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

I’m A Loser Baby, So Let’s Kill Transparency – Recent Changes to the Olympic Games Host City Selection Process - By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

Editor's Note: Ryan Gauthier is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University in Canada. Ryan’s research addresses the governance of sports organisations, with a particular focus on international sports organisations. His PhD research examined the accountability of the International Olympic Committee for human rights violations caused by the organisation of the Olympic Games.


Big June 2019 for Olympic Hosting

On June 24, 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected Milano-Cortina to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. Milano-Cortina’s victory came despite a declaration that the bid was “dead” just months prior when the Italian government refused to support the bid. Things looked even more dire for the Italians when 2006 Winter Games host Turin balked at a three-city host proposal. But, when the bid was presented to the members of the IOC Session, it was selected over Stockholm-Åre by 47 votes to 34. 

Just two days later, the IOC killed the host selection process as we know it. The IOC did this by amending two sections of the Olympic Charter in two key ways. First, the IOC amended Rule 33.2, eliminating the requirement that the Games be selected by an election seven years prior to the Games. While an election by the IOC Session is still required, the seven-years-out requirement is gone.

Second, the IOC amended Rule 32.2 to allow for a broader scope of hosts to be selected for the Olympic Games. Prior to the amendment, only cities could host the Games, with the odd event being held in another location. Now, while cities are the hosts “in principle”, the IOC had made it so: “where deemed appropriate, the IOC may elect several cities, or other entities, such as regions, states or countries, as host of the Olympic Games.”

The change to rule 33.2 risks undoing the public host selection process. The prior process included bids (generally publicly available), evaluation committee reports, and other mechanisms to make the bidding process transparent. Now, it is entirely possible that the IOC may pre-select a host, and present just that host to the IOC for an up-or-down vote. This vote may be seven years out from the Games, ten years out, or two years out. More...


A New Chapter for EU Sports Law and European Citizenship Rights? The TopFit Decision - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third 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

Christmas has come very early this year for the EU sports law world in the form of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) judgment in TopFit eV, Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband eV by exclusively analyzing the case on the basis of European citizenship rights and its application to rules of sports governing bodies that limit their exercise. The case concerned an Italian national, Daniele Biffi, who has been residing in Germany for over 15 years and participates in athletic competitions in the senior category, including the German national championships. In 2016, the Deutscher Leichtathletikverband (DLV), the German Athletics Federation, decided to omit a paragraph in its rules that allowed the participation of EU nationals in national championships on the same footing as German citizens. As a result, participation in the national championship was subject to prior authorization of the organizers of the event, and even if participation was granted, the athlete may only compete outside of classification and may not participate in the final heat of the competition. After having been required to compete out of classification for one national championship and even dismissed from participating in another, Mr. Biffi and TopFit, his athletics club based in Berlin, brought proceedings to a German national court. The national court submitted a request for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU in which it asked essentially whether the rules of the DLV, which may preclude or at least require a non-national to compete outside classification and the final heat, are contrary to Articles 18, 21 and 165 TFEU. Articles 18 and 21 TFEU, read together, preclude discrimination on the basis of nationality against European citizens exercising their free movement. The underlying (massive) question here is whether these provisions can be relied on by an amateur athlete against a private body, the DLV.

Covered in a previous blog, the Advocate General’s (AG) opinion addressed the case from an entirely different angle. Instead of tackling the potentially sensitive questions attached with interpreting the scope of European citizenship rights, the opinion focused on the application of the freedom of establishment because the AG found that participation in the national championships was sufficiently connected to the fact Mr. Biffi was a professional trainer who advertised his achievements in those competitions on his website. Thus, according to the AG, there was a sufficient economic factor to review the case under a market freedom. The CJEU, in its decision, sidelined this approach and took the application of European citizenship rights head on.

The following will dissect the Court’s decision by examining the three central legal moves of the ruling: the general applicability of EU law to amateur sport, the horizontal applicability of European citizenship rights, and justifications and proportionality requirements of access restrictions to national competitions. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April and May 2019. 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 

Caster Semenya learns that it is not always easy for victims of discrimination to prevail in court

The world of sport held its breath as the Secretary General of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) Matthieu Reeb stood before the microphones on 1 May 2019 to announce the verdict reached by three arbitrators (one of them dissenting) in the landmark case involving the South African Olympic and world champion Caster Semenya. Somewhat surprisingly, the panel of arbitrators came to the conclusion that the IAAF’s regulations requiring female athletes with differences of sexual development to reduce their natural testosterone level below the limit of 5 nmol/L and maintain that reduced level for a continuous period of at least six months in order to be eligible to compete internationally at events between 400 metres and a mile, were necessary, reasonable and proportionate to attain the legitimate aim of ensuring fair competition in female athletics, even though the panel recognised that the regulations were clearly discriminatory. Ms Semenya’s legal team decided to file an appeal against the ruling at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. For the time being, this appears to be a good move since the tribunal ordered the IAAF at the beginning of June to suspend the application of the challenged regulations to Ms Semenya with immediate effect, which means that Ms Semenya for now continues to run medication-free.

