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 Russian Ballet at the CAS Ad Hoc Division in Rio - Act IV: On Bringing a sport into disrepute

Editor's note: This is the fourth part/act of our blog series on the Russian eligibility cases at the CAS ad hoc Division in Rio.


Act IV: On Bringing a sport into disrepute

Paragraph 2 of the IOC Decision: “The IFs will also have to apply their respective rules in relation to the sanctioning of entire NFs.” 

 

In paragraph 2 of its Decision, the IOC mentioned the possibility for IFs to “apply their respective rules in relation to the sanctioning of entire NF's”.This is exactly what the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) did when it decided on 29 July 2016 to exclude the whole Russian Weightlifting Federation (RWF) from the Rio Olympics for having brought the sport into disrepute. Indeed, Article 12. 4 of the IWF Anti-doping Policy, foresees that:

“If any Member federation or members or officials thereof, by reason of conduct connected with or associated with doping or anti-doping rule violations, brings the sport of weightlifting into disrepute, the IWF Executive Board may, in its discretion, take such action as it deems fit to protect the reputation and integrity of the sport.”More...



The Russian Ballet at the CAS Ad Hoc Division in Rio - Act III: On being sufficiently tested

Editor's note: This is the third part/act of our blog series on the Russian eligibility cases at the CAS ad hoc Division in Rio.


Act III: On being sufficiently tested 

Paragraph 2 of the IOC Decision: “The IFs should carry out an individual analysis of each athlete’s anti-doping record, taking into account only reliable adequate international tests, and the specificities of the athlete’s sport and its rules, in order to ensure a level playing field.”

Daniil Andienko and 16 other members of the Russian rowing team challenged the decision of the World Rowing Federation (FISA) to declare them ineligible for the Rio Olympics. The FISA Executive Committee took the decision on 24 July 2016 because they had not “undergone a minimum of three anti-doping tests analysed by a WADA accredited laboratory other than the Moscow laboratory and registered in ADAMS from 1 January 2015 for an 18 month period”.[1] In their submissions, the Russian applicants did not challenge the IOC Decision, and thus the criteria enshrined in paragraph 2, but only its application by FISA.[2] The Russian athletes argued that FISA’s decision deviated from the IOC Decision in that it was imposing as an additional requirement that rowers must “have undergone a minimum of three anti-doping tests analysed by a WADA accredited laboratory other than the Moscow laboratory and registered in ADAMS from 1 January 2015 for an 18-month period”.[3] The Panel acknowledged that “the IOC Executive Board decision does not refer explicitly to the requirement of three tests or to a period of 18 months”.[4] Nonetheless, it “finds that the Challenged Decision is in line with the criteria established by the IOC Executive Board decision”.[5] Indeed, the IOC’s Decision “provides that in order to examine whether the level playing field is affected or not (when admitting a Russian athlete to the Rio Olympic Games), the federation must look at the athlete's respective anti-doping record, i.e. examine the athlete's anti-doping tests” and that “[i]n doing so, the IOC Executive Board decision specifies that only "reliable adequate international tests" may be taken into account”.[6] In this regard, the Panel, and FISA, share the view that “a reliable adequate international test can only be assumed if the sample has been analyzed in a WADA-accredited laboratory outside Russia”.[7]More...



The Russian Ballet at the CAS Ad Hoc Division in Rio - Act II: On being implicated

Editor's note: This is the second part/act of our blog series on the Russian eligibility cases at the CAS ad hoc Division in Rio.

 

Act II: On being implicated


Paragraph 2 of the IOC Decision: The IFs to examine the information contained in the IP Report, and for such purpose seek from WADA the names of athletes and National Federations (NFs) implicated. Nobody implicated, be it an athlete, an official, or an NF, may be accepted for entry or accreditation for the Olympic Games.”

 

The second, and by far largest, wave of complaints involved Russian athletes barred from the game under paragraph 2 of the IOC Decision. None of those were successful in their appeals as the CAS sided with those IFs which took a tough stance with regard to the Russian State doping system. The first set of cases turned on the definition of the word “implicated” in the sense of paragraph 2 of the IOC Decision. In this regard, on 2 August the IOC sent a communication to the IFs aiming at providing some general guidelines. It reads as follows:

"In view of the recent appeals filed by Russian Athletes with CAS, the IOC considers it necessary to clarify the meaning of the notion "implicated" in the EB Decision.

