Asser International Sports Law Blog

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

SV Wilhelmshaven: a Rebel with a cause! Challenging the compatibility of FIFA’s training compensation system with EU law

Due to the legitimate excitement over the recent Pechstein ruling, many have overlooked a previous German decision rendered in the Wilhelmshaven SV case (the German press did report on the decision here and here). The few academic commentaries (see here and here) focused on the fact that the German Court had not recognized the res judicata effect of a CAS award. Thus, it placed Germany at the spearhead of a mounting rebellion against the legitimacy of the CAS and the validity of its awards. None of the commentators weighed in on the substance of the decision, however. Contrary to the Court in Pechstein, the judges decided to evaluate the compatibility of the FIFA rules on training compensations with the EU free movement rights. To properly report on the decision and assess the threat it may constitute for the FIFA training compensation system, we will first summarize the facts of the case (I), briefly explicate the mode of functioning of the FIFA training compensation system (II), and finally reconstruct the reasoning of the Court on the compatibility of the FIFA rules with EU law (III).

I.               The complex facts of the case 

In a nutshell, the case concerns the move of an Argentinean player, with an Italian passport (as probably two-third of Argentina), to SV Wilhelmshaven and the training compensation due to its former youth clubs back in Argentina. The player, born in 1987, was an amateur player with an Argentinean club called Excursionistas from 20 March 1998 to 7 March 2005 and with River Plate from 8 March 2005 until 7 February 2007. From 8 February 2007 to 30 June 2007 he signed a fixed-term professional contract with SV Wilhelmshaven, which was later extended for one more season. 

In 2007 SV Wilhelmshaven was playing in the Regional League Nord (fourth tier of German football) and was therefore considered as a club of category 3 for the purpose of the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP). In June 2007, Excursionistas and River Plate initiated proceedings with the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (hereafter DRC) claiming €100,000 and €60,000 respectively in training compensation. These demands were partially granted  by the DRC (River Plate obtained “only” €57,500) in two concomitant decisions (available here and here) on 5 December 2008. 

SV Wilhelmshaven decided to appeal the DRC’s decisions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). A hearing in front of a sole arbitrator was held on 26 August 2009 and the award rendered on 5 October 2009. The arbitrator confirmed the decision of the DRC awarding the claimed compensations to both Argentinean clubs and rejected all the objections raised by SV Wilhelsmshaven.

The club, however, continued stubbornly to refuse to pay the training compensations. On 13 September 2011, FIFA’s disciplinary Committee sanctioned SV Wilhelmshaven with additional fines and imposed a payment deadline of 30 days. If the club would not respect the deadline, its first team would face a six-point penalty. In light of non-compliance with this decision, FIFA called on the DFB (German FA) to enforce the sanction and secure the payment of the fines. The DFB dutifully implemented the order: six points were deducted and the club’s financial account with the DFB was debited from the requested €21,150. However, SV Wilhelmshaven is a tough nut to crack. Despite the confirmation of the sanctions by the DFB’s internal tribunal it kept on refusing to pay the training compensations awarded by the DRC and CAS. On 15 August 2012, the FIFA asked the DFB to deduct six more points. Given that, in the meantime, the club had been relegated to a lower league, the Norddeutscher Fussball Verband was competent to implement the latest sanction instead of the DFB. It did so on 23 August 2012 and the internal tribunal of the association later confirmed the validity of this decision. In May 2013, the club decided to challenge the point deduction in front of the German courts. Meanwhile, on 5 October 2012, a new decision of FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee imposed the relegation of the club. The SV Wilhelmshaven appealed the decision to the CAS, which confirmed FIFA’s disciplinary decision on 24 October 2013 (unfortunately the relevant CAS award has not been published). Hence, FIFA asked the DFB to implement this decision. The forced relegation was definitely ratified by the board of the Norddeutscher Fussball Verband on 7 December 2013 and validated by the internal tribunal on 20 February 2014. 

The club was challenging both the six-point deduction and the forced relegation in front of the regional Court of Bremen. In first instance, the tribunal simply rejected the claims of the club and considered that the CAS award, not challenged by the club in front of the Swiss Federal tribunal, was a valid legal basis for the sanctions. The club appealed the decision to the Highest Regional Court, which in its ruling of 30 December 2014 overruled the first instance Court. Indeed, it held that the CAS award was contrary to EU law and, therefore, could not be relied upon by the Norddeutscher Fussball Verband to sanction the club (more on this arbitration dimension of the case here and here). Combined with the Pechstein ruling, this case constitutes a powerful challenge to the CAS, but it is also a challenge to FIFA’s training compensation mechanisms. It is on this latter aspect that we will focus in this blog.

