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

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June - August 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

 

The Headlines

CAS Decision on Manchester City FC Case

After the UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control’s (CFCB) decision earlier this year to ban Manchester City FC for two seasons, observers waited impatiently to see the outcome of this high profile dispute. The CFCB’s decision had found that Manchester City FC overstated sponsorship revenues and in its break-even information given to UEFA. While some feared this showdown could lead to the demise of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the now publicized CAS panel’s decision is more nuanced. The panel’s decision turned on (see analysis here and here) (a) whether the ‘Leaked Emails’ were authentic and could be admissible evidence, (b) whether the ‘CFCB breached its obligations of due process’, (c) whether the conclusions of the 2014 Settlement Agreement prevents the CFCB from charging Manchester City FC, (d) whether the charges are time-barred, (e) the applicable standard of proof, (f) whether Manchester City FC masked equity funding as sponsorship contributions, and (g) whether Manchester City FC failed to cooperate with CFCB. In the end, among other findings, the Panel held that some of the alleged breaches were time-barred but maintained that Manchester City FC had failed to cooperate with CFCB’s investigation. In light of this, the Panel significantly reduced the sanction placed on Manchester City FC by removing the two-season suspension and reducing the sanction from 30 million euros to 10 million euros.

 

Qatar Labour Law Reforms Effectively Abolishes the Kafala System

Just a few days after Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report on abusive practices suffered by migrant workers in Qatar, Qatar adopted a series of laws that effectively gets rid of the Kafala system by no longer requiring migrant workers to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from their employer in order to start another job. The International Labour Organization declared that this development along with the elimination of the ‘exit permit requirements’ from earlier this year means that the kafala system has been effectively abolished. In addition to these changes, Qatar has also adopted a minimum wage that covers all workers and requires that employers who do not provide food or housing at least give a minimum allowance for both of these living costs. Lastly, the new laws better define the procedure for the termination of employment contracts.

In reaction to these changes, Amnesty International welcomed the reforms and called for them to be ‘swiftly and properly implemented’. Indeed, while these amendments to Qatar’s labour laws are a step in the right direction, Amnesty International also cautions that the minimum wage may still be too low, and in order to be effective, these new laws will have to be followed with ‘strong inspection and complaint mechanisms’.

 

CAS Decision Concerning Keramuddin Karim Abuse Case

In June of last year, Keramuddin Karim, former president of Afghanistan’s soccer federation, was banned by FIFA for life (see the decision of the adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee) after reports of sexual and physical abuse that emerged in late 2018. Following a lengthy and tumultuous investigation in Afghanistan, Afghan officials came forward with an arrest warrant for Mr. Karim. Nevertheless, despite attempts to apprehend Mr. Karim, Mr. Karim has still avoided arrest over a year later. Most recently in August, Afghan Special Operation officers attempted to apprehend him but he was not at the residence when they arrived.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karim had appealed FIFA’s lifetime ban to the CAS and the CAS Panel’s decision has recently been released. In its decision, the Panel upheld both the lifetime ban and the 1,000,000 CHF fine, finding that due to the particular egregious nature of Karim’s acts, ‘they warrant the most severe sanction possible available under the FCE’. Since both Karim and his witnesses were unable to be heard, the case raises questions connected to the respect of fundamental procedural rights at the CAS.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March-May 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Over Sports

Since the last monthly report, the coronavirus pandemic has completely taken over the headlines and has had enormous impacts on the sports field. The most significant of these impacts so far was the rather slow (see here and here) decision by the IOC to move the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 after a widespread push among athlete stakeholders to do so. Concerns were raised that besides the wellbeing of the participants, athletes under lockdowns would not have the access to the training facilities, meaning preparations for the Games would suffer. The IOC has already started its new planning for Tokyo 2021 and sees this new opportunity to be ‘an Olympic flame’ at the end of a ‘dark tunnel’ for the entire world.

