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

Sporting nationality and the Olympic Games: selected issues by Yann Hafner (University of Neuchâtel)

Editor’s note: Yann Hafner is a Phd researcher at the University of Neuchâtel specialized in sports and nationality issues. He is also Legal Affairs Manager at the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball. Yann is an editor of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog and has previously published on the blog on nationality conundrums at the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil (see here).  

This contribution aims to decipher the relationship between sporting nationality and the Olympic Games. To this end, the author will first define sporting nationality and discuss athletes’ eligibility in national team in the context of the Olympic Games. Then, selected issues in relation with sporting nationality and the Olympic Games (with an emphasis on issues related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games) will be investigated. More...

Regulating the human body in sports: Lessons learned from the Dutee Chand case - by Dr Marjolaine Viret & Emily Wisnosky

Editor's note: Marjolaine Viret and Emily Wisnosky are both editors of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog specialized in anti-doping matters, they are also involved in the World Anti-Doping Commentary project funded by the Swiss National Science Fund.


A remarkable aspect of the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games was the stream of negative media reports portraying broad-scale public mistrust in sport, with the most prominent topic being the doping scandals in athletics and questions surrounding the participation of Russia.  

A different controversy, but one also directed at the credibility of sports, has exposed a few female Olympians to repeated, and at times rather intrusive, media scrutiny. In June 2016, it was reported that Indian track-and-field athlete Dutee Chand had qualified for the Rio Olympic Games by breaking the national record, thus to become the first Indian athlete to run the 100m at the Olympics since 1980. The attention that Dutee Chand’s qualification attracted within international media, however, was not related only to her outstanding results. It came as part of a medical, ethical and legal controversy that has existed for many years relating to ‘policing’ the male versus female divide in sports. Another athlete who has found herself in the midst of this controversy is South African runner Semenya Caster, whose participation in the Olympics has been the object of much conjecture.

The divide between male and female athletes forms the core of most sports’ competition rules, including athletics. The justification for this basic divide has rarely been questioned as such, but has been a matter for debate when it comes to handling atypical situations on both sides of the ‘dividing line’ ­ such as ‘transgender’ or ‘intersex’ athletes. A category of athletes that has, especially, been viewed as a challenge to the divide is composed of female athletes affected by ‘hyperandrogenism’, a health condition that results in naturally elevated androgen levels, including testosterone levels.

On 24 July 2015, a CAS panel rendered a decision involving Dutee Chand (“Dutee Chand” or “the Athlete”) that has fuelled the ongoing debate about the policies regulating hyperandrogenism in sport. Much has been reported in the media about the case: controversial issues include whether the CAS was the appropriate forum to assess these questions; whether the decision was appropriate, both on the merits and on the procedure; and what the consequences of the CAS award would be, for the parties, for athletics and for the sporting community at large.

Much like the current crisis surrounding doping in sports, the public attention on women with (proven or suspected) hyperandrogenism is driven by a concern that an athlete’s physiology – natural or artificially induced ­ could distort competition, destroying the ‘level playing field’ that supports the Olympic ideal. Both topics are also often brought back to the goal of protecting an athlete’s health. Parallels are further found in the strong reactions both topics evoke, and the steps taken by the regulating authorities to convince the public that everything in their power is being done to preserve a level playing field.

A less obvious but equally important point of comparison can be found in the issues both topics raise concerning the legal validity of decisions made by sports organizations, especially in a science-related context. This blog focuses on those more ‘legal’ aspects, through the prism of the decision of the CAS in the Dutee Chand matter and its legal implications. After touching briefly on the background of the case, we will comment on two aspects of the Chand award with respect to challenges in regulating hyperandrogenism in sport within the confines of the law: First from the viewpoint of a CAS panel called upon to evaluate the validity of a set of regulations, and second from the viewpoint of the sports organizations seeking to both adequately protect fairness in sport and to provide a legally valid (and effective) regulatory solution.[1]


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – July 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 have overlooked. 