II.             The FIFA RSTP’s Training Compensation System 

Let us first take a close look at FIFA’s training compensation regime enshrined in Article 20 of the latest FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP). It must be highlighted that the FIFA Regulations were adopted after nearly two years of negotiations between the European Commission, UEFA, FIFA and FIFPro.[1] The negotiations ended with the adoption of a set of principles as a basis for the new FIFA transfer regulation. Concerning the training compensations, the principles stipulated that “in the case of players aged under 23, a system of training compensation should be in place to encourage and reward the training effort of clubs, in particular small clubs”. 

Article 20 of the FIFA RSTP transposing this principle reads as follows:

“Training compensation shall be paid to a player’s training club(s): (1) when a player signs his first contract as a professional, and (2) each time a professional is transferred until the end of the season of his 23rd birthday. The obligation to pay training compensation arises whether the transfer takes place during or at the end of the player’s contract. The provisions concerning training compensation are set out in Annexe 4 of these regulations.”

Hence, Article 20 establishes two situations giving rise to a right to obtain a training compensation: the signing of a first professional contract and each transfer until the end of the season of the player’s 23rd birthday. The key to understanding how this duty to pay a training compensation operates in practice can only be found in the Annex 4 of the RSTP. Article 1 paragraph 1 of Annex 4 qualifies the scope of the obligation to pay a training compensation. It states that: 

“A player’s training and education takes place between the ages of 12 and 23. Training compensation shall be payable, as a general rule, up to the age of 23 for training incurred up to the age of 21, unless it is evident that a player has already terminated his training period before the age of 21. In the latter case, training compensation shall be payable until the end of the season in which the player reaches the age of 23, but the calculation of the amount payable shall be based on the years between the age of 12 and the age when it is established that the player actually completed his training.”

Pursuant to article 2 paragraph 2 of Annex 4, a training compensation is not due when “the former club terminates the player’s contract without just cause (without prejudice to the rights of the previous clubs) “, or “the player is transferred to a category 4 club”, or “a professional reacquires amateur status on being transferred”. 

To calculate the amount of training compensation due, every association member of FIFA is “to divide their clubs into a maximum of four categories in accordance with the clubs’ financial investment in training players”.[2] For each category the training costs are equivalent “to the amount needed to train one player for one year multiplied by an average “player factor”, which is the ratio of players who need to be trained to produce one professional player”.[3] The current training costs as defined by each football association for 2014 are available here. The training compensation is meant to cover “the costs that would have been incurred by the new club if it had trained the player itself”.[4] Thus it is calculated “by taking the training costs of the new club multiplied by the number of years of training, in principle from the season of the player’s 12th birthday to the season of his 21st birthday”.[5] The training costs for players for the seasons between their 12th and 15th birthdays, however, are always based “on the training and education costs of category 4 clubs”.[6]

Following the negotiations with the European Commission, FIFA carved out a specific provision for players moving from one association to another inside the territory of the EU (including also the EEA). This provision stipulates that “[i]f the player moves from a lower to a higher category club, the calculation shall be based on the average training costs of the two clubs”.[7] If the player moves from a higher to a lower category, “the calculation shall be based on the training costs of the lower category club”.[8] Moreover, “the final season of training [in the sense of article 1 paragraph 1 Annex 4] may occur before the season of the player’s 21st birthday if it is established that the player completed his training before that time” .[9] Finally, and maybe most importantly, “[i]f the former club does not offer the player a contract, no training compensation is payable unless the former club can justify that it is entitled
to such compensation”.[10] 

The FIFA framework applicable to training compensations is not easy to navigate and many of its provisions have been refined by the jurisprudence of the CAS and the DRC (see this blog for a synthetic assessment).[11] The compatibility of this complex regulatory construction with EU law has never been tested in front of courts (be it national or European). This makes this lawsuit so decisive. 

III.           The SV Wilhelmshaven case and the compatibility of FIFA’s training compensation system with EU law

In its Bosman ruling, the Court of Justice (hereafter CJ) held that the aim of “encouraging the recruitment and training of young players must be accepted as legitimate”.[12] It added “that the prospect of receiving transfer, development or training fees is indeed likely to encourage football clubs to seek new talent and train young players” .[13] Nevertheless, it concluded that “because it is impossible to predict the sporting future of young players with any certainty and because only a limited number of such players go on to play professionally, those fees are by nature contingent and uncertain and are in any event unrelated to the actual cost borne by clubs of training both future professional players and those who will never play professionally”.[14] Hence, receiving such fees could not be “a decisive factor in encouraging recruitment and training of young players or an adequate means of financing such activities, particularly in the case of smaller clubs”.[15] As a final nail into the coffin of training compensations, at least it was thought at that time, the Court followed its Advocate General in holding that “the same aims can be achieved at least as efficiently by other means which do not impede freedom of movement for workers”.[16] 

