Lawyers join the race for medals in the Olympics

As the medal table begins to take shape and the blue riband track events started in the Olympic stadium yesterday, competition was also hotting up in the field of arbitration. An impromptu sitting of the "Olympic court" in an Athens hotel was hearing evidence in a three-day eventing controversy that may hand Britain two more medals.

As the medal table begins to take shape and the blue riband track events started in the Olympic stadium yesterday, competition was also hotting up in the field of arbitration. An impromptu sitting of the "Olympic court" in an Athens hotel was hearing evidence in a three-day eventing controversy that may hand Britain two more medals.

An unlikely alliance of lawyers from France, the United States and the UK were trying to prove to the three-man panel of the Court of Arbitration in Sport that the German rider Bettina Hoy should be stripped of gold for crossing the starting line twice in Wednesday's event. If they win, the British rider Leslie Law will be handed the individual gold and Pippa Funnell will move from fourth into bronze-medal position.

A verdict, binding on all parties, is expected today, but Simon Clegg, the British team's chef de mission, is convinced the British team have a cast-iron case. "As I understand it, once a rider crosses the start line the time starts; it is as black and white as that," Mr Clegg said. "If we feel an injustice has occurred, we have a responsibility to our athletes to try and put it right. There was complete unanimity between the countries affected that this was an incorrect decision."

Britain is also considering a second appeal to the CAS after the international swimming federation reversed a decision to disqualify the American winner of the 200m backstroke which cost James Goddard bronze.

The case have highlighted the growing influence of lawyers in high-level, competitive sport. Philip Pope, spokesman for the British Olympic Association, said: "In these modern times I think it is right and proper to have an adequate level of assistance."

Shortly after the Sydney Games, the British Olympic Association appointed a former city lawyer, Sara Friend, who is supported in Athens by a freelance lawyer on-call 24 hours. Many of the larger Olympic teams have at least one specialist sports lawyer on their payroll, with experience ranging from doping cases to protocol surrounding visits from VIPs.

And lawyers are eager to get on board the Olympic bandwagon. Sohrab Daneshku, a sports solicitor at Lewis Silkin legal firm, said lawyers courted Olympic committees in the hope of being instructed for the Games, because this would earn them enormous prestige. "These are top lawyers within the sporting establishment and it is a great career move," he said. "It is very prestigious for them to represent a domestic Olympic committee. In years gone by, the committees would probably not have an in-house lawyer, but now they do."

Mr Daneshku said levels of disputes were growing in big events such as the Commonwealth Games and Olympics, but they were being more rapidly resolved, with medal disputes decided within a day or two. "These disputes are more publicised and there is more focus on the need for transparency and clear, impartial decision-making, which is very important for all sporting bodies," he added. Bodies like justice to be seen to be done and it is increasingly important to provide reasons for judgments."

Ms Friend, who represented the Scottish skier Alan Baxter when he was stripped of his slalom medal two years ago, has advised the leaders of London's bid to stage the Games in 2012.

In disputes over medals, a solution is first sought between the team leaders, chefs de mission and the International Federations. Unresolved cases are then referred to the court of arbitration in sport, which is based in Switzerland but sets up temporarily at Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and other major sports events. The CAS has 150 lawyers from 55 countries and handles 50 cases a year on issues such as doping, medal results and sponsorship.

On appeal the winners and losers

Three-day eventing

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) met yesterday to examine the appeal by Britain, France and the US against Germany's gold in the team three-day eventing on Wednesday. France were awarded gold after Germany's Bettina Hoy (right) was penalised, more than an hour after her ride, for a starting-line infringement. Germany challenged the decision and an appeal committee ruled that the organisers, not Hoy, were at fault, restoring gold to Germany and leaving Britain with bronze. It also allowed Hoy to take individual gold ahead of the Briton Leslie Law (right). If the appeal is upheld, Law will be handed the gold and team-mate Pippa Funnell will move up into bronze.

The men's 200m backstroke

On Thursday James Goddard (below left), 21, from Manchester, finished fourth but the first-placed Aaron Peirsol (above left), the world-recordholder was disqualified for an alleged illegal turn. Goddard was declared a bronze medallist. However, the Americans successfully appealed. Reasons for disqualification have to be submitted by the race referee in clear written English, but Woon Sui Kut of Singapore provided inadequate details that were "not in the working language of Fina" [the world governing body]. The original places were reinstated, but Great Britain and Austria have lodged formal appeals. British swimming's Bill Sweetenham said the ruling was "nonsensical".

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