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

Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

Forget the European Championship currently held in France or the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. Doping scandals are making the headlines more than ever in 2016. From tennis star Sharapova receiving a two-year ban for her use of the controversial ‘meldonium’, to the seemingly never-ending doping scandals in athletics. As if this was not enough, a new chapter was added on 14 June to one of the most infamous and obscure doping sagas in history: the Operación Puerto.

The special criminal appeal chamber,  the Audiencia Provincial, has held that the more than 200 blood bags of professional athletes that have been at the center of the investigations since 2006 can be delivered to the relevant sporting authorities, such as the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD), WADA, the UCI and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In other words, there is now a good chance that the identities of the involved athletes might eventually be revealed.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/cycling/9834122/Operation-Puerto-doctor-Eufemiano-Fuentes-treated-tennis-players-athletes-footballers-and-a-boxer.html

This case note will analyze the court’s ruling and summarize its most important findings. Given the amount of time passed since the scandal first came to light (2004), the blog will commence with a short background summary of the relevant facts. More...

FIBA/Euroleague: Basketball’s EU Competition Law Champions League- first leg in the Landgericht München. By Marine Montejo

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 case. More...

The Müller case: Revisiting the compatibility of fixed term contracts in football with EU Law. By Kester Mekenkamp

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.[1] 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.[2] In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.[3] Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like implications, if held up by higher courts.[4] More...

The BGH’s Pechstein Decision: A Surrealist Ruling



The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Highest Civil Court in Germany, in the Pechstein case was eagerly awaited. At the hearing in March, the Court decided it would pronounce itself on 7 June, and so it did. Let’s cut things short: it is a striking victory for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and a bitter (provisory?) ending for Claudia Pechstein. The BGH’s press release is abundantly clear that the German judges endorsed the CAS uncritically on the two main legal questions: validity of forced CAS arbitration and the independence of the CAS. The CAS and ISU are surely right to rejoice and celebrate the ruling in their respective press releases that quickly ensued (here and here). At first glance, this ruling will be comforting the CAS’ jurisdiction for years to come. Claudia Pechstein’s dire financial fate - she faces up to 300 000€ in legal fees – will serve as a powerful repellent for any athlete willing to challenge the CAS.More...



The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary revisited? (Part 2)

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, inter alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission to act and, if so, in what way. More...

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)

The tax 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.[1] 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.[2]

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 concludes that:

“(T)he sports 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.”[3]

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...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2016. By Marine Montejo

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.  


The Headlines

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...


The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

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.

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? More...

Guest Blog - Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): Legal Issues by Laura Donnellan

Editor's note: Laura Donnellan is a lecturer at University of Limerick. You can find her latest publications here.


Introduction

On Tuesday the 12th of April, João Carvalho passed away in the Beaumont Hospital after sustaining serious injuries from a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Dublin on the previous Saturday. The fighter was knocked out in the third round of a welterweight fight against Charlie Ward. Aside from the tragic loss of life, the death of Carvalho raises a number of interesting legal issues. This opinion piece will discuss the possible civil and criminal liability that may result from the untimely death of the Portuguese fighter.

It is important to note at the outset that MMA has few rules and permits wrestling holds, punching, marital arts throws and kicking. MMA appears to have little regulation and a lack of universally accepted, standardised rules. There is no international federation or governing body that regulates MMA. It is largely self-regulated. MMA is not recognised under the sports and governing bodies listed by Sport Ireland, the statutory body established by the Sport Ireland Act 2015 which replaced the Irish Sports Council. MMA is considered a properly constituted sport so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, there are appropriate safety procedures, the rules are enforced by independent referees, and it appropriately administered.

The Acting Minister for Sport, Michael Ring, has called for the regulation of MMA. Currently there are no minimum requirements when it comes to medical personnel; nor are there any particular requirements as to training of medical personnel. The promoter decides how many doctors and paramedics are to be stationed at events. In February 2014 Minister Ring wrote to 17 MMA promoters in Ireland requesting that they implement safety precautions in line with those used by other sports including boxing and rugby.

Despite this lack of regulation, this does not exempt MMA from legal liability as the discussion below demonstrates.More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | A Reflection on Recent Human Rights Efforts of National Football Associations - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

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

A Reflection on Recent Human Rights Efforts of National Football Associations - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

Editor's Note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD researcher at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She published a number of articles on mega-sporting events and human rights, in the International Sports Law Journal, Tilburg Law Review, and the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights.