 

Champions League ban looms on Manchester City

On 18 May 2019, Manchester City completed a historic domestic treble after defeating Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup Final. And yet there is a good reason to believe that the club’s executives did not celebrate as much as they would under normal circumstances. This is because only two days before the FA Cup Final the news broke that the chief investigator of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) had decided to refer Manchester City’s case concerning allegations of financial fair play irregularities to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber for a final decision. Thus, the chief investigator most likely found that Manchester City had indeed misled UEFA over the real value of its sponsorship income from the state-owned airline Etihad and other companies based in Abu Dhabi, as the leaked internal emails and other documents published by the German magazine Der Spiegel suggested. The chief investigator is also thought to have recommended that a ban on participation in the Champions League for at least one season be imposed on the English club. The club’s representatives responded to the news with fury and disbelief, insisting that the CFCB investigatory chamber had failed to take into account a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence it had been provided with. They eventually decided not to wait for the decision of the CFCB adjudicatory chamber, which is yet to be adopted, and meanwhile took the case to the CAS, filing an appeal against the chief investigator’s referral.

 

The Brussels Court of Appeal dismisses Striani’s appeal on jurisdictional grounds

The player agent Daniele Striani failed to convince the Brussels Court of Appeal that it had jurisdiction to entertain his case targeting UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. On 11 April 2019, the respective court dismissed his appeal against the judgment of the first-instance court without pronouncing itself on the question of compatibility of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations with EU law. The court held that it was not competent to hear the case because the link between the regulations and their effect on Mr Striani as a player agent, as well as the link between the regulations and the role of the Royal Belgian Football Association in their adoption and enforcement, was too remote (for a more detailed analysis of the decision, see Antoine’s blog here). The Brussels Court of Appeal thus joined the European Court of Justice and the European Commission as both these institutions had likewise rejected to assess the case on its merits in the past.

 

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League of Legends European Championships - Challenging the Boundaries of Sport in EU Law - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third 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

The surge of e-sports has stimulated a lively discussion on the essential characteristics of sport and whether e-sports, in general, can be considered a sport. However, one should not overlook the fact that e-sports encompass a broad range of video games that fundamentally differ from one another. Thus, as one commentator recently underlined, “the position of video games and the e-sport competitions based on them should be analysed on a case-by-case basis.”[1] In this spirit, this blog aims to provide a concise analysis of one of these e-sports, League of Legends (LoL), and one of its main competitions, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), to assess whether it could be considered a sport in the sense of EU law. The LEC offers a fascinating opportunity to examine this issue especially since the previous European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) was rebranded and restructured this year into the LEC. More...



Will the World Cup 2022 Expansion Mark the Beginning of the End of FIFA’s Human Rights Journey? - 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.


About three years ago, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) adopted a new version of its Statutes, including a statutory commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. Since then, FIFA undertook a human rights journey that has been praised by various stakeholders in the sports and human rights field. In early June, the FIFA Congress is scheduled to take a decision that could potentially undo all positive efforts taken thus far.

FIFA already decided in January 2017 to increase the number of teams participating in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48. Shortly after, discussions began on the possibility to also expand the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar. Subsequently, FIFA conducted a feasibility study, which revealed that the expansion would be feasible but require a number of matches to be hosted in neighbouring countries, explicitly mentioning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One does not have to be a human rights expert to be highly alarmed by this list of potential co-hosting countries. Nevertheless, the FIFA Council approved of the possibility to expand in March 2019, paving the way for the FIFA Congress to take a decision on the matter. Obviously, the advancement of the expansion decision raises serious doubts over the sincerity of FIFA’s reforms and human rights commitments. More...



How Data Protection Crystallises Key Legal Challenges in Anti-Doping - 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. Her interests focus on interdisciplinary approaches as a way of designing effective solutions in the field of anti-doping and other science-based domains. Her book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law” was published through T.M.C Asser Press / Springer in late 2015. She participates as a co-author on a project hosted by the University of Neuchâtel to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. In her practice, she regularly advises international federations and other sports organisations on doping and other regulatory matters, in particular on aspects of scientific evidence, privacy or research regulation. She also has experience assisting clients in arbitration proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport or other sport tribunals.


Since the spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) has loomed over the sports sector,[1] a new wind seems to be blowing on anti-doping, with a palpable growing interest for stakes involved in data processing. Nothing that would quite qualify as a wind of change yet, but a gentle breeze of awareness at the very least.

Though the GDPR does mention the fight against doping in sport as a potential matter of public health in its recitals,[2] EU authorities have not gone so far as to create a standalone ground on which anti-doping organisations could rely to legitimise their data processing. Whether or not anti-doping organisations have a basis to process personal data – and specifically sensitive data – as part of their anti-doping activities, thus remains dependent on the peculiarities of each national law. Even anti-doping organisations that are incorporated outside the EU are affected to the extent they process data about athletes in the EU.[3] This includes international sports federations, many of which are organised as private associations under Swiss law. Moreover, the Swiss Data Protection Act (‘DPA’) is currently under review, and the revised legal framework should largely mirror the GDPR, subject to a few Swiss peculiarities. All anti-doping organisations undertake at a minimum to abide by the WADA International Standard for Privacy and the Protection of Personal Information (‘ISPPPI’), which has been adapted with effect to 1 June 2018 and enshrines requirements similar to those of the GDPR. However, the ISPPPI stops short of actually referring to the GDPR and leaves discretion for anti-doping organisations to adapt to other legislative environments.