The FIFA training compensation system as it stands nowadays is a rebuttal to the Bosman ruling. Indeed, it pretends to do the impossible in the eyes of the Court: calculating realistically the costs of training a player in a specific club in order to offer an objective benchmark for the training compensations. Moreover, FIFA simply disregarded the proposals made by Advocate General Lenz, who suggested potential alternative financing mechanisms to support the training of players.[17] FIFA’s rules, endorsed by the EU Commission, have never been tested in front of the CJ, though it came close to it in the relatively recent Olympique Lyonnais case. Here, the Court reaffirmed that “the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players must be accepted as legitimate”.[18] It also recognized that “the clubs which provided the training could be discouraged from investing in the training of young players if they could not obtain reimbursement of the amounts spent for that purpose where, at the end of his training, a player enters into a professional contract with another club”.[19] Thus, it held “that a scheme providing for the payment of compensation for training where a young player, at the end of his training, signs a professional contract with a club other than the one which trained him can, in principle, be justified by the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players”.[20] However, to be proportionate, the scheme must be “taking due account of the costs borne by the clubs in training both future professional players and those who will never play professionally” .[21] In the Olympique Lyonnais case, the French system in place at the time of the dispute, and since then replaced, was deemed incompatible with EU law as the amount of the compensation was not directly correlated with the costs of training the player. Nonetheless, UEFA and FIFA were prompt to see in this judgment a “significant step forward” [22] for the compatibility of the FIFA system with EU law. The present SV Wilhelmshaven case is a good opportunity to test this assumption.

SV Wilhelmshaven had argued in front of the CAS that the FIFA RSTP was contrary to the right to free movement of workers under EU law. However, the single arbitrator rejected the applicability of EU law. Instead, relying on previous CAS awards, it held that “such argument would have been available to the individual Player, not to the Appellant”.[23] This interpretation contradicts the well-established case law of the CJ[24], as noted by the Bremen Court.[25] Moreover, the CAS also declined to recognize the applicability to the case at hand of Article 6 of the Annex 4 to the FIFA RSTP. It considered that “[t]he title of this provision clearly suggests that its scope is narrowly circumscribed within a limited geographic area, i.e. the EU/EEA territory”.[26] Furthermore, “it appears that article 6 of Annex 4 to the FIFA Regulations is nothing more than the codification of the system agreed upon by the European authorities and put into place to govern the transfer of a player moving from one association to another inside the territory of the EU/EEA”.[27] Thus, the panel sees “no reason to depart from the unambiguous wording of article 6 of Annex 4 to the FIFA Regulations, which is obviously not applicable in the case of a player moving from a country outside the EU/EEA to a country within the EU/EEA”.[28] On this exact point, the Bremen Court begged to differ. 

The Bremen Court was not convinced by the distinction between intra-EU and extra-EU transfers made in article 6 Annex 4. The right to free movement of workers extends also to EU citizens moving from a non-EU country to an EU Member state. Therefore, not only could the club legitimately invoke the right to free movement of its player, but it was also right to consider that article 6 annex 4 should have been applicable to an EU citizen moving from Argentina to Germany. Consequently, the German judges considered that the non-application of article 6 and the imposition of the calculation method foreseen in article 4 and 5 of the Annex 4 were contrary to the player’s free movement rights under EU law.[29] Nonetheless, it also acknowledged that the FIFA training compensation rules were supporting “the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players”.[30] Furthermore, Article 6 of the Annex 4 is deemed suitable to attain this objective and compatible with EU law.[31] The key point being for training compensations to cover only the real costs endured to train the player[32], this is what the CAS and the DRC have failed to take in account in the SV Wilhelmshaven case.[33]

Conclusion 

The SV Wilhelmshaven case has potentially damaging consequences for the Court of Arbitration for sport. It intrudes into the system of private enforcement of the CAS awards by forcing the sporting association to consider whether the awards are compatible with German public policy, and especially with EU law before enforcing disciplinary measures based on them. We have deliberately ignored this aspect of the case, as it will be the object of a future blog post. Instead, we decided to focus on FIFA’s training compensation system and its compatibility with EU law.