The IOC does not consider that each athlete referred to in the McLaren Lists shall be considered per se "implicated. It is for each International federation to assess, on the basis of the information provided in the McLaren lists and the Independent Person Report, whether it is satisfied that the Athlete in question was implicated in the Russian State-controlled doping scheme.

To assist the International Federations in assessing each individual case, the IOC wishes to provide some information. In the IOC's opinion, an athlete should not be considered as "implicated" where:

·       The order was a "quarantine".

·       The McLaren List does not refer to a prohibited substance which would have given rise to an anti-doping rule violation or;

·       The McLaren List does not refer to any prohibited substance with respect to a given sample."

The CAS went on to address this question concretely in three cases analysed below. More...




The Russian Ballet at the CAS Ad Hoc Division in Rio - Act I: Saved by the Osaka Déjà-Vu

Since it was first introduced at the Atlanta Games in 1996,[1] the CAS ad hoc Division has never been as crowded as it was during this year’s Rio Olympics. This is mainly due to the Russian doping scandal, which has fuelled the CAS with Russian athletes challenging their ineligibility to compete at the Games. The CAS recently revealed that out of 28 awards rendered, 16 involved Russian athletes challenging their ineligibility. This Russian ballet is a direct result of the shocking findings of Richard McLaren’s Independent Person (IP) Report ordered by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). McLaren’s investigation demonstrated that the Russian State was coordinating a sophisticated doping system. The revelation triggered an outrage in the media and amongst other competitors. Numerous calls (especially by WADA and various National Anti-Doping Organisations) were heard urging the IOC to ban the entire Russian delegation from the Olympics. The IAAF decided to exclude the whole Russian athletics team, [2] with the exception of Darya Klishina, but, to the disappointment of many, the IOC refused to heed these calls and decided, instead, to put in place a specific procedure to assess on a case-by-case basis the eligibility of Russian athletes.

The IOC’s Decision (IOC Decision) of 24 July foresees that the International Federations (IFs) are competent to determine whether each Russian athlete put forward by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to participate in the Olympics meets a specific set of conditions. Moreover, the ROC was also barred from entering athletes who were sanctioned for doping in the past, even if they have already served their doping sanction. In the end, a majority of the Russian athletes (278 out of 389 submitted by the ROC) cleared the IOC’s bar relatively easily, but some of them did not, and many of the latter ended up fighting for their right to compete at the Rio Olympics before the CAS ad hoc Division.[3] In the following blogs, I will analyse the ten published CAS awards related to Russian athletes.[4] It is these legal fights that I suggest to chronicle in the following parts of this blog. To do so, I have divided them in five different (and analytically coherent) Acts:

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – August 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp.

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

For the world of Sport, the elsewhere known “sleepy month” of August turned out to be the total opposite. Having only just recuperated from this year’s Tour de France, including a spectacular uphill sprint on bicycle shoes by later ‘Yellow Jersey’ winner Chris Froome, August brought another feast of marvellous sport (and subsequent legal drama): The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.More...


Sports arbitration and EU Competition law: the Belgian competition authority enters the arena. 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 14 July 2016, the Belgian competition authority refused to grant provisional measures to the White Star Woluwe Football Club (“The White Star”), which would have allowed it to compete in the Belgian top football division. The club was refused a licence to compete in the above mentioned competition first by the Licences Commission of the national football federation (“Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Foootball Association” or “URBSFA”) and then by the Belgian court of arbitration for sports (“Cour Belge d’Arbitrage pour le Sport” or “CBAS”). The White Star lodged a complaint to the national competition authority (“NCA”) and requested provisional measures. The Belgian competition authority rendered a much-overlooked decision (besides one commentary) in which it seems to accept the reviewability of an arbitral award’s conformity with EU competition law (articles 101 and 102 TFEU). More...

From Lord of the Rings to Lord of the Drinks – A legal take on the downfall of Yuri van Gelder at the Rio Olympics. By Guido Hahn (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Editor’s note: Guido graduated cum laude from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He teaches law at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He specializes in sports law and provides legal advice for the professional sports sector.


Introduction

This blog is a commentary on a recent case that hit like a bombshell in the Netherlands (and beyond) during the recent Olympic Games in Rio. The case concerns a Dutch athlete, Yuri van Gelder, who reached the Olympic finals in his sport, got sent home by ‘his’ NOC (NOC*NSF) after a night out in Rio and launched legal proceedings in front of a Dutch court to claim back his place in the finals. This commentary will attempt to explain the Dutch ruling and evaluate whether a different legal route would have been possible and preferable. More...


Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 2)

This is part two of the blog on the Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions. Where part one served as an introduction on the two cases, part two will analyze the compatibility assessment made by the Commission in two decisions.


The compatibility of the aid to MVV and Willem II (re-)assessed

Even though it was the Netherlands’ task to invoke possible grounds of compatibility and to demonstrate that the conditions for such compatibility were met, the aid granted to both Willem II and MVV was never notified. The Netherland’s failure to fulfill its notification obligation, therefore, appears to be at odds with the Commission’s final decision to declare the aid compatible with EU law. Yet, a closer look at the Commission’s decision of 6 March 2013 to launch the formal investigation shows that the Commission was giving the Netherlands a ‘second chance’ to invoke grounds that would lead to a justification of the measures.More...


Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 1)

The European Commission’s decisions of 4 July 2016 to order the recovery of the State aid granted to seven Spanish professional football clubs[1] were in a previous blog called historic. It was the first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities. Less attention has been given to five other decisions also made public that day, which cleared support measures for five football clubs in the Netherlands. The clubs in question were PSV Eindhoven, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen, FC Den Bosch and Willem II.

Given the inherent political sensitivity of State aid recovery decisions, it is logical that the “Spanish decisions” were covered more widely than the “Dutch decisions”. Furthermore, clubs like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona automatically get more media attention than FC Den Bosch or Willem II. Yet, even though the “Dutch decisions” are of a lower profile, from an EU State aid law perspective, they are not necessarily less interesting.

A few days before entering the quiet month of August, the Commission published the non-confidential versions of its decisions concerning PSV Eindhoven, Willem II and MVV Maastricht (hereinafter: “MVV”). The swiftness of these publications is somewhat surprising, since it often takes at least three months to solve all the confidentiality issues. Nonetheless, nobody will complain (especially not me) about this opportunity to analyze in depth these new decisions. More...

Fear and Loathing in Rio de Janeiro – Displacement and the Olympics by Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

‎Editor's Note: Ryan is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, he defended his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in December 2015. His dissertation examined human rights violations caused by international sporting events, and how international sporting organisations may be held accountable for these violations.

Introduction

On Sunday, August 21, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will end. The spotlight will dim not only on the athletes who return to their home countries to ply their trade in relative obscurity, but also on the country of Brazil.[1] Once the Games have ended, life will go ‘back to normal’, although for many residents of Rio de Janeiro, what is ‘normal’ is anything but. More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Case note: State aid Decision on the preferential corporate tax treatment of Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona

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

Case note: State aid Decision on the preferential corporate tax treatment of Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona

On 28 September 2016, the Commission published the non-confidential version of its negative Decision and recovery order regarding the preferential corporate tax treatment of Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona. It is the second-to-last publication of the Commission’s Decisions concerning State aid granted to professional football clubs, all announced on 4 July of this year.[1] Contrary to the other “State aid in football” cases, this Decision concerns State aid and taxation, a very hot topic in today’s State aid landscape. Obviously, this Decision will not have the same impact as other prominent tax decisions, such as the ones concerning Starbucks and Apple

Background

This case dates back to November 2009, when a representative of a number of investors specialised in the purchase of publicly listed shares, and shareholders of a number of European football clubs drew the attention of the Commission to a possible preferential corporate tax treatment of the four mentioned Spanish clubs.[2] The preferential tax treatment derived directly from a Spanish sports law of 1990, which obliged all Spanish professional sport clubs to convert into sport limited companies. The justification for the measure was that many clubs had been managed badly because neither their members nor their administrators bore any financial liability for economic losses. This law exempted from this duty to convert those football clubs which had a positive balance in the preceding 4-5 years. The only clubs who at that moment fulfilled these conditions were Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona, and were consequently permitted to remain associations. Sports associations are non-profit entities and, as such, qualified for a partial corporate tax exemption under the Spanish Corporate tax Law. Instead of paying tax for their commercial income at the general rate of 30%, sport clubs were only required to pay tax at a rate of 25%. Moreover, Spain did not include a time period for a possible re-assessment of the financial position of the sport limited companies. Thus, no professional sporting entity has had its legal qualification modified since the original assessment of 1990, irrespective of how the financial health of the entity evolved.[3]

