Interpreting at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland...Scary!

All Olympic sports sooner or later have some sort of dispute, legal or otherwise, because, well, humans are human. The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland has the task of resolving legal disputes in the field of sport through arbitration. It does this pronouncing arbitral awards that have the same enforceability as judgements of ordinary ­courts.

Our International Federation was having trouble enforcing one of the rules in the Olympic Charter (every Olympic sport MUST adhere to its rules) so we had to go to court for mediation. When I was told I was coming for the hearing, I assumed I as there to assist my boss as usual, in my capacity as Executive Administrative Assistant.

CAS is about a 10-minute drive from the Olympic Hotel in Lausanne, in a gorgeous residential area. Frankly, I never imagined the Court of Arbitration would be housed in…well…a house! We arrived before 10 am and we were taken to a smallish meeting room. It looked pretty crowded once all parties were seated: a panel of 3 attorneys mediating for CAS, an attorney for each side, a secretary for CAS, the representative for our International Federation and the representative for the other side.


To my surprise (a.k.a panic), when the first witness for the International Federation was called, I was asked to step into the room. Me?! Why me?! As I entered, the President of the panel asked the opposing attorney if he had any objection to my acting as interpreter for the witnesses of the ISSF. He said he did not, so I sat down looking like a deer caught in headlights.

This was not only my first time interpreting in a court of arbitration, but nobody has informed me that I would be doing so (people, we HAVE to get a system of memos in place)! But I must admit that the President of the CAS Panel was very gracious and assured me that I had nothing to worry about.

I spent hours looking out from this window, leaning against it or trying to look in.

I spent hours looking out from this window, leaning against it or trying to look in.

The panel and attorney for the opposing side started to interrogate the first witness and it was do or die time; the adrenaline kicked in and the panic died down and I was off to the races! I started my consecutive interpreting and I soon learned that the attorneys from either side are allowed to interrupt the witness at any time and, of course, I also had to interpret whatever the attorneys said. The attorney for the opposing side spoke English very well but with a foreign accent.

After a while, I noticed from the corner of my eye that the attorney for the opposing side was watching me like a hawk. It started to feel unsettling because although it’s normal for a person for whom you’re interpreting to look at you sometimes, he was zeroing in on me and seldom looked at the witness when I was speaking. I’m not going to lie, it was a little nerve wracking. So I looked at the President of the Panel as I spoke and he seemed pleased by that so…winning!


After a couple of hours, the panel took a 15-minute break and it was only then that one of the representatives from our International Federation mentioned that the attorney for the opposing side was from Spain. Oh, so he was checking to see if I was translating exactly what the witnesses were saying and not changing words to favor my side! Well, excuuuuuuuuse me, sir, but that’s not the way THIS interpreter does things! Some people…

We went back in the room and another couple of hours of translation had my throat feeling pretty irritated. Fortunately, the President of the panel informed us we were breaking for lunch and that a lunch had been prepared for us (say WHAT!? We’re staying here, sequestered as if we were in a criminal court?! Yep. We were). We were shown to the kitchen where they had a little spread for us, served ourselves and went to an adjacent dining room.

As you can see, I went through about half of this pad in the course of a day of Interpreting.

As you can see, I went through about half of this pad in the course of a day of Interpreting.

After lunch, we resumed but this time it was the opposing witnesses who were interviewed. So at this point, I switched from consecutive interpreter to simultaneous interpreter, whispering to my boss what each witness said.

This process continued until around 6 pm. My throat was raw. My neck was killing me from leaning forward all day. Nervous tension makes you so tired, even though you’ve been sitting for hours. But when the President of the Panel thanked everyone and then turned to me and thanked me specially because I had done a wonderful job…well…it made it all worthwhile. It’s these moment that keep you going on days like this.