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 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...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: TPO and Spanish football, friends with(out) benefits?

Update: On 14 April footballleaks released a series of documents concerning Sporting de Gijón. Therefore, I have updated this blog on 19 April to take into account the new information provided.  

Doyen Sports’ TPO (or TPI) model has been touted as a “viable alternative source of finance much needed by the large majority of football clubs in Europe". These are the words of Doyen’s CEO, Nélio Lucas, during a debate on (the prohibition of) TPO held at the European Parliament in Brussels last January. During that same debate, La Liga’s president, Javier Tebas, contended that professional football clubs, as private undertakings, should have the right to obtain funding by private investors to, among other reasons, “pay off the club’s debts or to compete better”. Indeed, defendants of the TPO model continuously argue that third party investors, such as Doyen, only have the clubs’ best interests in mind, being the only ones capable and willing to prevent professional football clubs from going bankrupt. This claim constitutes an important argument for the defendants of the TPO model, such as La Liga and La Liga Portuguesa, who have jointly submitted a complaint in front of the European Commission against FIFA’s ban of the practice.[1]

The eruption of footballleaks provided the essential material necessary to test this claim. It allows us to better analyse and understand the functioning of third party investment and the consequences for clubs who use these services. The leaked contracts between Doyen and, for example, FC Twente, showed that the club’s short term financial boost came at the expense of its long-term financial stability. If a club is incapable of transferring players for at least the minimum price set in Doyen’s contracts, it will find itself in a financially more precarious situation than before signing the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA). TPO might have made FC Twente more competitive in the short run, in the long run it pushed the club (very) close to bankruptcy.

More than four months after its launch, footballleaks continues to publish documents from the football world, most notably Doyen’s ERPAs involving Spanish clubs.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March 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. 

Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.


The Headlines

The Belgian Court of Appeal released its judgment this month regarding Doyen’s legal battle against the FIFA TPO ban. The Appeal Court confirmed the first instance decision and ruled out any provisional measures to block the ban’s implementation (for an in depth review, see our blog post). More importantly, the Court reaffirmed that Swiss based sport federations are liable in front of EU Members’ States courts when EU competition law is involved. That means the next important step for this legal battle is whether or not the European Commission is going to open a formal proceeding (Doyen already lodged a complaint) to assess the compatibility, and more importantly, the proportionality of the TPO ban with EU law. Only a preliminary ruling by the CJEU could hasten the decision if one of the European national courts, hearing a case brought by Doyen (France or Belgium), decided to refer a preliminary question.More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | ASSER Exclusive! Interview with Charles “Chuck” Blazer by Piotr Drabik

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

ASSER Exclusive! Interview with Charles “Chuck” Blazer by Piotr Drabik

Editor’s note: Chuck Blazer declined our official interview request but thanks to some trusted sources (the FIFA indictment and Chuck’s testimony) we have reconstructed his likely answers. This is a fictional interview. Any resemblance with real facts is purely coincidental.



Mr Blazer, thank you for agreeing to this interview, especially considering the circumstances. How are you doing?

I am facing ten charges concerning, among others, conspiracy to corrupt and money laundering. But apart from that, I am doing great (laughs)!

 

It is good to know that you have not lost your spirit. And since you’ve been involved in football, or as you call it soccer, for years could you please first tell us what was your career at FIFA and its affiliates like?

Let me see… Starting from the 1990s I was employed by and associated with FIFA and one of its constituent confederations, namely the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). At various times, I also served as a member of several FIFA standing committees, including the marketing and television committee. As CONCACAF’s general secretary, a position I proudly held for 21 years, I was responsible, among many other things, for negotiations concerning media and sponsorship rights. From 1997 to 2013 I also served at FIFA’s executive committee where I participated in the selection process of the host countries for the World Cup tournaments. Those years at the helm of world soccer were truly amazing years of travel and hard work mainly for the good of the beautiful game. I might add that I even managed to document some of my voyages on my blog. I initially called it “Travels with Chuck Blazer” but Vladimir (Putin) convinced me to change the name to “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends”. You should check it out.

 

Sure, but you ended up facing corruption and tax fraud charges in the US. What happened?

Concerning the charges I am currently facing, I pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to corrupt FIFA and its related constituent organizations through various bribery schemes. In addition, I acknowledged taking part in money laundering process, violation of certain financial reporting laws, and tax evasion. But please keep it quiet. My family was devastated when they heard about this. After all, they know me as a kind-hearted and giving type, especially if you consider that, given my appearance, I’m always Santa Claus when Christmas time is around.

Concretely, around 1992 and together with other representatives of the soccer world, I agreed to accept a bribe in connection with the selection of the host nation of the 1998 World Cup. Together with other FIFA executive committee members I also accepted illegal payments concerning the selection of South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host. Simultaneously, since approximately 1993, still with the same bunch of soccer executives, I accepted bribes connected to the award of broadcasting and other rights to the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 Gold Cup, a tournament analogue to the Copa América, featuring member associations of CONCACAF.