The purpose of this blog is not to offer a detailed analysis of the requirements that anti-doping organisations must abide by under data protection laws, but to highlight how issues around data processing have come to crystallise key challenges that anti-doping organisations face globally. Some of these challenges have been on the table since the adoption of the first edition of the World Anti-Doping Code (‘WADC’) but are now exposed in the unforgiving light of data protection requirements. More...



What happens in Switzerland stays in Switzerland: The Striani Judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeals

In the last five years, the Striani case has been the main sword of Damocles hanging over UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. At the very least, the only real judicial threat they have faced (apart from the relatively harmless challenge mounted in the Galatasaray case at the CAS). Indeed, a Belgian player agent, Daniele Striani, represented by Bosman’s former lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, attempted, in various fora, to challenge the compatibility of UEFA’s CL&FFP Regulations with EU law. Striani lodged a complaint with the European Commission (which was quickly rejected in October 2014) and initiated a private action for damages before the Brussels Court of First Instance. The latter deemed itself not competent to decide on the matter, but nevertheless accepted to order a provisory stay of the enforcement of the UEFA FFP Regulations pending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (see Ben van Rompuy’s blog on the case here). The CJEU unsurprisingly rejected to enter into the matter, but UEFA and Striani decided to appeal the first instance ruling to the Court of Appeal, which rendered its decision on 11 April. It is unclear at this stage whether Striani will attempt to challenge it at the Belgian Cour de Cassation (Highest Civil Court), however this would entail considerable risks and costs and his lawyers to date have not indicated that they would do so (see here). 

While the ruling of the Court of Appeal does not touch upon the much-discussed question of the compatibility of UEFA’s FFP Regulations with EU law (see our many blogs on the question here, here and here), it remains an interesting decision to discuss broader questions related to the procedural ease in challenging regulatory decisions passed by sports governing bodies (SGBs) based in Switzerland. Competition law constitutes the main legal tool available to sports stakeholders looking to challenge existing regulatory arrangements from the outside (e.g. not going through the internal political systems of the SGBs or the CAS route). Recent cases, such as the ISU decision of the European Commission, the Pechstein case in front of the German courts or the Rule 40 decision of the German competition authority, have demonstrated the potency of competition law to question the legality of the rules and decisions of the SGBs.[1] In this regard, the decision of the Brussels Court of Appeal narrows the range of parties allowed to challenge in European courts the SGBs’ rules and decisions on the basis of competition law. More...

Can European Citizens Participate in National Championships? An Analysis of AG Tanchev’s Opinion in TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third 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

To many it may seem obvious that athletes in a national championship should only be able to participate if they have the nationality of the relevant state. The Dutch Road Cycling National Championships should have Dutch cyclists, and the German Athletics Championships should have German athletes and so forth. However, in reality, foreign competitors are allowed to participate in many national championships in the EU, and there is a wide discrepancy between the rules of national sport governing bodies on this issue. There is no unified practice when investigating this point by country or by sport, and rules on participation range from a complete ban on foreign competitors to absolutely no mention of foreign athletes.[1] Thus, the question arises: should foreign athletes be able to participate in national sport championships?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will soon be required to provide an, at least partial, answer to this dilemma as a result of an application for a preliminary ruling.  A German Court has referred three questions to the CJEU on the case TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. (DLV) which in essence ask whether EU citizenship rights and in particular, the requirement of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, should be applied to non-nationals wishing to participate in an athletics national championship in Germany. In the meantime, the Advocate General (AG), who provides a non-binding opinion to the Court before a decision is delivered, Evgeni Tanchev has delivered an interesting opinion on the case. It addresses the claims from the applicants based on EU citizenship rights and urges the CJEU to instead review the case on the basis of the freedom of establishment.

This blog will dissect the AG’s opinion to assess the main arguments put forward in relation to freedom of establishment and EU citizenship. Furthermore, it will weigh the ramifications this case may have on the boundaries of EU law in relation to sport. To fully appreciate the AG’s opinion, it is necessary to first discuss the intriguing factual and legal background colouring this case. After all, this will not be the first time the CJEU faces thorny issues concerning discrimination on the basis of nationality and sport. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February and March 2019. 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 Court of Arbitration for Sport bans 12 Russian track and field athletes

On 1 February 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) communicated that it had rendered another 12 decisions in the seemingly endless saga concerning the state-sponsored doping programme in Russia. These first-instance decisions of the CAS involve 12 Russian track and field athletes who were all found guilty of anti-doping rule violations based on the evidence underlying the reports published by professor Richard McLaren and suspended from participating in sports competitions for periods ranging from two to eight years. Arguably the most prominent name that appears on the list of banned athletes is Ivan Ukhov, the 32-year-old high jump champion from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The case was brought by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) that sought to convince the arbitrators that the athletes in question had participated in and/or benefited from anabolic steroid doping programmes and benefited from specific protective methods (washout schedules) in the period between the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The CAS was acting in lieau of the Russian Athletics Federation that remains suspended and thus unable to conduct any disciplinary procedures. The athletes have had the opportunity to appeal the decisions to the CAS Appeals Arbitration Division.

