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

FIBA/Euroleague: Basketball’s EU Competition Law Champions League- first leg in the Landgericht München. 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.

On 3 June 2016, the Landgericht München (“Munich Regional Court”) ordered temporary injunctions against the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) and FIBA Europe, prohibiting them from sanctioning clubs who want to participate in competitions organized by Euroleague Commercial Assets (“ECA”). The reasoning of the Court is based on breaches of German and EU competition law provisions. FIBA and FIBA Europe are, according to the judge, abusing their dominant position by excluding or threatening to exclude national teams from their international competitions because of the participation of their clubs in the Euroleague. This decision is the first judicial step taken in the ongoing legal battle between FIBA and ECA over the organization of European basketball competitions.

This judgment raises several interesting points with regard to how the national judge deals with the alleged abuse of a dominant position by European and international federations. A few questions arise regarding the competence of the Munich Regional Court that may be interesting to first look at in the wake of an appeal before examining the substance of the case. More...

The Müller case: Revisiting the compatibility of fixed term contracts in football with EU Law. By Kester Mekenkamp

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 17 February 2016, the Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz delivered its highly anticipated decision in the appeal proceedings between German goalkeeper Heinz Müller and his former employer, German Bundesliga club Mainz 05.[1] The main legal debate revolved around the question (in general terms) whether the use of a fixed term contract in professional football is compatible with German and EU law. 

In first instance (see our earlier blog posts, here and here), the Arbeitsgericht Mainz had ruled that the ‘objective reasons’ provided in Section 14 (1) of the German Part-time and Fixed-term Employment Act (Gesetz über Teilzeitarbeit und befristete Arbeitsverträge, “TzBfG”), the national law implementing EU Directive 1999/70/EC on fixed-term work, were not applicable to the contract between Müller and Mainz 05 and therefore could not justify the definite nature of that contract.[2] In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.[3] Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like implications, if held up by higher courts.[4] More...

The BGH’s Pechstein Decision: A Surrealist Ruling



The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Highest Civil Court in Germany, in the Pechstein case was eagerly awaited. At the hearing in March, the Court decided it would pronounce itself on 7 June, and so it did. Let’s cut things short: it is a striking victory for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and a bitter (provisory?) ending for Claudia Pechstein. The BGH’s press release is abundantly clear that the German judges endorsed the CAS uncritically on the two main legal questions: validity of forced CAS arbitration and the independence of the CAS. The CAS and ISU are surely right to rejoice and celebrate the ruling in their respective press releases that quickly ensued (here and here). At first glance, this ruling will be comforting the CAS’ jurisdiction for years to come. Claudia Pechstein’s dire financial fate - she faces up to 300 000€ in legal fees – will serve as a powerful repellent for any athlete willing to challenge the CAS.More...



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...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Blog Symposium: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it. The point of view of La Liga.

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

Blog Symposium: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it. The point of view of La Liga.

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor's note: This is the first blog of our symposium on FIFA's TPO ban, it features the position of La Liga regarding the ban and especially highlights some alternative regulatory measures it would favour. La Liga has launched a complaint in front of the European Commission challenging the compatibility of the ban with EU law, its ability to show that realistic less restrictive alternatives were available is key to winning this challenge. We wish to thank La Liga for sharing its legal (and political) analysis of FIFA's TPO ban with us.

INTRODUCTION

The Spanish Football League (La Liga) has argued for months that the funding of clubs through the conveyance of part of players' economic rights (TPO) is a useful practice for clubs. However, it also recognized that the practice must be strictly regulated. In July 2014, it approved a provisional regulation that was sent to many of the relevant stakeholders, including FIFA’s Legal Affairs Department.

Although initially we felt that FIFA would focus on strict regulation, FIFA finally tilted the balance towards the idea of an absolute ban. FIFA even put an end to the working parties it had put in place to regulate this issue. After verbal and written notices, La Liga has filed a complaint with the Competition Authorities of the European Union, since the prohibition of TPO violates the EU competition rules. In our view, apart from breaching the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it also violates the rules on competition in place in other countries, such as Argentina and Brazil.

La Liga has raised the following arguments to show the disproportion of the absolute prohibition of TPO:

  • FIFA now prohibits undue third-party influence on a team and on players' agents' economic rights.

  • The UEFA now regulates the financial aspects of TPO in its Financial Fair Play Regulations.

  • Only three professional leagues worldwide have banned TPO.

  • The two independent studies commissioned by FIFA do not support the prohibition of TPO.

  • The General Assembly of FIFA concluded that TPO is a complex issue that must continue to be studied in detail.

  • The FIFA Working Party on TPO held only one meeting before it was banned and adapted no specific recommendations.

  • The FIFA Executive Committee agreed to ban TPO with no supporting report or internal proposal.

  • FIFA has not consulted governments, authorities or, in particular, the European Commission before adopting the ban.

  • The arguments used to ban TPO reveal the lack of proportionality of the measure.

  • Independent experts have denounced the lack of proportionality of a TPO ban.