The Bremen Court’s ruling highlighted the substantial shortcomings of the CAS in dealing with EU law. A long-standing CAS jurisprudence was shown fundamentally flawed and overtly contradictory to the CJ’s interpretation of EU law. Moreover, the FIFA training compensation system as it stands was considered incompatible with EU law in the context of a transfer of an EU citizen from Argentina to an EU Member state. This is not a remote scenario especially when South-American players are involved. However, there is also some good news for FIFA, as the Court found that the FIFA intra-EU training compensation rule is in line with EU law. The case is now at the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the highest German civil Court. With this case and the Pechstein case on its plate, the BGH will fundamentally shape the future of sport’s private dispute resolution mechanisms and governance structure. If it is asked to do so or ex officio if it feels the need, the BGH could refer a preliminary question to Luxembourg on the compatibility of the FIFA training compensation system with EU free movement rights. This would be the best way to finally settle a question which has been left wide open since the Bosman ruling, now 20 years ago.



[1] See B. Garcia, ‘The 2001 informal agreement on the international transfer system’, European Sports Law and Policy Bulletin, I-2011, pp.17-29.

[2] Article 4 paragraph 1 of Annex 4.

[3] Article 4 paragraph 1 of Annex 4

[4] Article 5 paragraph 1 of Annex 4

[5] Article 5 paragraph 2 of Annex 4

[6] Article 5 paragraph 3 of Annex 4

[7] Article 6 paragraph 1 a) of Annex 4

[8] Article 6 paragraph 1 b) of Annex 4

[9] Article 6 paragraph 2 of Annex 4

[10] Article 6 paragraph 3 of Annex 4

[11] See F. de Weger, The jurisprudence of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, ASSER press, 2008, pp. 117-133.

[12]Case C-415/93 Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association and Others v Bosman and Others [1995] ECR I-4921, paragraph 106.

[13] Ibid, paragraph 108.

[14] Ibid, paragraph 109.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, paragraph 110.

[17] AG Lenz in Case C-415/93 Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association and Others v Bosman and Others, [1995] ECR I-4921, paragraph 239

[18] C-325/08 Olympique Lyonnais SASP v Olivier Bernard [2010], paragraph 39.

[19] Ibid, paragraph 44.

[20] Ibid, paragraph 45.

[21] Ibid.

[22] J. Zylberstein, ‘The Olivier Bernard Judgment : A Significant step forward for the training of players’, in M. Colucci, European Sports Law and Policy Bulletin 1/2010

[23] CAS 2009/A/1810 & 1811 SV Wilhelmshaven v. Club Atlético Excursionistas & Club Atlético River Plate, award of 5 October 2009, paragraph.42. Referring to CAS 2004/A/794 and CAS 2006/A/1027.

[24] « Whilst the rights deriving from Article 48 of the Treaty are undoubtedly enjoyed by those directly referred to - namely, workers - there is nothing in the wording of that article to indicate that they may not be relied upon by others, in particular employers. » C-350/96 Clean Car Autoservice Gmbh v Landeshauptmann von Wien [1998] ECR I-2521, paragraph 19.

[25] OLG Bremen, 30.12.2014, 2 U 67/14

[26] CAS 2009/A/1810 & 1811 SV Wilhelmshaven v. Club Atlético Excursionistas & Club Atlético River Plate, award of 5 October 2009, paragraph 46.

[27] Ibid, paragraph 49

[28] Ibid.

[29] OLG Bremen, 30.12.2014, 2 U 67/14, p.22-25.

[30] „Daraus folgt, dass eine Regelung wie im vorliegenden Fall, die eine Ausbildungsentschädigung für den Fall vorsieht, dass ein Nachwuchsspieler nach Abschluss seiner Ausbildung einen Vertrag als Berufsspieler mit einem anderen Verein als dem abschließt, der ihn ausgebildet hat, grundsätzlich durch den Zweck gerechtfertigt werden kann, die Anwerbung und Ausbildung von Nachwuchsspielern zu fördern“. Ibid, p.22.

[31] „Soweit in Art.6 Ziff. 1.b) bei einem Wechsel des Spielers von einem Verein der höheren in eine niedrigere Kategorie die Entschädigung gemäss den Trainingskosten des Vereins der tieferen Kategorie bemessen wird, handelt es sich um eine Regelung, die zu einer Erleichterung des Vereinswechsels führt, also gegenüber der an sich erforderlichen Orientierung an den Kosten des ausbildenden Vereins im Hinblick auf Art.45 AEUV eine Besserstellung des Spielers enthält und daher insoweit unbedenklich ist.“ Ibid, p.25.

[32] « Transferentschädigungen erfüllen mithin die Funktion des Ersatzes von Ausbildungskosten nur dann, wenn sie sich an den tatsächlichen angefallenen Ausbildungskosten orientieren und nicht am Marktwert des fertigen Spielers ». Ibid, p.23.

