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Resolution of Disputes Arising From Football Contracts in Turkey. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Editor’s note: N. Emre Bilginoglu[1] is a lawyer based in Istanbul. His book entitled “Arbitration on Football Contracts” was published in 2015.


Introduction

With a total market value of approximately 911 million EUR, the Turkish Super League ranks as one of the prominent football leagues in Europe. Five of the eighteen teams that make up half of the total market value are based in Istanbul, a busy megalopolis that hosts a population of fifteen million inhabitants.[2] As might be expected, the elevated market value brings forth a myriad of disputes, mainly between the clubs and the players. However, other crucial actors such as coaches and agents are also involved in some of the disputes. These actors of the football industry are of all countries, coming from various countries with different legal systems.

One corollary of rapid globalisation is the development of transnational law, which is quite visible in the lex sportiva.[3] Like foreign investors, foreign actors of the sports industry look for some legal security before signing a contract. FIFA does protect these foreign actors in some way, providing players and coaches legal remedies for employment-related disputes of an international dimension. But what if the legal system of the FIFA member association does not provide a reasonable legal remedy for its national actors?[4]

That is why lawyers who are involved in sports related disputes have to guide their law-makers in improving their legal systems after thoroughly examining the dispute resolution mechanisms of other countries. Arbitration is indeed growing exponentially as a method of dispute resolution.[5] The renowned alternative dispute resolution is especially preferred in disputes arising from sports contracts, where both a rapid and a confidential resolution is of the essence.[6]  However, some legal systems oblige the parties of a sports related dispute to resolution by arbitration whereas some legal systems do not. This article gives the reader an insight about resolution of disputes arising from football contracts in Turkey. 


Turkish Method of Dispute Resolution

In August 2015, the Turkish Football Federation made certain changes in its Statute and guidelines. Since those changes, disputes arising from contracts between football clubs, players, coaches and agents are resolved within the Turkish Football Federation Dispute Resolution Board (“UCK”).[7] Therefore, applying to State courts for these disputes (the previous way of resolving disputes) is now impossible, which is a substantial legal issue.

Article 59 of the Turkish Constitution states that disputes related to sports administration and disciplinary matters should be resolved by mandatory arbitration.[8] Decisions of these kinds cannot be appealed to any court of the judiciary. The scope of this article does not include employment related disputes. Article 9 of the Constitution declares that judicial power shall be exercised by independent courts. However, courts do not have jurisdiction to hear disputes arising from football contracts because of the regulations of the Turkish Football Federation. Kelsen’s hierarchy of laws is indeed upside down, alas, the current practice without a proper legal basis is the actual practice. It does not seem like a change is scheduled in the near future, given that many are grateful for the rapid resolution of disputes.

The UCK consists of a “Board of Presidents” and arbitrators. It carries out a simple arbitration process and it involves two arbitrators and a UCK official. The applicant is responsible for the application fee (3% of the disputed amount) and paying the arbitrators' fees, which are decided by UCK (between about 450 and 1500 Euros per arbitrator). The UCK decides within four months (they have the right to extend the time limit for a month based on justified grounds). The decision of the UCK may be appealed to the Turkish Football Federation Appeals Board. However, this appeal does not obstruct the enforcement of the award. Although the statute of the Turkish Football Federation recognizes the competence of CAS, it also declares that the decisions rendered by the Appeals Board cannot be reviewed by CAS.[9]

Decisions of the UCK are not published. Decisions of the Arbitral Tribunal are published without reasoning. Hence, it is impossible to know both the facts of the case and how the arbitral tribunal reached a verdict. This negatively impacts the predictability of the UCK and the Arbitral Tribunal.

The proper composition of the UCK is an important condition for fair and equitable proceedings.[10] Arbitrators are nominated by the Foundation of the Clubs, the Association of Football Players and the Association of Coaches. These three institutions may nominate up to 25 arbitrators each. However, the Turkish Football Federation board of directors appoints the arbitrators from the list of nominees, thus casting a shadow on the independence and the impartiality of the arbitral tribunal, which are crucially important for the right to a fair trial.[11] There are numerous links between the UCK, the Arbitral Tribunal and the Turkish Football Federation. The Federation finances the UCK and the Arbitral Tribunal, can modify the Statutes of the UCK and the Arbitral Tribunal and it appoints the arbitrators of the UCK and the members of the Arbitral Tribunal. The current formation of the UCK resembles CAS before Gundel reforms.

