On a sunny day in Russia last week, Toledo native Matthew Mitten was watching the USA-Canada women’s ice hockey game, catching a bit of speed skating, and sitting in on the pairs figure skating.
He’s been in Sochi since Jan. 28 and will stay there through the end of the Winter Olympic Games Feb. 20, but the St. John’s Jesuit High School and University of Toledo college of law alumnus didn’t make the trip as a spectator.
A leading U.S. expert in sports law, Mr. Mitten was selected to serve with eight lawyers, judges, and law professors from across the globe who make up the Court of Arbitration for Sport ad hoc Division. The international tribunal is on call beginning 10 days before the opening of the Olympics and throughout the games to settle legal disputes that arise. Team selection disputes, challenges to competition results, and doping issues are the most common.
“It’s known as the world sports court, so any legal dispute that arises during the Olympic Games will come to us,” Mr. Mitten explained by telephone from Sochi. “They’ll appoint a panel of three arbitrators to hear the dispute, and in most cases we have to render a decision within 24 hours.”
Time is of the essence for the athletes, and justice is swift.
“It does move incredibly quickly,” said Mr. Mitten, a law professor at Marquette University and director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette. “It’s really designed to provide a forum for free, fast, and fair, final and binding resolution of disputes that arise in connection with the Olympic Games."
He was one of three arbitrators appointed to hear the first case that came before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, on Feb. 3. An athlete from Austria claimed she had been misled into believing she was selected for her country’s Olympic team in the women’s freestyle ski halfpipe.
Mr. Mitten said the panel rejected the athlete’s claim. The Austrian Ski Federation had not recommended that the country’s Olympic committee nominate her because of sports performance concerns.
The athlete in question was not present at the hearing, he said, but two Moscow lawyers represented her. “Each side gets a full opportunity to present their position,” he explained. “The parties can ask questions of each other or any witnesses, and the three panel members can ask questions. After it’s over, the three arbitrators will deliberate among themselves and issue a written decision, so it’s not as formal as a court proceeding.”
The law books the CAS relies on are the Olympic Charter and the rules of the international governing body for the sport in question. If it concerns a doping issue, he said, the panel relies on the World Anti-Doping Code.
While two other team selection disputes arose early in the Games, Mr. Mitten had taken part in only one arbitration by last week.
“You don’t have as many during the Winter Games because there aren’t as many athletes or sports,” Mr. Mitten said. “But there’s still more than half of the Games to go. We just have to be ready because the games are not going to stop.”
In the meantime, he gets to enjoy the events live and in person. He said his experience so far in Sochi has been excellent despite some bad press.
“It’s wonderful. I’m in one of the Olympic family hotels in the Olympic village, and it’s very well protected by the Russian Navy and Army,” he said. “Basically, I’m looking out my window at the Black Sea.”
Back in Toledo, the college of law likes to crow about Mr. Mitten, a 1984 graduate who co-authored the widely used textbook Sports Law and Regulation: Cases, Materials, and Problems.
Geoffrey Rapp, the Harold A. Anderson Professor of Law and Values at UT, said he uses the text in his sports law course. He wasn’t surprised that someone as knowledgeable and respected in the sports law field as Mr. Mitten would be selected for the CAS.
“The law school is very proud of all of our alums,” Mr. Rapp said. “He’s one we like to brag about any chance we get.”
Mr. Mitten said it’s been an honor to be part of the CAS, whose members include a second American and one arbitrator from Russia, Australia, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, China, and France.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.