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 Article Published! The Olympic Charter: A Transnational Constitution Without a State?

My latest article has just been published online by the Journal of Law and Society. It is available open access here.

The article stems from a conference organised by Jiri Priban from Cardiff University on Gunther Teubner's idea of societal constitutionalism applied to transnational regimes. My role was to test whether his descriptive and normative framework was readily applicable to the lex sportiva, and in particular its overarching "constitutional" text: the Olympic Charter.

As you will see my conclusion is mixed. I find that the Olympic Charter (OC) displays many constitutional features and is even able to regularly defend successfully its autonomy vis-à-vis national states and their laws. However, while I document some inception of limitative constitutional rules, such as the ban on discrimination or the principle of fair play, I also conclude that those have limited impact in practice. While constitutional changes to the OC can be triggered by scandal, resistance and contestation, as illustrated by the emergence of environmental concerns after the Albertville Games and the governance reshuffle of the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal, I am also sceptical that these were sufficient to tackle the underlying problems, as became obvious with the unmatched environmental damage caused by the Sotchi Games in 2014.

In conclusion, more than sporadic public outrage, I believe that the intervention of national law and, even more, European Union law will be capable and needed to rein the Olympic regime and impose external constitutional constraints on its (at least sometimes) destructive operations.

Here is the abstract of the article: This article examines various aspects of Teubner's theory of societal constitutionalism using the lex sportiva as an empirical terrain. The case study focuses on the operation of the Olympic Charter as a transnational constitution of the Olympic movement. It shows that recourse to a constitutional vocabulary is not out of place in qualifying the function and authority of the Charter inside and outside the Olympic movement. Yet, the findings of the case study also nuance some of Teubner's descriptive claims and question his normative strategy.

Good read! (And do not hesitate to share your feedback)


New Position - Internship in International Sports Law - Deadline 15 August


The T.M.C. Asser Instituut offers post-graduate students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the field of international and European sports law.  The T.M.C. Asser Instituut, located in The Hague, is an inter-university research institute specialized in international and European law. Since 2002, it is the home of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, a pioneer in the field of European and international sports law. More...


Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...



Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 25 & 26 October - Asser Institute, The Hague

 Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2018

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is inviting you to submit abstracts for its second ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ published by Springer in collaboration with Asser Press is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes academics and many practitioners active in the field. This call is open to researchers as well as practitioners. 

We are also delighted to announce that Prof. Franck Latty (Université Paris Nanterre), Prof. Margareta Baddeley (Université de Genève), and Silvia Schenk (member of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board) have confirmed their participation as keynote speakers.

Abstracts could, for example, tackle questions linked to the following international sports law subjects:

  • The interaction between EU law and sport
  • Antitrust and sports regulation
  • International sports arbitration (CAS, BAT, etc.)
  • The functioning of the world anti-doping system (WADA, WADC, etc.)
  • The global governance of sports
  • The regulation of mega sporting events (Olympics, FIFA World Cup, etc.)
  • The transnational regulation of football (e.g. the operation of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players or the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations)
  • The global fight against corruption in sport  
  • Comparative sports law
  • Human rights in sport 

Please send your abstract (no more than 300 words) and CV no later than 30 April 2018 to a.duval@asser.nl. Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2018. All papers presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special edition of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference edition of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2018.  Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and will provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 300€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please justify your request in your submission. 

Stepping Outside the New York Convention - Practical Lessons on the Indirect Enforcement of CAS-Awards in Football Matters - By Etienne Gard

Editor’s Note: Etienne Gard graduated from the University of Zurich and from King's College London. He currently manages a project in the field of digitalization with Bratschi Ltd., a major Swiss law firm where he did his traineeship with a focus in international commercial arbitration.

1. Prelude

On the 10th of June, 1958, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, widely known as the “New York Convention”, was signed in New York by 10 countries.[1] This rather shy figure progressively grew over the decades to now reach 157 signatory countries, turning the New York Convention into the global recognition and enforcement instrument it is today. As V.V. Veeder’s puts it, “One English law lord is said to have said, extra judicially, that the New York Convention is both the Best Thing since sliced bread and also whatever was the Best Thing before sliced bread replaced it as the Best Thing.”[2]

However, among the overall appraisal regarding the New York Convention, some criticisms have been expressed. For instance, some states use their public policy rather as a pretext not to enforce an award than an actual ground for refusal.[3]  A further issue is the recurring bias in favor of local companies.[4] Additionally, recognition and enforcement procedures in application of the New York Convention take place in front of State authorities, for the most part in front of courts of law, according to national proceeding rules. This usually leads to the retaining of a local law firm, the translation of several documents, written submissions and one, if not several hearings. Hence, the efficiency of the New York Convention as a recognition and enforcement mechanism comes to the expense of both money and time of both parties of the arbitral procedure.

