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

New Event - Zoom In - Caster Semenya v. International Association of Athletics Federations - 31 March - 16.00-17.30 CET

On Wednesday 31 March 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret (University of Lausanne), is organising its fourth Zoom In webinar on the recent developments arising from the decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) in the case Caster Semenya v. International Association of Athletics Federations (now World Athletics), delivered on 25 August 2020.


Background
The participation of athletes with biological sex differences to international competitions is one of the most controversial issues in transnational sports law. In particular, since 2019, Caster Semenya, an Olympic champion from South-Africa has been challenging the World Athletics eligibility rules for Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD Regulation), which would currently bar her from accessing international competitions (such as the Tokyo Olympics) unless she accepts to undergo medical treatment aimed at reducing her testosterone levels. In April 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected her challenge against the DSD Regulation in a lengthy award. In response, Caster Semenya and the South African Athletics Federation filed an application to set aside the award before the Swiss Federal Tribunal. In August 2020, the SFT released its decision rejecting Semenya’s challenge of the award (for an extensive commentary of the ruling see Marjolaine Viret’s article on the Asser International Sports Law Blog).

Recently, on 25 February 2021, Caster Semenya announced her decision to lodge an application at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against Switzerland on the basis of this judgment. In this context, we thought it important to organise a Zoom In webinar around the decision of the SFT and the pending case before the ECtHR. Indeed, should the ECtHR accept the case, it will be in a position to provide a definitive assessment of the human rights compatibility of the DSD Regulation. Moreover, this decision could have important consequences on the role played by human rights in the review of the private regulations and decisions of international sports governing bodies.


Speakers


Participation is free, register HERE.

SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Editor's note: Andy Brown is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the governance of sport for over 15 years. He is the editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative where this blog appeared first.


For the last three days, I have been struggling with what to write regarding the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) Decision to dismiss a challenge from Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) Decision to dismiss a challenge to the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development), otherwise known as the DSD Regulations. From reading World Athletics’ statement welcoming the ruling, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had won a major trial. Sports journalists, accustomed to covering events now curtailed by Covid-19, focus on the fact that Semenya has ‘lost’ her case against the DSD Regulations. Neither assertion is strictly accurate.

The SFT’s powers to review the CAS’s ruling are severely limited. It can only consider whether the CAS Decision violates ‘widely recognised principles of public order’ on Swiss public policy grounds. The SFT has only reversed a decision based on a a violation of Swiss public policy once in 30 years.

The SFT didn’t reconsider the evidence put forward to the CAS. ‘For there to be incompatibility with public policy, it is not enough that the evidence has been poorly assessed, that a finding of fact is manifestly false or that a rule of law has been clearly violated’, its Decision reads. ‘The only question to be resolved is in fact whether or not the verdict of the CAS renders the referred award incompatible with substantive public policy’. 

There were questions about whether the appeal from Semenya and ASA qualified to be reviewed by the SFT in the first place. World Athletics is a private organisation headquartered in Monaco, and the SFT was troubled as to whether such a complaint brought by a South African athlete against an overseas private organisation is capable of violating Swiss public policy.

‘It is doubtful whether the prohibition of discriminatory measures falls within the scope of the restrictive concept of public order when the discrimination is committed by a private person and occurs in relations between individuals’, the Decision quotes from its pervious 29 July 2019 Decision, which refused the ASA’s request to provisionally suspend the application of the DSD Regulations. ‘In any event, there is no need to examine this question further here since […] the award under appeal does not in any way establish discrimination which would be contrary to public order’

The SFT ruled that the CAS was correct to uphold conditions of participation for 46 XY DSD athletes in order to guarantee fair competition for certain disciplines in female athletics. In doing so, the SFT was ruling on whether the decision taken by the CAS violates public policy, based only on the complaints brought forward by Semenya and ASA. 

Semenya and the ASA had challenged the CAS Decision based around the idea that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory. The CAS held that they are discriminatory, but agreed with the IAAF (as World Athletics was then named) that such discrimination was necessary to protect its female category. The SFT ruled that even if the discriminatory rules of a private organisation such as the IAAF were considered able to pose a threat to public order, Semenya and the ASA had failed to demonstrate that the CAS Decision was so egregious that it posed such a threat.

