Debevoise Advises the International Council of Arbitration for Sport on Guidelines to Protect Vulnerable Testifying Witnesses in CAS Arbitrations

3 January 2024

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP advised the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (“ICAS”) in its development of important new Guidelines to protect vulnerable testifying witnesses and parties in proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”).

CAS is a Swiss-based independent institution that adjudicates sports-related disputes through arbitration or mediation, and is both a court of first instance and an appellate court from decisions of sports federations and bodies, such as FIFA and UEFA. It also hears ad hoc disputes arising from the Olympic Games and other major sports events. CAS is overseen and administered by ICAS, members of which include current and former judges of the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and a national Constitutional Court.

In recent years, CAS and other sports organizations and federations have adjudicated cases involving testifying witnesses who have undergone trauma or faced the risk of retribution, particularly in the context of allegations of sexual abuse. Similar considerations can arise—and have arisen—in other arbitrations, including those arising out of match-fixing, doping and corruption.These often high-profile cases raise heightened concerns around the obtaining of evidence, access to justice and the legitimacy of the arbitral system. And in light of recent changes to FIFA’s procedures, CAS may face an increase in such cases going forward.

Against this backdrop, ICAS asked Debevoise to advise on best practices for protecting vulnerable testifying witnesses and parties in CAS arbitrations. Based on review of CAS decisions and procedures, interviews with ICAS members, and analysis of protective measures of other sports organizations and federations and international law bodies, the team made a series of recommendations. The team’s recommendations, informed also by due process considerations and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, included adopting publicly accessible written guidelines that include available protective measures, as well as the threshold for engaging and process for requesting such measures.

Last month, ICAS published official Guidelines for the protection of vulnerable witnesses and testifying parties, adopting many of the Debevoise team’s recommendations. The Guidelines will contribute to a more transparent and sensitive process in CAS arbitrations.

The Debevoise team was led by litigation partners Mary Beth Hogan and Helen Cantwell and included associates Alma Mozetič, Thamanna Hussain, Anna Rennich, Katelyn Masket, and Anya Allen.