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

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary revisited? (Part 2)

On 18 May 2016, the day the first part of this blog was published, the Commission said in response to the Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller’s question, that it had “not specifically monitored the tax relief (…) but would consider doing so. The Commission cannot prejudge the steps that it might take following such monitoring. However, the Commission thanks (Niedermüller) for drawing its attention to the report of Transparency International.”

With the actual implementation in Hungary appearing to deviate from the original objectives and conditions of the aid scheme, as discussed in part 1 of this blog, a possible monitoring exercise by the Commission of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme seems appropriate. The question remains, however, whether the Commission follows up on the intent of monitoring, or whether the intent should be regarded as empty words. This second part of the blog will outline the rules on reviewing and monitoring (existing) aid, both substantively and procedurally. It will determine, inter alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission to act and, if so, in what way. More...

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)

The tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 9 November 2011 marked a turning point as regards the Commission’s decisional practice in the field of State aid and sport. Between this date and early 2014, the Commission reached a total of ten decisions on State aid to sport infrastructure and opened four formal investigations into alleged State aid to professional football clubs like Real Madrid and Valencia CF.[1] As a result of the experience gained from the decision making, it was decided to include a Section on State aid to sport infrastructure in the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation. Moreover, many people, including myself, held that Commission scrutiny in this sector would serve to achieve better accountability and transparency in sport governance.[2]

Yet, a recent report by Transparency International (TI), published in October 2015, raises questions about the efficiency of State aid enforcement in the sport sector. The report analyzes the results and effects of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme and concludes that:

“(T)he sports financing system suffers from transparency issues and corruption risks. (…) The lack of transparency poses a serious risk of collusion between politics and business which leads to opaque lobbying. This might be a reason for the disproportionateness found in the distribution of the subsidies, which is most apparent in the case of (football) and (the football club) Felcsút.”[3]

In other words, according to TI, selective economic advantages from public resources are being granted to professional football clubs, irrespective of the tax benefit scheme greenlighted by the Commission or, in fact, because of the tax benefit scheme. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2016. By Marine Montejo

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

This month saw the conflict between FIBA Europe and the Euroleague (more precisely its private club-supported organizing body, Euroleague Commercial Assets or ‘ECA’) becoming further entrenched. This dispute commenced with FIBA creating a rival Basketball Champions League, starting from the 2016-2017 season with the hope to reinstate their hold over the organization of European championships. The ECA, a private body that oversees the Euroleague and Eurocup, not only decided to maintain its competitions but also announced it would reduce them to a closed, franchise-based league following a joint-venture with IMG. In retaliation, FIBA Europe suspended fourteen federations of its competition (with the support of FIBA) due to their support for the Euroleague project.More...


The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? More...

Guest Blog - Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): Legal Issues by Laura Donnellan

Editor's note: Laura Donnellan is a lecturer at University of Limerick. You can find her latest publications here.


Introduction

On Tuesday the 12th of April, João Carvalho passed away in the Beaumont Hospital after sustaining serious injuries from a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Dublin on the previous Saturday. The fighter was knocked out in the third round of a welterweight fight against Charlie Ward. Aside from the tragic loss of life, the death of Carvalho raises a number of interesting legal issues. This opinion piece will discuss the possible civil and criminal liability that may result from the untimely death of the Portuguese fighter.

It is important to note at the outset that MMA has few rules and permits wrestling holds, punching, marital arts throws and kicking. MMA appears to have little regulation and a lack of universally accepted, standardised rules. There is no international federation or governing body that regulates MMA. It is largely self-regulated. MMA is not recognised under the sports and governing bodies listed by Sport Ireland, the statutory body established by the Sport Ireland Act 2015 which replaced the Irish Sports Council. MMA is considered a properly constituted sport so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, there are appropriate safety procedures, the rules are enforced by independent referees, and it appropriately administered.

The Acting Minister for Sport, Michael Ring, has called for the regulation of MMA. Currently there are no minimum requirements when it comes to medical personnel; nor are there any particular requirements as to training of medical personnel. The promoter decides how many doctors and paramedics are to be stationed at events. In February 2014 Minister Ring wrote to 17 MMA promoters in Ireland requesting that they implement safety precautions in line with those used by other sports including boxing and rugby.

Despite this lack of regulation, this does not exempt MMA from legal liability as the discussion below demonstrates.More...



