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: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified. By Prof. Dr. Christian Duve

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
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. 

Editor’s note: Finally, the last blog of our TPO ban Symposium has arrived! Due to unforeseen circumstances, FIFA had to reconsider presenting its own views on the matter. However, FIFA advised us to contact Prof. Dr. Christian Duve to author the eagerly awaited blog on their behalf. Prof. Dr. Christian Duve is a lawyer and partner with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and an honorary professor at the University of Heidelberg. He has been a CAS arbitrator until 2014. Thus, as planned, we will conclude this symposium with a post defending the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. Many thanks to Prof. Dr. Duve for having accepted this last-minute challenge!


This blog article outlines FIFA’s reasons to introduce Art. 18ter FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) which bans third-party ownership of players’ economic rights (TPO). In recent years, TPO was perceived as a threat to the integrity of football competitions within the international football community[i] and has become an area of concern for FIFA. Nevertheless Art. 18ter RSTP has been heavily criticized mainly by the proponents of TPO and a complaint has been filed with the European Commission by the Spanish and the Portuguese Leagues for an alleged violation of EU competition law. In the following it will be shown that such criticism does not sufficiently take into consideration the specific characteristics of the practice of TPO as well as football in general. It explains the rationale behind Art. 18ter RSTP which

-      fosters the integrity of competition which is a priority topic for FIFA,

-      promotes the independence of clubs by preventing third parties’ influence in sporting decisions,

-      leads to stable squads,

-      provides an opportunity for investors to invest in the clubs rather than in single players,

-      leads to financially healthier clubs.

Hence, with the introduction of Art. 18ter RSTP, FIFA pursues legitimate aims which justify the ban of the TPO practice.


1.              FIFA’s Way to Art. 18ter RSTP

TPO covers various situations in which a third party invests in the economic rights of a player in order to receive a compensation with regard to a future transfer. Whilst it is widely used in South America and in Southern Europe as an alternative funding possibility, especially to finance investments in sporting talent,[ii] TPO is explicitly prohibited in England, France and Colombia.[iii] The English ban on TPO was introduced in 2008 after the commotion caused by the Tévez case in 2006 where the contract between Tévez and West Ham United contained a provision giving a third party owner the right to decide on the transfer and the transfer fee of the player without any right to veto by the club.

FIFA has introduced a new rule Art. 18bis RSTP which prohibits clubs to enter into contracts that are liable to jeopardise the club’s independence, its policies or the performance of its teams and freedom of decision-making in employment and transfer-related matters and came into force on 1 January 2008.[iv] However, after having mandated two studies providing data and information on TPO in several countries in 2013 and 2014, it was felt that Art. 18bis RSTP was not sufficient and did not address this subject in an appropriate manner. Therefore FIFA decided to introduce a new Art. 18ter RSTP as from 1 May 2015.

The main provision of Art. 18ter RSTP reads:

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. […]

It has been criticized that Art. 18ter RSTP prevents and restricts competition in the market for capital investment in football in a way that is not proportionate for attaining its legitimate objective and that Art. 18ter RSTP is therefore incompatible with EU Competition law. However, such criticism does not sufficiently take into consideration the specific characteristics of football as will be shown in this blog.


2.              The Rationale of Art. 18ter RSTP

First and foremost, Art. 18ter RSTP protects the integrity of the game itself by allowing for the necessary freedom in the contractual relationship between a club and a player, to determine whether and when the player is fielded as well as to decide independently and for sporting reasons only whether and when they are transferred.

Second, with regard to financial aspects of the clubs, critics undervalue that Art. 18ter RSTP is limited to a prohibition of an investment in a club’s players and does not in any way limit an investment in the clubs themselves leading to financially healthier clubs.

2.1           Art. 18ter RSTP Fosters the Integrity of Football

Art. 18ter RSTP pursues several legitimate aims, inter alia, the integrity of competition (2.1.1.), the independence of clubs (2.1.2.) and the stability of squads (2.1.3.).

2.1.1      Integrity of Competition

The protection of the integrity of the game is not only one of FIFA’s main objectives according to Art. 2 e) of the FIFA Statutes, it was also recognized by the European Commission as a legitimate aim justifying limitations on competition.