[33] « Die hier vorgenommene Entschädigung orientiert sich somit nicht an den für die Ausbildung bei den argentinischen Vereinen angefallenen Kosten, sondern nimmt einen Ausgleich in Höhe des pauschal eingeschätzten Aufwands vor, der dem übernehmenden Verein im Hinblick auf diesen Spieler erspart worden ist. » Ibid, p.24.

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Asser International Sports Law Blog | The limits to multiple representation by football intermediaries under FIFA rules and Swiss Law - By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

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

The limits to multiple representation by football intermediaries under FIFA rules and Swiss Law - By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

Editor’s note: Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla is an international sports lawyer and academic based in Valencia (Spain) and a member of the Editorial Board of the publication Football Legal. Since 2017 he is the Director of  the Global Master in Sports Management and Legal Skills FC Barcelona – ISDE.

I think we would all agree that the reputation of players’ agents, nowadays called intermediaries, has never been a good one for plenty of reasons. But the truth is their presence in the football industry is much needed and probably most of the transfers would never take place if these outcast members of the self-proclaimed football family were not there to ensure a fluid and smooth communication between all parties involved.

For us, sports lawyers, intermediaries are also important clients as they often need our advice to structure the deals in which they take part. One of the most recurrent situations faced by intermediaries and agents operating off-the-radar (i.e. not registered in any football association member of FIFA) is the risk of entering in a so-called multiparty or dual representation and the potential risks associated with such a situation.

The representation of the interests of multiple parties in football intermediation can take place for instance when the agent represents the selling club, the buying club and/or the player in the same transfer, or when the agent is remunerated by multiple parties, and in general when the agent incurs the risk of jeopardizing the trust deposited upon him/her by the principal. The situations are multiple and can manifest in different manners.

This article will briefly outline the regulatory framework regarding multiparty representation applicable to registered intermediaries. It will then focus on provisions of Swiss law and the identification of the limits of dual representation in the light of the CAS jurisprudence and some relevant decisions of the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

 

A)   Regulatory framework:

Those agents acting in the market as registered intermediaries will necessarily be subjected to the specific football regulations enacted by FIFA and the national associations in which they operate. The answer as to the possibility to represent more than one party to a deal will therefore, be necessarily found in internal rules of each association. 

As opposed to the obsolete FIFA Players’ Agent Regulations[1], the FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (RWWI) allow intermediaries to represent more than one party in a transaction. Pursuant to the definition of intermediary[2] in combination with Article 8 RWWI, the only substantive requirement to intermediaries willing to act for multiple parties is that they obtain prior written consent and confirmation in writing on which party (i.e. the player and/or the club) will remunerate the services of the intermediary. The regulations, therefore, prioritize transparency over the question of who pays for the services of the intermediary. Consequently, it is not forbidden for an intermediary to represent and be paid by multiple parties to a transaction, as long as they all know and agree to it in advance.  

At a national level, most FIFA member associations[3] have followed the solution adopted in the RWWI and have transposed ad literam the right of intermediaries to multiparty representation as long as the transparency and information requirements are met (i.e. any potential conflict of interest is disclosed to the parties in advance, and subject to the prior written consent of the parties to the transaction).

However, there are still many agents that prefer to operate off-the-radar of organized football and its regulations. For these ‘rogue’ agents, the scenario is different and the question of the legality of multiparty representation will ultimately depend on the applicable law chosen by the parties[4]. Based on my personal experience, off-the-radar agents often end up acting through very rudimentary authorizations subject to the ordinary jurisdiction of the CAS. For this reason, I chose to dissect in this paper the limits of multiparty representation according to Swiss law, for based on article XY of the CAS Code of Sports Arbitration it represents the applicable law to ordinary disputes before the CAS when parties fail to make a particular choice of law.

The provisions of the contract of brokerage (“contrat de courtage”) in Articles 412-418 of the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO) are of relevance in this regard. The cornerstone provision concerning conflict of interest is found in Article 415 CO[5] whose English translation reads as follows:

Where the broker acts in the interests of a third party in breach of the contract or procures a promise of remuneration from such party in circumstances tantamount to bad faith, he forfeits his right to a fee and to any reimbursement of expenses”.

The article differentiates between two non-cumulative hypothetical situations where the broker (i.e. agent) may be in a position of conflict of interests.

  • First: the broker “Acts in the interest of a third party in breach of the contract”.
  • Second: the broker “Procures a promise of remuneration from such party in bad faith”.

The first hypothesis establishes the prohibition of the broker to act in the interest of a third party if the obligations towards his client are breached. Accordingly, an agent representing a player is prevented from assisting the players’ contracting club to negotiate the terms of his employment contract, as he would be defending irreconcilable interests (i.e. the interest of the club to pay the lowest salary possible v/ the interest of the player to obtain the highest possible salary). Conversely, the same agent could be hired by the club in a different transaction without incurring a conflict of interest with the player. The condition triggering this first hypothesis will be thus, whether the agent acting for the third party is in breach of his contractual obligations.