Guest Blog - The Role of Sport in the Recognition of Transgender and Intersex Rights by Conor Talbot

Editor's note: Conor Talbot is a Solicitor at LK Shields Solicitors in Dublin and an Associate Researcher at Trinity College Dublin. He can be contacted at ctalbot@tcd.ie, you can follow him on Twitter at @ConorTalbot and his research is available at www.ssrn.com/author=1369709. This piece was first published on the humanrights.ie blog.

Sport is an integral part of the culture of almost every nation and its ability to shape perceptions and influence public opinion should not be underestimated.  The United Nations has highlighted the potential for using sport in reducing discrimination and inequality, specifically by empowering girls and women.  Research indicates that the benefits of sport include enhancing health and well-being, fostering empowerment, facilitating social inclusion and challenging gender norms.

In spite of the possible benefits, the successful implementation of sport-related initiatives aimed at gender equity involves many challenges and obstacles.  Chief amongst these is the way that existing social constructs of masculinity and femininity — or socially accepted ways of expressing what it means to be a man or woman in a particular socio-cultural context — play a key role in determining access, levels of participation, and benefits from sport.  This contribution explores recent developments in the interaction between transgender and intersex rights and the multi-billion dollar industry that the modern Olympic Games has become.  Recent reports show that transgender people continue to suffer from the glacial pace of change in social attitudes and, while there has been progress as part of a long and difficult journey to afford transgender people full legal recognition through the courts, it seems clear that sport could play an increasingly important role in helping change or better inform social attitudes.More...



Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: The Final Whistle

Footballleaks is now operating since nearly half a year and has already provided an incredible wealth of legal documents both on TPO (and in particular Doyen’s contractual arrangements) and on the operation of the transfer system in football (mainly transfer agreements, player contracts and agents contracts). This constant stream of information is extremely valuable for academic research to get a better grip on the functioning of the transfer market. It is also extremely relevant for the shaping of public debates and political decisions on the regulation of this market. As pointed out on the footballleaks website, it has triggered a series of press investigations in major European news outlets.

In this blog, I want to come to a closure on our reporting on Doyen’s TPO deals. In the past months, we have already dealt with the specific cases of FC Twente and Sporting Lisbon, reviewed Doyen’s TPO deals with Spanish clubs, as well as discussed the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. In the Sporting Lisbon case, Doyen has since earned an important legal victory in front of the CAS (the ensuing award was just published by Footballleaks). This victory should not be overstated, however, it was not unexpected due to the liberal understanding of the freedom of contract under Swiss law. As such it does not support the necessity of TPO as an investment practice and does not threaten the legality (especially under EU law) of FIFA’s ban.

In our previous blogs on Doyen’s TPO deals we decided to focus only on specific deals, Twente and Sporting Lisbon, or a specific country (Spain). However, nearly six months after the whole footballleaks project started, we can now provide a more comprehensive analysis of the TPO deals signed by Doyen. Though, it is still possible that other, yet unknown, deals would be revealed, I believe that few of Doyen’s TPO agreements are still hidden. Thanks to footballleaks, we now know how Doyen operates, we have a precise idea of its turnover, its return on investments and the pool of clubs with which it signed a TPO agreement. Moreover, we have a good understanding of the contractual structure used by Doyen in those deals. This blog will offer a brief synthesis and analysis of this data.More...





Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: TPO and Spanish football, friends with(out) benefits?

Update: On 14 April footballleaks released a series of documents concerning Sporting de Gijón. Therefore, I have updated this blog on 19 April to take into account the new information provided.  

Doyen Sports’ TPO (or TPI) model has been touted as a “viable alternative source of finance much needed by the large majority of football clubs in Europe". These are the words of Doyen’s CEO, Nélio Lucas, during a debate on (the prohibition of) TPO held at the European Parliament in Brussels last January. During that same debate, La Liga’s president, Javier Tebas, contended that professional football clubs, as private undertakings, should have the right to obtain funding by private investors to, among other reasons, “pay off the club’s debts or to compete better”. Indeed, defendants of the TPO model continuously argue that third party investors, such as Doyen, only have the clubs’ best interests in mind, being the only ones capable and willing to prevent professional football clubs from going bankrupt. This claim constitutes an important argument for the defendants of the TPO model, such as La Liga and La Liga Portuguesa, who have jointly submitted a complaint in front of the European Commission against FIFA’s ban of the practice.[1]

The eruption of footballleaks provided the essential material necessary to test this claim. It allows us to better analyse and understand the functioning of third party investment and the consequences for clubs who use these services. The leaked contracts between Doyen and, for example, FC Twente, showed that the club’s short term financial boost came at the expense of its long-term financial stability. If a club is incapable of transferring players for at least the minimum price set in Doyen’s contracts, it will find itself in a financially more precarious situation than before signing the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA). TPO might have made FC Twente more competitive in the short run, in the long run it pushed the club (very) close to bankruptcy.