Intervention by the European Ombudsman

The complaint was given a “high priority status” by the European Commission[4] and the allegations of an unfair Spanish tax system were widely covered in the press (see for example here and here). Nevertheless, it took the Commission more than four years to launch a formal investigation and nearly seven to reach a final decision. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the Commission’s delay in investigating the matter was only halted after an intervention by the European Ombudsman. As stated above, the complaint was submitted in November 2011. More than 25 months later, and not having been informed about the progress of the case, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman. According to the complainant, the Commission had failed to decide, in a timely way, whether or not to open the formal investigation procedure. The Ombudsman agreed with the complainant and found that the Commission had not justified its failure to decide on the matter. Furthermore, the public suspicion that the Commission’s inaction might be linked to the fact that the then Commissioner for Competition, Joaquín Almunia, was a socio (member) of one of the football clubs (Athletic Club Bilbao) involved, were highlighted by the Ombudsman in its Recommendation.[5] Even though the Commission has denied that the delay in launching the formal investigation was linked to Almunia’s personal footballing preferences, on 18 December 2013 (a mere two days after receiving the Ombudsman’s recommendation) the Commission decided to open an in-depth investigation into the tax privileges granted to the four Spanish football clubs.[6] 

The Decision

As is the case with most, if not all, State aid and tax cases, the key question is whether the tax measure (or treatment in this case) leads to a selective economic advantage for one or more undertakings, in this case the four professional football clubs.[7] In order to uncover a selective advantage in the form of tax income, the case-law subscribes that one begins by identifying and examining the common regime/system applicable in the Member State concerned. Secondly, an assessment is made of whether the treatment derogates from that common system. This assessment includes deciphering the objective assigned to the tax system, as well as determining whether the economic operators in question (i.e. the four football clubs) are in a comparable factual and legal situation to the other economic operators falling under the common system.[8] If the four clubs are in a comparable factual and legal situation, but their tax treatment derogates from the common system, this treatment will be considered selectively advantageous. Third and lastly, it is necessary to appraise whether the tax treatment is justified by the logic and nature of the tax system.[9] As regards this justification appraisal, there are two important aspects to note: First of all, there is a shift in the burden of proof, since it is for the Member State which has introduced such a differentiation in charges in favour of certain undertakings active in professional football to show that it is actually justified by the nature and general scheme of the system in question.[10] Secondly, this justification appraisal has to be separated from the general justification appraisal of Article 107(3), the latter of which will only take place after State aid in the sense of Article 107(1) is fully established.


The common system applicable and the objective assigned to the system

In both the Decision to open a formal investigation and the final Decision, the Commission considered that the common system applicable is that of the corporate tax law. This has been the common system since the professional sporting entities had to convert to limited companies in 1990. The Commission also held that the objective assigned to the system is generating State revenues on the basis of company profits.[11]


Are the four clubs in a comparable factual and legal situation?

The Commission believes that Real Madrid, Athletic Club Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona are in a comparable factual and legal situation as other professional sport companies in light of the abovementioned objective of the tax system, and cannot see how they should be treated differently. Nonetheless, Spain and the clubs argued that the clubs were not in the same factual and legal situation, because the clubs’ aim was not to make profits. Instead, all profits made have to be reinvested in the club itself. They also claimed that the CJEU’s case law allows for exceptions “in light of the peculiarities of cooperative societies which have to conform to particular operating principles”. Indeed, “those undertakings cannot be regarded as being in a comparable factual and legal situation to that of commercial companies, provided that they act in the economic interest of their members, the members being actively involved in the running of the business and entitled to equitable distribution of the results of economic performance”.[12] The fact that clubs cannot distribute profits to shareholders is a relevant peculiarity in the eyes of Spain.