In contrast with the field of commercial arbitration, where the New York Convention is often considered the only viable option in order to enforce an award, international football organizations, together with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”), offer an effective enforcement alternative. This article aims at outlining the main features of the indirect enforcement of CAS awards in football matters in light of a recent case. More...



The International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) and the quest for good governance: Of brave men and rotting fish - By Thomas Kruessmann

Editor's note: Prof. Thomas Kruessmann is key expert in the EU Technical Assistant Project "Strengthening Teaching and Research Capacity at ADA University" in Baku (Azerbaijan). At the same time, he is co-ordinator of the Jean-Monnet Network "Developing European Studies in the Caucasus" with Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia).


The notion that “fish rots from the head down” is known to many cultures and serves as a practical reminder on what is at stake in the current wave of anti-corruption / integrity and good governance initiatives. The purpose of this blog post is to provide a short update on the recent founding of the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), intermittently known as the International Sports Integrity Partnership (IPAS), and to propose some critical perspectives from a legal scholar’s point of view.

During the past couple of years, the sports world has seen a never-ending wave of corruption allegations, often followed by revelations, incriminations and new allegation. There are ongoing investigations, most notably in the United States where the U.S. Department of Justice has just recently intensified its probe into corruption at the major sports governing bodies (SGBs). By all accounts, we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg. And after ten years of debate and half-hearted reforms, there is the widespread notion, as expressed by the Council of Europe’s (CoE’s) Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Resolution 2199/2018 that “the sports movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”. More...



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

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 

Anti-doping whereabouts requirements declared compatible with the athletes' right to privacy and family life

On 18 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment with important consequences for the world of sport in general and the anti-doping regime in particular. The Strasbourg-based court was called upon to decide whether the anti-doping whereabouts system – which requires that a limited number of top elite athletes provide their National Anti-Doping Organisation or International Federation with regular information about their location, including identifying for each day one specific 60-minute time slot where the athlete will be available for testing at a pre-determined location – is compatible with the athletes' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and their freedom of movement pursuant to Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention. The case was brought by the French cyclist Jeannie Longo and five French athlete unions that had filed their application on behalf of 99 professional handball, football, rugby, and basketball players.

While acknowledging that the whereabouts requirements clash with the athletes' right to private and family life, the judges took the view that such a restriction is necessary in order to protect the health of athletes and ensure a level playing field in sports competitions. They held that ''the reduction or removal of the relevant obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports, and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control''. Accordingly, the judges found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, in a similar vein, ruled that Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention was not applicable to the case.

 

Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

It has been a record-breaking January transfer window with Premier League clubs having spent an eye-watering £430 million on signing new acquisitions. These spiralling transfer fees enable football agents, nowadays also called intermediaries, to charge impressive sums for their services. However, this might soon no longer be the case as the main stakeholders in European football are preparing to take action. UEFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the European Professional Football Leagues acknowledge in their joint resolution that the 2015 FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries failed to address serious concerns in relation to the activities of intermediaries/agents. They recognise in broad terms that a more effective regulatory framework is needed and call among other things for a reasonable and proportionate cap on fees for intermediaries/agents, enhanced transparency and accountability, or stronger provisions to protect minors.

 

The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website an arbitral award delivered on 4 August 2017 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the dispute between the Ghanian football referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey and FIFA. The CAS sided with FIFA and dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Lamptey against an earlier decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee which (i) found him to have violated Article 69(1) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code as he unlawfully influenced the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal that took place on 12 November 2016; (ii) as a consequence, banned him for life from taking part in any football-related activity; and (iii) ordered the match in question to be replayed. In reaching its conclusion, the CAS relied heavily on multiple reports of irregular betting activities that significantly deviated from usual market developments.  More...