Federal Cartel Office in Germany finds Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter disproportionately restrictive

At the end of February, the German competition authority Bundeskartellamt announced that it had entered into a commitment agreement with the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in which these two organisations had agreed to considerably enhance advertising opportunities for German athletes and their sponsors during the Olympic Games. The respective agreement is a direct consequence of the Bundeskartellamt’s finding that the IOC and the DOSB had abused their dominant position on the market for organising and marketing the Olympic Games by demanding that the athletes refrain from promoting their own sponsors while the Games are ongoing, as well as shortly before and after the Games. This restriction stems from Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter under which no competitor who participates in the Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes, unless the IOC Executive Board allows him/her to do so.

As part of fulfilling its obligations under the commitment agreement, the DOSB has relaxed its guidelines on promotional activities of German athletes during the Olympic Games. For its part, the IOC has declared that these new guidelines would take precedence over Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter. However, it still remains to be seen whether in response to the conclusions of the German competition authority the IOC will finally change the contentious rule.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights refuses to pronounce itself on Claudia Pechstein’s case

Claudia Pechstein’s challenge against the CAS brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has not yielded the desired result for the German athlete. On 5 February 2019, a Panel of the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR decided that the Grand Chamber would not entertain the case. This means that the judgment handed down by the 3rd Chamber of the ECtHR on 2 October 2018, in which the ECtHR confirmed that except for the lack of publicity of oral hearings the procedures of the CAS are compatible with the right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, has now become final and binding. However, the protracted legal battle between the five-time Olympic champion in speed skating and the CAS is not over yet since there is one more challenge against the CAS and its independence pending before the German Constitutional Court.  More...

New Event! FIFA and Human Rights: Impacts, Policies, Responsibilities - 8 May 2019 - Asser Institute

In the past few years, FIFA underwent intense public scrutiny for human rights violations surrounding the organisation of the World Cup 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. This led to a reform process at FIFA, which involved a number of policy changes, such as:

  • Embracing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • The inclusion of human rights in the FIFA Statutes;
  • Adopting new bidding rules including human rights requirements;
  • And introducing a Human Rights Advisory Board.

To take stock of these changes, the Asser Institute and the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research (NNHRR), are organising a conference on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and human rights, which will take place at the Asser Institute in The Hague on 8 May 2019.

This one-day conference aims to take a deeper look at FIFA’s impacts on human rights and critically investigate the measures it has adopted to deal with them. Finally, we will also address FIFA’s potential legal responsibilities under a variety of human rights laws/instruments.


Preliminary Programme

9:00 Registration & Coffee

9:45 Welcome by Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) & Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

10:00 Opening Remarks by Andreas Graf (Human Rights Officer, FIFA)

10:30 Panel 1: FIFA & Human Rights: Impacts

  • Zoher Shabbir (University of York) – The correlation between forced evictions and developing nations hosting the FIFA World Cup
  • Roman Kiselyov (European Human Rights Advocacy Centre) - FIFA World Cup as a Pretext for a Crackdown on Human Rights
  • Eleanor Drywood (Liverpool University) - FIFA and children’s rights: theory, methodology and practice 

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Panel 2: FIFA & Human Rights: Policies

  • Lisa Schöddert & Bodo Bützler (University of Cologne) – FIFA’s eigen-constitutionalisation and its limits
  • Gigi Alford (World Players Association) - Power Play: FIFA’s voluntary human rights playbook does not diminish Switzerland’s state power to protect against corporate harms
  • Brendan Schwab (World Players Association) & Craig Foster - FIFA, human rights and the threatened refoulement of Hakeem Al Araibi 

14:30 Break

15:00 Panel 3: FIFA & Human Rights: Responsibilities

  • Daniel Rietiker (ECtHR and University of Lausanne) - The European Court of Human Rights and Football: Current Issues and Potential
  • Jan Lukomski (Łukomski Niklewicz law firm) - FIFA and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights : Obligations, duties and remedies regarding the labour rights         protected under the ICESCR
  • Raquel Regueiro Dubra (Complutense University of Madrid) - Shared international responsibility for human rights violations in global events. The case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
  • Wojciech Lewandowski (Polish Academy of Sciences/University of Warsaw) - Is Bauer the new Bosman? – The implications of the newest CJEU jurisprudence for FIFA and other sport governing bodies

17:00 Closing Remarks by Mary Harvey (Chief Executive, Centre for Sports and Human Rights)


More information and registration at https://www.asser.nl/education-events/events/?id=3064

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Exploring the Validity of Unilateral Extension Options in Football – Part 2: The view of the DRC and the CAS. By Saverio Spera

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

Exploring the Validity of Unilateral Extension Options in Football – Part 2: The view of the DRC and the CAS. By Saverio Spera

Editor’s Note: Saverio Spera is an Italian lawyer and LL.M. graduate in International Business Law at King’s College London. He is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. 

