Asser International Sports Law Blog

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The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2019 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

International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference 2019

The T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Asser International Sports Law Centre held the third International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference on October 24-25. The Conference created a forum for academics and practitioners to discuss, debate and share knowledge on the latest developments of sports law. It featured six uniquely themed panels, which included topics such as ‘Transfer systems in international sports’ and ‘Revisiting the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS’ to ‘The future of sports: sports law of the future’. The ISLJ Conference was also honored to have two exceptional keynote speakers: Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas. To kick off the conference, Moya Dodd shared her experiences from an athlete’s perspective in the various boardrooms of FIFA. The second day was then launched by Ulrich Haas, who gave an incredibly thorough and insightful lecture on the importance, function and legal basis of association tribunals in international sport. For a detailed overview of this year’s ISLJ Conference, click here for the official conference report.

The Asser International Sports Law Centre was delighted to have been able to host another great edition of the ISLJ Conference and is thankful to all the participants and speakers who made this edition such a success.

Moving towards greater transparency: Launch of FIFA’s Legal Portal

On October 31, FIFA announced that it was introducing a new legal portal on its website that will give greater access to numerous documents that previously were kept private. FIFA explains that this is in order to help increase its transparency, which was one of the key ‘Guiding Principles’ highlighted in FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future released in 2016. This development comes as many sport governing bodies face increasing criticism for the opacity of its judicial bodies’ decisions, which can have tremendous economic and societal impacts. The newly available documents will include: ‘decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the FIFA Appeal Committee (notified as of 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Ethics Committee (notified since 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Players’ Status Committee and the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber; non-confidential CAS awards in proceedings to which FIFA is a party (notified since 1 January 2019); list of CAS arbitrators proposed by FIFA for appointment by ICAS, and the number of times they have been nominated in CAS proceedings’. The list of decisions from all the aforementioned bodies are updated every four months, according to their respective webpages. However, time will ultimately tell how consistently decisions are published. Nevertheless, this move is a major milestone in FIFA’s journey towards increasing its transparency.

Hong Kong Protests, Human Rights and (e)Sports Law: The Blizzard and NBA controversies

Both Blizzard, a major video game developer, and the NBA received a flurry of criticism for their responses to persons expressing support for the Hong Kong protests over the past month. On October 8, Blizzard sanctioned Blitzchung, a professional Hearthstone player who expressed support of the Hong Kong protest during a post-match interview, by eliminating the prize money he had won and suspending him for one year from any Hearthstone tournament. Additionally, Blizzard will cease to work with the casters who conducted the interview. With mounting disapproval over the sanctions,  J. Allen Brack, the president of Blizzard, restored the prize money and reduced the period of ineligibility to 6 months.

The NBA controversy started when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for the protests in Hong Kong. The tweet garnered much attention, especially in China where it received a lot of backlash, including an announcement from CCTV, the official state broadcaster in China, that it was suspending all broadcasts of the NBA preseason games. In attempts to appease its Chinese audience, which is a highly profitable market for the NBA, Morey deleted the tweet and posted an apology, and the NBA responded by saying that the initial tweet was ‘regrettable’. Many scolded these actions and accused the NBA of censorship to which the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, responded that the NBA remains committed to freedom of expression.

Both cases highlighted how (e)sport organizations may be faced with competing interests to either guarantee greater protection of human rights or to pursue interests that perhaps have certain financial motivations. More...


ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - By Thomas Terraz

On October 24th and 25th 2019, the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the International Sports Law Centre hosted the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference for a third year in a row, bringing together a group of academics and practitioners from around the world. This year’s conference celebrated the 20th year of the International Sports Law Journal, which was originally started by Robert Siekmann. Over the past 20 years, the ISLJ has aimed to be a truly international journal that addresses global topics in sports law while keeping the highest academic standards.

With this background, the conference facilitated discussions and exchanges over six differently themed panels on international sports law’s most pertinent issues and gave participants wide opportunities to engage with one another. Additionally, this year’s edition also had the great honor of hosting two distinguished keynote speakers, Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas, who were able to share their wealth of experience and knowledge with the conference participants.

The following report aims to give an overview of the ISLJ Conference 2019 to extract and underline the fundamental ideas raised by the different speakers.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – August and September 2019 - By Thomas Terraz

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

Another Russian Doping Crisis? Inconsistencies Uncovered in the Data from the Moscow Lab

Storm clouds are brewing once more in the Russian Doping Saga, after several inconsistencies were uncovered by WADA from data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory. More specifically, a certain number of positive tests had been removed from the data WADA retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory compared to the one received from the original whistleblower. WADA launched a formal compliance procedure on 23 September, giving three weeks for Russian authorities to respond and provide their explanations. WADA’s Compliance Review Committee is set to meet on 23 October in order to determine whether to recommend declaring Russia non-compliant.