‘Caster Semenya essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination’, reads the Swiss Federal Supreme Court statement. ‘The CAS has issued a binding decision based on the unanimous opinion of the experts who were consulted that testosterone is the main factor for the different performance levels of the sexes in athletics; according to the CAS, women with the “46 XY DSD” gene variant have a testosterone level comparable to men, which gives them an insurmountable competitive advantage and enables them to beat female athletes without the “46 XY DSD” variant. Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the “women” category.’

Such strong support for the principle behind its DSD Regulations was rightly welcomed by World Athletics. Its statement asserted that the SFT ‘acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions’. I would argue that the SFT ruling didn’t do this, but rather found that a CAS Decision asserting this didn’t violate Swiss public policy. Semantics, perhaps.

Likewise, when World Athletics quotes the SFT Decision as confirming that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’, it is paraphrasing two texts quoted in the SFT Decision. The first is ‘La qualification juridique des rules autonomes des organizations sportive’ by Jérôme Jaquier, 2004. ‘Inborn characteristics specific to athletes in a particular group can also distort the fairness of competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Jaquier. ‘When they enact regulations, the objective of sports federations is to ensure fair and equitable competition’.

The context of the second quote, from ‘Sportrecht – Berücksichtigung der Interessen des Sports in der Rechtsordnung’ by Martin Kaiser, 2011, is even more interesting. It is preceded with a statement from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which reads: ‘It is not for the Federal Court to make, abstractly, comparisons between the disciplines to assess whether a particular athlete has an advantage that makes sporting competition meaningless’

‘It is above all for the sporting federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is liable to distort competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Kaiser. ‘And, if so, to establish legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’. 

Again, such details might be considered as semantics. But – I would argue – important semantics. Reading the media maelstrom that has resulted from the SFT Decision, one could be forgiven for assuming that Semenya has lost her case, and has no chance of ever defending her 800m title. However, a statement issued by her lawyers reveals that she intends to challenge the ruling in European and domestic courts.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am”, the statement continues. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.” More...



The Semenya Decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal: Human Rights on the Bench - By Faraz Shahlaei

Editor's note: Faraz Shahlaei is a JSD Candidate at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. His research and teaching interests are public international law, international sports law, international human rights and dispute resolution.

 

The issue of international human rights was a central contention in Caster Semenya case ever since the start of her legal battle against the regulations of the IAAF. However, the human rights arguments were poorly considered in the two proceedings related to this case. To put it in perspective, it is like having a key player nailed to the bench throughout the whole game; no coach ever tried to give it a chance while it had the potential to be the game changer for all parties.

In 2019, the Human Rights Council, the inter-governmental human rights body of the UN, expressed concern over issues of discrimination in sports in particular regarding IAAF female classification regulations. In June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the “Intersection of Race and Gender Discrimination in Sport”. The report draws a detailed picture of how human rights in the Semenya case have been violated and also elaborates on the inherent problem of addressing human rights issues in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms favored by the sport governing bodies. However, despite an in-depth discussion of Caster Semenya’s case at both the CAS and then the SFT, the question of human rights, a key concern and a fundamental pillar of the case, hasn’t been adequately answered yet! More...


The SFT’s Semenya Decision under European human rights standards: Conflicting considerations and why a recourse could be successful at Strasbourg - By Kevin Gerenni

Editor's note: Kevin Gerenni is Assistant Professor in Public International Law (Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Buenos Aires) and LLM Candidate 2021 in Public International Law at the London School of Economics.


Even though the decision rendered by the SFT in the Semenya Case was foreseeable, the Tribunal did put forward some concerning reasoning in terms of public policy (“ordre public”) and human rights. In case Semenya decides to challenge the Swiss state before the ECtHR, one can expect the case to shake some grounds at the ECtHR, which would be faced with the question of the application to sport not of fair trial guarantees (as in Mutu & Pechstein) but of substantial human rights provisions such as the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex (Article 14 ECHR) and the right to private life (Article 8 ECHR).