It is important to note that the published English translation of the CO differs slightly from the original text of the code[6]. While the English translation refers to the breach of the “contract”, the original French version refers instead to a breach of the “obligations” which has obviously a broader scope, covering a wider range of situations than a contract might include.

This linguistic difference can be misleading as the obligations emanating from the CO may go beyond the obligations set forth in a simple authorization or a brokerage contract. By way of example, think of a very simple “Authorization” that does not explicitly prohibit the agent of the player to simultaneously act for the club. Sticking to literal text of the English translation, one could be tempted to believe that the agent was not acting in breach of the contract. However, the same situation seen under the lens of the legal obligations would imply that the agent could still be infringing the obligation of loyalty and trust stemming from the CO.

In view of the above, a correct evaluation of the first hypothesis will necessarily account for the legal obligations inherent to the brokerage contract, the scope of which might go beyond the obligations stipulated in the contract. Amongst these, the obligation of loyalty, the obligation to safeguard the interest of the client by not entering into conflictive situations, and the obligation of transparency and information.

The second hypothesis covers the prohibition in Swiss law of dual representation by procuring a promise of payment from third parties to the relationship broker/principal, if such a promise amounts to bad faith.

It needs to be underlined that this provision does not exclude dual payment, but subjects it to a certain limit, i.e. not incurring in bad faith. Delineating bad faith can turn out to be a difficult task as the concept itself has an inevitable component of subjectivity and, as opposed to good faith which is legally presumed (cf. Article 3 of the Swiss Civil Code), bad faith must always be proven by the party claiming it, who ultimately bears the burden of proof[7]

Applied to football agents, it can be safely assumed that an agent acting in good faith towards his client would necessarily act in a transparent way and inform his client that he is simultaneously acting for the other contracting party. Not disclosing such information in the context of negotiations can serve as indication of bad faith when combined with other elements. However, to prove the presence of bad faith will still require sufficient material evidence in order to discharge the burden of proof, since the simple negligence of the broker would not be sufficient to fall under the scope of the article.

The consequence for a broker (i.e. football agent) infringing the prohibition of dual representation in he hypotheses described in article 415 CO is the nullity of the contract and the forfeiture of the right to be remunerated, or the obligation to reimburse the amounts received if the infringement is ascertained after the realization of the contract and payment of the fee (“quod nullum est nullum producit effectum”).  

With the above premises in mind, a detailed look into the CAS and the Swiss Federal Tribunal jurisprudence regarding Article 415 CO will help identifying the scope of the legal obligations of a football agent towards his client (i.e. club and/or player), as well as the mechanisms used by the decision-making bodies to determine the existence of bad faith.

 

B)   Jurisprudence:

One of the very few CAS cases dealing with Article 415 CO in the context of football agents' relationships with clubs is the CAS award  2012/A/2988 PFC CSKA Sofia v. Loic Bensaid.

In short, the dispute opposed the flagship Bulgarian football club CSKA Sofia against a French football agent and revolved around the right of the latter to be remunerated by the club, considering he had acted simultaneously in representation of the player in the signature of the employment contract.

One of the many arguments used by the club in support of its alleged right not to pay the agent was based on Article 415 CO. The club asserted that the agent acted in violation of his obligations for having represented both parties. On the merits, the Sole Arbitrator concluded, nevertheless, that the agent had fulfilled the obligations of transparency and information as the Club was aware at all times that the agent also acted for the player and knew about the existence of the representation contract with the player[8]. The full knowledge and acceptance of the situation impeded the club to contend, at a later stage, the violation of the duty of loyalty and transparency.

Secondly, adhering to the grounds of the supporting FIFA decision, the Sole Arbitrator also remarked that the mandate between the Agent and the player did not contain any obligation to remunerate the services of the agent. The prohibition of agents to be remunerated twice for their services has been traditionally a key element in previous FIFA decisions where dual representation was at the center of the dispute[9]. This fact possibly led the Sole Arbitrator to also highlight this circumstance when assessing the behavior of the agent. However, the Sole Arbitrator further stated that, even if the mandate would have provided for a remuneration in favor of the agent (quod non), Article 415 CO would still not have been violated as the club failed to discharge the burden of proof as to the existence of bad faith, reinforcing with it that dual representation is only forbidden to the extent the agent acts in bad faith[10].

