The European Commission’s decisions of 4 July 2016 to order the recovery of the State aid granted to seven
Spanish professional football clubs
were in a previous blog called historic. It was
the first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid
received from (local) public authorities. Less attention has been given to five
other decisions also made public that day, which cleared support measures for five football clubs in the Netherlands. The clubs in question were PSV Eindhoven, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen,
FC Den Bosch and Willem II.
Given the inherent political sensitivity of State aid recovery
decisions, it is logical that the “Spanish decisions” were covered more widely
than the “Dutch decisions”. Furthermore, clubs like Real Madrid and FC
Barcelona automatically get more media attention than FC Den Bosch or Willem
II. Yet, even though the “Dutch decisions” are of a lower profile, from an EU
State aid law perspective, they are not necessarily less interesting.
A few days before entering the quiet month of August, the Commission
published the non-confidential versions of its decisions concerning PSV Eindhoven, Willem II and MVV Maastricht (hereinafter:
“MVV”). The swiftness of these publications is somewhat surprising, since it often
takes at least three months to solve all the confidentiality issues.
Nonetheless, nobody will complain (especially not me) about this opportunity to
analyze in depth these new decisions. More...
Editor’s note: This
report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and
European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the
comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents
and articles we have overlooked.
The McLaren Report on Russia’s State Doping System
It is difficult not to start this monthly
report without referring to the never-ending Russian doping investigation that
is shaking the sporting world. On 18 July, the independent investigation on
Sochi 2014 winter Olympics led by Prof. McLaren, a Canadian law professor, and requested
by the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), released its report. It confirmed
evidence of widespread, State-sponsored doping in Russian sports and called for
a full ban on the country from the next Rio Olympics. In response to the report,
the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) vowed to take the “toughest sanctions available”. However, and despite the race against time in the
run-up to Rio 2016, the IOC delayed its decision for several days amid a WADA statement and several press articles
calling for a ban of Russia from Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, it did open an investigation
against Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, the head official who allegedly supervised the overall doping cover up and explored all possible
legal actions against Russia. On 21 July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) rejected the
appeal of the Russian Olympic Committee and 68
Russian athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations
(“IAAF”) decisions to suspend All Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) from IAAF
membership given the evidence of a state-sponsored doping system. As a
consequence, Russian track and field athletes were also banned from Rio 2016
Olympics. With the IAAF
welcoming this decision, one could think that nothing was standing in the way
of a full Olympic ban for all Russian athletes. While some Russian athletes announced
that they would appeal the CAS award to the Swiss Federal Court. Yelena
Isinbayeva, the banned pole vault champion, even took it a step further by
claiming that she would challenge the IAAF decision as far as the European Court of
Human Rights. Yet, it is very improbable that any of
these challenges be decided in time for the Rio Games.More...
Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of
Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports
Part 2. EU competition law and sports funding
The first analysed impact of Brexit on
sport was the one regarding EU internal market rules and free movement.
However, all sport areas that are of interest to the European Union will be
impacted by the result of the future Brexit negotiations. This second part of
the blog will focus on EU competition law and the media sector as well as
direct funding opportunities keeping in mind that if the UK reaches for an EEA
type agreement competition law and state aid rules will remain applicable as
much as the funding programs. More...
Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of
Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports
The result of the Brexit referendum on 23
June 2016 took the European Union (almost) by surprise. A lot has been said and
written about the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. As in all other
areas, the British sport sector will also face the effects of the modification
of the relationship between the EU and its (probable) former Member State, the
UK. It is nearly impossible to foresee all consequences as the UK has not even
triggered article 50 TFEU yet to officially start the exit negotiations.
However, as the UK position toward the EU will change in any case, this two-part
blog aims to examine the main practical implications of such an exit for the
UK, but also for the EU, in relation to the actual application of EU law in
sport and the EU sport policy.
Unless stated otherwise, the use of the
terms Brexit in this blog should be understood as a complete exit of the UK
from the European Union. This blog focus in particular on this worst case
scenario and its consequences for UK sport. However, it is highly improbable
that the future Brexit negotiations with the EU will end up without some kind
of special agreement between the two parties the first of which being an EEA
type of agreement with full access to the internal market and applicability of
The first part of this blog will examined
the consequences for UK sport in terms of access to the EU internal market and
the applicability of free movement principles. The second part is focused on specific
impacts with regard of others domain of EU law for professional and grassroots
UK sport. More...
It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here!
On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal
investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows:
no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den
Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted
to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic
Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3).
The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic.
The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European
Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time
that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from
(local) public authorities.