Under Swiss law, the reasons that may lead to the annulment of an arbitral award are enumerated in art. 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act (PILA). Semenya’s strongest case relied on art. 190(2)(e): the award’s incompatibility with public policy. Naturally, this point concentrated most of the SFT’s attention. In order to analyze the compatibility of the CAS award with Swiss public policy, the SFT focused on three main potential breaches of human rights: prohibition of discrimination, personality rights, and human dignity. In doing so, it put forward certain observations that differ with European human rights standards and the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. The purpose of this short article is to analyze those discrepancies and, consequently, Semenya’s prospects of success before the Strasbourg Tribunal.More...


Selected procedural issues –and questions– arising out the Caster Semenya Judgment of the Swiss Federal Tribunal - By Despina Mavromati

Editor's note: Dr Despina Mavromati is an attorney specializing in international sports law and arbitration (Sportlegis Lausanne) and a UEFA Appeals Body Member. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland

 

As the title indicates, this short note only deals with selected procedural issues and questions arising out of the very lengthy Semenya Judgment. In a nutshell, the SFT dismissed Semenya’s appeal to set aside the CAS Award, which had denied the request of Caster Semenya (Semenya, the Athlete) to declare unlawful the Differences of Sex Development (DSD) Regulations of World Athletics (formerly IAAF).[1]

At the outset, it has to be reminded that the CAS Award dealt with the merits of the Semenya case in a final and binding way by rendering an arbitral award according to Article R59 of the CAS Code (and Article 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act – PILA). Therefore, the SFT did not act as an appellate court but rather as a cassatory court, entitled to review only whether the exhaustively enumerated grounds for annulment set out in Article 190 (2) PILA were met (and provided that they were properly invoked and substantiated in the motion to set aside said award).More...

Caster Semenya Case Exposes Design Flaws in International Sports Governance - By Roger Pielke Jr.

Editor's note: Roger Pielke Jr. is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder

 

The decision this week by the Swiss Federal Tribunal not to revisit the arbitral decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the case of Caster Semenya was not unexpected, but it does help to expose a major design flaw in international sports governance. Specifically, the institutions that collectively comprise, create and enforce “sports law” appear incapable of addressing flawed science and violations of basic principles of medical ethics.

While different people will have different, and legitimate, views on how male-female competition classifications might be regulated, the issues highlighted involving science and ethics are not subjective, and are empirically undeniable. In normal systems of jurisprudence, procedures are in place to right such wrongs, but in sports governance processes in place prevent such course corrections. And that is a problem.

The empirical flaws in the science underpinning the IAAF (now World Athletics) Semenya regulations are by now well understood, and have been accepted by WA in print and before CAS (I was an expert witness for Semenya, and was present when IAAF accepted responsibility for the flawed research). You can read all the details here and in the CAS Semenya decision. I won’t rehash the flawed science here, but the errors are fatal to the research and obvious to see.

One key part of the comprehensive institutional failures here is that the journal which originally published the flawed IAAF research (the British Journal of Sports Medicine, BJSM) has, inexplicably, acted to protect that work from scrutiny, correction and retraction. Normally in the scientific community, when errors of this magnitude are found, the research is retracted. In this case, the BJSM refused to retract the paper, to require its authors to share their data or to publish a critique of the IAAF analysis. Instead, upon learning of the major errors, the BJSM published a rushed, non-peer reviewed letter by IAAF seeking to cover-up the errors. All of this is non-standard, and a scandal in its own right.

The violation of basic principles of medical ethics required by the implementation of the WA Semenya regulations is also not contested. Both WA and the IOC have claimed to uphold the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration on medical and research ethics. Yet, the WMA has openly criticized the WA regulations as unethical and asked doctors not to implement them. In response, WA has stated that it will help athletes who wish to follow the regulations to identify doctors willing to ignore medical ethics guidelines.

Flawed science and ethical violations are obviously issues that go far beyond the case of Caster Semenya, and far beyond sport. In any normal system of jurisprudence such issues would prove readily fatal to regulatory action, either in the first instance of proposed implementation or via review and reconsideration.