Besides the Olympics, football has also experienced colossal effects as this crisis landed right as leagues were approaching the end of their season. In this context, FIFA has released specific guidelines on player contracts and transfer windows, which has included extending player contracts to the new postponed end of season dates. It has also organized a working group on COVID-19, which has already made recommendations to postpone all men and women’s international matches that were to be played during the June 2020 window. Earlier in March, UEFA had already announced that the EURO 2020 was also postponed by 12 months and has also recently approved guidelines on domestic competitions. These guidelines place emphasis on ‘sporting merit’ and urge ‘National Associations and Leagues to explore all possible options to play all top domestic competitions giving access to UEFA club competitions to their natural conclusion’. Nevertheless, UEFA also emphasizes that the health of all stakeholders must remain the top priority.

In the end, numerous sport federations have also had to amend their calendars due to the pandemic (see UCI and FIBA) and a variety of sport stakeholders have been confronted with immense financial strain (e.g. football, tennis and cycling). For example, UEFA has acted preemptively in releasing club benefit payments to try to alleviate the economic pressure faced by clubs. There have also been efforts to support athletes directly (e.g. FIG and ITF). All in all, the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on sport have been unprecedented and will require creative solutions while continuing to place public health as the top priority.

Platini’s ECtHR Appeal Falls Flat

There have also been a few other stories that have (understandably) been overshadowed by the pandemic. One of these include Michel Platini’s unsuccessful appeal to the ECtHR challenging his 2015 football ban. The ECtHR’s decision concerned the admissibility of his appeal and in the end found it to be ‘manifestly ill-founded’. This is because he failed to raise his procedural rights concerns under Article 6 (1) ECHR in his proceedings at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Besides rejecting his other claims based on Article 7 and 8 ECHR, the ECtHR decision also touched upon the issue of CAS’ procedural and institutional independence. In doing so, it referred to its Pechstein decision and once more affirmed that the CAS is sufficiently independent and impartial (see para 65), further giving credence to this notion from its case law. However, there are still concerns on this matter as was highlighted in the Pechstein dissent. Overall, the decision indicates that the ECtHR is willing to give the CAS the benefit of the doubt so long as it sufficiently takes into account the ECHR in its awards.

Mark Dry – UKAD Dispute

In February, Mark Dry was suspended by UKAD after a decision of the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) Appeal Tribunal  for four years after having given a ‘false account’ in order to ‘subvert the Doping Control process’. Specifically, Dry had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing after he had missed a test at his residence. After further investigation, Dry admitted that he had forgotten to update his whereabouts while he was actually visiting his parents in Scotland and in panic, had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing. Following the decision of the NADP Appeal Tribunal, athlete stakeholders have argued the four-year ban was disproportionate in this case. In particular, Global Athlete contended that Whereabouts Anti-Doping Rule Violations only occur in cases where an athlete misses three tests or filing failures within a year. Furthermore, even if Dry had ‘tampered or attempted to tamper’, a four-year sanction is too harsh. Subsequently, UKAD responded with a statement, arguing that ‘deliberately providing false information’ is ‘a serious breach of the rules’ and that the UKAD NADP Appeal Tribunal ‘operates independently’. In light of the mounting pressure, Witold Bańka, WADA President, also responded on Twitter that he is ‘committed to ensuring that athletes’ rights are upheld under the World Anti-Doping Code’. More...

Anti-Doping in Times of COVID-19: A Difficult Balancing Exercise for WADA - By Marjolaine Viret

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


I.               Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the manner in which we approach human interactions that suppose close and prolonged physical contact. Across the world, authorities are having to design ways to resume essential activities without jeopardising participants’ health, all the while guaranteeing that other fundamental rights are paid due respect. The fight against doping is no exception. Anti-doping organizations – whether public or private – have to be held to the same standards, including respect for physical integrity and privacy, and considerate application of the cornerstone principle of proportionality.

