GENEVA (AP) International footballers' union FIFPro pledged to help Germany's most successful Winter Olympian pay legal costs in a doping case, and fueled a dispute with sport's highest court.
FIFPro stepped in on Tuesday to help Claudia Pechstein, whose two-year ban for blood doping expired in 2011, and praised the five-time Olympic speedskating champion for showing ''admirable patience and dedication.''
FIFPro also attacked alleged unfairness at the Court of Arbitration of Sport, which in 2009 upheld an International Skating Union ruling that Pechstein was guilty.
A German regional court ruled in January that Pechstein could go ahead with a compensation claim seeking 4.4 million euros ($4.85 million) for lost income from the ISU, which has appealed to federal judges.
''These funds will allow this possible landmark case, which asks crucial questions for the future of athletes' rights and democratic sport governance, to receive a due and final decision,'' FIFPro said in a statement.
The 43-year-old Pechstein, once a police worker, was also being financially helped by her former union and private donors, FIFPro said.
Pechstein, who never failed a drug test, was banned because of irregular blood results. She has denied doping and insists her blood values are due to a genetic condition. The ISU claims that condition has not been scientifically specified, and her blood values peaked close to major events.
FIFPro, which represents 65,000 players worldwide, and Pechstein claim the structure of sport's appeal court is biased against athletes in favor of governing bodies.
''Every athlete as a citizen and worker has the right to a fair process, and to be judged in an independent and impartial court,'' FIFPro said.
CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb responded with ''disbelief'' at FIFPro after their recent cooperation to include more independent arbitrators in the court's work.
''No later than last month, I was in contact with the FIFPro secretary general who confirmed the intention of FIFPro to collaborate more closely with CAS,'' Reeb said in a statement.
''Unfortunately, there are clearly different political streams within FIFPro, and one can wonder if it is the role of a football players' union to fund a speedskater who has been found guilty of a doping offence,'' the CAS official said.
After her 2009 defeat at CAS, Pechstein also failed in a challenge to Switzerland's supreme court, which can intervene if legal process was abused.
Still, the sports court has worked since to add more former athletes and independent lawyers to its 20-member governing panel, the International Council of Arbitration for Sport.
The ICAS includes four former Olympic athletes and former Australia footballer Moya Dodd, who is also a co-opted women's member of the FIFA executive committee.