Towards a Suitable Policy Framework for Cricket Betting in India - By Deeksha Malik

Editor's note: Deeksha Malik is a final-year student at National Law Institute University, India. Her main interest areas are corporate law, arbitration, and sports law. She can be reached at dkshmalik726@gmail.com.


In 2015, while interrogating cricketer Sreesanth and others accused in the IPL match-fixing case, Justice Neena Bansal, sitting as Additional Sessions Judge, made the following observations as regards betting on cricket matches.

“Cricket as a game of skill requires hand-eye-coordination for throwing, catching and hitting. It requires microscopic levels of precision and mental alertness for batsmen to find gaps or for bowlers to produce variety of styles of deliveries’ (medium pace, fast, inswing, outswing, offspin, legspin, googly). The sport requires strategic masterminds that can select the most efficient fielding positions for piling pressure on the batsmen. Based on above description, cricket cannot be described anything, but as a game of skill.”

The debate on the issue of betting in sports has since resurfaced and gained the attention of sportspersons, media, sports bodies, policymakers, and the general public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order directing the government to come up with an appropriate framework for regulating betting in sports. The arguments put forth in the PIL present various dimensions. One of these pertains to economic considerations, a submission that regulated betting would be able to generate annual revenue of Rs. 12,000 crores by bringing the earnings therefrom within the tax net. As for policy considerations, it was submitted that a proper regulation in this area would enable the government to distinguish harmless betting from activities that impair the integrity of the game such as match-fixing. Further, betting on cricket matches largely depends on the skill of the concerned players, thereby distinguishing it from pure chance-based activities.

The issue of sports betting witnesses a divided opinion till this day. This is understandable, for both sides to the issue have equally pressing arguments. Aside from its regulation being a daunting task for authorities, sports betting is susceptible to corruption and other unscrupulous activities. At the same time, it is argued that it would be better for both the game and the economy if the same is legalised. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – December 2017. By Tomáš Grell

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 

The International Skating Union's eligibility rules declared incompatible with EU competition law

On 8 December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had rendered a decision in the case against the International Skating Union (ISU). The Commission upheld the complaint lodged in October 2015 by two Dutch professional speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, represented in this case by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval (you can read their joint statement here), and ruled that the ISU's eligibility rules preventing athletes from participating in speed skating competitions not approved by the ISU under the threat of severe penalties are in violation of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission held that these rules restrict the commercial freedom of (i) athletes who may be deprived of additional source of income as they are not allowed to participate in speed skating competitions other than those authorised by the ISU; and (ii) independent organisers who are unable to attract top athletes. And while the Commission recognised that sporting rules with restrictive effects might be compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective such as the protection of athletes' health and safety or the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, it found that the ISU's eligibility rules pursue only its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and independent organisers of speed skating competitions. The ISU eventually escaped financial sanctions, but it must modify or abolish its eligibility rules within 90 days; otherwise it would be liable for non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily turnover. For more information on this topic, we invite you to read our recent blog written by Professor Stefano Bastianon.

 

The International Olympic Committee bans Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games

The world has been waiting impatiently for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. This was finally communicated on 5 December 2017. Having deliberated on the findings of the Schmid Commission, the IOC Executive Board decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee with immediate effect, meaning that only those Russian athletes who demonstrate that they had not benefited from the state-sponsored doping programme will be able to participate in the Games. Such clean athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic Flag, bearing the name 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' on their uniforms. Further to this, the IOC Executive Board sanctioned several officials implicated in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, including Mr Vitaly Mutko, currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and formerly the Minister of Sport. Mounting public pressure subsequently forced Mr Mutko to step down as head of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Meanwhile, 21 individual Russian athletes were sanctioned (see here, here, here, and here) in December (in addition to 22 athletes in November) by the IOC Oswald Commission that is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Oswald Commission also published two full decisions in the cases against Evgeny Belov and Aleksandr Tretiakov who were both banned from all future editions of the Games. It is now clear that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have quite some work in the coming weeks as the banned athletes are turning to this Swiss-based arbitral tribunal to have their sanctions reviewed (see here and here).

 

Universal Declaration of Player Rights

14 December 2017 was a great day for athletes all over the globe. On this day, representatives of the world's leading player associations met in Washington D.C. to unveil the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a landmark document developed under the aegis of the World Players Association that strives to protect athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. The World Players Association's Executive Director Brendan Schwab emphasised that the current system of sports governance ''lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport'' and stated that ''athlete rights can no longer be ignored''. Among other rights, the Declaration recognises the right of athletes to equality of opportunity, fair and just working conditions, privacy and the protection of personal data, due process, or effective remedy.