Throughout this global crisis, the World Anti-Doping Agency (‘WADA’) has carefully monitored the situation, providing anti-doping organizations and athletes with updates and advice. On 6 May 2020, WADA issued the document called ‘ADO Guidance for Resuming Testing’ (‘COVID Guidance’). A COVID-19 ‘Q&A’ for athletes (‘Athlete Q&A’) is also available on WADA’s website, and has been last updated on 25 May 2020. This article focuses on these two latest documents, and analyses the solutions proposed therein, and their impact on athletes.

Like many public or private recommendations issued for other societal activities, the WADA COVID Guidance is primarily aimed at conducting doping control while limiting the risk of transmission of the virus and ensuing harm to individuals. More specifically, one can identify two situations of interest for athletes that are notified for testing:

  1. The athlete has or suspects that they may have been infected with COVID-19, or has come in close contact with someone having COVID-19;
  2. The athlete fears to be in touch with doping control personnel that may be infected with COVID-19.

Quite obviously, either situation has the potential to create significant challenges when it comes to balancing the interests of anti-doping, with individual rights and data protection concerns. This article summarises how the latest WADA COVID Guidance and Athlete Q&A address both situations. It explores how the solutions suggested fit in with the WADA regulatory framework and how these might be assessed from a legal perspective.

The focus will be on the hypothesis in which international sports federations – i.e. private entities usually organised as associations or similar structures – are asked to implement the COVID Guidance within their sport. National anti-doping organizations are strongly embedded in their national legal system and their status and obligations as public or semi-public organisations are likely to be much more dependent on the legislative landscape put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in each country. Nevertheless, the general principles described in this article would apply to all anti-doping organizations alike, whether at international or national level. More...



(A)Political Games: A Critical History of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’ have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g. professionalism in sport),[1] while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g. protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space.  For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’ ability to represent their personal sponsors[2]). Nowadays, the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security operations created to protect the Olympic sites.

Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people together’.[3] In this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set aside’?[4] Should one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible to separate politics and sport?  

Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.[5] However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression during the Games (see here, here and here). Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless, what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal.[6] Sport nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to validate its global prowess and stature.

To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively. The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2020 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

Manchester City sanctioned by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play

Manchester City has been sanctioned under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations for two seasons for ‘overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information’ it had provided UEFA. The February 14 decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) likely heralds the start of a long and bitter legal war between Manchester City and UEFA, which may end up settling many of the questions surrounding the legality of FFP rules. Since its introduction in 2010, the compatibility of FFP with EU law, especially in terms of free movement and competition law, has been a continued point of contention amongst the parties concerned and commentators (see discussion here, here and here). It was only a matter of time that a case would arise to test this issue and the present circumstances seem to indicate that this may go all the way.                                 

Regardless, the ban will not be enforced this season and in light of the appeal process, it is hard to predict when the CFCB’s decision will have any effect. Indeed, Manchester City has shown an incredible willingness to fighting this out in the courts and shows no signs of backing down. The next stop will be the CAS and perhaps followed by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. It should also be recalled that the CAS has already examined FFP in its Galatasaray award, where it found FFP compatible with EU law (see commentary here). There is even a decent chance that this emerging saga may end up in front of the European Commission and eventually the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Sun Yang CAS award published

After a much-anticipated public hearing, the Panel’s award in the Sun Yang case has finally been published, sanctioning Sun Yang with an eight-year period of ineligibility (see here for a detailed commentary). The decision does not reveal anything groundbreaking in terms of its legal reasoning and in many ways the case will most likely be remembered for its historical significance: the case that jumpstarted a new era of increased public hearings at the CAS.