Sport governance lacks such processes. At CAS, the panel claimed that matters of scientific integrity and medical ethics were outside their remit. The SFT is allowed to reconsider a CAS decision only on narrow procedural grounds, and thus also cannot consider matters of scientific integrity or medical ethics. So far then, the flaws in the WA regulations – sitting in plain sight and obvious to anyone who looks, have not been correctable.

This leaves the world of sport governance in a compromised position. Some may look past the scientific and ethical issues here, perhaps judging that barring Semenya from sport is far more important that correcting such wrongs. 

Regardless of one’s views on sex and gender classification in sport, the WA regulations and the processes that produced and have challenged them reveal that sports governance has not yet entered the 21st century. Science and ethics matter, and they should matter in sport jurisprudence as well.  It is time to correct this basic design flaw in international sport governance.

Caster Semenya at the SFT – in 10 points - By Jack Anderson

Editor's note: Jack Anderson is Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne

 

1.     Caster Semenya appealed to the Swiss Federal Court (SFT) arguing that World Athletics’ regulations violated human rights principles relating to gender discrimination and human dignity. The Swiss Federal Tribunal (as at CAS) held that World Athletics’ regulations may prima facie breach such human rights principles but were “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to maintain fairness in women's athletics;


2.     Although in part addressed at the SFT, expect further legal argument on this in the domestic courts of South Africa or at the ECtHR, and in the following ways:

  • Necessity - is the athletic advantage that Caster Semenya has of such a scientifically-measurable extent that it is necessary for World Athletics to intervene in such an invasive manner? In a broader ethical sense, is the incidence of what the World Athletics’ regulations call “difference of sex development” of such prevalence in the general population, and specifically in middle-distance athletics, that, by way of the principle of “sporting beneficence”, intervention is justified. Or, in contrast, is the incidence of DSD not at a level which justifies a departure from the ethical principle of primum non nocere – first, do no harm?
  • Reasonableness - if World Athletics’ regulations are necessary, is the manner of implementation reasonable and in line with the principle of human and bodily integrity? In answering such a question, the focus must be on the fact that in order to continue to compete in her favourite events (such as the 800 metres) Caster Semenya will have to lower her testosterone level through medication;
  • Proportionate - if World Athletics’ regulations are necessary and reasonable is the manner of implementation proportionate? In answering such a question, the focus must be on whether the regulations disproportionately discriminate against a certain, limited group of athletes in a certain, limited number of events and in a certain, limited manner.More...


Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold: Dissecting the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s Semenya Decision - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.

 

On 25 August 2020, the Swiss Supreme Court (Swiss Federal Tribunal, SFT) rendered one of its most eagerly awaited decisions of 2020, in the matter of Caster Semenya versus World Athletics (formerly and as referenced in the decision: IAAF) following an award of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In short, the issue at stake before the CAS was the validity of the World Athletics eligibility rules for Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD Regulation). After the CAS upheld their validity in an award of 30 April 2019, Caster Semenya and the South African Athletics Federation (jointly: the appellants) filed an application to set aside the award before the Swiss Supreme Court.[1] The SFT decision, which rejects the application, was made public along with a press release on 8 September 2020.

There is no doubt that we can expect contrasted reactions to the decision. Whatever one’s opinion, however, the official press release in English does not do justice to the 28-page long decision in French and the judges’ reasoning. The goal of this short article is therefore primarily to highlight some key extracts of the SFT decision and some features of the case that will be relevant in its further assessment by scholars and the media.[2]

It is apparent from the decision that the SFT was very aware that its decision was going to be scrutinised by an international audience, part of whom may not be familiar with the mechanics of the legal regime applicable to setting aside an international arbitration award in Switzerland.

Thus, the decision includes long introductory statements regarding the status of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the role of the Swiss Federal Tribunal in reviewing award issued by panels in international arbitration proceedings. The SFT also referred extensively throughout its decision to jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), rendered in cases related to international sport and the CAS. More...

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

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

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

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

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

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



Doyen vs. Sporting II: The Bitter End of Sporting’s Fight at the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. By Shervine Nafissi

Editor’s Note: Shervine Nafissi (@SNafissi) is a Phd Student in sports law and teaching assistant in corporate law at University of Lausanne (Switzerland), Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC).