The Headlines

The McLaren Report on Russia’s State Doping System

It is difficult not to start this monthly report without referring to the never-ending Russian doping investigation that is shaking the sporting world. On 18 July, the independent investigation on Sochi 2014 winter Olympics led by Prof. McLaren, a Canadian law professor, and requested by the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), released its report. It confirmed evidence of widespread, State-sponsored doping in Russian sports and called for a full ban on the country from the next Rio Olympics. In response to the report, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) vowed to take the “toughest sanctions available”. However, and despite the race against time in the run-up to Rio 2016, the IOC delayed its decision for several days amid a WADA statement and several press articles calling for a ban of Russia from Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, it did open an investigation against Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, the head official who allegedly supervised the overall doping cover up and explored all possible legal actions against Russia. On 21 July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) rejected the appeal of the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) decisions to suspend All Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) from IAAF membership given the evidence of a state-sponsored doping system. As a consequence, Russian track and field athletes were also banned from Rio 2016 Olympics. With the IAAF welcoming this decision, one could think that nothing was standing in the way of a full Olympic ban for all Russian athletes. While some Russian athletes announced that they would appeal the CAS award to the Swiss Federal Court. Yelena Isinbayeva, the banned pole vault champion, even took it a step further by claiming that she would challenge the IAAF decision as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Yet, it is very improbable that any of these challenges be decided in time for the Rio Games.More...

Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 2). 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. 

Part 2. EU competition law and sports funding

The first analysed impact of Brexit on sport was the one regarding EU internal market rules and free movement. However, all sport areas that are of interest to the European Union will be impacted by the result of the future Brexit negotiations. This second part of the blog will focus on EU competition law and the media sector as well as direct funding opportunities keeping in mind that if the UK reaches for an EEA type agreement competition law and state aid rules will remain applicable as much as the funding programs.  More...

With or without them? Russia’s state doping system and the Olympic fate of Russian athletes. By Antoine Duval, Kester Mekenkamp and Oskar van Maren

On Monday 18 July 2016, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren presented the Independent Person Report to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), regarding the alleged Russian doping program surrounding the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The report was expected to seriously threaten the participation of Russian Athletes to the rapidly approaching Rio Games, starting on 5 August. In the weekend prior to the report’s publishing, Reuters obtained a leaked letter drafted by the CEO’s of the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies, which according to the New York Times was backed by “antidoping officials from at least 10 nations— including those in the United States, Germany, Spain, Japan, Switzerland and Canada — and 20 athlete groups”, urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban all Russian athletes from the upcoming Olympics.



Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 1). 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.

The result of the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 took the European Union (almost) by surprise. A lot has been said and written about the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. As in all other areas, the British sport sector will also face the effects of the modification of the relationship between the EU and its (probable) former Member State, the UK. It is nearly impossible to foresee all consequences as the UK has not even triggered article 50 TFEU yet to officially start the exit negotiations. However, as the UK position toward the EU will change in any case, this two-part blog aims to examine the main practical implications of such an exit for the UK, but also for the EU, in relation to the actual application of EU law in sport and the EU sport policy.

Unless stated otherwise, the use of the terms Brexit in this blog should be understood as a complete exit of the UK from the European Union. This blog focus in particular on this worst case scenario and its consequences for UK sport. However, it is highly improbable that the future Brexit negotiations with the EU will end up without some kind of special agreement between the two parties the first of which being an EEA type of agreement with full access to the internal market and applicability of EU law. 

The first part of this blog will examined the consequences for UK sport in terms of access to the EU internal market and the applicability of free movement principles. The second part is focused on specific impacts with regard of others domain of EU law for professional and grassroots UK sport.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp

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

What a month June turned out to be. Waking up the morning after the 23rd, the results of the UK referendum on EU membership were final. The words of Mark Twain: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today”, might provide the most apt description of the mood felt at the time.[1] The Leave campaign’s narrow victory has brought along tremendous economic, political and legal uncertainties for both the UK and the (other) Member States. To give but one example, with regard to the implications of Brexit on Europe’s most profiting football league, we recommend an older blog by Daniel Geey and Jonny Madill. More...

The EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – May 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

Challenged membership put a lot of emphasis on football federations in May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) has rendered an award, on 27 April 2016, ordering the FIFA Council to submit the application of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) for FIFA membership to the FIFA Congress (the body authorised to admit new members to FIFA). The GFA has sought since 1999 to become a member of UEFA and FIFA. In May 2013, it became a member of the UEFA and went on to seek membership of FIFA. More...

Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

Forget the European Championship currently held in France or the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. Doping scandals are making the headlines more than ever in 2016. From tennis star Sharapova receiving a two-year ban for her use of the controversial ‘meldonium’, to the seemingly never-ending doping scandals in athletics. As if this was not enough, a new chapter was added on 14 June to one of the most infamous and obscure doping sagas in history: the Operación Puerto.

The special criminal appeal chamber,  the Audiencia Provincial, has held that the more than 200 blood bags of professional athletes that have been at the center of the investigations since 2006 can be delivered to the relevant sporting authorities, such as the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD), WADA, the UCI and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In other words, there is now a good chance that the identities of the involved athletes might eventually be revealed.


This case note will analyze the court’s ruling and summarize its most important findings. Given the amount of time passed since the scandal first came to light (2004), the blog will commence with a short background summary of the relevant facts. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 2: The 2009 reform and its aftermath. By Kester Mekenkamp.

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

FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 2: The 2009 reform and its aftermath. 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. This blog is, to a great extent, an excerpt of his forthcoming thesis, which he shall submit in order to complete his master’s degree.

This is the second part of a three-piece blog on FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors, Article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. The contribution in its entirety aims to provide an encompassing overview of the rule’s lifespan since its inception in 2001. The previous (first) part has shed light on the “birth” and “first years” of the provision, and as such illustrated the relevant developments from 2001 till 2009. This second part covers the rule’s “adolescent years”, which span from 2009 to the present. The major changes put forward in the 2009, 2015 and 2016 versions of the RSTP will be addressed. Thereafter the important CAS decisions concerning Article 19, Muhic, Vada I and II, FC Barcelona, RFEF, and the FIFA decisions relating to Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, will be scrutinized. The third, and final, part will constitute a substantive assessment of the provision under EU Internal Market law.

Given that the version adopted in 2008 left Article 19 untouched, the 2009 RSTP represented the next significant step in the regulation of the protection of minors. It had become clear that the system as used up to that point was inadequate to achieve its goal,[1] most notably because several national associations still neglected to strictly apply the rules.[2] In response to this perceived failure, a new set of rules and procedures was adopted and came into force on 1 October 2009: the creation of a special FIFA oversight sub-committee of the PSC, the introduction of a special provision on football academies, and the instalment of a transfer matching system.[3] Importantly, with the enactment of these new regulations, Articles 19 and 19bis RSTP were included in the set of provisions binding upon the national level, which consequently had to be incorporated into the national associations’ regulations without alteration.[4]

This new 11-member PSC sub-committee (consisting of representatives of the confederations, leagues, clubs, players and the PSC’s chairman and deputy chairman) became the supervising body concerning the examination, and potential approval, of every international transfer and first registration of a minor player.[5] Its approval is mandatory and needs to be obtained prior to any request for any association’s ITC-request.[6] Moreover, non-compliance can be sanctioned by the FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, although a limited exception from this obligation exists for minor amateur players.[7]

Article 19bis RSTP on the registration and reporting of minors at academies was another substantial modification with respect to the protection of minors.[8] A football academy is defined by the regulations as “an organisation or an independent legal entity whose primary, long-term objective is to provide players with long-term training through the provision of the necessary training facilities and infrastructure. This shall primarily include, but not be limited to, football training centres, football camps, football schools, etc.”[9] With the creation of this new provision, all minor players that attend an academy, indifferent to whether or not that academy takes part in a national championship or has a legal, financial or de facto link to a club participating in a national championship, must be reported to the national association upon whose territory the academy operates.[10] This regulation of academies resembles an attempt to deal with what was previously a major loophole, the unregistered academies.[11]