 

Chris Froome failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España

The world of cycling suffered yet another blow when it transpired that one of its superstars Chris Froome had failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España, a race he had eventually emerged victorious from for the first time in his career. His urine sample collected on 7 September 2017 contained twice the amount of salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma, than permissible under the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2017 Prohibited List. Kenyan-born Froome has now hired a team of medical and legal experts to put forward a convincing explanation for the abnormal levels of salbutamol in his urine and thus to avoid sanctions being imposed on him. More...

The ISU Commission's Decision and the Slippery Side of Eligibility Rules - By Stefano Bastianon (University of Bergamo)

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in European Law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar. He is also member of the IVth Division of the High Court of Sport Justice (Collegio di Garanzia dello sport) at the National Olympic Committee.

1. From the very beginning, the outcome of the ISU case was highly predictable, at least for those who are familiar with the basics of antitrust law. Nevertheless, more than twenty years after the Bosman judgment, the sports sector has shown the same shortsightedness and inability to see the forest for the trees. Even this attitude was highly predictable, at least for those who know the basics of sports governance. The final result is a clear-cut decision capable of influencing the entire sports movement. More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Doyen’s Crusade Against FIFA’s TPO Ban: The Ruling of the Appeal Court of Brussels

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

Doyen’s Crusade Against FIFA’s TPO Ban: The Ruling of the Appeal Court of Brussels

Since last year, Doyen Sports, represented by Jean-Louis Dupont, embarked on a legal crusade against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has lodged a competition law complaint with the EU Commission and started court proceedings in France and Belgium. In a first decision on Doyen’s request for provisory measures, the Brussels Court of First Instance rejected the demands raised by Doyen and already refused to send a preliminary reference to the CJEU. Doyen, supported by the Belgium club Seraing, decided to appeal this decision to the Brussels Appeal Court, which rendered its final ruling on the question on 10 March 2016.[1] The decision (on file with us) is rather unspectacular and in line with the first instance judgment. This blog post will rehash the three interesting aspects of the case.

·      The jurisdiction of the Belgian courts

·      The admissibility of Doyen’s action

·      The conditions for awarding provisory measures

 

I.      The jurisdiction of the Belgian courts

Doyen was not the only party to the dispute dissatisfied with the first instance ruling; FIFA and UEFA also appealed the decision challenging the territorial competence of the Belgian Court to hear the claims raised against FIFA’s TPO ban. They consider that the Swiss courts are solely competent to deal with civil disputes involving its rules and decisions.

As in first instance, the thrust of the ruling on this question turns on the interpretation of the Lugano convention of 2007 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. In principle, under Article 2(1) of the Convention: “Subject to the provisions of this Convention, persons domiciled in a State bound by this Convention shall, whatever their nationality, be sued in the courts of that State.” Thus, translated to the present dispute this would imply that FIFA and UEFA, which are Swiss Associations, are in principle to be sued in front of Swiss courts.

Moreover, to support their view that Swiss Courts have an exclusive jurisdiction, FIFA and UEFA also invoke Article 22(2) Lugano Convention stipulating that “proceedings which have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or of the validity of the decisions of their organs, the courts of the State bound by this Convention in which the company, legal person or association has its seat. In order to determine that seat, the court shall apply its rules of private international law”. Yet, the Appeal Court is of a different opinion and refers to the jurisprudence of the CJEU indicating that Article 22(2) should be interpreted as referring to disputes lodged based on company law or their statutes against decisions of a company or association.

