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May 16, 2008 11:09 AM

Sports Court Rules Amputee Pistorius Can Compete in Olympics

Posted by Brian Baxter

Oscar_pistorius_6

In a decision that will likely have ramifications for future sports competitions, a three-judge panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) unanimously overturned a ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the world governing body for track and field, which would have prevented double-amputee South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius from competing in the Beijing Olympic games this summer.

The Am Law Daily reported on Pistorius's plight in April, when a pro bono team led by Jeffrey Kessler, the cochair of the global and sports litigations departments at Dewey & LeBoeuf, appeared before the CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland, to appeal the IAAF's January 14 decision banning Pistorius from IAAF-sanctioned events like the Olympics.

Since taking on the matter for Pistorius in February, the firm says it has billed more than $1 million worth of hours on the case. "We couldn't be happier with the results," says Kessler by phone from San Francisco. "We won on all three grounds--the science, the legal standing, and the facts."

Represented by Mark Gay and Huw Roberts of DLA Piper in London, the IAAF claimed that Pistorius's prosthesis--the 21-year-old runs with the aid of a device called the Cheetah Flex Foot--gave him an unfair advantage over his competitors.

But the CAS panel, which was chaired by professor Martin Hunter of Nottingham Law School and included Debevoise & Plimpton litigation partner David Rivkin and Jean-Philippe Rochat, a partner at Swiss firm Carrard Paschoud Heim & Partners, disagreed.

"The IAAF . . . decision is revoked with immediate effect," wrote the arbitrators in an 18-page opinion. But the panel also said that "this ruling has no application to the eligibility of any other amputee athletes . . . and it is the IAAF's responsibility to review the circumstances on a case-to-case basis."

Yet Kessler sees more wide-ranging implications in the Pistorius decision. "It's big not only for Oscar but the disabled athlete in general, who should be able to compete like anybody else," he says. "I view it as part of the overall movement to recognize that the disabled are not a segment of society to be shunted aside but embraced within the general population."

The CAS ruling is final and the IAAF has already announced Pistorius's newfound eligibility. "The IAAF accepts the decision of CAS and Oscar will be welcomed wherever he competes this summer," said IAAF president Lamine Diack in a statement. "He is an inspirational man and we look forward to admiring his achievements in the future."

Download the Oscar Pistorius decision

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