This blog is a follow up to my previous contribution on the validity of Unilateral Extension Options (hereafter UEOs) under national and European law. It focuses on the different approaches taken to UEOs by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) and the Court of arbitration for sport (CAS). While in general the DRC has adopted a strict approach towards their validity, the CAS has followed a more liberal trend. Nonetheless, the two judicial bodies share a common conclusion: UEOs are not necessarily invalid. In this second blog I will provide an overview of the similarities and differences of the two judicial bodies in tackling UEOs.

The emergence and function of the Portmann criteria

Since their first appearance in a case widely known as the South American Bosman for the impact it had on the whole system of contracts established by the Uruguayan Football Association, the so-called ‘Portmann’ criteria are often referred to in decisions on the validity of UEOs.[1] In short, these criteria provide that:

  1. the potential maximum duration of the employment relationship must not be excessive;
  2. the option has to be exercised within an acceptable deadline before the expiry of the current contract;
  3. the original contract has to define the salary raise triggered by the extension;
  4. the content of the contract must not result in putting one party at the mercy of the other, and;
  5. the option has to be clearly emphasized in the original contract so that the player can have full consciousness of it at the moment of signing.[2]

These five requirements, proposed by Prof Wolfgang Portmann, were meant to represent the standard UEOs had to meet in order to be considered valid and biding upon the players. More precisely, in order not to constitute an excessive self-commitment that would result in a violation of Swiss ordre public.[3] They emerged in the course of the South American Bosman as Prof. Portmann’s report was presented by Atlético Peñarol in the (unsuccessful) attempt to uphold the validity of the unilateral option the club had used in its employment contracts. From that moment on, the Portmann criteria became a recurrent theme in decisions by the DRC and the CAS. However, these criteria have been used over the years in a rather incoherent fashion and their importance in the assessment of UEOs is not unequivocal.

Thereafter, in its first decision, the DRC used the criteria to assess the validity of an UEO.[4] But then it drastically drifted away from them. Actually, in the ensuing decisions the DRC did not refer to the five conditions at all. In some instances it limited itself to recall its established jurisprudence finding the validity of UEOs disputable since they give the stronger party in the employment relationship the power to unilaterally extend or terminate the contract.[5] In another occasion, the DRC expressly dismissed the binding effect of the Portmann report, underlining that it only constitutes a non-binding recommendation.[6]

Furthermore, interestingly, in the appeal proceedings of the Atlético Peñarol case the CAS did not mention the Portmann report in its evaluation of the UEO. The Panel only referred to it in the part of the award that assessed the question of the applicable law and noted that Prof Portmann’s starting point was radically different from that of the Panel, as he deemed Uruguayan law applicable to the dispute, while the Panel applied Swiss law/the RSTP.[7] Having said that, the CAS also seems to have departed from its initial approach, but in a rather different way than the DRC. In an early award of 2007, the CAS refused to give too much weight to the Portmann report and focused its reasoning on other circumstances.[8] Yet, the ensuing awards did not follow suit on this approach. In its more recent awards, the CAS held that the criteria constitute soft guidelines and often de facto relied on them to reach its conclusion on the validity of an option.[9] In one occasion, the CAS even added to the list of requirements two criteria, “emanating from recent developments in the FIFA DRC and CAS jurisprudence”, namely (i) the proportionality between the extension and the main contract and (ii) the desirable limitation of the number of extensions to one.[10]

Regarding the relevance of the Portmann criteria, it seems that the only shared trait between the DRC and the CAS is that both have drifted away from their approach. Though, in quite opposite ways. 

Increase in salary as a sine qua non condition for the validity of UEOs

The question of the increase of the player’s salary is considered central, by both the DRC and the CAS, in deciding the validity of UEOs.

In fact, an improvement of the player’s salary is considered by the DRC as a possible ‘validating’ circumstance since the first published decision on the issue.[11] The FIFA Chamber placed particular emphasis on the necessity to offset the unequal bargaining power that UEOs give to football clubs. To do that, a significant economic gain for the player must be envisaged in the contract as a result of the extension. In the view of the DRC, this is a necessary but sometimes not sufficient condition for the validity of a UEO, since the specification of the financial terms of the renewal in advance “necessarily cannot take into account, neither by the player nor the club, the possible enhancement of the player’s value, and hence earning power, over a two year period”.[12]

In its awards on the matter, the CAS contends that the player must derive a clear economic advantage from the exercise of the option.[13] Thus, the increase in salary is the only requirement that is fully embraced by both the DRC and the CAS. It is interesting to note, however, that in only one occasion did the CAS explicitly mentioned that “[e]ven if the financial terms had to be specified in advance, they necessarily take no account of the possible enhancement of a players value – and hence earning power – over a five year period e.g.: if he becomes an international player during that time”.[14] It is also worth noting that, at least in one award, the CAS concluded that an increase in salary has to be evaluated only in relation to the previous economic conditions of the player’s contract and not in relation to the salary he could earn somewhere else.[15]