Russian authorities are not the only ones now facing questions in light of these new revelations. Criticism of WADA’s decision to declare Russia compliant back in September 2018 have been reignited by stakeholders. That original decision had been vehemently criticized (see also Edwin Moses’ response), particularly by athlete representative groups.

The fallout of these data discrepancies may be far reaching if Russian authorities are unable to provide a satisfying response. There are already whispers of another impending Olympic Games ban and the possibility of a ban extending to other sports signed to the WADA Code. In the meantime, the IAAF has already confirmed that the Russian Athletes would compete as ‘authorised neutral athletes’ at the World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar.

Legal Challenges Ahead to Changes to the FIFA Football Transfer Market

FIFA is set to make amendments to its player transfer market that take aim at setting new boundaries for football agents. These changes will prohibit individuals from representing both the buying and selling club in the same transaction and set new limits on agent commissions (3 percent for the buying club and player representative and 10 percent for the selling team). FIFA is already in the process of creating a central clearinghouse through which all transfer payments would have to pass through, including agent commissions. FIFA will be making a final decision on these proposed changes at the FIFA Council meeting on 24 October.

If these proposed changes are confirmed, they will almost certainly be challenged in court. The British trade organization representing football agents, Association of Football Agents, has already begun its preparations for a costly legal battle by sending a plea to its members for donations. It claims that it had not been properly consulted by FIFA before this decision had been made. On the other hand, FIFA claims that ‘there has been a consultation process with a representative group of agents’ and that FIFA kept ‘an open dialogue with agents’. Regardless, if these proposed changes go through, FIFA will be on course to a looming legal showdown.

CAS Public Hearing in the Sun Yang Case: One Step Forward for Transparency?

On 20 August, 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the hearing in the appeal procedure of the Sun Yang case will be held publicly. It will be only the second time in its history that a public hearing has been held (the last one being in 1999, Michelle Smith De Bruin v. FINA). WADA has appealed the original decision of the FINA Doping Panel which had cleared Sun Yang from an alleged anti-doping rule violation. The decision to make the hearing public was at the request of both parties. The hearing is set to take place November 15th and is likely to be an important milestone in improving the CAS’ transparency.

Sun Yang, who has already served a doping ban for a previous violation in 2014, has also been at the center of another controversy, where Mack Horton, an Australian swimmer, refused to shake hands and stand on the podium with Sun Yang at the world championships in Gwangju. More...

Caster Semenya’s Legal Battle Against Gender Stereotypes: On Nature, Law and Identity - By Sofia Balzaretti (University of Fribourg)

Editor's note: Sofia Balzaretti is a Graduate research assistant and a PhD candidate at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) where she is writing a thesis on the Protection against Gender Stereotypes in International Law. In addition to research in human rights and feminist legal theory, she has also carried out some research in legal philosophy and on the relationship between gender and the law.

 

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the monitoring body of track and field athletics, regularly submitted South African middle distance runner and Olympic gold medalist Mokgadi Caster Semenya to sex verification tests when it began questioning her sexual characteristics and speculating whether her body belonged on the Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) spectrum. DSD Syndrome is often defined as an “intersex condition” which affects the clear development of either/or genitalia, gonads and chromosomes into one distinctive sex or another. The spectrum of the intersex condition is particularly wide, and the disorder can sometimes be minimal - some cases of female infertility can actually be explained by an intersex condition.

The IAAF deemed the controversial sex verification tests necessary on the grounds that it was required to prove Semenya did not have a “medical condition” which could give her an “unfair advantage”. It was eventually found that, because of an intersex trait, Semenya did have abnormally high levels of testosterone for a woman, which, in the IAAF’s opinion, justified a need for regulatory hormonal adjustments in order for her to keep competing in the women’s category. The IAAF also funded research to determine how ‘hyperandrogenism’ affects athletic performance. In 2018, it issued Eligibility Regulations on Female Classification (“Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development”) for events from 400m to the mile, including 400m, hurdles races, 800m and 1’500m. The IAAF rules indicated that in case of an existing high level of testosterone, suppression or regulation by chemotherapy, hormonal castration, and/or iatrogenic irradiation was mandatory in order to take part in these events.

