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 EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

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.[1] 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[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – May 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

Challenged membership put a lot of emphasis on football federations in May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) has rendered an award, on 27 April 2016, ordering the FIFA Council to submit the application of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) for FIFA membership to the FIFA Congress (the body authorised to admit new members to FIFA). The GFA has sought since 1999 to become a member of UEFA and FIFA. In May 2013, it became a member of the UEFA and went on to seek membership of FIFA. More...

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.


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...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | A Reflection on the Second Report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board - 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 the Second Report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands and works as Research Officer for the Centre for Sports and Human Rights. 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 an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


On November 26th, the Human Rights Advisory Board[1] of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) published its second report. This blog provides a summary and brief evaluation of the report, by drawing a comparison to the previous report issued by the Human Rights Advisory Board (hereinafter: the Board) based on the content of the recommendations and FIFA’s efforts to implement the Board’s recommendations. The third part of this blog briefly reflects on the broader implications of some of the new recommendations issued for FIFA’s internal policies. The conclusion provides five more general points of observation on the report.

Old and New Recommendations

In its second report, the Board makes 30 ‘specific recommendations’ to FIFA, just slightly less than the previous one. However, not all of these recommendations are new to FIFA. A number of them have been released in the two update statements the Board released since the publication of its first report, one in May 2018 and one in October 2018. Two more sets of recommendations were communicated to FIFA in December 2017 and February 2018, which are as well included in this new report, but which have not been reported publicly before.

Content-wise, most of the recommendations still deal with the human rights risks associated with FIFA’s upcoming and past events. The recommendations made with regard to the human rights issues surrounding the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia have been issued in December 2017 and concern the general situation and human rights of construction workers, human rights defenders and media representatives, mostly recommending that FIFA should use its leverage to address these issues with the government or other relevant stakeholders, such as the Local Organizing Committee (LOC). Another December-recommendation concerned the sharing of measures taken by FIFA to investigate the involvement of Russia football players in the Russian doping scandal. Furthermore, the report includes the Board’s recommendations regarding the controversies surrounding the choice of accommodation of the Egyptian national team[2], which had been addressed in a set of recommendations initially issued in February 2018[AD1] . With regard to the human rights requirements for hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the report repeats the recommendation issued in May 2018, concerning FIFA’s task to take into account the capacity of bidders to assess and manage human rights risks when deciding for a host. On this issue, the report also introduces a new recommendation for FIFA to reflect on the inclusion of human rights into the bidding requirements. Furthermore, the report also includes ‘interim recommendations’ in relation to the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, and disclosed that a more detailed set of recommendations can be expected shortly.[3]

While these issues were already present in the first report, four new issues have been added in this second report by the Board:

  • player’s rights,
  • child safeguarding,
  • the ban on woman attending sport matches in Iran,
  • and FIFA’s approach to engagement and communication on human rights.[4]

With regard to player’s rights, the Board’s recommendations focus on access to remedy and FIFA’s evaluation of existing football arbitration mechanisms from a human rights perspective, the rules of the employment market for players and FIFA’s review of these rules, and on FIFA’s regulations on player’s rights which need to take the specific situation of children into account. Concerning child safeguarding, the Board recommends that FIFA’s safeguarding working group should conduct a comprehensive stakeholder consultation to identify the responsibilities of member associations concerning child players. Regarding the issue of discrimination against women in Iran, the Board recommends for FIFA to use its leverage on the Iranian Association and to issue sanctions if nothing is changing. Finally, on FIFA’s approach to engagement and communication on human rights issues, the Board recommends that FIFA establishes a systematic annual dialogue with key stakeholders, in addition to individual and event-specific stakeholder engagement and that it adopts a transparent approach on negative impacts connected to FIFA’s activities. Furthermore, the Board calls on FIFA to communicate this approach and share relevant information with confederations and member associations.

What also changed in the second report is that the Board does not issue requests to FIFA anymore. All measures proposed are formulated as recommendations. However, it is questionable to what extent the requests entailed in the first report really made a difference, since the majority of these requests were merely inquiries for more information or clarifications on certain issues.[5] Such requests about additional information or more transparency on certain issues are now included in the recommendations, such as in recommendation R42, asking FIFA to “be as transparent as possible” and to “proactively publish the steps it has taken”.[6] 

The New Tracking System

The second report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board is not only longer in terms of page numbers  but it also provides more detailed insights into human rights-related efforts FIFA undertook in the past year and continues to undertake, based on the recommendations it received. While in the first report, ‘part B’ consisted of a general overview of FIFA’s human rights efforts up to that point in time, ‘part B’ in the new report lists concrete measures taken by FIFA in reaction to the recommendations issued by the Board in its first report and other recommendations statements made in the past year. To assess these measures, the second report introduces a tracking system, which ranks the status of FIFA’s implementation of the Board’s recommendations from 1 to 4, moving from no implementation (1), to ongoing implementation (2), to advanced implementation (3), and to full or “closed out” implementation (4).[7]

There is only one recommendation for which implementation has not yet started (category 1) according to the Board. This concerns the promotion of a policy with host countries of direct employment of construction workers to prevent the strong reliance on subcontractors, which involves greater risks for workers and migrant workers in particular.[8] Ongoing implementation (category 2) has been observed in relation to the embedding of human rights throughout the FIFA organisation, including relevant committees and key staff, as well as its member associations, the testing of the method of risk identification with informed stakeholders to confirm or challenge findings, and the joint inspections together with LOCs. Furthermore, the Board assessed that implementation is ongoing for three other recommendations: first, FIFA’s considerations on how it can make the most efficient use of its leverage when it comes to the issue of security arrangements linked to hosting a FIFA event; secondly, the publishing of information on the design, operation, and the results of the monitoring of construction sites; and thirdly, making prompt and factual statements to show awareness and knowledge about critical human rights issues when they arise. The Board found that FIFA made considerable advancement (category 3) in developing a system for risk identification,  such as monitoring systems or the detailed human rights salience analysis that is part of the Sustainability Strategy and policy of the 2022 World Cup, as well as in identifying risks to fundamental civil and political rights and communicating its expectation to respect these rights with host governments.

