7 March 2014
Kyiv Post publishes commentary by Markiyan Kliuchkovskyi on legal support to athletes at Sochi Winter Olympics 2014

Lawyers give pro bono lift to Olympic athletes

Behind the scenes of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, an inconspicuous special tribunal consisting of sports arbitrators and lawyers operated to resolve disputes during the course of competitions.

Among them working on a pro bono basis were three lawyers from Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, two from its office in Kyiv and one from Moscow: Markiyan Kliuchkovskyi, Oleksandr Volkov and Georgy Sur, respectively.

The law firm was chosen together with lawyers from White & Chase and Berwin Leighton Paisner, who acted as “public defenders” for athletes who thought they were wronged, said Kliuchkovskyi, head of sports law practice in Ukraine, who spent three weeks in Sochi volunteering his expertise and time.

Although some teams came with their own lawyers, like the Americans, athletes could choose who to use, including the pro bono panel under the auspices of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the world’s supreme tribunal for sports disputes. 

On call 24 hours a day, the team of counselors worked in two shifts of four over the span of four weeks and had to be ready to handle cases related to eligibility, doping, discipline and field of play, the latter of which is when an athlete disagrees with a judge’s score or ruling.

Since the ad hoc division of CAS, as it is called, handles cases as soon as they arise on a fast-track basis, the lawyers spent most of their time anticipating issues because they only got up to 48-72 hours to “figure out the issue, gather evidence, come up with a legal position, draft the pleadings…put them together and submit them properly, then there’s the hearing,” said Kliuchkovskyi.

Accustomed to arbitration cases that usually last months or even years, the Lviv native said the experience was new and extremely compact.

“It was very concentrated, to handle the pressure, to put in good work and to gain direct exposure to the cases that are handled there…it is a good foundation for future work,” said Kliuchkovskyi.

The pro bono panel handled three cases, all related to eligibility of athletes, and lost each one.
“I don’t think the pro bono panel has ever won a case,” said Kliuchkovskyi. “You really cannot advise a client not to pursue a case if they don’t want to. They were quite difficult.”

It wasn’t about winning or losing and more about demonstrating that the “system works,” said Kliuchkovskyi, adding that the athletes should have a place for legal recourse, “each case was a fair battle…there’s only so much one can do with the evidence that  is there in the case.”

His first case was unusual because it involved a 53-year-old Argentinean free-style skier who was not allowed to compete because the International Ski Federation withdrew his invitation after finding an error.

“He thought that was wrong but he didn’t get to come to Sochi,” recalled the Lviv native, adding that all the eligibility cases were handled long distance via Skype and other modes of communication.

One potential case involved a goal that referees ruled out in the USA-Russia group match because the net had been dislodged off its moorings prior to the score. Russia was outraged over the no-goal call, but a quick study of the episode revealed no foul play. In another case a Russian woman figure skater hugged the Russian judge after her gold-medal performance. Everyone thought the South Koreans, whose figure skater was in the lead, would lodge a “field of play” complaint.

But the tradeoff for Kliuchkovskyi was gaining exposure to another part of the sports community and legal community working in sports they never had.

“It is a matter of prestige and honor to be involved in something like that,” recounted Kluchkovsky.

“Olympic games are a serious thing. It is nice to realize that I contributed to the process not only as a spectator but as a participant in the organization (of games).”

Given his €450 hourly rate, Kliuchkovskyi’s billable amount would’ve been in the thousands. But he said he would do it again because it is every lawyer’s duty to give back “not because there is the concept of corporate social responsibility. “

“There is this view that lawyers are often looked at as being cynical and money oriented, but we are all members of the society in which we live…perhaps we’re more equipped to fix (what’s wrong) by way of our education and experience…and when we recognize a cause where we could help (it makes) you feel better,” said Kliuchkovskyi

By Mark Rachkevych