submissions, hearings, and a careful review of applicable laws and regulations. Most cases heard by CAS take the form of appeals, after the normal appeals mechanisms within an IF have been exhausted, but CAS also handles mediation cases and provides advice upon request. The web site of CAS offers a wealth of information about its rules and its operations.

As far as the IHF is concerned, the experience with CAS is limited to one case only, but an absolutely infamous one, viz., the scandalous manipulations in the Asian qualification tournaments for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Here the IHF Council found it necessary to set aside the results of both the men’s and the women’s events due to clear indications of an orchestration of heavily biased refereeing and other forms of fraudulent behavior. The IHF decision was appealed by the Asian Federation and the nations that had ‘won’ the events that the IHF decided to annul. The IHF president then took upon himself, in collaboration with the Asian president, to bring the matter straight to CAS for resolution, even though the internal IHF appeals mechanisms had not been used. In other words, it was the IHF specifically asking CAS to become involved, and anything else would have been impossible under the CAS statutes. Then it is a different matter that the revelations during the CAS proceedings ended up being most embarrassing for the IHF president… THN report at the time: the complete text of the CAS decision:

FIFA’s experience with CAS is a bit more extensive. Perhaps the most awkward case, from FIFA’s vantage point, involves the issue of releasing players under the age of 23 for the 2008 Olympics. Some clubs, for instance FC Barcelona in the case of Messi, refused to release their player. FIFA got up on ‘high horses’, referring partly to a Committee decision and partly to ‘well-established practices’. CAS, however, did not accept the validity of the FIFA committee decision, and simply noted that the ‘well-established practices’ could not be seen as prevailing inasmuch as they directly contradicted relevant clauses in FIFA’s own regulations. This was at the time a rather embarrassing defeat for the FIFA and its president Blaetter. Moreover, it is well known that FIFA, possibly even more strongly than the IOC, constantly asserts its autonomy and lashes out against member countries with accusations and punishments regarding government interference in matters of federations and clubs. Clearly, FIFA must be just as unhappy with any notion that CAS might be inclined to question FIFA decisions and intervene in its decision-making.

But comparatively, it is absolutely astounding, if it is indeed correct, that IOC is now also expressing concerns about the role of CAS. As noted at the outset, CAS exists at the initiative of IOC, and the concerns in the early days were just the opposite of what now is being alleged. CAS was seen as too closely linked to IOC and therefore had its credibility and impartiality questioned. Decisions had to be taken, especially regarding financing and administration, which demonstrated a higher degree of independence. Even so, CAS was earlier often accused of being rather reticent in its role. So it would be a truly remarkable turnaround if the IOC now was seen as accusing CAS of being excessively active and involved.

Let me go back to the question of possible reasons for the IHF to participate in action against CAS, and in fact being the only team sport IF currently even mentioning the issue in public. It might be a sufficient reason to support initiatives that are close to the heart of the ‘role model’ FIFA/Blaetter (a very unfortunate choice, but nevertheless), and it might be ‘politically correct’ to support action that is said to be embraced by the IOC. (See also the recent IHF decision to suspend Kuwaiti handball ).

But the precise issue that saw FIFA overruled by CAS may also provide a hint. IHF has recently asserted its position (as reflected in its Transfer Regulations) that clubs worldwide must accept to release, without compensation, players for World Championships. This IHF position is already being appealed in civilian courts and the European Union. Could IHF be concerned about getting also CAS as an adversary in such matters? But this seems highly unrealistic, as CAS does not have the mandate to get involved in setting aside existing IHF regulations. Is it instead just an effort to try to eliminate one of the few existing forms of external scrutiny, in matters where the IHF does [u]not[/u] wish to follow its regulations or where it does not want it autonomy/autocracy challenged!!??