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  • Dr Martina Francica

Of Crime and the Olympic Games

By Martina Francica - Paralegal


Power, inspiration, and all-round greatness. These are few of the adjectives which are at the tip of everyone’s tongue when describing Olympians. Modern Olympism itself – as intended by its founder Pierre de Coubertin who believed in achieving and educating the younger generations through fair and healthy competition – is based upon the values of friendship, excellence, respect, courage, determination, inspiration, and equality.

In the current world such principles emerge even stronger, with news of the present-day Olympians being given more leeway to protest gender and racial discrimination with the relaxation of regulations, to a certain extent, prohibiting such, as well as the incorporating stricter regulations prohibiting doping and competition manipulation. Therefore, taking into consideration that the very core of Olympism is the above-mentioned values, one may ask, what would happen in situations where athletes set to represent their country in the Olympic games turn into murders, drink-drivers and brawlers, instead of powerful, inspirational and great athletes?

Although the Olympic games provide the world’s best athletes the stage to showcase their talents at what is generally the peak of their careers, a handful of Olympians still refuse to shy away from scandal. In fact, there have been numerous arbitral awards delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on the very questions mentioned above. For starters, for athletes to be eligible to compete they must conform with both the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code as well as the rules pertaining to the International Federations and National Olympic Committees. Once the athlete has been chosen, many argue that he or she has a legitimate expectation (an assumption based upon the claim of a public body) to compete, notwithstanding any incidents that might follow. This line of reasoning has been successful challenged before the CAS when it comes to disputes in athlete’s private lives. Such cases occurred in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in which two Australian athletes, swimmer Nicholas D’Arcy (CAS 2008/A/1539, CAS 2008/A/1574 Nicholas D'Arcy v. Australian Olympic Committee (2008)) and cyclist Chris Jongewaard (CAS 2008/A/1605, CAS OG/10/004 Chris Jongewaard v. Australian Olympic Committee (2008)) brought forward the argument of legitimate expectation to compete.

D’Arcy was deselected by the Olympic Committee following a brawl he initiated which in turn resulted in him severely injuring another person. In its analysis the CAS concluded that due to his excessive alcohol consumption, misbehaviour and high number of media reports shedding a bad light on the Australian Olympic team, the decision to withdraw D’Arcy from the national team was in fact proportional and as a result gave clarification as to what extend athletes can rely on their legitimate expectation to participate. A similar scenario arose in the Jongewaard case in which whilst driving under the influence of alcohol, the Olympic cyclist ironically caused an accident, injuring a cyclist. The CAS panel held that Jongewaard “had a contractual obligation to not engage in (publicly known) conduct which, in the absolute discretion of the President of the AOC, brought or would be likely to bring him into disrepute”. Instead, “[a]n athlete nominated for the Australian Olympic Team is presumed to be a person of good repute”, as he/she “is perceived as both a leader and a role model within the Australian community”. Such comments as can be observed tie in well with the principles and values upon which the whole institute of Olympism is founded.

In recent years decorated Olympians have also been in the spotlight for wrong reasons. In fact, Oscar Pistorius has become a household name following the trial for murdering his then girlfriend in 2014. The decorated double-amputee blade runner, despite being currently detained in prison following a guilty homicide appeals judgment, still retains all his 8 medals. Although the Olympic Charter holds that there are instances in which cases of disqualification or exclusion may result in the medals and diplomas being returned to the International Olympic Committee, the Charter itself (which is also followed by the Paralympics) there is no mention of criminal offences. Therefore, till this day there is no precedent of convicted Olympians losing their medals upon conviction. This line of reasoning has also been applied to the more recent allegations against Sushil Kumil, the two-time gold medal winning Indian boxer.

In the modern world of today, athletes in breach of the rules and more importantly the values that constitute the highly anticipated games are faced with serious consequences (thankfully public flogging is no longer one of them!) However, if one were to brush off the dust and open ancient Greek history books, it quickly emerges that scandals have always been part of the Games. These traits are not a decline of Olympic ideas instilled by Pierre de Coubertin in the modern era, but part of human nature.

Martina Francica is a Paralegal at PROLEGAL Advocates.


Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed as being legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us at

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