Banned Pechstein gets permission to compete

Germany’s five-time Olympic champion speed skater Claudia Pechstein will be allowed to compete at the World Cup events in Salt Lake City despite her doping ban, following a surprise decision from a Swiss court on Tuesday.

Banned Pechstein gets permission to compete
Photo: DPA

The ruling means the 37-year-old Berliner now has a final chance to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver at the 3,000-metre race this weekend.

“It’s naturally super for me to know that the training of the last weeks was worth it and I now have the possibility to qualify for the Olympics,” she said while working out on the ice after the decision was announced.

Pechstein plans to appeal a November 25 Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision, which on upheld a two-year ban due to irregularities in her blood. The ban is scheduled to end on February 9, 2011 but her lawyer filed an appeal on Monday, referring to numerous alleged procedural errors in the case.

The court gave Pechstein 30 days to complete her appeal, but because the Christmas holidays fall during this period the case won’t be reviewed until after the new year.

Head of the DESG German speed skating association Gerd Heinze had already signalled that Pechstein would be nominated to skate at the competition in Salt Lake City in the case of a favourable court decision. But whether she will skate at the Olympics is up to the court, he said.

Last month’s ruling by the Lausanne-based CAS upheld a July 1 decision by the International Skating Union (ISU), which banned Pechstein from the sport after tests showed she had an abnormal count of reticulocytes, or early-stage red blood cells. It did not, however, reveal any illicit doping substances.

Pechstein maintains that she never took performance-enhancing substances and says she may have a genetic abnormality that caused the irregular blood count.

According to a court statement, Pechstein gave three blood samples during the World Speed Skating Championships in Hamar, Norway in February 2009. These samples showed a reticulocyte percentage of 3.49, 3.54 and 3.38 – well above the 2.4 percent limit. Meanwhile another sample taken 10 days later showed a significantly lower percentage of 1.37.

This “sharp drop” could not be “reasonably explained by any congenital or subsequently developed abnormality,” the ruling said.

“The panel finds that they must, therefore, derive from the athlete’s illicit manipulation of her own blood, which remains the only reasonable alternative source of such abnormal values,” it concluded.

The ban threatens to end the winter Olympian’s career, which has garnered five gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

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French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts

A French court has ordered Twitter to give activists full access to all its documents relating to efforts to combat racism, sexism and other forms of hate speech on the social network.

French court orders Twitter to reveal anti-hate speech efforts
Photo: Alastair Pike | AFP

Six anti-discrimination groups had taken Twitter to court in France last year, accusing the US social media giant of “long-term and persistent” failures in blocking hateful comments from the site.

The Paris court ordered Twitter to grant the campaign groups full access to all documents relating to the company’s efforts to combat hate speech since May 2020. The ruling applies to Twitter’s global operation, not just France.

Twitter must hand over “all administrative, contractual, technical or commercial documents” detailing the resources it has assigned to fighting homophobic, racist and sexist discourse on the site, as well as “condoning crimes against humanity”.

The San Francisco-based company was given two months to comply with the ruling, which also said it must reveal how many moderators it employs in France to examine posts flagged as hateful, and data on the posts they process.

The ruling was welcomed by the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), one of the groups that had taken the social media giant to court.

“Twitter will finally have to take responsibility, stop equivocating and put ethics before profit and international expansion,” the UEJF said in a statement on its website.

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy bans users from promoting violence, or threatening or attacking people based on their race, religion, gender identity or disability, among other forms of discrimination.

Like other social media businesses it allows users to report posts they believe are hateful, and employs moderators to vet the content.

But anti-discrimination groups have long complained that holes in the policy allow hateful comments to stay online in many cases.

French prosecutors on Tuesday said they have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter aimed at members of the country’s national football team.

The comments, notably targeting Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week.

France has also been having a wider public debate over how to balance the right to free speech with preventing hate speech, in the wake of the controversial case of a teenager known as Mila.

The 18-year-old sparked a furore last year when her videos, criticising Islam in vulgar terms, went viral on social media.

Thirteen people are on trial accused of subjecting her to such vicious harassment that she was forced to leave school and was placed under police protection.

While President Emmanuel Macron is among those who have defended her right to blaspheme, left-wing critics say her original remarks amounted to hate speech against Muslims.