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BERNE (Reuters) - A German court decision to allow a lawsuit from speed skater Claudia Pechstein related to her doping ban could upset the entire sporting disciplinary system, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Friday.
CAS, sport's highest tribunal, said that if other countries followed suit, it could lead to a situation where athletes were able compete in some countries and not others, threatening the credibility of sport in general.
Five-times Olympic champion Pechstein was banned by the International Skating Union (ISU) for two years in 2009 over irregular blood results, although the German never failed a drugs test.
CAS rejected her appeal as did the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT). However, a Munich court said in January it would allow the 43-year-old Pechstein to go ahead with a lawsuit demanding more than four million euros ($4.37 million) in damages over lost earnings.
The Munich court said in a statement that its ruling "did not recognize the decision by CAS", adding that the ISU decision on the ban was "void".
"Claudia Pechstein had a fair trial, not only before the CAS Panel but also before the SFT, and the judgment of the SFT, which remains in force, should have settled this matter definitively in 2010," CAS said in a statement.
"(She) decided voluntarily to refer her case to CAS and neither challenged the CAS jurisdiction...... nor the arbitrators comprising the arbitral Panel.
"If, like in the Pechstein/ISU case, arbitration agreements were to be considered as invalid by state courts.....then the basic principles of international arbitration would be compromised," it added.
CAS said it was the body identified by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) for the final resolution of anti-doping disputes.
"The fact that state courts would reopen cases involving their national athletes endangers the international effectiveness and the harmony of the decisions rendered in disciplinary matters related to sport," it added.
CAS said decisions related to disciplinary matters could take many years after the actual competition to become final.
"The risk of contradictory decisions would be also higher with athletes being able to compete in certain countries but not in others. This would affect the credibility of sport more generally," it added.
CAS, which hears around 400 cases a year, said it was created "to answer a need of all the stakeholders of international sport."
"In Switzerland and other countries, the CAS is officially recognized as a true independent and impartial arbitral tribunal, after several reforms over the years," it said.
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Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Ed Osmond