The third major change was the instalment of a transfer matching system (“TMS”), which is a web-based data information system that, first of all, aims to simplify the processing of international transfers.[12] Its task is to provide more details to football’s governing bodies on all transfers taking place.[13] This should furthermore increase the transparency of the individual transactions, and in doing so, it will “improve the credibility and standing of the entire transfer system, and additionally also “safeguard the protection of minors”.[14] In practice, the TMS is a central database that monitors the international movement of players. As mentioned earlier, every application for an international transfer by a minor player must receive the approval of the PSC sub-committee. This process is managed through the transfer matching system, the details of which are stipulated in annexe 2 of the RSTP.[15] The sub-committee decides with three of its members, or, in urgent cases, through a sole member acting as “single judge”.[16] The national association wanting to register a player, files the application for an approval of an international transfer (or first registration) into the TMS.[17] Accompanying this application, the TMS requires a great number of specific documents, depending on the facts of the case and the exception that is being invoked.[18] This mandatory release of information spans documentation on, inter alia: academic and football education, accommodation, player’s and/or player’s parent(s) contract, parental authorisation and a birth certificate.[19] Subsequently, the sub-committee decides whether or not it gives its approval. If so, an ITC will be delivered via the TMS and the transfer can be finalized.[20] Parties involved have 10 days to inquire for the grounds of the decision, after that an appeal before the CAS is still open. Note that this procedure for minors differs from a regular international transfer, in that for the latter there is no substantive review by a third party. The clubs provide the relevant information and the TMS merely, automatically, checks whether the two strands of facts match.[21]

The Elmir Muhic case

The regulatory system laid down in the 2009 RSTP operates in roughly the same manner today, as the revisions of 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, did not substantially amend the core rules.[22] The case law of the CAS during this period, from 2009 to 2012, provides some examples of the application and interpretation of the 2009 rules.

In Elmir Muhic v. FIFA, a 16-year-old football player from Bosnia-Herzegovina joined the German OFC Kickers Offenbach.[23] Following the PSC sub-committee refusal to give its approval, the case ended up before the CAS. The Panel found that none of the three exceptions applied in the matter at hand. It did specify, in relation to the “parents-rule” of Article 19(2)(a), that the term “parents” needs to be applied stricto sensu.[24] Even though it could “conceivably cover situations beyond the natural parents”, such was not the case here.[25] Muhic’s parents still lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina (and it remained uncertain why they did not joined their child), while the player stayed at his aunt’s house.[26] The Panel stated that an aunt (and relatives alike) cannot replace the player’s parents in order to invoke the exception.[27] 

The Vada II case

Around the same time, Vada II made an important contribution to the application of Article 19(2)(b) (the first case had evolved along the lines of the Acuña award).[28] Valentin Vada was a football player living in Argentina, with dual citizenship. Next to possessing the Argentinian nationality, Vada also owned an Italian passport.[29] The 16-year-old was of the opinion that he could transfer to the French Club Girondins de Bordeaux, based on the “EU and EEA-rule” of Article 19(2)(b) RSTP.[30] FIFA’s single judge rejected the request, as he found the facts of the transfer not to match the strict requirements of the exception.[31] The arbiter reasoned that this exception is based on the criterion of territoriality, not nationality, and thus only refers to “a transfer taking place within the territory of the EU or EEA”.[32] Therefore, as Vada wished to transfer from an Argentinian club, Article 19(2)(b) RSTP could not be applied. Be that as it may, the CAS Panel argued (in length) otherwise. It agreed that the “EU and EEA-rule” merely stipulates a criterion of territoriality not nationality.[33] Still, it also noted that the FIFA’s RSTP commentary (as abovementioned) revealed that this exception was included in the 2001 informal agreement between FIFA/UEFA and the Commission in order for it to respect EU free movement law.[34] Thus, this objective to comply with EU free movement rights could not be ignored.[35] Additionally the CAS found, in line with FC Midtjylland, that the list of exceptions in Article 19(2) is not exhaustive.[36] This was supported by a document submitted by Girondins de Bordeaux setting out the case law of the PSC sub-committee. It explained that “if a club believes that very special circumstances, which do not meet any of the exceptions provided…the association of the club concerned may, on behalf of its affiliate, submit a formal request in writing to the FIFA sub-commission to consider the specific case and make a formal decision”.[37] Moreover, the document showed that the sub-committee in the majority of cases takes free movement law into consideration when “assessing the transfer of a player who, with a passport from an EU or EEA country, wishes to register with a club in an EU or EEA country”.[38] Consequently, the Panel accepted an unwritten exception allowing a player such as Vada, with the nationality of one of the EU or EEA member countries, to invoke Article 19(2)(b) RSTP.[39] 