Semenya and her lawyers challenged the IAAF Regulations in front of the CAS, who, in a very controversial decision, deemed the Regulations a necessary, reasonable and proportionate mean “of achieving the aim of what is described as the integrity of female athletics and for the upholding of the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in certain events” (§626). More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June and July 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 European Court of Justice finds that rule of a sports association excluding nationals of other Member States from domestic amateur athletics championships may be contrary to EU law

On 13 June 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a preliminary ruling at the request of the Amtsgericht Darmstadt (Local Court Darmstadt, Germany) filed in the course of the proceedings involving Mr Daniele Biffi, an Italian amateur athlete residing in Germany, and his athletics club TopFit based in Berlin, on the one hand, and the German athletics association Deutscher Leichtathletikverband, on the other. The case concerned a rule adopted by the German athletics association under which nationals of other Member States are not allowed to be awarded the title of national champion in senior amateur athletics events as they may only participate in such events outside/without classification. The ECJ’s task was to decide whether or not the rule in question adheres to EU law.

The ECJ took the view that the two justifications for the rule in question put forward by the German athletics association did not appear to be founded on objective considerations and called upon the Amtsgericht Darmstadt to look for other considerations that would pursue a legitimate objective. In its judgment, the ECJ analysed several important legal questions, including amongst others the applicability of EU law to amateur sport or the horizontal applicability of European citizenship rights (for detailed analysis of the judgment, please see our blog written by Thomas Terraz).

Milan not featuring in this season’s edition of Europa League following a settlement with UEFA

On 28 June 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rendered a consent award giving effect to a settlement agreement between UEFA and the Milan Football Club, under which the Italian club agreed to serve a one-year ban from participation in UEFA club competitions as a result of its breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations over the 2015/2016/2017 and the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring periods, while the European football’s governing body agreed to set aside previous decisions of the Investigatory and Adjudicatory Chamber of its Club Financial Control Body which had found Milan guilty of the respective breaches.   

This was not the first intervention of the CAS related to Milan’s (non-)compliance with UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. In July 2018, the CAS annulled the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body of 19 June 2018 which was supposed to lead to the exclusion of the Italian club from UEFA club competitions for which it would otherwise qualify in the next two seasons (i.e. 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 seasons). Following such intervention of the CAS – which concerned the 2015/2016/2017 monitoring period – it may have appeared that Milan would eventually manage to escape a ban from participation in UEFA club competitions for breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. However, Milan’s case was again referred to the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body in April 2019 – this time its alleged breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations concerned the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring period – and such referral apparently forced Milan into negotiations with UEFA which led to the settlement agreement ratified by the CAS.      

Swiss Federal Tribunal gives Caster Semenya a glimmer of hope at first but then stops her from running at the IAAF World Championships in Doha

Caster Semenya’s legal team brought an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal in late May against the landmark ruling of the CAS which gave the IAAF the green light to apply its highly contentious Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Difference of Sexual Development) preventing female athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone from participating in certain athletic events unless they take medication to supress such levels of testosterone below the threshold of five nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months. The appeal yielded some positive partial results for Caster Semenya early on as the Swiss Federal Tribunal ordered the IAAF on 3 June 2019 to suspend the implementation of the contested regulations. However, the Swiss Federal Tribunal overturned its decision at the end of July which means that Caster Semenya is no longer able to run medication-free and this will most likely be the case also when the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships kick off in Doha in less than one month’s time. The procedural decisions adopted by the Swiss Federal Tribunal thus far have no impact on the merits of Caster Semenya’s appeal.More...

Can a closed league in e-Sports survive EU competition law scrutiny? The case of LEC - 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 organizational structure of sports in Europe is distinguished by its pyramid structure which is marked by an open promotion and relegation system. A truly closed system, without promotion and relegation, is unknown to Europe, while it is the main structure found in North American professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and the NHL. Recently, top European football clubs along with certain members of UEFA have been debating different possibilities of introducing a more closed league system to European football. Some football clubs have even wielded the threat of forming an elite closed breakaway league. Piercing through these intimidations and rumors, the question of whether a closed league system could even survive the scrutiny of EU competition law remains. It could be argued that an agreement between clubs to create a completely closed league stifles competition and would most likely trigger the application of Article 101 and 102 TFEU.[1] Interestingly, a completely closed league franchise system has already permeated the European continent. As outlined in my previous blog, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) is a European e-sports competition that has recently rebranded and restructured this year from an open promotion and relegation system to a completely closed franchise league to model its sister competition from North America, the League Championship Series. This case is an enticing opportunity to test how EU competition law could apply to such a competition structure.