More than four months after its launch, footballleaks continues to publish documents from the football world, most notably Doyen’s ERPAs involving Spanish clubs.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March 2016. By Marine Montejo

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. 

Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.


The Headlines

The Belgian Court of Appeal released its judgment this month regarding Doyen’s legal battle against the FIFA TPO ban. The Appeal Court confirmed the first instance decision and ruled out any provisional measures to block the ban’s implementation (for an in depth review, see our blog post). More importantly, the Court reaffirmed that Swiss based sport federations are liable in front of EU Members’ States courts when EU competition law is involved. That means the next important step for this legal battle is whether or not the European Commission is going to open a formal proceeding (Doyen already lodged a complaint) to assess the compatibility, and more importantly, the proportionality of the TPO ban with EU law. Only a preliminary ruling by the CJEU could hasten the decision if one of the European national courts, hearing a case brought by Doyen (France or Belgium), decided to refer a preliminary question.More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | FFP the Day After : Five (more or less realistic) Scenarios

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

FFP the Day After : Five (more or less realistic) Scenarios

Yesterday, UEFA published the very much-expected settlements implementing its Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Today, we address tomorrow’s challenges for FFP, we offer five, more or less realistic, scenarios sketching the (legal) future of the FFP regulations.

 

Scenario 1 : Happily ever after

We enter the brave new world of FFP. The settlements are not contested and Dupont’s EU law crusade sinks into oblivion. Meanwhile, the Qatari owners of PSG come up with a new marketing concept, the club recruits four locally trained players and wins the Champions league fielding the same starting team 14 times.[1] Thanks to FFP, in 2015, nobody is losing money anymore[2], Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to PSG for EUR 30 Mio. is by far the most expensive one and Arsenal’s coach Wenger feels rich for the first time in his career. No new FFP violation is registered, except for Shakhtar Donetsk, which messed up its financial accounts due to the move back to the rubble.

 

Scenario 2: Here we go again

FFP ends here for 2014, but history repeats itself in 2015. Clubs are still losing money and appear to fail to comply with the agreed settlements.[3] However, Manchester City and PSG have recourse to new innovative marketing contracts to turn their losses into profits.[4] To this end, the PSG squad members are named official ambassadors of the State of Qatar and their wages are covered by the Qatari state. The nightmare continues for Platini, who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side he counts on Qatar’s vote and influence to win the FIFA presidency in June 2015, on the other he needs to defend his credibility in the eye of the German austerity hawks. The procedure is delayed until July, at which point the cases are referred to the adjudicatory chamber.[5] Both clubs are found in breach again, the chamber imposes a EUR 100 Mio. fine and Champions League squads are reduced to 18 players.[6]

 

Scenario 3: Settlements are not enough

Wenger is outraged! Fining PSG and Manchester City is a bit like fining a central bank: they’ll just print more money. 2014 was supposed to be the year his side would eventually get to play the Champions League without having to go through the preliminary rounds. Thus, Arsenal, backed by Everton, decides, on the 25 May 2014, to contest the settlements in front of the Adjudicatory Chamber.[7] Olympique de Marseille, always keen on fighting PSG on any turf, also appeals the settlement. However, in a final decision, the Adjudicatory Chamber dismisses the complaints. Far from abandoning their quest for justice, the clubs decide to refer the decision to CAS[8], where Everton, Arsenal and Marseille obtain a re-devaluation of the controversial sponsoring agreements. CAS hands out a two-year ban on transfers for both clubs, but comes short of kicking them out of the Champions League.[9] As usual, the final appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunals is a waste of time: Arsenal will have to go through the preliminary round...again.

 

Scenario 4: My name is Dupont, Jean-Louis Dupont

All the parties agree with the settlements proposed, FFP seems to be heading for a smooth run. All, but one. Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, secretly backed by wealthy clubs, challenged FFP in front of the Belgian Courts and the European Commission. He claims, loud and clear, that FFP is a restriction of EU Free Movement and Competition Law. In 2018, after 4 years of protracted litigation, the Court of appeal of Bruxelles finally decides to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU in Luxembourg.[10] Meanwhile, the European Commission has also been enquiring on a putative infringement of EU competition law, but the new Commissioner for Competition Law, former French minister Pierre Moscovici, freezes the final decision after a phone call with Platini. On the 15 December 2020, the Court, in its instantly famous Striani judgement[11], considers FFP a clear restriction on EU free movement and competition law. In spite of the specificity of sport, its proportionality cannot be warranted. However, the judgement has no retroactive effect and both the Court and Advocate General considered that a better system could have been worked out. As soon as the ruling is known, UEFA enters in résistance: Platini calls up Sarkozy (by then old-new President of France), who, in a moment of rage, decides to leave the EU.