 

In the past couple of years, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) made remarkable steps towards embedding human rights into their practices and policies. These developments have been discussed at length and in detail in this blog and elsewhere, but a short overview at this point is necessary to set the scene. Arguably, most changes were sparked by John Ruggie’s report from 2016, in which he articulated a set of concrete recommendations for FIFA “on what it means for FIFA to embed respect for human rights across its global operations”, using the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as authoritative standard.[i] As a result, in May 2017, FIFA published a human rights policy, in which it commits to respecting human rights in accordance with the UNGPs, identifies its salient human rights risks, and acknowledges the potential adverse impacts it can have on human rights in general and human rights of people belonging to specific groups. In October 2017, it adopted new bidding regulations requiring bidders to develop a human rights strategy and conduct an independent human rights risk assessment as part of their bid. In March 2017, FIFA also created a Human Rights Advisory Board, which regularly evaluated FIFA’s human rights progress and made recommendations on how FIFA should address human rights issues linked to its activities. The mandate of the Advisory Board expired at the end of last year and the future of this body is unknown at this point.

While some of these steps can be directly connected to the recommendations in the Ruggie report, other recommendations have largely been ignored. One example of the latter and focus of this blog post is the issue of embedding human rights at the level of national football associations. It outlines recent steps taken by the German football association “Deutscher Fussball-Bund” (DFB) and the Dutch football association “Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond” (KNVB) in relation to human rights, and explores to what extent these steps can be regarded as proactive moves by those associations or rather spillover effects from FIFA’s human rights efforts.

The DFB

Since 2017, DFB runs a working group on the association’s human rights concept. This was triggered by DFB’s application to host the EURO 2024 and the social programs around the 2018 World Cup. In particular, the required human rights strategy for the EURO 2024 application led DFB to adopt a statutory commitment to human rights in 2019. Paragraph 2 of DFB’s Statutes read as follows:

“The DFB takes responsibility for respecting all internationally-recognized human rights and promotes the respect for these rights. It strictly opposes unconstitutional behaviour as well as any form of discriminatory or inhuman attitudes and behaviours. This applies to every form of violence, irrespective of it being of physical or mental nature. The DFB commits in particular to the protection of children and youth from sexual abuse”.[ii]

The human rights strategy for the 2024 tournament has been developed through engaging a variety of stakeholders, including the German Human Rights Institute, the German Olympic Committee and a range of civil society organizations representing the rights of children or fans amongst others. According to the DFB and some of these stakeholders, the strategy builds on and streamlines existing initiatives regarding corporate social responsibility and youth work. The DFB claims that human rights have been part of the DFB’s national and international activities for years, although not framed within recognized human rights standards. Since 2010, its Ethics Code enshrines values such as respect, diversity, integrity, transparency and solidarity in football. Moreover, it promotes projects on participation, integration, fair play, diverse fan cultures, and the prevention of violence and promotion of equality both at grass-roots and elite level sports. This certainly provides a good vantage point for DFB’s human rights efforts. Currently, the DFB is finalizing its human rights policy, and in the meantime, a number of smaller initiative were taken, such as the organization of hearings on the issue of political statements of players in 2020.

The KNVB

Last month, the KNVB announced its support for the adoption of a sport and human rights covenant, similar to the existing agreements on international responsible business conduct. In its announcement, it acknowledges the unique position of sports to promote human rights and highlights the need to use this power also in the context of international tournaments. According to the KNVB, such a covenant would advance collaboration with governments in host countries and help to address issues, promote dialogue and investigation, facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information, and create a level-playing field. Moreover, the KNVB claims that it can help to foster sustainable positive change regarding the human rights situation in host countries and provide players and associations with a responsible manner to participate in international tournaments.

KNVB’s call for a covenant has not been without criticism. Amnesty Netherlands explicitly voiced their concerns regarding the initiative on twitter, welcoming the efforts of KNVB to look at the human rights situation in Qatar in more detail, but opposing the creation of a covenant, for the reason that it would not provide any remedy to migrant workers in Qatar. The hazardous and inhuman working conditions on World Cup-related construction sites have been documented extensively, including in a recent study conducted by Amnesty Netherlands. These reports show that despite legislative changes to Qatar’s labour law, changes on the ground are lacking and additional human rights issues related to the 2022 World Cup, such as the protection of LGBTQI fans remain largely unaddressed. While the KNVB published its point of views on a World Cup in Qatar together with a list of initiatives regarding the tournament, these points and measures are rather broad and do not explicitly address existing human rights risks. An exception is an event planned for this year on human rights and sport events hosted together with the Dutch House of Representatives.