The lack of proportionality of the measure

FIFA’s main argument is that TPO threatens the integrity of sporting competitions. In La Liga’s view, both the integrity of the competition and, where appropriate, footballers' independence could be protected by measures that do not require the full prohibition of TPO. For example, it could limit third-party economic rights to a minority percentage (>50%) together with other measures, such as limiting the number of players from the same club in which a third-party has minority economic rights.[1] Indeed, in its ENIC/UEFA decision, the European Commission took into account that the UEFA rule only prohibits the control of multiple clubs, but not the acquisition of minority stakes in them ("(T)he UEFA rule does not limit the freedom of action of investors that have shares in clubs below the level that gives them control over the club, because clubs with such ownership structure remain free to play in the same UEFA competition”).

Consideration must also be given to the fact that the risk to the integrity of competitions is much greater when two teams controlled by the same investor play against each other compared to when a certain number of players over whom a third party holds economic rights play each other. In the former case, the owner or investor of the clubs may want a team to lose if they can avoid relegation, win the championship or qualify for an international competition. In the latter case, a third-party investor's interest is for players to play as well as possible to increase their economic value, regardless of the result of the match. In fact, there is an increased risk of conflict of interest if a player has been loaned by one club to another and has to play against the club that holds the economic rights. It should be highlighted that neither FIFA nor UEFA have taken steps to regulate loans of players between clubs, despite the fact that loans account for a significant part of player transfer[2] and that independent experts recommend more restrictive regulations for loans.[3] Similarly, we fail to understand why FIFA, prohibits TPO when it is considering deregulating the profession of player agent and accepts that only a few agents represent and share economic interests with star football players.[4]

FIFA further argues that banning TPO will avoid speculation and inflation of transfer costs, preserve economic flows within football clubs, protect players' human dignity, combat economic crime, etc. La Liga is of the opinion that these arguments violate even further the principle of proportionality and are of questionable legitimacy. Therefore, they should be rejected from the outset. 


POLITICAL ASPECTS

As the Association of Spanish Football Clubs, we first and foremost defend a regulation of TPO. Banning it would be denying a fundamental tool for our clubs' funding and competitiveness

Based on the current socio-economic context of the football sector and its practical reality, it seems particularly inappropriate to reject a source of external funding used in every sector of the economy and which, when appropriately regulated, could create greater legal certainty for all concerned.

More specifically, from a political point of view, it is essential to design the regulation of TPO so that La Liga and its clubs maintain or even increase their current competitiveness.

Indeed, there is no doubt about the benefits provided by TPO/TPI since many clubs are in the position to sign players who they otherwise could not afford. Moreover, clubs also profit from the ability to anticipate revenue by selling the rights of the squad players in their team. Thus, in terms of the competitive balance, the use of TPO enables small/medium-sized clubs to maintain their competitiveness against their "bigger" rivals. For example, winning the Spanish league and reaching the Champions League final in the 2013/14 season is an achievement Atlético Madrid would probably not have reached without having recourse to TPO. Furthermore, it makes it possible to increase investment in sports facilities for better training and the development of young players.

The above shows that the private investor also "shares" a risk with the club: when investing in a specific player, the investor also assumes the negative results of the potential investment, which is then shared between the club and the investor, greatly reducing the negative impact on the accounts of the club in question.

And finally, taking into account the economic and financial difficulties currently affecting football clubs, it is necessary to support appropriate financing mechanisms in football to foster investment in the sector, since, at present, most clubs would not be able to survive on their current sources of income.

Should the absolute prohibition of TPO/TPI be maintained, as intended by FIFA and UEFA, it will be very difficult to keep the constellation of star players in our affiliated Clubs. They will most certainly leave their respective clubs for other competitions and clubs that have greater financial resources. It is clear that a large number of Spanish teams will see their competitiveness reduced and, at the same time, the competitiveness of and interest in our competition will plummet

In addition, proper regulation of this issue would avoid the risk of compromising the integrity of competitions, since it would provide greater legal certainty for all the involved parties. Instead, the absolute ban imposed by FIFA will lead to the creation of a "black market” that would be out of regulatory control and would therefore endanger the very integrity of the competitions. Thus, it is absolutely necessary to regulate the matter appropriately. 


LEGAL ASPECTS:

In line with the aforementioned political aspects, from a strictly legal perspective, regulating TPO is particularly advisable since:

a. It is a common practice in the football sector and it is a source of funding that promotes the competitiveness of clubs. Moreover, it stimulates competition and allows clubs to attract and retain top-level players.

In recent years, the number of investments in football players has increased. These investments were sought by Spanish clubs in order to finance the registration of the players’ federative rights. Furthermore, the investor’s remuneration is (wholly or partially) calculated depending on the positive economic results that may be obtained through future transfers of the player’s federative rights by the club that received the investment money.

La Liga believes that investments of this nature can constitute a useful alternative source of financing for clubs and investment for funds, especially now that the Spanish financial sector and the Spanish professional football sector are undergoing a profound financial crisis. Accordingly, these investments may foster the competitiveness of Spanish professional football clubs in Spain and outside. Indeed, the signing and retention of players’ federative rights cannot be secured without third-party investments.  


b. TPO requires an adequate regulatory framework to ensure legal certainty and promote the integrity of professional football competitions.