Perhaps of some interest is the extent to which the panel took into account Sun Yang’s behavior during the proceedings in order to support its assessment of the case. For example, the panel describes how Sun Yang had ignored the procedural rules of the hearing by inviting ‘an unknown and unannounced person from the public gallery to join him at his table and act as an impromptu interpreter’. The Panel interpreted this as Sun Yang attempting ‘to take matters into his own hands’ which it found resembled the athlete’s behavior in the case (see para 358). The Panel also found it ‘striking’ that Sun Yang did not express any remorse concerning his actions during the proceedings. Since the proceedings were held publicly and have been recorded, it is possible to verify the Panel’s assessment in this regard.

In the end, it is possible that Sun Yang may seek to reduce the period of ineligibility once the 2021 WADA Code comes into force (see para 368). For now, Sung Yang may also try to appeal the award to the Swiss Federal Tribunal on procedural grounds, and has already indicated his wish to do so. More...

Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

 On March 05, the T.M.C. Asser Institute hosted ‘Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play?’ a Multiplier Sporting Event organized in the framework of a European research project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. This project funded by the European Commission through its Erasmus+ program aims to help the EU adopt a strategic approach to sports diplomacy and to provide evidence of instances where sport can help amplify EU diplomatic messages and forge better relations with third countries. In particular, Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute is focusing on the role of EU sports diplomacy to strengthen human rights in the context of mega sporting events (MSE) both in Europe and abroad. To this end, he organized the two panels of the day focusing, on the one hand, on the ability of sport governing bodies (SGB) to leverage their diplomatic power to promote human rights, particularly in the context of MSEs and, on the other, on the EU’s role and capacity to strengthened human rights around MSEs. The following report summarizes the main points raised during the discussions. More...

Special Issue Call for Papers: Legal Aspects of Fantasy Sports - International Sports Law Journal

The International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invites submissions to a special issue focusing on legal aspects of fantasy sports. For some time, fantasy sports has been a major phenomena in North America and this has been reflected in the sports law literature. Fantasy sports have more recently grown in popularity in the rest of world, raising a number of novel legal questions. The ISLJ wants to support fruitful global discussions about these questions through a special issue. We welcome contributions from different jurisdictions analyzing fantasy sports from the perspective of various areas of law including, but not limited to, intellectual property law, gambling law, and competition law.

Please submit proposed papers through the ISLJ submission system (http://islj.edmgr.com/) no later than November 15, 2020. Submissions should have a reccomended length of 8,000–12,000 words and be prepared in accordance with the ISLJ's house style guidelines (https://www.springer.com/journal/40318/submission-guidelines). All submissions will be subject to double-blind peer review.

Question about the special issue can be directed to the Editor–in-Chief, Johan Lindholm (johan.lindholm@umu.se).

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2020 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

IOC Athlete Commission releases its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020

The IOC Athlete Commission presented its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020 at its annual joint meeting with the IOC Executive Board. It comes as Thomas Bach had recently underlined the importance of political neutrality for the IOC and the Olympic Games in his New Year’s message. Generally, rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits any political and religious expression by athletes and their team during the Games, subject to certain exceptions. The Guidelines clarify that this includes the ‘field of play’, anywhere inside the Olympic Village, ‘during Olympic medal ceremonies’ and ‘during the Opening, Closing and other official ceremonies’. On the other hand, athletes may express their views ‘during press conferences and interview’, ‘at team meetings’ and ‘on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. While rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines have reignited a debate on whether it could be considered as a justified restriction on one’s freedom of expression.

 

The IOC has made the case that it is defending the neutrality of sport and that the Olympics is an international forum that should help bring people together instead of focusing on divisions. Specifically, Richard Pound has recently made the argument that the Guidelines have been formulated by the athletes themselves and are a justified restriction on free expression with its basis in ‘mutual respect’. However, many commentators have expressed their skepticism to this view (see here, here and here) citing that politics and the Olympics are inherently mixed, that the IOC is heavily involved in politics, and that the Olympics has often served as the grounds for some of history’s most iconic political protests. All in all, the Guidelines have certainly been a catalyst for a discussion on the extent to which the Olympics can be considered neutral. It also further highlights a divide between athlete committees from within the Olympic Movement structures and other independent athlete representation groups (see Global Athlete and FIFPro’s statements on rule 50).