The Spanish lawbreakers

From 2013 onwards the three biggest and richest football clubs in Spain, at the same time belonging to the top 15 clubs worldwide, Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, found themselves embroiled in a number of legal disputes as a result of signing minors.[40] A significant step unto its own, as it demonstrates that FIFA will not shy away from taking on the big iconic clubs when enforcing its regulations.

This “Spanish saga” kicked-off with a dispute concerning a US teenager, of 13 years old, who moved to Spain together with his parents and wanted to register with Atlético Madrid in September 2012.[41] Once more, the main question was whether the factual constellation of the case supported the application of the “parents-rule” (did the parents move to the country of the new club for reasons not linked to football?), and again the Panel stressed, in line with both Acuña and FC Midtjylland,[42] the need to apply the protection of minors rules in a “strict, rigorous and consistent manner”.[43] This means, following its decision in Vada I, that the family’s move must be unconnected altogether to football.[44] It is insufficient to establish that the move is partially connected to their child’s football activities, although not being the primary aim.[45] The Panel’s factual assessment distinguished multiple relevant elements to come to a decision on the possible application of the exception. Contra: the short timeline (six weeks) between the minor’s arrival in Madrid and the registration request (which hints at a previous intention); the player’s previous footballing activities; the player’s statement, reported on his school’s official website, “that the reason of his move to Spain was the possibility that he has been given to play with the Club Atlético de Madrid”.[46] Pro: the family of the player is partially Colombian, which connected them to Spain for reasons of culture and language; “The family is wealthy and…the basic maintenance of the family is not dependent of a working activity of the parents”; The player’s sister had already moved to Europe for her studies; The first preparations were undoubtedly made several months before the interaction with the club commenced; The club does not have a particular interest in the player “other than having in its team a teenager which may have a certain talent for football, such as many others in the Madrid area”.[47] In sum, the CAS concluded that, due to the exceptional facts, there is no link between the move of the family and their son’s football activities.[48]

The FC Barcelona case

Atlético’s fellow-townsman Real Madrid ended up in a likewise dispute with FIFA regarding a 13-year-old player from Venezuela.[49] The main hitter however was the case regarding their Catalonian archenemy: FC Barcelona.[50] The FIFA TMS, in January 2013, became aware of a potential breach, which ultimately lead to a case involving registrations of 31 minors.[51] These players, of various nationalities, were registered at FC Barcelona in the period from 2005 until 2012.[52] Via the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and Appeal Committee, who both found the club to have violated i.a. Articles 19(1), 19(3), 19(4), 19bis, and Annexe 2 of the RSTP, the case ended up before the CAS.[53] The Panel addressed the different potentially breached articles in a consecutive order, starting with Article 19(1) RSTP. The Panel found FC Barcelona to have infringed this provision with respect to nine players. The club had tried to shelter behind the fact that it had complied with all the rules laid down by the regional Catalonian football association, and, as such, had acted rightfully. The Panel held instead that the ban on internationally transferring minors is without doubt “addressed to both ‘associations’ and clubs”.[54] It thereby emphasized that national associations are paramount to the enforcement of FIFA’s statutes, and in the extent thereof the enforcement of the RSTP. Regional associations, such as the Catalonian, cannot govern the international transfer of players.[55] Given that clubs are the starting point of every international transfer, they “must primarily observe this ban”. The Panel stressed furthermore that Article 19(4) RSTP marks this by obliging the associations to ensure the clubs’ compliance in this matter, and moreover, Article 1(4) RSTP, explains that the Regulations “are binding for all associations and clubs”.[56] FC Barcelona may thus not hide behind apparent mistakes/breaches by both the Catalonian and the Spanish football associations, given that it “did not even try to request the transfers based on any one of the exceptions”.[57] Furthermore, FC Barcelona “should have been aware of the simple fact that they [the Spanish and the Catalonian associations] could not register the minors in any legitimate way under the RSTP”, which the CAS compared to “wilful ignorance” or, the “deliberate shutting of eyes”.[58]