Sporting sanctions and training compensations are also within the scope of the UCK.[12] Decisions of the UCK may only be appealed to Arbitral Tribunal of the Turkish Football Federation. The lack of a judicial review for these decisions is disconcerting. I believe the involvement of the Swiss Federal Tribunal in the CAS process could serve as a good model. CAS decisions may be appealed to the Swiss Federal Tribunal but there is no court in Turkey to appeal to once the Arbitral Tribunal decides on the matter. A general court or the Turkish Court of Cassation must review the decisions of the Arbitral Tribunal regarding disputes on football contracts. Decisions of the Arbitral Tribunal related to sports administration and disciplinary matters are accurately not appealable, as stated by Article 59 of the Constitution. However, Article 59 of the Constitution does not include personal actions. Article 9 of the constitution declares that the judicial power shall be exercised by independent courts. The right to access to courts that is granted by the Constitution cannot be breached by an amendment of the Turkish Football Federation. Therefore, courts are wrong for denying jurisdiction for disputes arising from football contracts. 


Players

The rights and obligations between clubs and players are determined by an employment agreement.[13] In Turkey, labour courts have jurisdiction on disputes arising from employment agreements. However, the Turkish Labour Code does not apply to players, thus surprisingly excluding the jurisdiction of labour courts for disputes regarding them. Article 4 of the Labour Code states that the Code does not apply to athletes. The reason behind this exclusion is not to grant certain rights and benefits to athletes, such as severance payments. Before the amendments of August 2015 came into force, disputes regarding players were resolved in general courts, not labour courts. The debate whether general courts or labour courts have jurisdiction is now obsolete, as the players have to apply to the UCK for the disputes arising from football contracts.

The FIFA DRC adjudicates on cases regarding employment related disputes between a club and a player of an international dimension, therefore foreign players do not have to apply to the UCK. In a case of dual citizenship (the player was British/ Turkish), CAS awarded that someone who benefits from Turkish citizenship should also accept its possible burdens, thus refusing jurisdiction.[14]

Arbitration is indubitably more preferable compared to courts for players. The UCK decides within four months and the decision is enforced by the Turkish Football Federation right away. This promptitude surely provides an advantage for players. Nevertheless, arbitrators’ fees are a hefty burden for destitute amateur players or pro players of the third league. On the contrary, application fees that are three percent of the disputed amount is a supernumerary amount for high earning players. High arbitration cost is a concern, as it is strictly related to right of access to courts. Costs should not victimize the plaintiff. 


Coaches

The FIFA PSC adjudicates on disputes between a club and a coach of an international dimension. Turkish coaches working in Turkey do not have that option. Before the implementation of the mandatory arbitration, labour courts had jurisdiction over the disputes arising from employment agreements of coaches. As of August 2015, coaches may only apply to the UCK for disputes arising from their contracts.

The Turkish Super League clubs do not prefer stability with regard to their coaches, as only one team in the league started the 2016-2017 season with the same coach for the third consecutive year. Coaches seem content with the rapid resolution of their contractual disputes and the confidentiality provided by arbitration, however, arbitrators within UCK are seldom appointed by them.


Agents

The FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players state that the PSC has no jurisdiction to hear any contractual dispute involving intermediaries. Agents, foreign or not, have to apply to the UCK for disputes arising from their contracts. This is overall problematic for agents, because they do not have any say on the appointment of arbitrators. Therefore, the independence and the impartiality of the UCK is suspicious, especially for agents. It is highly recommended for foreign agents to work with Turkish lawyers doing business in Turkey. If not, they will have to hire one at some point.  


Conclusion

Arbitration does truly offer a structure that is football-oriented and more aware of the realities of modern football, as stated in the preamble of FIFA NDRC Standard Regulations. “National” arbitration of football related disputes is evolving. The fact that this is genuinely a developing method of dispute resolution should encourage practitioners to improve their national legal systems. Practitioners and those who are in the football business may quite easily benefit from such improvement because it would only influence the business positively. In the Turkish context I would advise the following:

First, decisions not regarding disputes related to sports administration and disciplinary matters of the Arbitral Tribunal should be appealable. This would provide the right to access to courts, as granted by the Constitution.

Second, the independence and the impartiality of the UCK is still a problematic issue that needs to be tackled. The UCK should not be within the structure of the Turkish Football Federation. The process of the appointment of arbitrators should be revised. Clubs, players, coaches and agents must have an equal say on the matter.