Based on the widespread use of TPO in practice, La Liga considers it appropriate to introduce certain rules and provide legal certainty to both the clubs as well as the investors. This would require imposing reasonable limitations and duties, and providing for the transparency of the TPO transactions, to protect good sportsmanship and the integrity of competitions.

La Liga’s proposal for a regulatory framework is based on the following basic principle:

Compliance with FIFA’s rules on the influence of third parties in clubs, according to which no club may enter into a contract whereby any party to said contract or third party may assume a position that could influence labour issues and transfers in relation to the independence, policies or actions taken by the teams of any club.

Based on this principle, the following regulatory measures are suggested:

  • prohibition of certain transactions based on the player's age;

  • maximum percentage of participation in the "economic rights";

  • quantitative  limitations  on  the  maximum  number  of  players  per club;

  • maximum remuneration for the investor;

  • prohibition of certain clauses that may limit the independence and autonomy of the clubs; and

  • prohibition of transactions depending on the investor's particular status or business (or participation in the same) such as shareholders, directors and managers of the clubs.

This regulatory framework would provide transparency through duties of information and registration of the investors (including full identification of the real owners) and the financial transactions themselves


CONCLUSION

There is no doubt that the use of TPO/TPI needs to be regulated in Spanish professional football. However, it is also necessary to acknowledge that the full prohibition of TPO by FIFA will only trigger a search for "creative" alternatives to fulfil the same purpose, using fraud and/or other contractual fictions. Furthermore, the prohibition of TPO will be very difficult to enforce and it will generate a great deal of conflicts, which is obviously not a desirable outcome. This is also without prejudice to the considerable loss of competitiveness and footballing talent for our clubs and our competitions.

Thus, it is necessary to devise an alternative approach to the issue by means of a specific regulation. Indeed, we consider that third-party investment in football is a legitimate financing vehicle for clubs, based on risk-sharing and productive investments through private funds. However, there are also obvious threats that need to be tackled. Therefore, in the view of La Liga, it is necessary to establish a sustainable, secure and transparent regulatory system that encourages sound investment in the sector and provides for a better control of the investors.

The benefits to be gained from regulating TPO/TPI are more than evident and would be shared by all the stakeholders that make up the ‘football family’. We believe that an adequate regulation in this area would pave the way for a secure, reliable and transparent system, allowing the ‘football family’ to safely enjoy the benefits TPO can provide.


[1] See, for example, alternatives to the total ban proposed by Luís Villas-Boas Pires, "Third Party Ownership- To ban or not to ban?, LawInSport,10.12.2013: http://www.lawinsport.com/articles/regulation-a-governance/item/third-party-ownership-to-ban-or-not-to-ban.

[2] The Economic and Legal Aspects of Transfers of Players”, KEA-CDES, December 2013, p. 193: “These operations involve a large number of transfers in Europe – 21% i.e. 1333 in 2011, according to TMS”.

[3] The Economic and Legal Aspects of Transfers of Players”, KEA-CDES, December 2013, study performed for the European Commission, pp. 253-254: "Proposal 4:Regulate the loan transfer

Abusive loan transfer practices contribute to competitive imbalance and unfairness of the competitions. We suggest regulation to limit or prevent such abusive practices. This could encompass:

Limiting the number of loans by the lending clubs

Limiting to xx the number of loans to the beneficiary clubs

Regulating loan contracts between clubs which pose a risk to the integrity of competition (for instance: a contractual clause that prevents a player from participating in a certain competition or a given match). Main stakeholders: International federations, national federations and leagues.”

[4] The Economic and Legal Aspects of Transfers of Players”, KEA-CDES, December 2013, pp. 128-129:

The second feature of the upper primary segment is the concentration of superstars in the hands of a few agents (individual or agencies). It is a question of knowing what the actual market power of these agents is and what can be done to regulate their actions. For example, let us note that Gestifute, the Portuguese agency led by Jorge Mendes, has in its portfolio José Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Raul Meireles and Miguel Veloso.  This agency has generated €369.85m in transfer rights (Poli, 2012). The role of the major sporting agents should be better known, in order to assess whether they are responsible for an increase in the dualisation of the labour market and, therefore, for a deterioration in competitive balance. Small championships can no longer hang on to their stars and the major championships are competing to attract them, thus contributing to the inflation of speculative bubbles regarding the salaries and transfer fees of these stars.

In the lower primary market, as in the higher primary market, the role of agents is decisive in transactions and we once more find the same recommendations:

An analysis of the concentration of wage

bills.

An analysis of the concentration of transactions at the agent level.”



Comments (1) -

  • Andy Brown

    4/16/2015 12:25:31 PM |

    Couldn't agree more. I also think that this is part of a larger movement by Europe's bigger clubs to ensure their financial hegemony in the market. With FFPR, TPO bans and the way in which the world's biggest clubs are abusing immigration regulations to amass players and then loan them out overseas, there is no room for the smaller clubs to break into the big time any more. But then again, AFC Bournemouth may prove me wrong. More on how the TPO ban could actually present a risk to integrity here: icss-journal.newsdeskmedia.com/Third-party-ownership-a-risk-to-integrity

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