The adoption of a human rights policy has been assessed as fully implemented (category 4). The same evaluation has been made in relation to the recommendations for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, as well as for the bidding processes and the 2026 FIFA World Cup. However, even though the implementation efforts concerning these issues have been evaluated under the same category, taking a closer look reveals that the actual status of implementation is not the same. This is because category 4 combines two criteria, which in fact reflect very different results. ‘Full implementation’ does not necessarily reflect the same situation as ‘closed out implementation’. In other words, a reason for an implementation to end (‘close out’) is not necessarily linked to the fact that the recommended measure has been implemented in its entirety. In fact, full implementation of a certain measure can produce a completely different scenario than abandoning a certain recommendation or measure.

This can be illustrated by taking a closer look at the implementation of measures recommended to FIFA concerning the handling of human rights issues related to the 2018 World Cup. Most of them have been assessed as fully implemented or closed out, and so have the measures taken in relation to the 2022 World Cup. In reality, however, the 2018 World Cup lies in the past and the majority of measures taken in that context were discontinued before they could fully be implemented. For example, the recommendation on offering the Egyptian team an alternative location, including the financial support needed, has been evaluated as ‘closed out’, even though the Egyptian team in the end decided to stick with Grozny. The same can be said about the recommendation that FIFA should raise with the LOC that timely compensation is provided in case a worker on the World Cup construction sites got injured. Even though FIFA states that they did not have access to any financial records that would allow a verification of cash flows, the recommendation has been evaluated as “implemented/closed out”.[9] Due to this combination of two criteria under category 4, simply taking a look at the tabular overview provided at the end of the report[10] can create a distorted picture of the actual implementation status of the Board’s recommendations. Instead, a more careful look at FIFA’s actual efforts on certain issues is necessary to fully understand whether FIFA was indeed successful in implementing a certain recommendation, or whether it just dropped the implementation, for instance because it was linked to a certain event that is over now. 

The Implications for FIFA’s Internal Policies

Some of the recommendations included in the report relate to how FIFA embeds its human rights commitments internally and within its member associations. For instance, according to the Board FIFA should discuss with the Board the reasons for the decision of the Ethics Committee to not publish a detailed explanation of how it reached a decision in a case, and that it should review its operations in that regard.[11] In addition, it recommends FIFA to be explicit with its member associations on what it expects and in what timeframe it expects them to align with FIFA’s human rights responsibilities. The Board also implies that anticipated sanctions should be included in FIFA Statutes, the Disciplinary Code and the Ethics Code.[12]

Furthermore, the update statement by FIFA in this second report reveals that a number of measures were taken in relation to embedding human rights in its organization, based on previous recommendations made by the Board.  For instance, FIFA Council and Committee members have to follow an e-learning course, which includes a human rights module, and a human rights working group has been established within FIFA’s Governance Committee. However, implementation on those matters is ongoing and it becomes clear that this so far has not been the focus of FIFA’s human rights-related efforts and more could be done in that regard.[13] The context and overview FIFA provides on embedding the respect for human rights is rather vague and the measures taken so far do not reach the entire FIFA organization.[14]


A number of general observations can be made based on this summary and comparison. First, most recommendations and action taken by FIFA seem to concentrate on FIFA’s commitment to identify and address human rights risks, which actually was already the case in the first report. Secondly, while FIFA’s events still seem to be a priority, the Board focused also on new issues. Yet, perhaps not enough attention is dedicated to changing FIFA’s international structures and culture into a well-established acceptance and reflection of FIFA’s human rights responsibilities. Furthermore, the report provides valuable and detailed insight into the progress made and how it is made, for instance in relation to FIFA’s leverage over Qatar’s Supreme Committee and the Qatari government to change certain regulations, the human rights defender cases in which FIFA intervened, or the external partners FIFA worked with to address certain human rights risks.[15] Finally, it is a comprehensive report, reflecting the Board’s understanding towards FIFA’s burden of having to address issues of “the past, present and future all at once”, and the fact that “FIFA has to deal with the legacy of decisions taken and contracts signed before the organisation recognized its human rights responsibilities”.[16] This also shows that FIFA takes the Board seriously and in many ways follows the Board’s recommendations.

In general, the fact that FIFA has an active Human Rights Advisory Board in place for more than a year now and renewed its mandate until the end of 2020 should be applauded.[17] Just this month, the International Olympic Committee announced that it is also setting up a Human Rights Advisory Committee, which is supposed to be fully operational by the 2024 Olympic Games, unfortunately not in time for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

[1] The members of the board are listed in the annex of the first report.

[2] Egypt’s national team chose Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, as its training camp during the World Cup 2018. FIFA authorized this choice, despite the fact that the region’s human rights record is dominated by cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances and the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, is known for his repression of journalists, critics, minority groups, and human rights defenders.  

[3] See p.19 of the second report

[4] Ibid., p 20

[5] See p. 5, 7, or 11 of the first report

[6] See p. 15 of the second report

[7] See p. 5 of the second report

[8] See p. 60 of the second report

[9] See p. 48 of the second report

[10] Ibid. p. 80 ff.

[11] Ibid. p. 27

[12] Ibid. p. 25

[13] Ibid. p. 34 f.

[14] Ibid. p. 33 & 35

[15] Ibid. pp. 17-18, 67, & 69

[16] Ibid. p. 28

[17] Ibid. p. 79

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