In light of the above, it is safe to conclude that an UEO coming with a substantial increase in salary for the player has good chances to be deemed valid by the DRC and the CAS. To this end, a few additional observations are relevant. Firstly, how much is enough? Unfortunately, no clear guidelines can be derived from the case law. Secondly, it is practically impossible to predict the increase in value of a football player over a long-term period. Consequently, what can be considered a reasonable increase in salary at the signing of the contract might be deemed insufficient a few years later. Lastly, and probably most importantly, this approach might overlook the fact that an increase in salary is not always the only element a footballer takes into account in his career, as sometimes more personal considerations might push a player to move to a different club in another country. For instance family reasons might play a significant role in such a decision. Furthermore, football players might often consider more convenient for the development of their careers to give up on an increase in salary in order to have the chance to move to a club with more playing opportunities. An increase in salary, even substantial, should not be the altar on which a footballer’s fundamental freedom of movement and, ultimately, of choice is sacrificed.

The player’s behaviour

The player’s stance has often been evaluated by the DRC in particular as a concurrent element in determining the validity of an UEO. The main argument is that a certain behaviour of the player, such as keeping training and playing official matches with the club, implies a tacit acceptance of the extension. Once again, the DRC and the CAS are not entirely on the same line. The DRC jurisprudence gives more weight to this aspect, while the CAS has mentioned that particular attention has to be paid to “the player’s conduct during the period leading to the negotiation of the alleged extension clause” only in one single case.[16]

With regards to the circumstance that the player has played in official matches as a consequence of the extension, the DRC showed a swinging trend. In one instance, it deemed it not relevant.[17] Yet, in a subsequent decision (the only one by the DRC upholding the validity of an UEO to date), the fact that the player had kept taking part in training sessions and playing official matches for the club after the extension had quite a different impact on the reasoning of the Chamber.[18] More recently, the DRC stated that the fact that the player trained with the club for a month after the alleged renewal does not imply his tacit acceptance of the unilateral extension.[19]

The applicable law

As seen in the first part of this blog, each national jurisdiction interprets the validity of UEOs differently. Consequently, the choice of applicable law can play a major role in the outcome of a case, although the issue arises mainly when the dispute is brought before the CAS. The matter is complicated by the fact that CAS panels have a certain degree of discretion in deciding the law applicable to a dispute, and by the circumstance that even when they apply the same law they might reach different conclusions. With regard to the latter point, let us take into consideration two cases in which the CAS has established Greek law as the applicable law. In one occasion the Panel deemed “appropriate to mitigate the letter of Greek law by the spirit of general principles”, as its content concerning UEOs was considered inconsistent with “general principles of labour law”[20] and consequently dismissed the appeal of the club. In another one, instead, the Panel concluded that the dispute had to be decided according to FIFA Regulations and Swiss law on a subsidiary basis, “with the important exception of any issues related to the Contract […] which shall be decided in accordance with Greek law”.[21] Therefore, given that in Greece unilateral options allowing clubs to automatically extend employment contracts are legal, the Panel upheld the validity of the clause.[22]

A radically different approach was taken by the CAS in the Atlético Peñarol case discussed above. In the absence of an express choice of law of the parties, the Panel deemed the FIFA Regulations and, subsidiarily, Swiss Law applicable. It is worth recalling the reasoning of the Panel, as it could pave the way to a reasonable solution for the UEOs issue. The arbitrators noted that the application of art. 187 of the Swiss LDIP gives wide freedom of choice to the parties, who can even require the arbitrators to decide ex aequo et bono, i.e. without any reference to specific State laws. This means that art. 187 LDIP allows, a fortiori, to refer to rules that transcend the particular State laws, such as sports regulations. The Panel stressed that sport is a phenomenon that naturally crosses borders, and thus it is necessary to ensure uniform legal standards. Only if the same terms and conditions apply to everyone who participates in organised sport, is the integrity and equal opportunity of sporting competition guaranteed. In practice, the FIFA Statutes and Regulations provide such uniform rules. Additionally, the arbitrators underlined that the application of Uruguayan law would lead to a result incompatible with the minimum standards of protection of employees provided by Swiss labour law. Hence, the CAS concluded that the Uruguayan system of UEOs is not compatible with the FIFA Regulations. Furthermore, the Panel noted that these options effectively bypass the basic principles of the FIFA regulations, which “very particularly protect the interests of training clubs through training compensation and the solidarity contribution […] It is not possible that this protection of the contents of a contract between clubs and players can be bypassed in order to serve only the interests of one party, in this case the club, which does not itself have to make a commitment. So the Panel considers that the unilateral contract renewal system is not compatible, in its very principle, with the legal framework which the new FIFA rules were designed to introduce”.[23] In other words, the Uruguayan system seemed to reintroduce, through the backdoor, the system that was abolished with the reforms of the FIFA Regulations 1997, 2001 and 2005.[24]In such a system the player is bound to a contract negotiated at a moment of his career when he did not have a strong bargaining power. Which is to say, the player is left at the mercy of the club. The arbitrators stressed that only the most talented players can escape this mechanism, when the club receives an important transfer offer for their services.[25]In that occasion, the player will hardly refuse the transfer knowing that, doing otherwise, he will be bound to the club because of the UEO in his contract.