This final remark of the Sole Arbitrator is crucial as it evidences, in my view, that whether the player and the agent agreed upon a remuneration, remains in the end irrelevant for the evaluation of a possible violation of Article 415 CO. Indeed, pursuant to the CAS arbitrator’s interpretation of the article, the agent can be remunerated twice, as it is the disregard of the obligations inherent to the contract and in particular for the second hypothesis acting in bad faith that determines compliance with Article 415 CO.

To better illustrate the irrelevance of the “double remuneration” discussion, think for a moment of a brokerage contract where there is no explicit reference to the remuneration. Does such a lacuna in the contract imply that the brokerage is necessarily, pro bono? The answer is no, for as a general rule, mandates given in the context of professional relationships are presumed to be lucrative (see Art. 394(3) CO). That is precisely the case of football agents when they contract with players or clubs. This circumstance renders the reference to a remuneration in the contract a secondary element, or at least not an essential one. The former FIFA PAR (Ed. 2008[11]) followed this ratio legis when explicitly providing for a default remuneration of 3% of the players’ basic income where the parties cannot agree on the remuneration.

Beyond the specific CAS awards, some decisions of the Swiss Tribunal Federal help getting the full perspective on dual representation in the context of disputes subject to Swiss law. Although these do not refer to football agents, the similarities that exist with real estate and/or corporate brokers allow to derive important conclusions that can be applied to football agents.

A first decision worth mentioning is no. 4A_214/2014 of 15 December 2014. The case concerned a classic real estate intermediation where the agent agreed a commission from both the seller and the buyer involved in the transaction. The agent also failed to inform the seller of the existence of a better buying offer from a third potential buyer. In this context, after concluding the deal, the buyer refused to pay the agent, invoking Article 415 CO.

This case is important because it reveals the existence of two types of brokerage contracts under Swiss law (i.e. “courtage de negotiation” and the “courtage d’indication”). Whereas in a brokerage of negotiation the broker is entrusted by his client to negotiate the conditions of the transaction, in a brokerage of indication, the broker is simply called to indicate the possibility to conclude a transaction, with no negotiation duties involved. Furthermore, according to the doctrine cited in the decision, both types of contract are treated differently under Article 415 CO.

In casu, the Federal Tribunal qualified the contracts signed by the agent with the buyer and the seller as “courtage de negotiation” as he was entrusted with conducting all aspects related to the transaction. The agent was required to obtain the best possible conditions for his clients (e.g. the best buying and selling price respectively) and this circumstance directly generated an irremediable conflict of interest (i.e. the negotiation was either benefitting the financial interests of seller or the buyer) infringing the obligation of loyalty inherent to the brokerage contracts with the parties.

All in all, the Federal Tribunal rejected the appeal submitted by the real estate agent and confirmed the nullity of both contracts for violating Article 415 CO. The Federal Tribunal followed a strict interpretation of Article 415 CO according to which “no one can serve two masters” and thus, dual representation would only be possible (if so) in simple intermediations where no negotiation from the broker is required[12], in other words in “courtage d’indication”. In addition, in this case the agent also acted in bad faith for failing to disclose the existence of a more favorable offer to the detriment of the seller.

The main lesson that can be learnt from this decision is that Article 415 CO must be interpreted restrictively and that it has to be distinguished between those intermediation contracts that imply an active involvement of the agent (i.e. the agent is contractually required to negotiate the terms of a transaction for the player and/or the club) and those contracts of intermediation where the agent is called to simply indicate the possible opportunity for his client to conclude a deal with no other involvement in the transaction. In this last case, dual representation could be allowed for there would be no conflict of interests, and therefore, no infringement of the obligations under the brokerage contract. The specific contractual clauses are therefore crucial as they ultimately reveal the extent of the role assumed by the agent.

The second important decision by the SFT is more recent, no. 4A_529/2015 of 4 March 2016. The factual background of this dispute is extremely complex. In brief, the case revolved around the selling and buying of the shares of a company exploiting a luxurious Hotel located in Switzerland. The seller and the broker entered into a negotiation brokerage contract whereby the latter was entrusted to find a buyer of the company against the payment of remuneration. The principal had to agree with the final potential buyer. In the end, it was proved that the broker misled the principal about the true identity of the final buyer (to whom the principal expressly refused to sell), with whom the broker had also agreed remuneration. On the basis of these facts, the principal refused to pay the broker. 

The Federal Tribunal confirmed again that Article 415 CO is always interpreted strictly, and considered that by allowing the banned buyer to indirectly acquire the company, the broker acted in the interest of a third party against the obligation of loyalty. What is most significant about this decision is that the court delimitates very clearly the scope of the obligation of loyalty. It is described as a double-edged sword, implying on the one side: a positive obligation consisting of actively safeguarding and defending the interest of the principal; and on the other side: a negative obligation, consisting of abstaining from any conduct that could harm the interests of the client.  