The Commission rebutted Spain’s claim that sport associations and sport limited companies are not in the same factual and legal situation.   It firstly criticised Spain’s obligatory conversion of all-but-four sport associations into sport limited companies in 1990 by highlighting that “differences in the economic performance cannot justify different treatment as regards the obligatory form of organisation or the lack of choice in that respect. Losses are not intrinsic to a certain form of organisation. The business performance is therefore not an objective criterion justifying different taxation bases or imposing certain forms of incorporation for an indefinite period”.[13] Moreover, not being able to distribute profits to shareholders “cannot support a lower taxation of certain football clubs when compared to other professional sporting entities. (…) Those four clubs, although they are non-profit entities, actively seek to make profit themselves”, in a comparable way to other professional sporting entities.[14] Indeed, “the fact that clubs are obliged to reinvest the income they realise (…) does not weaken their competitive position, nor justifies a different, more favourable, tax treatment with respect to other entities active in professional sport. It rather drives them to improve their facilities”.[15]


Justification by the nature and logic of the tax system

As stated above, it is up to the Member State concerned to argue why the different tax treatment is justified under the general tax system. The Decision shows that Spain, the four clubs and La Liga (who was given interested party status by the Commission) presented a variety of arguments that in their eyes justified the different treatment. Three of these arguments were the followings:

1. Associations have stricter internal control mechanisms than sporting limited companies;

2. Associations have fewer possibilities of access to the capital market than sporting limited companies;

3. Associations are placed at a disadvantageous position under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules compared to sporting limited companies.

As regards the first justification brought forward, it underlines the liability regime imposed on the management body of a sport association. For example, a club’s management board “must provide a bank guarantee covering 15% of the club’s budgeted spending in order to guarantee any losses generated during its term. In addition, management board members will be strictly liable, in an unlimited manner, with their present and future personal assets, for any losses generated that exceed this guaranteed amount.”[16] Nonetheless, the Commission held that this justification is at odds with the rationale for the conversion of the other sport clubs to sport limited companies in 1990, which was the fact that many clubs had been managed badly. “If there was a need for certain clubs to be subject to stricter controls, the obligatory transformation into a limited company would not be necessary to pursue the purpose of that law.[17]

Further, Spain’s claim that clubs have fewer possibilities of access to the capital market cannot be seen as a justification for deviating from the common tax system. Simply put, “if the disadvantages of the clubs in this respect are as manifest as [Spain and the clubs] assert, they always have the possibility to change their corporate form”.[18]

Last, the Commission considers the Financial Fair Play rules of the UEFA to be “internal rules set by a football organisation which aim to ensure a reasonable financial management of sport entities and to avoid continuous loss making. They cannot justify a different taxation of profits by the State”.[19] With this last consideration, the Commission displays a rather benevolent attitude towards UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules. Indeed, refusing to attack these rules in any way is very much in line with its previous public statements on FFP, such as the Commission’s and UEFA’s Joint Statement on FFP of March 2012 and the Cooperation Agreement between the Commission and UEFA of October 2014.


Compatibility assessment under Article 107(3)

As can be read from paragraph 85 of the Decision, neither Spain nor the beneficiaries have claimed that any of the exceptions provided for in Article 107(2) and 107(3) TFEU apply in the present case. Generally speaking, successful justifications under Articles 107(2) and (3) are uncommon in State aid and taxation cases. Two possible reasons for this can be deciphered: On the one hand, Member State and interested parties seek justifications by the nature and logic of the tax system, i.e. they argue that the justification rules out a selective advantage for one more undertakings, thereby ruling out State aid under Article 107(1). On the other hand, State aid through tax advantages are in most cases considered as operating aid. Operating aid can normally not be considered compatible with the internal market under Article 107(3) TFEU in that it does not facilitate the development of certain activities or of certain economic areas, nor are the tax incentives in question limited in time, digressive or proportionate to what is necessary to remedy to a specific economic handicap of the areas concerned.[20] In the preferential corporate tax treatment of four Spanish football clubs case, the Commission noted that a lower tax burden than one that should normally be borne by the clubs in the course of their business operations, should be considered as operating aid.[21] Hence, this type of aid cannot be considered compatible aid under any of the exceptions of Article 107(3).

Yet, the tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 2011 provides an example of a tax benefit scheme for the sport sector that is declared compatible State aid under Article 107(3)c) TFEU. In this case, the Commission held that the scheme was introduced in a sufficiently transparent and proportionate manner, i.e. that the measure was well-designed to fulfil the objective of developing the country’s sport sector.[22] Moreover, the Commission acknowledged the special characteristics of sport and held that the objective of the scheme is in line with the overall objectives of sport as stipulated in Article 165 TFEU, namely that the EU “shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues”, because the sport sector “has enormous potential for bringing the citizens of Europe together, reaching out to all, regardless of age or social origin”.[23]

As regards the preferential corporate tax treatment of four Spanish football clubs case, no reference was made by Spain or the interested parties to Article 165, or how the preferential tax treatment could contribute to the promotion of sporting issues or values. Perhaps Spain and the four clubs were aware that such a justification would not fly, since the preferential tax treatment is only beneficial to four football clubs and not to the sports sector in general.