Of the group of minors at the centre of the dispute, three were below the age of 12. FC Barcelona put forward a restrictive reading of the personal scope of application of the Articles 19 and 9(4) RSTP (2010 edition), arguing “that there are no prohibitions for the transfer of players under the age of 12”.[59] It thereby relied on Article 9 of the 2006 RSTP Commentary that stipulates “for players younger than 12, the Regulations do not provide for an obligation to issue an ITC for international transfers”.[60] The Panel nonetheless made short work of this argumentation by explaining that Article 9(4) RSTP’s absence of an obligation to issue an ITC for under-12 players merely addresses a formal requirement. The substantive rules for the international transfer of minors (irrespective whether below or above 12 years of age) are found in Article 19 RSTP, including paragraph 2 of that article.[61] This led the Panel to conclude that “no ITC was required when the transfers occurred for players below the age of 12; their transfer nevertheless, can only be lawful if it complies with the requirements embedded in Article 19(2) RSTP”.[62] The Panel also noted the amendment to Article 9(4) RSTP, effective as of 1 March 2015, which lowered the age at which an ITC is required from 12 to 10.[63]

In short, the CAS also ruled that FC Barcelona had violated Article 19(3) RSTP in relation to one minor, for the same reasons referred to in its findings under Article 19(1) RSTP.[64] Moreover, six cases violated Article 19(4) RSTP, as the Catalonian association had failed to refer these transfers to the PSC sub-committee. These infringements of paragraph 4 further justify that “sanctions may also be imposed (…) on the clubs that reached an agreement for the transfer of a minor”. The CAS in this regard defined the interpretation of the word “agreement” to include “agreements concluded between the registering club and the player himself, his parents, agents, etc”.[65] Further, the Panel established a breach of Article 19bis RSTP for all 31 players under investigation.[66] This constitutes a procedural violation, being “the lack of reporting of information regarding the progress and development of players” attending FC Barcelona’s well-known academy ‘La Masía’”.[67] Be that as it may, the CAS did praise the training and educational track record of La Masía. Thereby it deviated from the Appeal Committee’s ruling. In opposition to the latter it found that the attending players’ potential football careers are not endangered. On the contrary, if FC Barcelona in the future commits itself to its reporting duties under Article 19bis RSTP, then it “will be contributing to the overarching principles governing the protection of minors, since it will be providing other clubs with an enviable benchmark for the education and training of players”.[68] The CAS Panel found the sanctions imposed by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the Appeal Committee to be proportionate, and hence confirmed the earlier verdict.[69] Concretely, FC Barcelona was imposed a transfer ban for two transfer periods, as well as a fine of CHF 450,000.[70]

The RFEF case and latest developments

Things had not completely settled down yet with regard to the Spanish national football association: Real Federación Española de Fútbol (“RFEF”).[71] As has become clear in the coverage of the Barcelona case, apparent mistakes were made in the Spanish supervision of the ban on international transfers of minors. In a dispute regarding 31 international minor transfers to several Spanish football clubs[72], the RFEF was found by the CAS to have violated its guarding role and thereby induced a passive infringement of Articles 19(1), 19(3), 19(4) together with Annexes 2 and 3, and Articles 5(1) and 9(1) RSTP. [73] A fine of CHF 280,000 was imposed. The Panel pointed out that the RFEF could not justify its failure by arguing that the RSTP was conflicting with Spanish law, given that the rules on the protection of minors had come about in the 2001 agreement between FIFA/UEFA and the EU, which was acknowledged by Spain as a Member State of the EU.[74] Also, for 21 players below the age of 12 the RFEF had failed to fulfil its notification obligations, which the Panel condemned for the exact same reasons as in the FC Barcelona case.[75] The RFEF had failed to “make use of the statutory frameworks and tools at its disposal to ensure the full protection of minors”, and was found negligent as it failed to ensure that clubs and regional associations strictly complied with Article 19.[76] Furthermore, it had in some cases not fulfilled its obligation to seek the approval of the PSC subcommittee nor even submitted an application for such transfers.[77]