I know it’s wrong. But at FIFA a lot of people were doing it and it was just a common practice at that time. Money was flowing in my bank accounts and it felt right. We were working so hard to organize those tournaments, you know.

 

How come the US authorities’ ended up investigating you and FIFA?

I am not completely sure. When I testified back in 2013 the judge indicated that FIFA and its attendant or related constituent organizations were identified as a RICO enterprise, that is, a Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization if I remember correctly. I was terrified, it sounded very intimidating at first. Now I guess I got used to the sound of it. I am even thinking about calling my next cat Rico (laughs). I also recall that the Department of Justice’s involvement in the case was due to the fact that we used the US financial system to funnel the money. In hindsight, it was a very bad idea.

 

Could you give us some more details on how the corruption mechanism actually worked in practice?

In general terms there were media and marketing rights to be sold. Those rights, and often their extensions, were awarded in exchange for bribes, sometimes via intermediaries. The sports marketing companies engaged in the schemes were then able not only to profit from the acquired rights themselves, but also to accept illegal payments for passing on some of those rights to sponsors.

(Long pause) Take for instance Copa Libertadores. The tournament developed and gained popularity which sparked sports marketing companies’ interest in acquiring marketing rights to the competition. Around 2000 an entity affiliated with one of the sports marketing companies was awarded sponsorship rights for the tournaments which took place between 2001 and 2007, with a subsequent renewal of the contract in 2007 and 2012. In the early 2000s Nicolás Leoz, acting as the president of Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) and a member of its executive committee, sold his support to award the rights to a specific company. What is more, not only did he receive the money, he also gave instructions to forward approximately $2 million to his personal bank accounts, a sum which was owed to CONMEBOL itself based on the awarded sponsorship rights’ contract. The Copa Libertadores was only one of the many affected soccer competitions.

 

And what were the other tournaments affected?

I am American so please excuse my accent, but besides Copa Libertadores, also Copa América, Copa do Brasil, Gold Cup, and the World Cup qualifiers games. I might also add that corruption affected at least the FIFA 2011 presidential elections, the voting process concerning the hosts of the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, and Brazil’s national team’s sponsorship.

 

Who would you identify as the main players in the corruption schemes?

Except myself you mean (laughs)? Well, definitely a number of FIFA officials that you hear a lot about in the news lately. I can easily mention a few of my colleagues, like Rafael Esquivel who served as the president of the Venezuelan soccer association and a vice president on the CONMEBOL executive committee. There was also my good friend Eugenio Figueredo, a former president of the Uruguayan soccer association who was a member of FIFA’s executive committee, a vice president at FIFA, a member of various FIFA standing committees, and a vice and then president of CONMEBOL. Surely you know of José Maria Marin and Jeffrey Webb. The former was the president of the Brazilian soccer association, and sat on several FIFA standing committees. The latter was the president of Cayman Islands Football Association and a member of the Caribbean Football Union’s (CFU) executive committee. He was also appointed as the president of CONCACAF and a FIFA vice president. The funny thing is that Webb took these positions in order to clean up after the corruption scandal which led to the resignation of Jack Warner.

 

Jack Warner, you mean the former president of CONCACAF and the vice president of FIFA?

Correct. But do not forget that he was also the secretary and then a special advisor to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), and the president of the CFU. Jack is probably the most corrupt soccer official I ever met.  Personally I did not like him, he just couldn’t get enough. Already in the early 1990s he began exploiting his position for personal gains. In this regard, he did not only treat the assets of the organizations he served as his own, but also actively solicited bribes in connection with for example the 1998 World Cup. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes were also paid to him with regard to the award of commercial rights to several editions of the Gold Cup. Moreover, acting as the president of the CFU and a special advisor to the TTFF he orchestrated the sale of media rights to World Cup qualifying matches which the national members of the CFU decided to sale as a bundle. Following negotiations Traffic, a sports marketing company, acquired the rights to 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 World Cup qualifier matches. A substantial part of the value of the contracts concluded by Warner on behalf of the CFU was automatically transferred to accounts under his personal control. He was also involved in a $10 million bribe related to the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. I could go on and on.

 

You mentioned Traffic. Could you tell us more about it?