 

Doping and Corruption Allegations in Weightlifting 

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has found itself embroiled in a doping and corruption scandal after an ARD documentary was aired early in January which raised a wide array of allegations, including against the President of the IWF, Tamás Aján. The documentary also included hidden camera interviews from a Thai Olympic medalist who admits having taken anabolic steroids before having won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games and from a team doctor from the Moldovan national team who describes paying for clean doping tests. The IWF’s initial reaction to the documentary was hostile, describing the allegations as ‘insinuations, unfounded accusations and distorted information’ and ‘categorically denies the unsubstantiated’ accusations. It further claims that it has ‘immediately acted’ concerning the situation with the Thai athletes, and WADA has stated that it will follow up with the concerned actors. However, as the matter gained further attention in the main stream media and faced increasing criticism, the IWF moved to try to ‘restore’ its reputation. In practice, this means that Tamás Aján has ‘delegated a range of operation responsibilities’ to Ursual Papandrea, IWF Vice President, while ‘independent experts’ will conduct a review of the allegations made in the ARD documentary. Richard McLaren has been announced to lead the investigation and ‘is empowered to take whatever measures he sees fit to ensure each and every allegation is fully investigated and reported’. The IWF has also stated that it will open a whistleblower line to help aid the investigation.More...


How 2019 Will Shape the International Sports Law of the 2020s - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

As we begin plunging into a new decade, it can be helpful to look back and reflect on some of the most influential developments and trends from 2019 that may continue to shape international sports law in 2020 and beyond. Hence, this piece will not attempt to recount every single sports law news item but rather identify a few key sports law stories of 2019 that may have a continued impact in the 2020s. The following sections are not in a particular order.More...

Free Event! Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - 5 March at the Asser Institute in The Hague

The upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and its links to human rights violations has been the subject of many debates in the media and beyond. In particular, the respect of migrant workers’ labour rights was at the forefront of much public criticisms directed against FIFA. Similarly, past Olympics in Rio, Sochi or Beijing have also been in the limelight for various human rights issues, such as the lack of freedom of the press, systematic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or forced evictions. These controversies have led sports governing bodies (SGBs) to slowly embrace human rights as an integral part of their core values and policies. Leading to an increased expectation for SGBs to put their (private) diplomatic capital at the service of human rights by using their leverage vis-à-vis host countries of their mega-sporting events (MSEs). In turn, this also raises the question of the need for the EU to accompany this change by putting human rights at the heart of its own sports diplomacy.


Research collective 
This Multiplier Sporting Event, organised in the framework of the transnational project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’ funded by the Erasmus + Programme, aims to trigger discussions on the role of an EU sports diplomacy in strengthening respect for human rights in the context of MSEs both at home and abroad. It will feature two roundtables focused on the one hand on the diplomatic power and capacity of SGBs to fend for human rights during MSEs and on the other on the EU’s integration of human rights considerations linked to MSEs in its own sports diplomacy.


Programme

13:20 – 14:00 – Welcome and opening speech –Antoine Duval (Asser Institute)
14:00 - 15:30 - Panel 1: Leveraging the Diplomatic Power of the Sports Governing Bodies for Human Rights

  • Lucy Amis (Unicef UK/Institute for Human Rights and Business)
  • Guido Battaglia (Centre for Sport and Human Rights)
  • Florian Kirschner (World Players Association/UNI Global Union)
  • Claire Jenkin (University of Hertfordshire)

15:30 – 16:00 - Coffee Break

16:00 - 17:30 - Panel 2: A Human Rights Dimension for the EU’s Sports Diplomacy?

  • Arnout Geeraert (Utrecht University)
  • Agata Dziarnowska (European Commission)
  • Alexandre Mestre (Sport and Citizenship)
  • Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (TBC)

17:30 - Reception

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.

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