 

Scenario 5: The Reality Check

The FFP settlements will stand as they are; it is rather unlikely, though possible, that any affected party will raise an objection against them. PSG and Manchester City will not recruit any big players unless they sell big, but will most likely focus on getting decent locally-trained players on-board for the Champions League bench. The 2015 FFP edition will probably feature a replay of the current edition. We do not see, at least for PSG, any chance that it could accrue its revenues (except very creatively), in order to meet the target of a maximum EUR 30 Mio deficit. The main conundrum for the 2015 FFP process will be to design credible sanctions for a recidivist. On the EU law front, the process will take a lot of time. Regarding the Belgium Courts, any first instance decision will be appealed all the way to the highest Court and will undoubtedly end up in a very time-consuming procedural ping-pong with the Court of Justice of the EU (earliest final decision not before 2019-2020). The EU competition law complaint launched with the European Commission might be quicker to unfold, but will most likely be a forum for re-negotiating the FFP rules rather than to abolish them altogether (the transfer system overhaul at the turn of the century could serve as a model). On a final note, Wenger is surely disappointed by the apparent leniency of the sanctions, but for once he might be able to throw a bit of his weight around on the transfer market.



[1] The settlement for PSG and Manchester City include specific restrictions of the squads size for the Champions League: “[the club] accepts that for the duration of the settlement it will be subject to a limitation on the number of players that it may include on the “A” list for the purposes of participation in UEFA competitions. Specifically, for season 2014/15 PSG may only register a potential maximum of 21 players on the “A” list, instead of the potential maximum of 25 as foreseen in the relevant competition regulations.” Furthermore, pursuant to Article 18.08 of the Regulations of the UEFA Champions League: “As a minimum, eight places are reserved exclusively for “locally trained players” and no club may have more than four “association-trained players” listed on these eight places on List A.”

[2] The goals of the UEFA Club Licensing and FFP Regulations are stated at article 2.2. They affirm that FFP aims “to introduce more discipline and rationality in club football finances” and “to encourage clubs to operate on the basis of their own revenues”.

[3] The settlements read as follows: “In case [the Club] fails to comply with any of the terms of this Agreement, the  UEFA CFCB Chief Investigator shall refer the case to the Adjudicatory Chamber, as  foreseen in Art. 15 (4) of the Procedural Rules.”

[4] The reason why both clubs failed to adhere to the FFP rules is that their sponsorship contracts with related parties were deemed overvalued and therefore adjusted as required by Article 58.4 of the UEFA FFP Regulations.

[5]Article 15.4 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014, states that: “If a defendant fails to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement, the CFCB chief investigator shall refer the case to the adjudicatory chamber.”

[6] Article 29 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014 foresees that:

The following disciplinary measures may be imposed against any defendant other than an individual:

a) warning,

b) reprimand,

c) fine,

d) deduction of points,

e) withholding of revenues from a UEFA competition,

f) prohibition on registering new players in UEFA competitions,

g) restriction on the number of players that a club may register for participation in UEFA competitions, including a financial limit on the overall aggregate cost of the employee benefits expenses of players registered on the A-list for the purposes of UEFA club competitions,

h) disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions,

i) withdrawal of a title or award.

[7] Indeed, directly affected party (as Everton, Arsenal and Marseille in those case) can ask the adjudicatory chamber to review the settlements. Article 16.2. of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014 foresees that: “Any decision of the CFCB chief investigator to conclude a settlement agreement or to apply disciplinary measures within the meaning of Article 14(1)(c) may be reviewed by the adjudicatory chamber at the request of a directly affected party within ten days from the date of publication of the decision.”

[8] Article 34 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, edition 2014 confers to directly affected party a right to appeal final decisions to CAS.

[9] Supra, No 6

[10] Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU gives to national courts the possibility to refer a question concerning the interpretation of EU law to the Court of Justice of the EU.

[11] Daniel Striani is a player agent on who’s behalf the complaints by Dupont against FFP were launched.

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