Asser International Sports Law Blog

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

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

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

 

 

The Headlines

CAS Decision on Manchester City FC Case

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

 

Qatar Labour Law Reforms Effectively Abolishes the Kafala System

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

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

 

CAS Decision Concerning Keramuddin Karim Abuse Case

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

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

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

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

 

The Headlines

Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Over Sports

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

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

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

Platini’s ECtHR Appeal Falls Flat

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

Mark Dry – UKAD Dispute

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

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

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


I.               Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Headlines

Manchester City sanctioned by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play

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

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

Sun Yang CAS award published

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

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

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

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

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

 

1.     Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Programme

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

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

15:30 – 16:00 - Coffee Break

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

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

17:30 - Reception

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

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

 

1.     Introduction

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

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

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

 

The Headlines

IOC Athlete Commission releases its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020

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

 

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

 

Doping and Corruption Allegations in Weightlifting 

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


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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