Conclusions: The way forward

We have seen in part 1 of this blog that we lack a coherent regulatory framework for UEOs at the national level. This second part has also shown that things are not much clearer at the DRC and the CAS, as the two bodies, while agreeing on the existence of certain criteria, take different approaches on the assessment of each of them (except for the increase in salary). Furthermore, the outcome of a case can be heavily dependent on the applicable law. Consequently, the future validity of UEOs is uncertain, given that no uniformity can be found in the CAS jurisprudence.

The uncertainties related to the applicable law issue are manifold. Upholding the validity of national law, although granting some advantages in terms of foreseeability, presents two main drawbacks. First of all for the clubs which draft the contracts and cannot predict to what extent this law will be deemed applicable by the CAS and, consequently, are unable to draft the contract with all the necessary information desirable in respect to UEO clauses.[26]Secondly, and most importantly, this approach overlooks the fact that football is a global phenomenon, and the transfer market a transnational one, which requires uniform rules at the international level.

The conclusion reached by the Panel in the Atlético Peñarol case is a fair starting point in the quest for more certainty in the matter. The undisputable merit of that award was to clearly highlight (i) the unequal nature of a clause that is accepted by the player at the early stages of his career and (ii) the necessity to have a body of regulations that can be understood and predicted by the entire international football family.[27] Let us conclude, therefore, that only the universal application of a set of regulations, such as the FIFA RSTP, would ensure legal rationality, predictability and, significantly, “the equality of treatment between all the addressees of such regulations, independently of the countries from which they are”.[28] A fortiori, when at stake is the fundamental freedom of movement and choice of footballers, the need to rely on a uniform body of principles and rules, a lex sportiva, universally applicable without discrimination becomes crucial.

However, applying the FIFA Regulations in a standardised way still leaves a problem unsolved. This body of rules is in fact silent on the very issue of UEOs. FIFA could tackle the issue in a variety of ways, for instance by codifying in the RSTP a revisited version of the Portmann criteria. Suggesting precise reforms to FIFA goes beyond the purpose of this blog, but one thing is sure: in the face of the extreme uncertainty that surrounds the validity of these clauses, having one single body of rules expressly targeting the issue and universally applicable would be of great help to all the parties involved.


[1] The case concerned the contracts of two Uruguayan players, Carlos Heber Bueno Suárez and Christian Gabriel Rodríguez Barotti with the Uruguayan football club Atlético Peñarol. Pursuant to their contracts, the professional services of Bueno and Rodríguez could be extended unilaterally by the club for two years, provided that their salary would increase in accordance with the National Consumer Price Index. At the end of the season, and after being suspended and deprived of the possibility of playing for four months, the players signed for the French club Paris Saint Germain, and refused the club’s unilateral extension. See TAS 2005/A/983 & 984, Club Atlético Peñarol v. Carlos Heber Buen Suárez, Christian Gabriel Rodríguez Barotti & Paris Saint Germain, award of 12 July 2006. In fact, the framework has slightly changed over the last few years in South America. In Argentina, for instance, the 2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) n. 557/09, signed by the Association de Futbol Argentino (AFA) and the Union of Amateur and Professional Football Player provides the current guidelines. In this context, contracts of athletes who have reached the age of 21 can be extended once for one year only, provided that a salary increase of 20% is guaranteed as a consequence of the extension. Extension options for players older than 21 shall be considered null and void, even in the circumstance that AFA has registered the contract, and consequently the player is to be declared a free agent and thus free to sign a contract with another club (see Colucci, Hendricks, Regulating Employment Relationships in Professional Football, A Comparative Analysis, European Sports Law and Policy Bulletin 1/2014, 26). See also Juan de Dios Crespo Pérez’s commentary of the case in A. Wild (ed.) CAS and Football: Landmark Cases (2011), 118. 

[2] F. de Weger, The Jurisprudence of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, 169.

[3] Prof Portmann considered South American law the law applicable to the substance of the matter. Nevertheless, according to the author, in order to be considered valid, the option not only had to be consistent with local employment law, Collective Bargaining Agreements and regulations of the relevant national association, but it also had to respect mandatory rules of Swiss law and Swiss ordre public. Although he considered the principle of parity of termination rights not part of ordre public per se (and, therefore, the circumvention of that right that these clauses entail not problematic in itself), he stressed that an excessive self-commitment of one of the parties to a contract could indeed result in an infringement of Swiss and international ordre public.

[4] In the unpublished decision 12 January 2007 (see F. de Weger, The Jurisprudence of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, 169), the DRC made reference to the five elements of the Portmann report to conclude that the option was not valid because, among other considerations, the notice period was too short.

