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Russian Moves to Limit Participation in the Olympic Games

By Sergey Yurlov

Sports Law Researcher, sport judge and member of the Russian National Union of Sport Lawyers, member of the International Association of Sports Law (IASL)

On April 7, 2015, a State Deputy introduced Bill No.763029-6 "On the amendments to Article No.36 of Federal Law on Physical Culture and Sport in the Russian Federation" (Russian Law on Sport, Bill), to limit the participation of the Russian athletes in the Olympic Games. (http://asozd2.duma.gov.ru/main.nsf/%28SpravkaNew%29?OpenAgent&RN=763029-6&02)

In accordance with its Explanatory Note (Note), the Bill is aimed at stopping injured and older athletes from occupying places of younger promising athletes. The Note posits that some athletes monopolize their rights to take part in the Olympic Games. Apparently, it claims, repeat Olympic champions continue participating and do not provide an opportunity to younger athletes who want to prove themselves on the international level. The Note also emphasizes that sometimes an athlete who represents the Russian Federation on the international level withdraws his or her participation immediately before a particular race, and cites an incident that occurred at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games when Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko withdrew his participation due to the back injury.

If the Bill becomes law, the proposed changes will have a significant impact on the Russian sport and negatively affect the rights of athletes.

The Bill proposes an amendment to Article No.36 of the Russian Law on Sport, which is labelled as follows: Formation of sport teams, sport delegations of the Russian Federation. The Bill provides for the following provision to be included: "Athlete's participation in the Olympic Games for more than 2 (two) consecutive times is prohibited"

On its face, it is reasonable to provide more opportunities for young athletes. In the meantime, nobody can be restricted from practicing a sport that includes the training procedure and participation in a wide range of sporting competitions, including the Olympic Games.

As a general rule, nobody can be restricted from practicing a sport. Each athlete has the right to participate in the election procedure regardless of his or her age and other criteria. However, if the Bill is adopted, many athletes will be prohibited from the Olympics.

Most of the Russian Olympians practicing summer sports already participated in the summer Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. They therefore would fall under the provisions of the Bill and be deemed ineligible.

To help provide more opportunities for young athletes, sports federations should address this issue. Each sports federation could create a special committee which role is to evaluate a particular athlete and to deliver an opinion as to whether he or she meets the eligibility requirements, based on analysis of the following criteria:
• results of an athlete, and his or her performance in the last or/and current season;
• dedication of the athlete to the training procedure;
• evolution and projection of the athlete in the future (i.e. potential results);
• universality of the athlete i.e. an ability to compete in a number of sporting events (for example, in swimming this means an ability to compete in the Breaststroke, Freestyle, Individual Medley etc.); and
• the health of the athlete.

It is to be noted that the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) has confirmed the use of the abovementioned criteria (see http://www.tascas.org/fileadmin/user_upload/DOC.pdf).

Therefore, the election procedure should be based not only on the prohibition of athletes' participation, but also on the election criteria. If a 30 year old athlete who has been participated in four Olympic Games meets the eligibility requirements, then he or she should be elected, regardless of the fact of past participation.

It is to be noted that several Russian high-level athletes have commented on the Bill. Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbaeva said that the Bill bears no relation to real life, and was proposed by an individual who does not know sport. Isinbaeva emphasized that each athlete has the right to compete for as long as he can qualify for the Olympic Games, and that the Bill will deprive athletes from their dreams (see http://m.sovsport.ru/news/text-item/794190).

Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko is confident that the Bill will not be adopted (see http://super.ru/news/113732).

As of today, nobody knows whether the Bill will be adopted by the Russian Parliament. However, the fact that it was introduced into shows that there: 1) is a misapprehension of the basics of sports law, and 2) a miscommunication among athletes, sports federations, the Russian Ministry of Sport and the Russian Parliament. There is no common approach on the eligibility issues, as Russian sports bills are often prepared by officials who do not have special sports law knowledge. Consequently, they propose vague and controversial bills.

As of May 18, 2015 the Bill has been adopted by the responsible committee of State Duma - Physical Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs Committee (Committee). More importantly, the Bill has been included into the legislative program of State Duma for the spring session of 2015. The Committee also decided to send the Bill to other committees of the Russian Parliament, the Russian President, the Audit Chamber of the Russian Federation, and other subjects of the Russian Federation for the submission of reviews and suggestions. The deadline for reviews and suggestions was June 18, 2015.

It is expected that State Duma will consider the Bill in the first reading in July 2015.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 23, 2015 4:25 PM.

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