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Friday 27 April 2018

Olympic speed skater Claudia Pechstein loses doping case in German federal court

German speed skater Claudia Pechstein in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan
German speed skater Claudia Pechstein in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan

The German federal court has ruled against Olympic speed skating champion Claudia Pechstein in her long dispute with the sport's governing body over a doping ban.

The ruling also affirmed the role of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which could have lost its authority if the decision had gone in Pechstein's favour.

A visibly distressed Pechstein left the courtroom in Karlsruhe without comment but her lawyer said they would appeal to Germany's constitutional court.

The International Skating Union (ISU) banned Pechstein for two years in 2009 on the basis of suspicious blood tests. She never failed a drug test and has insisted that she has an inherited blood condition.

Tuesday's ruling prevents her from seeking compensation from the ISU.

Later, Pechstein returned to say: "Every refugee that enters Germany and gets registered enjoys legal protection. But we athletes don't."

The federal court was acting on an appeal by the ISU against a Munich court's decision that she had the right to go to a German court and not only to CAS.

"We are deeply disappointed. It wasn't the last word," Pechstein's lawyer, Thomas Summerer, said.

One central issue of the case was whether she was forced to give up her legal rights by signing an agreement that made CAS the sole court of arbitration.

Pechstein, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, argued that the ISU abused its monopoly to enforce a legal requirement that favours the sports associations over athletes.

The BGH, Germany's highest civil court, said that even though ISU was a monopoly, the way CAS was set up meant that athletes get a fair hearing, especially as they can appeal to the Swiss courts.

The ruling said Pechstein has no right to seek redress from German courts.

"The plaintiff signed the arbitration agreement of her own free will. The fact that she was required by others to do so, or else she wouldn't have been able to compete, doesn't invalidate the agreement," the court said in its ruling.

Pechstein called that part of the ruling a "farce", saying it was common knowledge that athletes who do not sign the agreement are not allowed to compete internationally.

The core of Pechstein's case was that CAS was biased in favour of sports authorities such as the International Olympic Committee and governing bodies, and against athletes and individuals who are obliged to respect the court's authority.

Pechstein, now 44 and still competing, could challenge her doping ban only at CAS. She also lost a subsequent appeal at Switzerland's supreme court, which can overturn CAS verdicts if legal process was abused.

Judge Bettina Limperg, in reading the verdict, called CAS "independent and impartial", a "real" arbitration tribunal that provides advantages not only for federations but also for athletes through "uniform standards and speedy decisions".

ISU lawyer Christian Keidel said he expected Pechstein to continue the legal battle.

The German Olympic Committee welcomed the verdict because it affirmed the role of CAS. But it also noted that the ruling had nothing to do with whether Pechstein's doping ban had been justified or not, and said it regretted that she failed in her attempt to get compensation.

Pechstein was seeking 4.4 million euros (£3.42 million) from the ISU.

Press Association

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