The principle enshrined in Article 2 Lugano Convention is not absolute, many exceptions are provided in the Lugano Convention itself. In particular, Article 5(3) Lugano Convention foresees that in delictual matters the court of the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur is competent. This entails both the place were the harmful conduct was put in motion and the place where the harm was felt. In the present case, the Appeal Court argues that it is “difficult to contest that by hindering the appellant to execute their partnership agreement and enter in future TPO or TPI agreements over specific players, the attacked ban is producing harmful effects on the Belgian territory”.[2] Furthermore, the TPO agreement between Doyen Sports and the ASBL RFC Seraing is not deemed fictitious, as it has been invoked by FIFA to hand out disciplinary sanctions to the ASBL RFC Seraing.[3]

Additionally, the Court derives also its competence from Article 6(1) Lugano Convention. This article provides that a party can be sued “where he is one of a number of defendants, in the courts for the place where any one of them is domiciled, provided the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings”. The key question is whether there is sufficient connectedness between the claims raised against l’URBSFA, FIFA and UEFA. The Court refers to the recent case law of the CJEU, which is relevant to the interpretation of the Lugano Convention, on the identical provision in the Brussels Regulation (notably the case C-352/13 at para. 20). It is of the view that “FIFA and URBSFA share a regulatory and disciplinary power that enables them both, acting jointly or separately, to adopt the contested ban, to enforce it and to adopt an individual decision susceptible to block, compromise and/or restrict the execution of the contract signed by the appellants”.[4] Thus, “the autonomous regulatory power of the URBSFA justifies its participation in this proceeding, alongside FIFA in order (i) to obtain that both be prevented to act; (ii) that each of them be deprived of the opportunity to contest the opposability of a decision to which they would not have been part and lastly (iii) to deny FIFA the possibility to circumvent an interdiction pronounced against it by having recourse to the regulatory power of the URBSFA”.[5] Finally, the Court argues “if the appellant were forced to lodge a claim against FIFA in front of the Swiss courts and against URBSFA in front of the Belgian Courts, this could potentially lead to irreconcilable solutions”.[6] As far as the claims against UEFA are concerned, which has not contrary to FIFA explicitly banned TPO, the Appeal Court is also convinced of their connectedness. It is so because UEFA “imposes to the clubs needing a license to participate in its competitions that they comply with the statutes and regulations of FIFA and, thus, with the disputed TPO ban “.[7]

This is again a powerful reminder that Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs) seated in Switzerland cannot evade the jurisdiction of the national courts of EU Member States when EU competition law is involved.[8] Under Article 5(3) Lugano Convention, EU Member States courts will be competent to deal with a civil liability claim based on EU competition law if the damage caused by the disputed measure/decision/regulation can be felt on the national territory of a Member State. Furthermore, if, as is usually the case for sports regulations, the rules have to be implemented by national sporting associations, the claims raised against the national SGBs will most likely be deemed connected to the original decisions/regulations of the international SGBs and justify the jurisdiction of the court of the domicile of the national SGB.[9]

 

II.    The admissibility of Doyen’s action

In this proceeding, as well as in the one initiated in front of the Paris court (FIFA’s legal submission in the Paris procedure has been published by football leaks), FIFA argues that Doyen’s action is not admissible due to the fact that the wrong administrator has initiated it. Indeed, under article 11.1 of Doyen’s own statutes the judicial representation is to be exercised by the local administrator designated by shareholder A acting in conjunction with the local administrator designated by shareholder B or by any other person designated by the general assembly. Yet, in practice Nelio Lucas, who fulfils none of the relevant criteria and was thus not authorized to act in Doyen’s name in judicial matters, lodged the action. However, Doyen could have under Belgium procedural rules ratified the judicial initiative taken by an incompetent organ. Doyen tried to do so but failed to organize the general assembly necessary to ratify Nelio Luca’s decision. Thus, the Court deems the action initiated by Doyen inadmissible. Luckily for Doyen it was not the sole party to the proceedings as the ASBL RFC Seraing joined the procedure. The Court believes the intervention of RFC Seraing in the proceedings is admissible and its interest to act is acknowledged. On this latter point, FIFA was arguing that RFC Seraing’s interest to act was inexistent due to the fact that the partnership agreement between Doyen and Seraing was contrary to the public order. However, in light of the divergent positions regarding the legality of TPO/TPI and of the on-going proceedings before various national courts and the European commission, the Belgium court is reluctant to admit that the interest of Seraing to act in this matter is illegitimate.

 

III.  Doyen’s (un)likelihood to prevail

As explained in our previous blog on the first instance ruling in the same matter, Doyen and Seraing can obtain provisory measures if they demonstrate that those measures are urgent and that they are likely to prevail on substance in the main proceedings.

