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Sport exceptionalism and the Court of Arbitration for Sport

Helen Lenskyj (the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 12 March 2018




The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1983, resolves disputes between athletes and national or international sports governing bodies. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the history and functions of CAS, with a particular focus on the ways in which athletes’ rights are threatened by the IOC’s Code of Sports-Related Arbitration.


The author reviews relevant law literature and media sources.


The concept of lex sportiva (global sport law), general arbitration practices and controversies concerning CAS’s impartiality are investigated, and the “strict liability” principle that CAS applies to doping allegations is assessed. This analysis points to a long record of inconsistencies and contradictions in the history and function of CAS. The findings lead to questions of arbitration or litigation; confidential or public proceedings; specialist or generalist arbitrators; lex sportiva or international legal principles; precedential or non-precedential awards; and civil or criminal burden of proof.


These unresolved issues demonstrate how the IOC struggles to maintain supremacy over world sport by promoting sport exceptionalism, and provide possible grounds for athletes’ future challenges to CAS.



Lenskyj, H. (2018), "Sport exceptionalism and the Court of Arbitration for Sport", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 5-17.



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