In particular, the fact that the principal had not objected to a previous e-mail sent by the broker where he expressly indicated that the potential buyer was “C or any company indicated by it” was also irrelevant for the principal could not expect in ‘good faith’ that the buyer would make use of this substitution prerogative in favor of the real buyer. The arguments of the broker according to which it was not important for the principal to know who the buyer was and that he suffered no damage, were also dismissed.   

Finally, the argument of the broker according to which the remuneration to be received from the buyer was agreed after the transaction took place was also irrelevant in the eyes of the court.

With these cases in mind, when applying the holding of the SFT above to football agents' professional relationships, it follows that the scope of the obligation of loyalty will be significantly wider for football agents entrusted with negotiations than for agents simply tasked with identifying possible opportunities to close a deal.

Likewise, in order to determine the existence of a violation of the obligations assumed by the agent, it will not be enough to demonstrate that there has been no threat to the interests of the client or that the agent has not actively engaged in a conduct against those interests. Indeed, a simple passive conduct with the potential of jeopardizing the interests of the principal, such as failing to disclose relevant information, can be sufficient to violate the obligation of loyalty and deprive the agent from the right to be remunerated.

To this effect, the correct identification of the interest pursued by the client will ultimately determine the infringement by the agent of his obligations under the representation contract. In the end, the agent will only violate his obligation of loyalty as long as his behavior damages the interests of his client. These interests will vary depending on whether the principal is a football club or a player. If a club is trying to transfer or recruit a player, the interests will in most cases be of a financial nature. If instead, the principal is a football player terminating or signing a contract with a club, he might have non-economic interests (e.g. willing to play in a different championship, lack of integration of the family in the country etc.). Furthermore, the moment in which the remuneration is agreed is not relevant to establish the violation of the obligation of loyalty.


In conclusion, the contract of representation and its clauses in combination with the particular circumstances of each case will be fundamental to establish compliance with Article 415 CO when multiple representation takes place.   Football agents pretending to be remunerated by both contracting parties simultaneously without risking to violate their obligations must either enter into simple brokerage contracts with no negotiation attributions, or, when acting through a negotiation brokerage, always inform all parties in complete transparency. 

 



[1] See Article 19.8 FIFA PAR.

[2] “Definition of an intermediary

A natural or legal person who, for a fee or free of charge, represents players and/or clubs in negotiations with a view to concluding an employment contract or represents clubs in negotiations with a view to concluding a transfer agreement.” [Emphasis added]

[3] Only the FFF (France), the RFU (RUSSIA), the BFU (Bulgaria) the JFA (Japan) have explicitly adopted stricter rules prohibiting any conflict of interest. See Comparative Table of “The FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries Implementation at a national level” (Ed. Michele Colucci).

[4] E.g. Arbitrage TAS 2007/O/1310 Bruno Heiderscheid c. Franck Ribéry.

[5] See article R45 of the CAS Code (ed. 2017).

[6] Art. 415. III. Déchéance:

“Le courtier perd son droit au salaire et au remboursement de ses dépenses, s'il agit dans l'intérêt du tiers contractant au mépris de ses obligations, ou s'il se fait promettre par lui une rémunération dans des circonstances où les règles de la bonne foi s'y opposaient.”

https://www.admin.ch/opc/fr/classified-compilation/19110009/index.html

[7] See. Decision of the SFT 131 III 511 para. 3.2.2 of  http://relevancy.bger.ch/php/clir/http/index.php?highlight_docid=atf%3A%2F%2F131-III-511%3Ade&lang=de&type=show_document

[8] See para. 118.

[9] E.g. Decision of the Single Judge of the PSC of 12 January 2012:12. In view of the above, the Single Judge formed the view that, although the Claimant appears to have represented the Respondent and the player in the same transaction, the documentary evidence contained in the file clearly demonstrates that the Claimant could not have possibly been remunerated twice for his services. Consequently, and in accordance with the general principles of bona fide and pacta sunt servanda the Single Judge decided that the Respondent must fulfill the obligation it voluntarily entered into with the Claimant by means of the representation agreement concluded between the parties, and therefore, the Respondent must pay the Claimant for the services he rendered in connection with the transfer of the player to the Respondent.”

[10] See also para. 118.

[11] See i.c. article 20 para. 4 FIFA PAR (ed. 2008).

[12] See para. 1.1.3 of the SFT decision. An example of a courtage d’indication would be the brokerage of insurances, where the broker, acting for the policy-holder, is paid instead, by the insurance company.

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