The current Turkish system is preferable compared to everlasting court process. Four months to receive an award and the assurance of the enforcement of the award by the Turkish Football Federation is quite encouraging. Mandatory arbitration of UCK is very recent and hopefully the novel system will evolve to fulfil the criteria of FIFA.



[1] Nurettin Emre Bilginoglu, LLM, Attorney-at-law

 Istanbul, Turkey

 e-mail: emre@caglayanyalcin.com

[2] http://www.transfermarkt.com/super-lig/startseite/wettbewerb/TR1

[3] Duval (2013) Lex Sportiva: a playground for transnational law. Eur Law J 19:822-842.

[4] Preamble of the FIFA National Dispute Resolution Chamber Standard Regulations points at this issue:

 “Currently, only a limited number of member associations have a national dispute resolution chamber or a body structured along similar lines that fulfils the criteria of article 22 paragraph b) of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. This means that the vast majority of international employment-related disputes fall within the jurisdiction of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber and that the majority of “national” cases may not find appropriate solutions.”

[5] See Ashford (2014) Handbook on International Commercial Arbitration. JurisNet LLC, New York and Karton (2013) The Culture of International Arbitration and the Evolution of Contract Law. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

[6] See Rigozzi (2005) L’arbitrage international en matière de sport. Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel.

[7] See Eksi N (2015) Spor Tahkim Hukuku. Beta, Istanbul and Bilginoglu N (2015) Resolution of Disputes Arising From Football Contracts. Beta, Istanbul.

[8] Artıcle 59- The State shall take measures to develop the physical and mental health of Turkish citizens of all ages, and encourage the spread of sports among the masses. The State shall protect successful athletes. (Paragraph added on March 17, 2011; Act No. 6214) The decisions of sport federations relating to administration and discipline of sportive activities may be challenged only through compulsory arbitration. The decisions of Board of Arbitration are final and shall not be appealed to any judicial authority.

[9] “…the TFF Statutes and the Turkish Football Law expressly exclude any appeal against national arbitral tribunals’ decisions, i.e. against such a decision like the Appealed Decision which is the object of the present case. The particular trumps the general. Therefore the argument of the Player that he has an express right of appeal to the CAS under the TFF Statutes must be rejected.” See CAS 2010/A/1996 Omer Riza v. Trabzonspor Kulübü Dernegi & Turkish Football Federation (TFF).

[10] CAS 2015/A/4172 Association of Unions of Football Players and Coaches v. Football Union of Russia.

[11] Although the formation of the arbitral tribunal was different, see CAS 2006/O/1055 Del Bosque, Grande, Miñano Espín & Jiménez v/ Besiktas. For European Court of Human Rights decisions, see Terra Woningen B.V. v. Netherlands, Application N:     20641/92, Date: 17/12/1996; Tsfayo v. UK, Application N: 60860/00, Date: 14/11/2006.

[12] See de Weger (2016) The Jurisprudence of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, T.M.C. Asser Press for extensive information on sporting sanctions and training compensations.

[13] De Weger (2016) p. 132; For the German practise, see Frodl C (2016) Neuer, Hummels, Muller, Gotze & Co: the legal framework governing industrial relations in German professional football, Int Sports Law J (2016) 16:3–21.

[14] CAS 2010/A/1996 Omer Riza v. Trabzonspor Kulübü Dernegi & Turkish Football Federation (TFF). 

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Asser International Sports Law Blog | ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2018 - Asser Institute - 25-26 October - Register Now!

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2018 - Asser Institute - 25-26 October - Register Now!

Dear all,

Last year we decided to launch the 'ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference' in order to give a public platform to the academic discussions on international sports law featured in the ISLJ. The first edition of the conference was a great success (don't take my word for it, just check out #ISLJConf17 on twitter), featuring outstanding speakers and lively discussions with the room. We were very happy to see people from some many different parts of the world congregating at the Institute to discuss the burning issues of their field of practice and research.

This year, on 25 and 26 October, we are hosting the second edition and we are again welcoming well-known academics and practitioners in the field. The discussions will turn around the notion of lex sportiva, the role of Swiss law in international sports law, the latest ISU decision of the European Commission, the Mutu/Pechstein ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, or the reform proposal of the FIFA Regulations on the Transfer and Status of Players. It should be, it will be, an exciting two days!

You will find below the final programme of the conference, please feel free to circulate it within your networks. We have still some seats left, so don't hesitate to register (here) and to join us.

Looking forward to seeing you and meeting you there!

Antoine

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