[5] See decision 30 November 2007 n. 117707 and decision 7 May 2008 n. 58860.

[6] See decision18 March 2010 n. 310607, where the DRC interestingly pointed out that the inequality derives from the fact that the player, given the circumstances of contractual inferiority existing at the time he signs his first contract, either accepts the contract with the UEO or gives up on playing football with that team.

[7] TAS 2005/A/983 & 984, Club Atlético Peñarol v. Carlos Heber Buen Suárez, Christian Gabriel Rodríguez Barotti & Paris Saint Germain, award of 12 July 2006, para. 66.

[8] CAS 2006/A/1157, Club Atlético Boca Juniors v. Genoa Cricket and Football Club S.p.A., Award of 31 January 2007, para. 16. The Panel had “great difficulty in following Dr Portmann’s reasoning, and in accepting the validity and enforceability of a unilateral option”. The arbitrators deemed more important, instead, to put emphasis on the general assumption that a person, and a fortiori a minor who had just moved with his family to another country, cannot be required to perform a contract for personal services against his or her will.

[9] The CAS held recently that “these criteria may be taken into consideration and are important, but […] they are not absolute rules, the failure of which would determine the absolute invalidity of the option clause”, in CAS 2014/A/3852, Ascoli Calcio 1898 S.p.A. v. Papa Waigo N’diaye & Al Wahda Sprts and Cultural Club, award of 11 January 2016, para. 86.

[10] More precisely, a Panel held “the need to not accord too much weight and value to the Portmann criteria at the expense of the very important specifics and circumstances behind each individual dispute” CAS 2013/A/3260, Grêmio Foot-ball Porto Alegrense v. Maximiliano Gastón López, Award of 4 March 2014, para. 76, see also para. 68-69.

[11] In Decision 22 July 2004, the DRC noted that because the player’s economic conditions remained substantially unaltered in the renewal, the option was invalid.

[12] See Decision 23 March 2006, para 14. In this case, the DRC deemed that a monthly increase of less than € 1.000 of the player’s salary could not be seen as a significant economic gain for the player.

[13] See CAS 2004/A/678, Apollon Kalamarias F.C. v. Oliveira Morais, award of 20 May 2005, para. 21 and TAS 2005/A/983 & 984, Club Atlético Peñarol v. Carlos Heber Buen Suárez, Christian Gabriel Rodríguez Barotti & Paris Saint Germain, award of 12 July 2006, para. 93. See also CAS 2005/A/973, Panathinaikos Football Club v. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Award of 10 October 2006 and CAS 2013/A/3260, Grêmio Foot-ball Porto Alegrense v. Maximiliano Gastón López, Award of 4 March 2014, para. 77.

[14] CAS 2004/A/678, Apollon Kalamarias F.C. v. Oliveira Morais, award of 20 May 2005, para 21.

[15] See CAS 2005/A/973, Panathinaikos Football Club v. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Award of 10 October 2006, para. 23. In which the Panel considered inappropriate to compare between the salary of the extended contract from the Greek club and the salary the footballer would have received at a club in the Scottish league (the Rangers FC) since “it is well known that football clubs operating in richer markets are able to offer a higher income to players”.

[16] CAS 2013/A/3260, Grêmio Foot-ball Porto Alegrense v. Maximiliano Gastón López, Award of 4 March 2014, para. 70.

[17] See Decision 13 May 2005. Here the DRC also pointed out the non-decisiveness of the acceptance by the player of a payment of €1,950 after the extension as a result of the new contract.

[18] See Decision 21 February 2006, in which the DRC noted that: (i) the player had waited almost five months after the beginning of the extension to bring the case before the FIFA.

[19] See Decision 31 July 2013.

[20] CAS 2004/A/678, Apollon Kalamarias F.C. v. Oliveira Morais, award of 20 May 2005, para 24. The Panel dismissed the appeal of the club even though its contract with the player seemed to be drafted in conformity with Greek Sports Law, which – pursuant to Law 2725/99 – allows for the unilateral renewal of the contract provided that (i) the overall duration of the contract, including the extensions, does not exceed five years and that (ii) the financial terms are agreed at the signing of the initial contract.

[21] CAS 2005/A/973, Panathinaikos Football Club v. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Award of 10 October 2006, para.10.

[22] The Panel, which considered “inappropriate to apply substantive Swiss law to the contract as it has no connection whatsoever with Switzerland (para. 8), made reference to the same Law 2725/99.

[23] TAS 2005/A/983 & 984, Club Atlético Peñarol v. Carlos Heber Buen Suárez, Christian Gabriel Rodríguez Barotti & Paris Saint Germain, award of 12 July 2006, paras. 81-83 (the translation is of the author).

[24] Ibid., para. 80.

[25] Ibid., para. 79.

[26] Ibid.

[27] J-S Leuba, R Fox, J de Dios Crespo Pérez, G L Acosta Perez and F m de Weger, ‘Contractual Stability: Unilateral Options’, in A. Wild (ed.) CAS and Football: Landmark Cases (2011), 119.

[28] Ibid.

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