Recovery of the aid

Given that the Commission considered the preferential tax treatment to be unjustifiable State aid, a recovery decision was adopted. According to the Commission, the amount of the aid to be recovered from the four football clubs consists of the difference between the amount of corporate tax which the clubs actually paid and the amount of corporate tax which would have been due under the general corporate regime starting from the year 2000.[24] The Commission further recalls that the exact amount of the aid to be recovered will be assessed on a case by case basis during the recovery proceeding which will be carried out by the Spanish authorities in close cooperation with the Commission.[25]

In this regard, it is important to mention that Spain amended the corporate tax rules in November 2014 and new rules entered into force on 1 January 2015.[26] Under the amended law, the corporate income tax rate of 30% for all limited companies will be reduced to 28% for 2015 and to 25% from 2016 onwards. This includes limited sport companies as well, which will, from 2016, be submitted to that 25% corporate tax rate.[27] In other words, since there is no longer a different tax treatment for associations compared to sport limited companies as of 2016, Spain has seized to grant (unlawful) State aid to the four professional football clubs. The recovery will thus only involve the advantages obtained until the end of 2015. 


Conclusion

Few will disagree with the Commission in that the Spanish corporate tax system allowed for an economic selective advantage to be granted to Real Madrid, Athletic Club Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona over more than 25 years, and without the presence of an acceptable justification for such a favourable treatment. Having said this, this particular “saga” has not quite ended after it became clear that Athletic Club de Bilbao (at least) appealed the Commission’s Decision in front of the General Court of the EU.

Notwithstanding the upcoming Court case, the practical impact of this Decision will probably be very limited. Firstly, the actual aid that needs to be recovered by Spain will be relatively low in financial terms. As can be read in the Commission’s press release of 4 July 2016, it is estimated that the amounts that need to be recovered are around €0-5 million per club.[28] The Spanish government is yet to announce how much it will recover, but Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in particular will have no difficulties returning the aid, irrespective of what the amount exactly is. Secondly, by lowering the corporate tax rate for all limited companies in 2015 and 2016, Spain cannot be considered anymore as granting State aid to its professional football associations based on the corporate tax system. This also means that there is no more reason to believe that the European Commission could “force” the four clubs to change their legal status from club to sport limited company through the enforcement of EU State aid rules, as some have insinuated. The fans of these clubs were dreading this outcome because becoming a sport limited company would open the doors to external investors, who would not necessarily in their eyes have the best interest of the clubs in mind.



[1] The Commission has previously published: Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41613 on the measure implemented by the Netherlands with regard to the professional football club PSV in Eindhoven; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.40168 on the State aid implemented by the Netherlands

in favour of the professional football club Willem II in Tilburg; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41612 on the State aid implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club MVV in Maastricht; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41614 on the measures implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club FC Den Bosch in 's-Hertogenbosch; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41617 on the State aid implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club NEC in Nijmegen; and Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.33754 on the State aid implemented by Spain for Real Madrid CF. The last remaining decision to be published is Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.36387 Aid to Valencia football clubs.

[2] Draft recommendation of 16 December 2013 of the European Ombudsman in the inquiry into complaint 2521/2011/JF against the European Commission, points 1-3.

[3] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769 on the State Aid implemented by Spain for certain football clubs, paras. 5-9.

[4] Draft recommendation of the European Ombudsman in the inquiry into complaint 2521/2011/JF against the European Commission, point 13.

[5] “Rather than allaying suspicions regarding a conflict of interests, and regarding inappropriate influences on the decision making process, the Commission's failures here have actually added to those suspicions”.

[6] Interestingly enough, on that same day, the Commission decided to open an in-depth investigation into State guarantees in favour of three Spanish football clubs in Valencia and land transfers by the Council of Madrid to Real Madrid: Commission decision of 18 December 2013, SA.36387, Spain—Alleged aid in favour of three Valencia football clubs; Commission decision of 18 December 2013, SA.33754, Spain—Real Madrid CF.

[7] C Quigley, “European State Aid Law and Policy”, Hart Publishing (2015), pages 109-127.

