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For U.S. sprinter Torri Edwards, the future of her career — and a livelihood based on endorsements and winnings — hinges on the decision of a small group of arbitrators in Athens. This week, the reigning world champion in the 100-meter dash, who tested positive for the banned stimulant nikethamide at a meet in April, is expected to appear before a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The panel will decide whether Edwards can participate in the Olympic Games or should be banned from competition for two years. The panel of 12 arbitrators, including two American lawyers, has the last word on matters in which money, national pride, and the raw ambitions of Olympians are often at stake. A gold medal in Athens could mean millions in product endorsements for some entrants. But the impartiality of the court that will decide Edwards’ fate and that rules on the final appeals of disputes arising in international sports is a matter of intense debate. “I certainly believe it’s an uphill battle,” says Emanuel Hudson, Edwards’ agent and lawyer and the founder of sports management firm HSI International. Hudson, who manages a handful of other Olympic athletes, says he will represent Edwards before the panel, adding that the court is “known for weighing in on the side” of the sports governing bodies that bring complaints against athletes. Edward Williams, a lawyer for Olympic gold-medal relay runner Calvin Harrison, who earlier this month lost his spot on the 2004 U.S. team and was suspended for two years after testing positive for the stimulant modafinil, is more blunt. “It really is a stacked deck,” says Williams, who competed in the 1968 Winter Olympics. “There is a lot of lettuce that dresses it up and to make it look like it’s fair, but ,in reality, the athletes have little hope.” Williams says he does not know whether his client will appeal his suspension by the United States Anti-Doping Agency to the sports court. The expense of traveling to the hearing and what he says are the slim chances of the court reversing the anti-doping agency’s decision could keep Harrison from submitting an appeal, he says. Despite Harrison’s predicament, Canadian lawyer William Warren says that the sports court serves athletes well. Warren represented Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati before the court in 1998. The court ultimately allowed Rebagliati, who tested positive for marijuana at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, to keep his gold medal. “It’s a user-friendly process,” he says. David W. Rivkin, a member of the arbitration panel in Athens and an international commercial arbitrator at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, says that the court has acted with “enormous fairness and concerns for the rights of athletes” and has often ruled in favor of athletes. TESTING THEIR MEDALS The court counts 250 arbitrators among its ranks. The arbitrators, who represent 87 countries and seven continents, must have formal legal training. From the pool of arbitrators, 12 are selected to travel to the Olympic Games to hear cases. On call 24 hours a day during the games, the arbitrators traditionally avoid hearing cases that involve athletes from their home countries. In Athens, each case will be heard by three arbitrators, who rule by majority. If a majority can’t be reached, one of the arbitrators previously designated the chairman of the panel decides the case. So far, the court has heard two cases in Greece, and the number of arbitration requests at Olympic Games has been steadily rising, says the court’s secretary general, Matthieu Reeb. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the court heard six cases, compared with 15 cases — nearly one each day — at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In proceedings outside of the Olympics, the arbitrators are paid about $200 an hour, but they aren’t reimbursed for their time at the Olympic Games. There might not be pay, but there are perks for arbitrators at the Olympics — expenses for meals, rooms at the Athens Hilton, and passes to events. At the 2000 Summer Olympics, the sports court upheld a decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to strip Andreea Raducan of her gold medal after the Romanian gymnast tested positive for the banned drug pseudoephedrine. The 16-year-old gymnast said she inadvertently ingested the drug when she took an over-the-counter cold pill. But the court adheres to rules of strict liability, which hold that it does not matter whether an athlete actually intended to ingest a banned drug or not. Rivkin, the Debevoise lawyer and Olympic arbitrator, says athletes can be at least partially vindicated by the court, even if they don’t regain their medals. At the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, when Alain Baxter tested positive for the banned substance methamphetamine, the Scottish slalom skier lost his third-place bronze. The sports court recognized that Baxter, who unwittingly ingested the ingredient in a Vicks inhaler, had no intention to cheat. But it did not reinstate Baxter’s ranking. “He ended up losing the medal, but viewing it as a victory as well,” Rivkin says. Rivkin, who also served on the arbitration panel for the Olympic Games in 2002. GOING THE DISTANCE The Olympics draw a full range of athletes worldwide, from those earning millions from advertisers to those who, in between training and competitions, work second jobs to support themselves. Recognizing that most Olympic athletes lack the kind of commercial appeal that propel some to lucrative deals, the court makes its proceedings free of cost to the challenger. Maidie Oliveau, a Los Angeles sports lawyer who is the other American member of the court’s panel in Athens, notes that since the summer games in Atlanta in 1996, pro bono lawyers are available to athletes who can’t pay attorneys. “If you’re from Kenya or Ethiopia, or another Third World country, you have access to the exact same thing that an American has,” Oliveau says. However, Hudson, the lawyer and agent for Torri Edwards, says many American athletes fall somewhere between their competitors from countries with meager resources and the relatively few Olympians who enjoy earnings well-padded by endorsement contracts. These athletes might have their own lawyers, but covering the expenses for such things as flying the attorneys to the hearing at the Games or conducting discovery can be a financial burden, he says. For example, as part of discovery in Edwards’ case, the International Association of Athletics Federations, which initially heard the case, asked her to produce a package of the supplement she took before a meet in Martinique. That would have required an overseas trip, Hudson says, because Edwards’ physician at the time purchased the glucose supplement — which is distributed and sold only in France, in its provinces, and in Vietnam — at a local sundry store in the French West Indies. “Maybe if you’re Kobe Bryant, you can afford to do this, but if you’re Torri Edwards, you can’t,” Hudson says. TIGHT CIRCLES The circles of Olympic organizers and court panelists are tightly knit, and by some athletes’ accounts, often overlap, leading to charges that the court is unduly influenced by the IOC. Established in 1984 under the control of the IOC, the court underwent reforms in 1994. The changes came after a Swiss court declared that the arbitration court was too enmeshed with the IOC, organizationally and financially. William Warren, now the chancellor of the University of Calgary, exemplifies how small the Olympic realm can be. At the time that he represented snowboarder Rebagliati, Warren was the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee and formerly was director of the Calgary Olympic Development Association. Financial and organizational ties between the IOC and the sports court have been addressed, and where necessary, severed, says Oliveau. “We are completely independent of the IOC. We have no interaction of any substance with the IOC,” Oliveau says. The court, however, still receives a quarter of its funding from the committee. International sports federations and national Olympic committees also contribute to the court’s $4 million budget and can nominate arbitrators to the court. Oliveau adds that it is impossible to escape the appearance of clubbiness. “The sports world is two inches by two inches,” Oliveau says. “I always run into people that I know.”

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