In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave
and Koch ruling of 1974, where
the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football,
is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as
regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were
equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first
ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC
Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog
post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions,
their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.
Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.
On 3 June 2016, the Landgericht München (“Munich
Regional Court”) ordered temporary injunctions against the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”)
and FIBA Europe, prohibiting them from sanctioning clubs who want to
participate in competitions organized by Euroleague Commercial Assets (“ECA”).
The reasoning of the Court is based on breaches of German and EU competition
law provisions. FIBA and FIBA Europe are, according to the judge, abusing their
dominant position by excluding or threatening to exclude national teams from
their international competitions because of the participation of their clubs in
the Euroleague. This decision is the first judicial step taken in the ongoing
legal battle between FIBA and ECA over the organization of European basketball competitions.
This judgment raises several interesting points with
regard to how the national judge deals with the alleged abuse of a dominant
position by European and international federations. A few questions arise
regarding the competence of the Munich Regional Court that may be interesting
to first look at in the wake of an appeal before examining the substance of the
Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.
On 17 February 2016,
the Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz
delivered its highly anticipated decision in the appeal
proceedings between German goalkeeper Heinz Müller and his former employer,
German Bundesliga club Mainz 05.
The main legal debate revolved around the question (in general terms) whether
the use of a fixed term contract in professional football is compatible with
German and EU law.
In first instance (see
our earlier blog posts, here and here), the Arbeitsgericht Mainz had ruled that the
‘objective reasons’ provided in Section 14 (1) of the German
Part-time and Fixed-term Employment Act (Gesetz über Teilzeitarbeit und befristete
Arbeitsverträge, “TzBfG”), the national law implementing EU
Directive 1999/70/EC on fixed-term work, were not applicable
to the contract between Müller and Mainz 05 and therefore could not justify the
definite nature of that contract.
In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason
relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.
Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like
implications, if held up by higher courts.
On 18 May 2016, the day the first part
of this blog was published, the Commission said in response
to the Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller’s question, that it
had “not specifically monitored the tax relief (…) but would consider doing so.
The Commission cannot prejudge the steps that it might take following such
monitoring. However, the Commission thanks (Niedermüller) for drawing its
attention to the report of Transparency International.”
With the actual implementation in Hungary appearing to
deviate from the original objectives and conditions of the aid scheme, as discussed
in part 1 of this blog, a possible monitoring exercise by the Commission of the
Hungarian tax benefit scheme seems appropriate. The question remains, however,
whether the Commission follows up on the intent of monitoring, or whether the
intent should be regarded as empty words. This second part of the blog will outline
the rules on reviewing and monitoring (existing) aid, both substantively and
procedurally. It will determine,
alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission
to act and, if so, in what way. More...
benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 9 November 2011 marked a turning point as
regards the Commission’s decisional practice in the field of State aid and
sport. Between this date and early 2014, the Commission reached a total of ten decisions
on State aid to sport infrastructure and opened four formal investigations into
alleged State aid to professional football clubs like Real Madrid
and Valencia CF.
As a result of the experience gained from the decision making, it was decided
to include a Section on State aid to sport infrastructure in the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation. Moreover, many people, including myself, held that
Commission scrutiny in this sector would serve to achieve better accountability
and transparency in sport governance.
Yet, a recent report by
Transparency International (TI), published in October 2015, raises questions about the efficiency of State aid enforcement in
the sport sector. The report analyzes the results and effects of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme and
financing system suffers from transparency issues and corruption risks. (…) The
lack of transparency poses a serious risk of collusion between politics and
business which leads to opaque lobbying. This might be a reason for the
disproportionateness found in the distribution of the subsidies, which is most
apparent in the case of (football) and (the football club) Felcsút.”
In other words, according to TI, selective economic
advantages from public resources are being granted to professional football
clubs, irrespective of the tax benefit scheme greenlighted by the Commission
or, in fact, because of the tax
benefit scheme. More...
Editor’s note: This report
compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European
Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited
to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links
to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.
This month saw the conflict between FIBA Europe
and the Euroleague (more precisely its private club-supported organizing body,
Euroleague Commercial Assets or ‘ECA’) becoming further entrenched. This
dispute commenced with FIBA creating a rival Basketball Champions League, starting from the 2016-2017 season with the hope to reinstate their
hold over the organization of European championships. The ECA, a private body
that oversees the Euroleague and Eurocup, not only decided to maintain its
competitions but also announced it would reduce them to a closed, franchise-based league following a
joint-venture with IMG. In retaliation, FIBA Europe suspended fourteen
federations of its competition (with the support of FIBA) due to their support for the Euroleague project.More...