 

Introduction

The factual background

The dispute concerns a TPO contract entitled “Economic Rights Participation Agreement” (hereinafter “ERPA”) concluded in 2012 between Sporting Lisbon and the investment fund Doyen Sports. The Argentine player was transferred in 2012 by Spartak Moscow to Sporting Lisbon for a transfer fee of €4 million. Actually, Sporting only paid €1 million of the fee while Doyen Sports financed the remaining €3 million. In return, the investment company became the owner of 75% of the economic rights of the player.[1] Thus, in this specific case, the Portuguese club was interested in recruiting Marcos Rojo but was unable to pay the transfer fee required by Spartak Moscow, so that they required the assistance of Doyen Sports. The latter provided them with the necessary funds to pay part of the transfer fee in exchange of an interest on the economic rights of the player.

Given that the facts and circumstances leading to the dispute, as well as the decision of the CAS, were fully described by Antoine Duval in last week’s blog of Doyen vs. Sporting, this blog will solely focus on the decision of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (“FSC”) following Sporting’s appeal against the CAS award. As a preliminary point, the role of the FSC in the appeal against CAS awards should be clarified.More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Blog Symposium: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law - Introduction - Antoine Duval & Oskar van Maren

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

Blog Symposium: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law - Introduction - Antoine Duval & Oskar van Maren

Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

On 22 December 2014, FIFA officially introduced an amendment to its Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players banning third-party ownership of players’ economic rights (TPO) in football. This decision to put a definitive end to the use of TPO in football is controversial, especially in countries where TPO is a mainstream financing mechanism for clubs, and has led the Portuguese and Spanish football leagues to launch a complaint in front of the European Commission, asking it to find the FIFA ban contrary to EU competition law.

Next week, we will feature a Blog Symposium discussing the FIFA TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law. We are proud and honoured to welcome contributions from both the complainant (the Spanish football league, La Liga) and the defendant (FIFA) and three renowned experts on TPO matters: Daniel Geey ( Competition lawyer at Fieldfisher, aka @FootballLaw), Ariel Reck (lawyer at Reck Sports law in Argentina, aka @arielreck) and Raffaele Poli (Social scientist and head of the CIES Football Observatory). The contributions will focus on different aspects of the functioning of TPO and on the impact and consequences of the ban.

Before the five blogs (starting with the complainant, La Liga, on Tuesday) will be published next week on a daily basis, we have the pleasure to kick off today with a light introduction to TPO. At the end of next week we will synthesise the debate and provide our preliminary take on the ban’s compatibility with EU law.

With this exciting Blog Symposium on one of the hottest sports law topics, we celebrate the first anniversary of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog (last year’s opening blog is here). We hope you will enjoy the read and feel free to comment! 

What is TPO? 

The use of the notion of TPO is often criticized because it misrepresents the situation it purposes to qualify. Indeed, no third-party owns a player, but only a share of the “economic right” linked to the transfer of the player’s “federative right”[1]. This is why, as you will see later next week, some of our authors refuse to use the term and have opted for alternative concepts, such as TPE (third-party entitlements) or TPI (third-party investment). Due to our legal obsession with the written word, we will personally hold onto TPO as it is the notion enshrined in FIFA’s regulations.

Beyond this semantic debate, a plurality of contractual constellations is captured under the umbrella term TPO. What is common to all cases is that a company or an individual provides a football club or a player with money in return for being entitled to a share of a player’s future transfer value. Thus, TPO is enshrined in a separate private law contract between a third-party and a club or a player. The plurality of TPO situations derives from this contractual basis. The parties are free under national private law to creatively draft those contracts as they see fit, each one of them being a specific type of TPO in itself. 

The main aim of the practice is to finance clubs. Often TPO is used to externalise the costs of recruiting a player, sometimes it is used to finance the general functioning of a club. However, the use of TPO is always intimately connected to the drive of professional clubs to diversify their funding sources in order to leverage their competitiveness in national and international competitions. Nowadays, a club like Atletico Madrid would probably not have been able to reach the final of the Champions League or win La Liga without having widespread recourse to it.