On the urgency of adopting provisory measures, the Court sided with Seraing and Doyen. It found that Seraing is subjected to disciplinary sanctions, even though their execution is suspended, and is susceptible to incur further proceedings and sanctions if it enters into new TPO/TPI agreements with Doyen.[10] Moreover, it is un-doubtable that the prohibition of the agreement with Doyen has deprived Seraing of financial resources that cannot be easily substituted by classical loans from third parties.[11] Consequently, the Court considers that the urgency requirement for provisory measures is given.

Concerning the likelihood to prevail, however, the Court sided with the federations and refused to admit that the TPO/TPI ban was likely to restrict article 101(1) TFEU. On the one hand, as indices of the compatibility of the ban with EU law, it pointed out that the Commission was inclined to support the TPO ban, that FIFPro was clearly opposed to TPO and invokes fundamental values in support of the ban, and that the ban was adopted after a collective reflection involving many stakeholders and is aimed at tackling the negative externalities listed by the first instance court.[12] On the other hand, it refers to an academic article authored by Marmayou contesting the compatibility of TPO with EU law (this reference appears poorly chosen as the article is dedicated primarily to the FIFA regulations for intermediaries, for a stronger challenge to the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law see Lindholm).[13] In any case, “it is obvious that a preliminary assessment cannot lead the Court to conclude, with sufficient certainty, that the ban would be contrary to EU competition rules”.[14] Finally, and this is the part of the ruling that seems to have been slightly misinterpreted by the press. The Court pointed out that Seraing and Doyen were asking in the main proceedings for a preliminary reference to the CJEU and that they were, therefore, conscious that they are not certain to prevail. However, the Appeal Court cannot, in the framework of a procedure involving provisory measures, ask a question to the CJEU, as it is unable to comply with the CJEU’s requirements for the admissibility of preliminary references (see the failed attempt in the UEFA FFP case). Hence, it is for the Commercial Court of Brussels, which is competent in the main proceeding, to decide whether it is necessary to do so. The Appeal Court (and the claimants as it cheekily points out) seems to believe that it could be needed, as it is not at all clear that the ban is contrary to EU competition law.


Conclusion

There are number of lessons that can be drawn from the judgment of the appeal court. Three stand out:

  1. FIFA and UEFA cannot evade the jurisdiction of EU courts. Indeed, if an EU competition law violation of their rules is invoked they can be brought before the jurisdictions of the Member States
  2. Doyen messed up in its original court filing by failing to abide by the procedure enshrined in its own statutes. This has no dire consequences in the Belgium proceedings due to presence of Seraing, but it might be a different story before the Paris court, where Doyen stands alone and the same procedural irregularity is invoked by FIFA.
  3. To FIFA’s great satisfaction, the case against the TPO ban is not deemed strong enough to allow for the adoption of provisory measures blocking its implementation. As pointed out in our previous blog (and here) EU competition law is not a golden bullet that can be invoked easily to strike down FIFA or UEFA regulations. There is a high justificatory burden and the claimants will face an uphill battle to demonstrate that the ban is disproportionate (especially in light of the broad support for the ban amongst many key stakeholders).

This was only a small skirmish in a long legal war still before us. It will not be definitely over until the CJEU decides the matter (in 2018 at the earliest) or Doyen bows out of the game in the face of the high legal fees incurred. What is already certain is that the way EU law applies to sport is not straightforward and does not entail an economic/neoliberal logic blindly favourable to an unrestricted freedom to invest.



[1] Cour d’appel Bruxelles, Doyen Sports et ASBL RFC Seraing United c. URBSFA, FIFA et UEFA, 2015/KR/54, 10 mars 2016.

[2] “Il est difficilement contestable qu’en empêchant les appelantes de poursuivre l’exécution de leur convention de collaboration et la conclusion de nouvelles conventions « TPO » ou « TPI » spécifiques à des joueurs, l’interdiction litigieuse produit des effets dommageables sur le territoire belge.” Ibid, para.50.

[3] “C’est également en vain qu’il est soutenu que la convention de collaboration litigieuse ne serait qu’un artifice destiné à saisir les juridictions belges. En effet, elle a connu une exécution par des payements de sommes de Doyen Sports à l’ASBL RFC Seraing et surtout, son existence a été invoquée par la FIFA pour mener des poursuites disciplinaires contre le club dirigé par l’ASBL RFC Seraing et lui infliger une sanction.” Ibid.

