Speed skating Olympic champion Claudia Pechstein has been fighting for late justice after a controversial ban for more than ten years – now there is surprisingly new movement in the case. The Federal Constitutional Court upheld a complaint by the athlete, as announced in Karlsruhe on Tuesday. This paves the way for a German civil court to examine whether Pechstein is entitled to millions of euros in damages and damages. (Az. 1 BvR 2103/16)
It was a day when feelings went crazy, said the exceptional athlete. Tears flowed when she found out about the decision from Karlsruhe. “I was humiliated and publicly executed. That’s why I now feel an incredible relief to be able to hear my case before a German court under the rule of law,” said Pechstein. She had to endure crises and setbacks, but together with her team she always believed in justice. “I am overjoyed with the judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court.”
The five-time Olympic champion was banned for two years by the International Skating Union (ISU) in February 2009 because of abnormal blood values. Pechstein denied any doping.
“The athlete and person Claudia Pechstein achieved something great today. For themselves and for all other German athletes who can get caught up in the mills of sports jurisdiction,” said Matthias Große, President of the German Speed Skating and Short Track Association and partner of Pechstein, the German Press Agency. “After 13 years of fighting, we have a lot of respect, admiration and humility before this decision by the highest German court.”
Because of the suspension, Pechstein missed the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Intensive examinations later determined a blood anomaly inherited from the father as the reason for her elevated values. Since then she has sued the world association. Große now announced that Pechstein will continue this. “We now have a clear legal situation. The fight isn’t over yet. We will continue on the path to the end. But it is already clear: the ISU cannot expect any mercy from the Pechstein team,” he emphasized.
The International Court of Arbitration for Sports had confirmed the ISU penalty for Pechstein. The athlete had initially unsuccessfully defended herself against this at the Swiss Federal Court. She also brought an action for damages in the German civil courts. In 2015, the Munich Higher Regional Court (OLG) decided in an interim judgment that it could also take this path in principle – an arbitration agreement signed by Pechstein, according to which the Cas was exclusively responsible, was void.
But then the setback: The world association went into appeal, and in 2016 the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) declared Pechstein’s claim to be inadmissible as a whole – there was no right to access the German courts. Now she gets another chance. With the decision of the Constitutional Court, the BGH judgment is irrelevant. The process at the Munich Higher Regional Court can continue. But the exit is still open.
Pechstein, who took part in her eighth Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in February, had to wait almost six years for a decision on her constitutional complaint. The damages – she is demanding more than four million euros – are intended to make up for the financial losses caused by the ban. The Berliner is primarily concerned with complete rehabilitation. “Win or die is symbolic of my motto for the process,” she told dpa in January of this year.
The constitutional judges complain that the BGH did not take into account that there was no right to a public hearing at the time. However, arbitration proceedings would have to meet the minimum standards of the rule of law. Otherwise the state should not recognize and enforce the decisions. “The compulsion for athletes to have to defend themselves behind closed doors at a questionable arbitral tribunal in Switzerland is finally over,” said lawyer Thomas Summerer, who is responsible for Pechstein’s claim for damages, after the ruling from Karlsruhe.
In exactly this point, the Strasbourg Human Rights Court had already agreed with Pechstein in 2018. He awarded her 8,000 euros in compensation because she had not received a public hearing, but had no fundamental doubts about the independence and impartiality of the Sports Court. He then changed his statutes.
The Cas has been the last authority in disputes in sport since 1984 and has been criticized for years. One of the main allegations is that it is not an independent arbitral tribunal because the institution is funded by sports associations.