What are the problems with TPO?

We do not want to spoil too much of next week’s discussion, but we need to at least mention the possible problems that have been linked with the use of TPO and that might serve as a potential justification for banning it. TPO is first and foremost seen as an intrusion of a third-party in the life of a football club and a player with the potential for an illegitimate influence on the management of the team and the player’s career. The many conflicts of interest that might arise in the shadow of multiple, sometimes contradictory, investments are particularly feared. TPO is also seen as a dubious financing technique used to circumvent the new UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations and to prop up clubs that are chronically in financial troubles. Finally, there is a moral dimension. For example, UEFA president Michel Platini likened TPO to a type of modern “slavery”. In short, should it be acceptable for someone to own a share of an economic right personally attached to a player? Can a player be forced-sold on the basis of a TPO agreement? All these issues will be discussed extensively next week; they are central to the evaluation of the ban’s compatibility with EU competition law. 

Regulating TPO or banning it? That is the question!

TPO has been banned for some time in England, France and Poland, while it was authorized in the rest of the World. The English FA, profoundly traumatized by the Carlos Tévez case, decided to ban the practice as early as 2008. In other countries, particularly Spain, Portugal and South America, TPO has been, and still is, part of the “football culture”. For example, it is estimated that in Brazil’s top division 90% of the players are subjected to a TPO agreement. In these countries TPO is seen as a necessity for national football clubs - not only to compete with clubs in richer countries, but also for professional football to be financially viable. It was no surprise that the leagues and clubs of the abovementioned countries were against a blanket ban of TPO and would rather see it being regulated. They consistently expressed this opposition during the FIFA Congress in June 2014 and the working groups created by FIFA in September 2014 with the aim of tackling the issue. Nonetheless, on 26 September the FIFA executive committee took the decision to ban third-party ownership of players’ economic rights (TPO) with a short transitional period. Following this announcement, the FIFA circular fleshing out the legal details of the ban was published on 22 December. Article 18bis of the Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players was amended and the Regulations now include a new Article 18ter.[2] These new articles came into force on 1 January 2015 and, after a transition period, TPO will officially be banned as of 1 May 2015.

This total ban raises many practical and legal questions. What is to become of the already signed TPO agreements? Will the ban be fully enforced? Or, will creative schemes arise to circumvent it? Was there a less restricting alternative to attain its objective? And…is it compatible with EU competition law? 

The debate is open!


[1] The legal construction underlying TPO is clearly explained (unfortunately only in Italian) by Leandro Cantamessa in his article, ‘Un Tema Semi-Nuovo di Diritto Sportivo Internazionale: la Third Party Ownership (TPO)’, in L’Europa e lo sport (a cura di) S. Bastianon, G. Giappichelli Editore, 2014, pp.123-134.

[2] Article 18bis(1) will now read : “No club shall enter into a contract which enables the counter club/counter clubs, and vice versa, or any third party to acquire the ability to influence in employment and transfer-related matter its independence, its policies or the performance of its teams.”

Article 18ter:

1.      No club or player shall enter into an agreement with a third party whereby a third party is being entitled to participate, either in full or in part, in compensation payable in relation to the future transfer of a player from one club to another, or is being assigned any rights in relation to a future transfer or transfer compensation.

2.      The interdiction as per paragraph 1 comes into force on 1 May 2015.

3.      Agreements covered by paragraph 1 which predate 1 May 2015 may continue to be in place until their contractual expiration. However, their duration may not be extended.

4.      The validity of any agreement covered by paragraph 1 signed between 1 January 2015 and 30 April 2015 may not have a contractual duration of more than 1 year beyond the effective date.

5.      By the end of April 2015, all existing agreements covered by paragraph 1 need to be recorded within the Transfer Matching System (TMS). All clubs that have signed such agreements are required to upload them in their entirety, including possible annexes or amendments, in TMS, specifying the details of the third party concerned, the full name of the player as well as the duration of the agreement.

6.      The FIFA Disciplinary Committee may impose disciplinary measures on clubs or players that do not observe the obligations set out in this article.

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