[8] See for example Joined Cases C-78/08 to C-80/08 Paint Graphos and others ECLI:EU:C:2011:550, para. 49.

[9] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 51.

[10] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 59. See also Case T-211/05 Italian Republic v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2009:304, para. 125.

[11] Commission decision of 18 December 2013, SA.29769, Spain—State aid to certain Spanish professional football clubs, para. 16; and Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 53.

[12] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 62; and joined Cases C-78/08 to C-80/08 Paint Graphos and others ECLI:EU:C:2011:550, para. 61.

[13] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 56.

[14] Ibid, para. 65

[15] Ibid, para. 67.

[16] Ibid, para. 24.

[17] Ibid, para. 61.

[18] Ibid, para. 68.

[19] Ibid, para. 71.

[20] See for example Commission Decision of 10 October 2015, SA.38374 on State aid implemented by the Netherlands to Starbucks, para. 433.

[21] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 86.

[22] Commission Decision of 9 November 2011, SA.31722 – Hungary - Supporting the Hungarian sport sector via tax benefit scheme., paras 95-98.

[23] Ibid, paras 86-87. For more information on the tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision, see O. van Maren, “The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)”, Asser International Sports Law Blog, 18 May 2016.

[24] According to Article 17(1) of the State Aid Procedural Regulation 2015/1589, the powers of the Commission to recover aid are subject to a limitation period of ten years. Since the Commission asked Spain for information for the first time in 2010, the recovery of the tax difference starts with the taxation year 2000.

[25] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, paras. 93-97.

[26] Ley 27/2014 de 27 noviembre 2014, del Impuesto sobre Sociedades, BOE of 28 November 2014. Article 29(1) stipulates that “El tipo general de gravamen para los contribuyentes de este Impuesto será el 25 por ciento”.

[27] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 34.

[28] European Commission - Press release IP/16/2401 of 4 July 2016, State aid: Commission decides Spanish professional football clubs have to pay back incompatible aid.

Comments (2) -

  • Boris

    11/7/2016 7:50:54 PM |

    Very interesting analysis.

    "there are reasons to believe that the Commission’s delay in investigating the matter was only halted after an intervention by the European Ombudsman"

    This is really scary stuff, very close to corruption, why was the EC protecting a few companies? why does the EC take such huge reputational risks? It is all very strange. Looking at this, it is not really surprising that the US believes that the EU's competition policy is biased.

    One question, EC has stated that Spain has already amended the tax rules and you say that the discriminatory treatment has ended in 2015 but under the current Spanish corporation tax law (articles 109-111) the sport clubs are still exceptionally allowed (as partially exempted entities) to treat many items of revenue as fully exempt for corporation tax purposes. The tax rate may now be the same but the tax base selective advantage still exists. Has the EC asked Spain to eliminate this preferential treatment or are lower corporation tax bases a clever loophole that could be used by the likes of Luxembourg and Ireland to favour specific companies? At the end of the day, these countries could achieve the same result whether it is by reducing the tax base or by granting a lower tax rate.

    The EC has ruled Real Madrid and Barca will have to calculate their taxes since 2000 as if they had been sport limited companies but sport limited companies can only participate in one sport discipline (i.e. they cannot participate in football and basketball simultaneously). Will an exception be made for Real and Barca or will they have to calculate their football and basketball taxes separately? How could the EC justify the exception?

    The Telegraph referred to a €7m annual tax saving due to the ability to set-off basketball losses against football profits (www.telegraph.co.uk/.../) and over 16 years this could add up to a huge amount.

    Have you noticed that there is a provision in the new corporation tax law (seventh additional disposition) that states that the conversion of the sport clubs into PLCs shall be free of corporation tax (for the undertakings that would receive the assets) and free of personal tax (for the non-profit members that would make a handsome profit by receiving the shares of the clubs). This is a very weird transaction for any non-profit and the model could be replicated elsewhere to circumvent state aid rules. Why should the conversion not be taxed according to the general tax rules for both corporations and individuals? Has the EC asked Spain to end this discriminatory treatment?

    Many thanks

    • Oskar van Maren

      11/8/2016 12:33:25 PM |

      Dear Boris,

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      You pose a series of questions that will require me to look into the matter thoroughly.

      I shall get back to you as soon as possible and look forward to the discussion with you.

      Best,

      Oskar

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