With regard to the UEFA rule on the “Integrity of the UEFA Club competitions: Independence of clubs” establishing a ban on the ownership of several clubs participating in the same competition by the same person or company, the European Commission held that the ban was in any case a necessary rule to ensure its legitimate aim of protecting the integrity of sporting competitions by “protecting the uncertainty of the results and giving the public the right perception as to the integrity of the […] competitions with a view to ensure their proper functioning“.[v] Previously, a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision has also confirmed the validity of this limitation and found that “when commonly controlled clubs participate in the same competition, the «public’s perception will be that there is a conflict of interest potentially affecting the authenticity of results»” and that “that ownership of multiple clubs competing in the same competition represents a justified concern for a sports regulator and organizer”.[vi]

The danger of such conflicts of interests is, however, not limited to club owners, it extends to investors, agents and coaches. Similar to the situations in which a third party has interests in several clubs participating in the same competition, conflicts of interests can also arise in cases where third parties own shares in economic rights of several players of different teams which are competing against each other.[vii] Especially if a player in which a third party has an economic interest competes against a club that is owned by the same investor, there is a significant potential for such conflicts. Even within the same team, the risk of having the same owner of a number of players presents a competitive integrity risk.[viii]

In any case and irrespective of an actual conflict, a conflict may at least be perceived by the public in connection with TPO. Such perception leads to a loss of confidence in the integrity of the competition and damages the image of the sport. In the light of the increasing threat of match manipulation, the involvement of third-party owners creates a danger to the reputation of the competition that could weaken the football world. The integrity of the game is therefore only guaranteed if players and clubs are not influenced by third parties owning the players’ economic rights with the aim to maximize their investment.[ix]

2.1.2      Independence of Clubs

To ensure the independence of its Members’ affiliated clubs is one of FIFA’s objectives pursuant to Art. 18 para. 2 of the FIFA Statutes. The second TPO study found that “the spread of TPO in the majority of the cases may be closely related to a partial takeover of the clubs’ control by actors seeking primarily short-term profit and speculating on the purchase and sale of economic rights, regardless of sporting concerns”[x]. TPO potentially has an impact on player selection on the field of play and creates complications for transfer negotiations as the clubs’ sporting interests (e.g. of holding a player despite a lucrative offer or of letting a player go without being offered a lucrative transfer fee) may conflict with investors seeking a profitable return on their investment.

Even though interests may coincide if the investor speculates for a rise in the player’s market value (e.g. Santos FC refusing Chelsea FC’s offer for Neymar), one prominent example of conflicting interests is the Tévez case in which West Ham United was deprived of any rights with regard to a future transfer of the player. More recently, contract renewal negotiations with Zambrano, a key player of Eintracht Frankfurt, are jeopardized by a third party whose entitlement to future transfer compensation for Zambrano is to be bought by Eintracht.[xi] 

Overall, the more clubs are depending on TPO financing, the more negotiating power third party investors have. The second TPO study mentions the purchase of economic rights at preferential prices, pre-emptive rights on new players or even greater influence on transfer policy.[xii] Moreover, with players’ economic rights in the hands of various investors the fragmentation of interests within a club increases. The independence of clubs can only be guaranteed by preventing a partial takeover of the clubs’ control by third parties especially with regard to transfers.

2.1.3      Stability of Squads

The aforementioned clash of interests between investors speculating on the purchase and sale of players’ economic rights and clubs reoccurs when it comes to the frequency of transfers. Whereas an investor makes money out of transfers, a club may be more interested in building a stable team and team cohesion for sporting reasons. The Demographic Study of CIES in 2014 found that “in general, the number of transfers carried out by teams during the current season is at an all-time high” and stated that “the increasing speculation surrounding players’ transfers is also visible through the progressive drop in the number of club-trained players, which has attained its lowest level since 2009”.[xiii] Pursuant to the same study, players recruited from January 2013 onwards represented 41.3% of squads on average (10.2 signings per club). At the same time, the best performing clubs generally have the most stable squads. For instance, FC Barcelona has the most stable squad among European top division teams. Its Players have been for 5.5 years in the first team squad on average pursuant to the Demographic Study of CIES in 2014.[xiv]

Leagues and club representatives stressed in the Second TPO study that the increasing gaps between clubs in terms of stability contribute to the general decline in the competitive balance both at national and international level.[xv] FIFA’s overall objective to promote football, laid down in Art. 2 a) of the FIFA Statutes, is endangered by such contractual instability caused by TPO.