As a preliminary note, this blog does not aim to argue whether the LEC is a ‘real’ sport competition and makes the assumption that the LEC could be considered as a sports competition.[2]

More...



Book Review - Football and the Law, Edited by Nick De Marco - By Despina Mavromati (SportLegis/University of Lausanne)

 Editor's Note: Dr. Despina Mavromati, LL.M., M.B.A., FCIArb is an Attorney-at-law specialized in international sports law and arbitration (SportLegis) and a Member of the UEFA Appeals Body. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and is a former Managing Counsel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.


This comprehensive book of more than 500 pages with contributions by 53 authors and edited by Nick De Marco QC “aims to embody the main legal principles and procedures that arise in football law”. It is comprised of 29 chapters and includes an index, a table of football regulations and a helpful table of cases including CAS awards, UEFA & FIFA Disciplinary Committee decisions and Football Association, Premier League and Football League decisions. 

The 29 chapters cover a wide range of regulatory and legal issues in football, predominantly from the angle of English law. This is logical since both the editor and the vast majority of contributing authors are practitioners from England.

Apart from being of evident use to anyone involved in English football, the book offers additional basic principles that are likely to be of use also to those involved in football worldwide, including several chapters entirely dedicated to the European and International regulatory framework on football: chapter 3 (on International Federations) gives an overview of the pyramidal structure of football internationally and delineates the scope of jurisdiction among FIFA and the confederations; chapter 4 explains European law and its application on football deals mostly with competition issues and the free movement of workers; and chapter 29 deals with international football-related disputes and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In addition to the chapters exclusively dealing with international football matters, international perspectives and the international regulatory landscape is systematically discussed – in more or less depth, as the need might be – in several other chapters of the book, including: chapter 2 on the “Institutions” (from governing bodies to stakeholders groups in football); chapter 6 on the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP); chapter 8 dealing with (national and international) player transfers; chapter 11 (on Third Party Investment) and chapter 16 on Financial Fair Play (mostly discussing the UEFA FFP Regulations); chapter 23  on disciplinary matters (very briefly discussing the disciplinary procedures under FIFA and UEFA Disciplinary rules); chapter 24 on domestic and international doping-related cases in football, with an overview of the CAS jurisprudence in this respect; and finally chapter 23 on corruption and match-fixing (with a very short description of the FIFA and UEFA regulations).

Furthermore, the book offers extensive chapters in less discussed – yet of high importance – football topics, including: chapter 13 on image rights and key clauses in image rights agreements; chapter 14 on taxation (referring also to taxation issues in image rights and intermediary fees); chapter 15 on sponsoring and commercial rights, with a guide on the principal provisions in a football sponsoring contract and various types of disputes arising out of sponsorship rights; chapter 17 on personal injury, discussing the duty of care in football cases (from the U.K.); and chapter 18 on copyright law and broadcasting (with short references to the European law and the freedom to supply football broadcasting services).

Some chapters seem to have a more general approach to the subject matter at issue without necessarily focusing on football. These include chapters 27 (on mediation) and 22 (on privacy and defamation), and even though they were drafted by reputable experts in their fields, I would still like to see chapter 27 discuss in more detail the specific aspects, constraints and potential of mediation in football-related disputes as opposed to a general overview of mediation as a dispute-resolution mechanism. The same goes for chapter 22, but this could be explained by the fact that there are not necessarily numerous football-specific cases that are publicly available. 

As is internationally known, “football law” is male-dominated. This is also demonstrated in the fact that of the 53 contributing authors, all of them good colleagues and most of them renowned in their field, only eight are female (15%). Their opinions, however, are of great importance to the book due to the subject matter on which these women have contributed, such as player contracts (Jane Mulcahy QC), player transfers (Liz Coley), immigration issues in football (Emma Mason), broadcasting (Anita Davies) or disciplinary issues (Alice Bricogne).

The book is a success not only due to the great good work done by its editor, Nick De Marco QC but first and foremost due to its content, masterfully prepared by all 53 authors. On the one hand, the editor carefully delimited and structured the scope of each topic in a logical order and in order to avoid overlaps (a daunting task in case of edited volumes with numerous contributors like this one!), while on the other hand, all 53 authors followed a logical and consistent structure in their chapters and ensured an expert analysis that would have not been possible had this book been authored by one single person.  

Overall, I found this book to be a great initiative and a very useful and comprehensive guide written by some of the most reputable experts. The chapters are drafted in a clear and understandable way and the editor did a great job putting together some of the most relevant and topical legal and regulatory issues from the football field, thus filling a much-needed gap in the “football law” literature.

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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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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