[4] “L’URBSFA et la FIFA se partagent donc un pouvoir réglementaire et de contrainte qui leur permet, à l’une et à l’autre, agissant ensemble ou séparément, d’adopter l’interdiction litigieuse, de la mettre en œuvre et de prendre une mesure ou une décision à caractère individuel de nature à empêcher, compromettre et/ou entraver l’exécution du contrat conclu entre les appelantes.” Ibid, para.57

[5] “Le pouvoir règlementaire autonome de l’URBSFA et son pouvoir d’action propre justifient sa présence dans la procédure, en même temps que la FIFA afin (i) d’obtenir l’empêchement d’agir de l’une et de l’autre ; (ii) de priver chacune d’elles de la possibilité de contester l’opposabilité d’une décision judiciaire qui serait rendue dans une cause à laquelle elle serait demeurée étrangère et enfin (iii) d’empêcher la FIFA de contourner une interdiction qui serait prononcée à son encontre en recourant au pouvoir réglementaire de l’URBSFA.” Ibid.

[6] “Si les appelantes étaient dans l’obligation d’attraire la FIFA devant les juridictions suisses tout en citant l’URBSFA devant les juridictions belges, cette situation serait susceptible de conduire à des solutions inconciliables […]”, ibid. para.58.

[7] “En ce qui concerne l’UEFA, la connexité existe également. En effet, si elle n’est pas l’auteur des dispositions réglementaires et si elle n’est pas intervenue comme soutien dans l’exercice de poursuites disciplinaires menées contre le RFC SERAING, elle impose aux clubs qui doivent obtenir une licence pour participer aux compétitions qu’elle organise, de se plier aux statuts et aux règlements de la FIFA et à l’interdiction en cause.” Ibid., para.59.

[8] The same solution was adopted in 2012 by the French Cour de Cassation (Highest French Civil Court) in a dispute opposing the French agent Piau to FIFA. See Cour de cassation, civile, Chambre civile 1, 1 février 2012, publié au bulletin.

[9] This solution was also adopted by the OLG in the Pechstein ruling, see Oberlandesgericht München, 15 January 2015, Az. U 1110/14 Kart, para.A.I.1.a)aa) and bb).

[10] « L’urgence est établie. L’ASBL RFC Seraing est sous le coup d’une sanction disciplinaire dont seule l’exécution a été suspendue et elle est susceptible d’encourir de nouvelles poursuites et sanctions pour le cas où elle conclurait de nouvelles conventions TPO/TPI avec Doyen Sports ou toute autre société menant des activités de financement similaires.” Cour d’appel Bruxelles, Doyen Sports et ASBL RFC Seraing United c. URBSFA, FIFA et UEFA, 2015/KR/54, 10 mars 2016, para.78.

[11] « Ensuite, il n’est pas douteux que l’interdiction de poursuivre la convention de collaboration du 30 janvier 2015 et de conclure de nouvelles conventions TPO/TPI la prive d’une source de financement, sans qu’il soit démontré par les intimées qu’elle pourrait lui trouver un substitut adéquat par des emprunts classiques auprès de tiers.”Ibid.

[12] « D’un côté, il faut constater que :
- la Commission paraît s’être orientée vers la condamnation de la TPO;
- la FIPpro y est clairement opposée et invoque à cette fin des valeurs essentielles;
- l’interdiction est le résultat d’une réflexion collective à laquelle ont participé de nombreux interlocuteurs - et non pas seulement l’UEFA ou certains de ses membres - et elle est l’aboutissement de plusieurs constats que relève le premier juge dans son ordonnance : opacité, absence de contrôle des instances dirigeantes, importance du phénomène puisqu’il concerne le marché mondial, environnement ouvert à la corruption et aux pratiques frauduleuses, importance des sommes en jeu, etc...” Ibid, para.81.

[13] « De l’autre, de sérieuses réserves sont émises à propos de la légalité de l’interdiction de la TPO/TPI (voir ainsi l’article de J.M. MARMAYOU, « La compatibilité du nouveau règlement FIFA sur les intermédiaires avec le droit européen » Les cahiers de droit du sport, 2015, p. 15, pièce 38bis des appelantes).” Ibid.

[14] « Il est patent qu’un examen en apparence ne permet pas de conclure, avec la force nécessaire, que l’interdiction porte atteinte aux règles de la concurrence.” Ibid, para.82.

Comments are closed