Of course. Several of these sports marketing companies were involved, but to my knowledge Traffic was one of the biggest players. This multinational company was based in Brazil and comprised of subsidiaries operating around the globe including the US where it commenced its operations around 1990. The US branch alone was engaged in a number of bribery and fraud schemes in connection with their efforts to obtain various rights from soccer organization and federations in the region. The beneficiaries of these schemes included, among others, Jack Warner, Nicolás Leoz, and Rafael Esquivel. Traffic’s main goal was to expand its operations through developing ties with soccer governing bodies. I remember that in 1991 during Nicolás’ term as CONMEBOL’s president Traffic acquired exclusive commercial rights to three editions of Copa América. Nicolás then threatened to walk away. He claimed that Traffic was about to make a lot of money out of the deal and that it was only fair for him to get his share of the pie. With each of the new editions of the Copa América, Nicolás would demand fresh bribes, a personal business of his which, to my knowledge, went on until 2011. Additional payments were made by Traffic based on their subsequent profits. Esquivel also benefited by requesting bribes in exchange for his ongoing support for Traffic’s position. As I said, bribery at FIFA was often the result of the initiative on the part of its officials. But coming back to Traffic, their involvement is best described in numbers. Out of the twelve bribery schemes I know of, Traffic was involved in nine of them. However, if we disregard the schemes concerning FIFA elections and the voting process for the World Cup hosts the share is nine out of ten. You also need to keep in mind that a former employee of the US branch of Traffic involved in the corruption scheme went on to serve as a general secretary of CONCACAF. On a side note, I think I was a much better general secretary than he ever was. I still receive birthday cards from my former colleagues at CONCACAF.

 

You stated that several companies were involved. How did they share the rights acquisition between themselves?

I’m not entirely sure about the exact mechanisms involved. What I know, however, is that sometimes conflicts emerged between the different companies seeking to secure contracts for themselves. On other occasions they were able to join forces, for example with the media and marketing rights to Copa América. At first, CONMEBOL entered into a contract with Traffic on the basis of which the latter was awarded the exclusive rights to, among others, the 2015 edition of the tournament, and an option to retain those rights for the next three editions. But in 2010 CONMEBOL signed another agreement, this time with Full Play, on the basis of which Full Play was granted media and marketing rights to several editions of the tournament, including the 2015 edition already sold to Traffic. As you can imagine, Traffic was not happy. They decided to sue CONMEBOL and Full Play. In the end the companies came to an understanding and formed Datisa, a new entity which was to obtain and exploit the commercial rights to the Copa América. In return, Traffic was to shoulder a share of the bribes offered to CONMEBOL officials.

I also recall that there were tensions between Traffic and another company established by a former employee of Traffic who, after bribing Brazilian federation’s officials in order to acquire a contract for the rights to Copa do Brasil, was accused by Traffic’s owner of stealing his business. But they also managed to solve the issue by combining their “efforts” and by sharing the financial burden of the “investments” made to acquire the rights.

 

And what sums are we talking about?

Not so much, really (laughs). Concerning Datisa the company agreed to pay between $100 and $110 million in bribes to CONMEBOL officials all of whom worked also at FIFA. The FBI told me that they estimated that the “business” generated approximately $150 million in bribes, an amount which may increase if new information come to light. In the end, I did not get so much out of it compared to some of my dear colleagues. Sometimes I think that I should have been more firm during the “negotiations”. For a long time I have been dreaming about having an additional apartment in the Trump Tower. I remember that when I got the first one it almost seemed as it came from some divine intervention.

 

Wow, that’s a lot. How did they manage to conceal it?

As I already mentioned the “business” was sometimes conducted via intermediaries. Jose Margulies was one of the prominent ones. He was the brother of an old friend of the owner of Traffic, and often used accounts in the names of offshore corporations in order to makes payments on his behalf. In addition, he tried to conceal the bribes by using accounts at Swiss banks, made recourse to currency dealers, destroyed documentation, and discouraged the corrupt soccer officials from using accounts in their own name in order to avoid detection from law enforcement bodies, an advice which was not always taken seriously. People like Nicolás Leoz for example did not hesitate to have sums being paid to their personal bank accounts on the basis of “consulting contracts”. As I already mentioned, Jack (Warner), for his part, concluded a double agreement in the name of the TTFF concerning rights to World Cup qualifier games. He first sold the TTFF’s rights as part of a bundle, and later on sold them again, but this time separately. There was also the famous $10 million paid by South Africa’s authorities to the CFU in order to “support the African diaspora”, a payment which was in fact made in exchange for votes regarding the 2010 World Cup host. This money was diverted back into Jack’s pockets via a number of tricks. Using family members’ accounts was another way of deception. Lately, the business of taking bribes was getting more and more complicated, prompting officials to look for new complex schemes. In fact, the attempts to conceal illegal payments made in connection with the rights to the World Cup 2018 and 2022 qualifiers caused a lot of headache to Jeffrey Webb in his capacity as a high level CFU official. One of the companies with whom Traffic was to make payment to Webb had difficulties finding the right way to discretely transfer the money to him. This led to long negotiations between Webb’s associate and the company’s executives in order to find a clean method to make the outstanding payment.

 

Thank you so much Mr Blazer for your time and your invaluable insights!

You’re welcome. I am a big fan of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog so anything for you guys.

 



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