Could CAS verdict shoot down Kuwaiti suspensions?

Photo: robfarrelltho/Flickr

Photo: robfarrelltho/Flickr

02.06.2017

By Andreas Selliaas
On 12 April 2017 CAS lifted the suspension of Kuwait Shooting Federation imposed by the General Assembly of the International Shooting Sport Federation. The CAS ruling could have a long term impact on Kuwait’s suspension from multiple sports and the associated international intrigues.

In a 44 pages arbitral award, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) lifts the suspension on Kuwait Shooting Federation (KSF) and delivers what could be a first blow to the IOC initiated isolation of multiple Kuwaiti sports federations after accusations of governmental interference (see box on the right).

The CAS Arbitral Award, which is now public and in Play the Game’s possession, is clear in its arguments for lifting the suspension imposed by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) which was legally challenged by the KSF:

“[T]his Panel does not seek to condone the actions of the Kuwaiti Government in any way at all, however, the suspension or expulsion of a member by an International Federation is a serious matter and must be done in accordance with its own constitution and in accordance with the applicable law," the award states and concludes:

"Without calling into question the right of the General Assembly of an IF to take diciplinary measures against its national members, it appears in the present case that the reasons retained by the ISSF to suspend the KSF are not justified by any appliccable rule. Based on the foregoing, and after taking into due consideration all the evidence produced and all submissions made, the Panel partially allows the Appeal by the KSF and annuls the Appealed Decision.”

ISSF is "very surprised"
In a press release dated 25 May, the president of the KSF, Duaij Al-Otaibi, expresses great relief and thanks “the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for availing us the right to seek justice according to ISSF Constitution”.

The ISSF, on the other hand, is very surprised by the conclusions of the CAS ruling.

"The ISSF was very surprised by the CAS ruling, since it reversed a decision taken by 2016 ISSF General Assembly in Moscow and as voted on by the majority of ISSF Member Federations in an open and fair democratic process. The ISSF decision was also fully aligned with the wider sports movement which has expressed, and continues to express, great concern over Kuwaiti governmental interference in the governance of sport in the Kingdom,” ISSF Communication Manager Marco Dalla Dea writes in an email to Play the Game:

"Such interference contravenes the fundamental principles of autonomy in sport which is enshrined in the Olympic Charter. This concern has also been echoed by various NGO's - such as Human Rights Watch – in relation to wider concerns over human rights issues in the Kingdom. At the same time, the ISSF fully trusts in, and complies with, the independent adjudication system in sport and therefore accepted, and continues to accept, the CAS ruling. The ruling had an immediate effect and the Kuwaiti Shooting Federation was re-admitted as a full ISSF member. The KSF are of course invited to the next EGA and function as a full member of ISSF with full protocols.”

There have been some speculations if the CAS ruling could be touched at the extraordinary ISSF General Assembly on 25 June where the ISSF members are gathered to discuss changes to the Olympic programme. Dalla Dea says to Play the Game that there is nothing in this:

"The CAS ruling will not be a subject on the upcoming ISSF Extraordinary General Assembly (EGA) agenda. The EGA has only one agenda point, which is: "Provide a solution to prevent cancellation of three major shooting events: 50m Rifle Prone, 50m Pistol and Double Trap, in compliance with the IOC standards and the Olympic Charter," he stresses.

Short and long term impacts
According to attorney-at-law Alessandro Oliverio, who was representing the KSF at the CAS, the ruling will have an immidiate impact on how international sports federations handle suspensions, but it could also, in the long run, influence the isolation of a number of Kuwaiti federations, he believes.

"The CAS Award will have primarily an impact on the ISSF and the International Federations in general, when at stake there is good governance, the right to be heard and the principle of equal treatment,” Oliveiro says.

"How the CAS Award will have an impact on KOC (the Kuwait Olympic Committee, ed), KSF and other national federations' suspensions is hard to say. Legally speaking, in my opinion, it shall not have an impact in the short term, because the alleged governmental interference and, in particular, the Kuwait sports laws are still in force. In the long term, it will have a political impact, because Kuwaiti sports bodies cannot remain suspended on indefinite terms, and the CAS award may be used as a trigger to change the actual situation, where sport has been used for political purposes,” Oliveiro argues.

Allesandro Oliverio and the KSF wanted the CAS ruling to be made public as soon as the ruling was ready. The ruling was given 12 April and all parties had until 19 April to request the ruling to be made confidential or partly confidential. Play the Game is aware that KSF were promised that the ruling would be made public 8 May, but it was not released until 25 May.

On the delay, CAS Secretary General Matthieu Reeb explains in an email that:

"The CAS usually gives a certain period of time to the parties to determine if they want to keep the decision (or part of the decision) confidential. This is common practice in international arbitration.”

Power struggle in Kuwait
The struggle between Kuwait and the ISSF is not only about national sports laws in Kuwait. It is also interlinked to internal power struggles in the ISSF and Kuwait.

Four years ago, ISSF President Olegario Vàzquez Raña beat Sheikh Salman Al-Sabah of Kuwait in a controversial election. Sheikh Salman, a former ISSF vice president, challenged the Mexican for the ISSF presidency in Munich in December 2014. Vazquez Raña, 20-year IOC member, won a 165-128 vote to extend a reign which started in 1980.

Sheikh Salman blamed his co-national Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah for supporting the Mexican in the ISSF presidential election thereby obstructing his chances of winning. Sheikh Salman was at the time accused of abusing his position in the Kuwaiti government to garner votes from the shooting federations. The ISSF has since said that it was investigating Sheikh Salman for ethics breaches.

Two weeks ago, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah resigned from all football positions due to corruption allegations, however, he still is one of the most powerful men in international sports holding the presidency in the Association of National Olympic Committees, ANOC, since 2012, being president of the Olympic Council of Asia since 1991, and being chairman of the IOC's Olympic Solidarity panel, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to ANOC members.

The Danish daily Ekstra Bladet last year wrote a series of articles about how the Kuwaiti suspension from ISSF and 14 other sports was not only about Kuwaiti national sports laws, but also a result of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah’s conflict with central members of the Kuwaiti government. Read more: Power struggle in Kuwait has ties to international sports politics

The first federation to suspend Kuwait was the International Handball Federation and thereafter FIFA. Most of the federations who have suspended Kuwait have strong connections to Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah. It remains to be seen if this CAS ruling will have any bearing on Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah position in international sports.

In Rio, Kuwaiti shooters won one gold and one bronze medal, participating under a neutral flag.

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