In addition to KNVB’s recent decision to adopt a sport and human rights covenant, a number of existing KNVB initiatives are worth highlighting from a human rights perspective. For instance, the KNVB was one of the football associations pushing FIFA to integrate human rights requirements into bidding regulations for international tournaments. Other examples relate more to the day-to-day business of football, rather than events, such as KNVB’s efforts on promoting diversity and countering racism and other forms of discrimination within the world of Dutch football. While these efforts are clearly linked to human rights standards, they are not framed in a human rights language, nor streamlined under a commitment to human rights.

FIFA’s ‘trickle down effect’ or civil society pressure?

On a global scale, the DFB and KNVB might be the pioneers of national football associations starting concrete efforts to embed human rights into their policies and practices. Clearly, the DFB is a couple of steps ahead of the KNVB, but both associations are committed to in particular addressing human rights issues in host countries of football tournaments. Furthermore, both draw inspiration from the broader business and human rights movement and explicitly reference the respective National Action Plans on business and human rights, which are policy documents adopted by the governments to implement the UNGPs. However, it becomes clear that through focusing on human rights risks related to host countries of international tournaments, the KNVB only reacts to a fraction of the actual human rights risks involved in the world of football.

Nevertheless, both associations are making a start and in order to find ways for encouraging other national football associations to follow suit, it is essential to understand what triggered these recent initiatives and changes. Arguably, there are two possible explanations. The first is that FIFA’s human rights efforts begin to have a trickle down-effect. The need for this has been stressed by Ruggie in his 2016 report. He recommends FIFA to adopt a human rights policy that applies to its relationships with its member associations (Recommendation 1.1) and advises FIFA to use its annual member associations’ conferences to raise awareness on human rights responsibilities of national football associations (Recommendation 4.5). Moreover, he recommends that “FIFA should ensure that the human rights commitment in Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes is mirrored in the requirements of the Standard Statutes for member associations, and is also extended to the requirements for confederations’ statutes at the earliest opportunity” (Recommendation 1.3). While FIFA has not yet adapted the Standard Statutes for member associations, DFB nevertheless decided to mirror FIFA’s statutory human rights commitment in its own Statutes. In fact, when presenting its human rights efforts on its website, the DFB explicitly refers to FIFA’s human rights policy and human rights-related regulations of UEFA.

The second explanation concerns the increasing pressure from civil society in both countries, due to the 2022 World Cup coming closer, but also due to the rise of reports on cases of abuse in the world of football in the past years. In particular the cases of mental, physical, and sexual abuse of female football players on the national team of Afghanistan & Haiti made international headlines, as well as the recent revelations of cases of sexual abuse of young football players in clubs in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. While these types of abuses where not explicitly addressed in Ruggie’s report, it does identify gender discrimination as “endemic human rights challenge” for the world of association football.[iii] Pressure on national football associations arguably also increased through national and regional regulation. Both associations seem to acknowledge the parallels to the broader business and human rights movement, which currently sees a trend of mandatory due diligence laws on national and regional levels. The fact that football is big business, both on a day-to-day basis and when big tournaments are happening is uncontested. Therefore, there is no doubt that the UNGPs’ corporate responsibility to respect human rights applies to national football associations and that the UNGPs provide a good starting point and framework for national football associations to understand and implement their human rights responsibilities.

Conclusion

Obviously, these two explanations are not mutually exclusive and FIFA’s human rights journey plays an important role in the efforts taken by the DFB and the KNVB. Moreover, the importance of Ruggie’s report in 2016 cannot be underestimated. Nevertheless, it seems like some of these recent human rights efforts by national football associations are rather reactive than proactive, following FIFA’s lead and the pressure by civil society on the world of sports more generally. As long as the result would be the same, it should not matter much. That, however, is questionable when it comes to sport and human rights. Reacting to specific issues when they arise can result in a piece-meal approach that might not only be more labour intensive but more importantly is likely to overlook a range of human rights risks related to the world of football and sports more generally. Therefore, a comprehensive approach is key to understanding the human rights risks involved and identifying ways to address these risks.[iv]

The hope is that DFB’s and KNVB’s efforts will develop further and eventually ensure that human rights are fully embedded and respected in the world of (national) football. Very concretely, these efforts can have great potential for the joint bid of these two countries together with Belgium for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, which provides a good opportunity for knowledge exchange between those associations on their human rights efforts.


[i] John G Ruggie, ‘“For the Game. For the World.” - FIFA and Human Rights’ (2016) 4

[ii] Translated by the author. See original source here.

[iii] John G Ruggie, ‘“For the Game. For the World.” - FIFA and Human Rights’ (2016) 24

[iv] Sally Engle Merry, The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking (The University of Chicago Press 2016) 46; Daniela Heerdt & Nadia Bernaz, Football and Women’s Rights: the Case for Indicators for FIFA’s Feminist Transformation (2020) 34, Jean Monnet Working Paper 5/20.

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