2.2           Art. 18ter RSTP Provides an Incentive for Investment in Clubs

Football clubs play the central role with regard to the aforementioned legitimate aims. In order to achieve those objectives, appropriate financing mechanisms are fundamental for football clubs. It is undisputed that clubs need external sources. A solution that takes sufficiently into account the role of the clubs and their needs can only be to finance clubs directly. By prohibiting the TPO of single players’ economic rights, Art. 18ter RSTP creates an incentive for investors to invest in the clubs themselves.

Admittedly, some football clubs have been affected by financial difficulties and thus do not seem to be attractive for investors at first sight. In this context, however, it must be taken into account that clubs that seek regular access to talent by means of TPO are becoming even more and more dependent on the regular injection of funds from external investors which may lead to a “vicious circle of debt and dependence”.[xvi] With a club selling its players’ economic rights to third parties, the value of the respective club’s assets decreases. As a result, it is even harder to find potential investors interested in financing the club.[xvii] Therefore TPO cannot be a sustainable financing option. Improving the overall financial health of club football is a major concern for football associations. Therefore the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP) were established to prevent professional football clubs from excessive spending. Although the regulations only contain disclosure requirements with regard to TPO, they were released in view of a TPO ban.[xviii]

Overall, critics therefore have to take into account that Art. 18ter RSTP prohibits only one single form of investment whilst it promotes at the same time investment in the clubs specifically tailored to the overarching aim of fostering the integrity of the game.


3.              Conclusion

Art. 18bis RSTP has already targeted the aforementioned legitimate aims. However, this provision may be easily circumvented by inserting a clause into the TPO agreement stating that it does not permit any exercise of influence by the third party within the club’s employment and transfer-related matters, policies or performance of its team. In practice, the engaged third parties will interfere with a club’s sporting decisions in many cases despite such a contractual clause. Interviewees in the second TPO study reported that in practical terms, many third­party investors do influence the transfer of players.[xix] Therefore, there is a consensus among football stakeholders that TPO should be restricted. The legitimate aims underlying Art. 18ter RSTP can be achieved most effectively by a total ban of the TPO practice. Whereas critics point to the lack of financing options caused by the prohibition of TPO, this blog has argued that in the specific context of football competitions the integrity of the game benefits from direct investments in the clubs.


[i] Cp. FIFA Circular no. 1420 of 12 May 2014.

[ii] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 3.

[iii] Moreover, Poland has a rule which is interpreted by its football association as prohibiting third parties to hold a player���s economic rights with an exception for former clubs, cp. TPO study I, p. 3, 17 et. seq.

[iv] Art. 18bis RSTP, as introduced in 2008, reads:

1.   No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract or any third party to acquire the ability to influence in employment and transfer-related matters its independence, its policies or the performance of its teams.

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

[v] European Commission, Rejection Decision of 25 June 2002, Case COMP/37 806: ENIC/ UEFA, para. 47.

[vi] Arbitration CAS 98/200 AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / Union of European Football

Associations (UEFA), award of 20 August 1999, para. 48 (available at http://jurisprudence.tas-cas.org/sites/CaseLaw/Shared%20Documents/200.pdf).

[vii] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p.  9, 81.

[viii] Cp. Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part I., Centre international d’étude du sport, p. 33.

[ix] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 81 et. seq.

[x] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 8.

[xi] Available at: http://www.fr-online.de/eintracht-frankfurt/carlos-zambrano-eintracht-frankfurt-zambrano-deal-gefaehrdet,1473446,29843342.html.

[xii] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 88.

[xiii] Available at http://www.football-observatory.com/demographic-study-2014-now.

[xiv] Available at http://www.football-observatory.com/demographic-study-2014-now.

[xv] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 78.

[xvi] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 9.

[xvii] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 88.

[xviii] Available at http://www.uefa.com/community/news/newsid=2064391.html.

[xix] Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights, Part II., Centre de droit et d’économie du sport et Centre international d’étude du sport, June 2014, p. 88.

Comments are closed