CAS supported the suspension of Russian clubs, motivating it with the special status of football
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has published the reasoning of the decision to exclude Russian clubs from participating in tournaments under the auspices of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The lawsuit demanding the cancellation of UEFA's decision was filed back in May last year by four clubs in the Russian Premier League - Zenit, CSKA, Dynamo and Sochi. A year later, CAS clarified that there is no discrimination in the actions of UEFA and the union did not violate the principle of political neutrality, nor did it make “disproportionate or discriminatory” decisions. Plaintiffs' reference to the fact that international sports federations did not suspend Russians in a number of other sports was deemed irrelevant due to the special status of football, which is subject to "excessive crowd reaction" on the basis of "racism, nationalism and religious intolerance."
The Court of Arbitration for Sport published (.pdf) the motivational part of the decision on the lawsuit filed by Zenit, CSKA, Dynamo and Sochi against UEFA in May last year. The plaintiffs asked the court to cancel the decision to exclude Russian teams from participating in tournaments under the auspices of UEFA (it was made shortly after the events in Ukraine began), pointing to its discriminatory nature. Russian clubs, which, in the event of a successful outcome for them, could get the right to play in European competitions, also asked for an expedited consideration of the case. This request was actually ignored: the operative part of the CAS verdict rejecting the claims of the plaintiffs appeared only in January 2023.
In the lawsuit, the applicants pointed out that UEFA abused its powers, violated the principle of political neutrality recognized by both UEFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and allowed discrimination on the basis of nationality (citizenship). One of the most significant arguments of the applicants was the indication that a number of international sports federations managed to avoid the exclusion of Russians from participation in tournaments, which did not lead to any negative consequences.
It should be noted that UEFA's decision to excommunicate Russian clubs is allegedly based on concern for ensuring the safety of competition participants and spectators.
As examples, the applicants cited the actions of, inter alia, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). Both structures allowed the Russians to participate in tournaments in a neutral status. Both reacted extremely negatively to the decision of the organizers of Wimbledon not to let the Russians in, imposing sanctions against the tournament last season (this year Wimbledon will be held with Russian participation). But at the same time, neither the ATP nor the WTA had any security problems.
However, this argument was rejected by the court. The essence of the explanations contained in the motivational part, in fact, boils down to the fact that "football is different." CAS, on the one hand, admitted that the arguments of the plaintiffs were justified, on the other hand, they referred to the fact that UEFA "has a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity and safety" of the competitions held under its auspices. At the same time, CAS noted that football, unlike a number of other sports, is subject to "excessive crowd reaction" on the basis of "racism, nationalism and religious intolerance." Thus, the decision notes that football provokes conflicts between different groups, which results in a manifestation of cruelty around matches. The assurances provided by the plaintiffs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on guarantees to ensure the safety of foreign teams, should they come to Russia, were noted in the decision, but not taken into account. As a consequence, the CAS ruled that it was not appropriate to apply the standards of other sports to football.
CAS also concluded that UEFA acted in "exceptional and extreme" circumstances in making the decision to suspend the Russian clubs, and therefore did the right thing.
The plaintiffs' argument that in similar situations UEFA refrained from such harsh measures was not understood. The CAS decision lists Israel, France, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia itself (the court believes that the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was also a military conflict) as countries that participated in military confrontations, but avoided UEFA sanctions. But CAS considered that the current case is special, so the claim is not subject to satisfaction, since UEFA did not violate the principle of political neutrality, nor did it make “disproportionate or discriminatory” decisions.