Ultimately in 2016, a fate similar to that of “Barça” fell upon both Atlético and Real Madrid.[78] The concise FIFA press release indicates that investigations were conducted by FIFA TMS, which “concerned minor players who were involved and participated in competitions with the clubs over various periods”, between roughly 2005 and 2014. Both clubs were sanctioned for violating, amongst others, Articles 19 and 19bis as well as annexe 2 of the RSTP. The clubs appealed (by which the sanctions were temporarily lifted), yet in September 2016 these appeals were similarly rejected by FIFA’s Appeal Committee.[79] This meant that Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will have to serve a transfer ban lasting two consecutive transfer periods (e.g. until January 2018), during which they will not be able to attract any players, and were fined CHF 900,000 and CHF 360,000 respectively. The clubs were given a 90 day period “to regularise the situation of all minor players concerned”.[80] A little over a week later, Real Madrid informed the CAS that it would appeal FIFA’s decision before the court in Lausanne.[81] The final outcome of this appeal is still unknown.

In a similar vein, very recently, the English club Manchester City has come under suspicion for allegedly wanting to transfer a 15-year-old player from Argentina, while the Dutch club Ajax was denied by the CAS to sign an American player aged 15.[82] These cases exemplify that clubs might just not be ready to put the practice of internationally transferring minors to bed yet. Moreover, the adaptation of the relevant rules is a sign for the need of continuous monitoring the effect of the provision on the protection of minors. The latest update, the June 2016 version, has incorporated another exception to the prohibition for the international transfer of minors, which has been created through the Sub-Committee’s case law.[83] Players that have for the five years preceding the request continuously lived in the country (other than that of their nationality) of intended registration are now exempted from the prohibition.[84]

In this part 2 of the blog, I have shown that FIFA’s restrictions on minor transfers have become more stringent after the 2009 reform. In recent years, FIFA has also cracked down on various prominent clubs, especially in Spain, which were still involved in recruiting minor players while disregarding, with the tacit support of their national federation, FIFA’s rules. Unsurprisingly, these developments have also flared up again the debate on the compatibility of those rules with EU law.[85] Thus, the next, third and final, part of this blog on FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors will offer a substantive assessment of FIFA’s rule under the requirements of EU Internal Market law. 

[1] A. Najarian, “’The Lost Boys’: FIFA's Insufficient Efforts To Stop Trafficking of Youth Footballers”, Sports Law. J. 2015, p. 167; R. Simons, “Protection of Minors vs. European Law”, Eur Sports Law Bulletin 2010, p. 172.

[2] R. Simons, “FIFA Transfer Matching System wel effectief?”, TvS&R 2011, p. 100.

[3] FIFA Circular no. 1190, 20 May 2009.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Art. 19(4) FIFA RTSP 2009.

[6] FIFA Circular no. 1206, 13 October 2009.

[7] FIFA Circular 1209, 30 October 2009.

[8] Art. 19bis FIFA RSTP 2009.

[9] Definition 12 FIFA RSTP 2009.

[10] Art. 19bis(1) and (2) FIFA RSTP 2009; Supra at 5.

[11] V. Derungs, “Protecting underage football players in the transfer system”, World Sports L. Report 2015, p. 15.

[12] Definition 13 FIFA RSTP 2016.

[13] N. St. Cyr Clarke, “The beauty and the beast: Taming the ugly side of the people’s game”, 2011 Columbia Journal of European Law, p. 619.

[14] FIFA Circular No. 1174, 12 January 2009.

[15] Annexe 2 FIFA RSTP 2016

[16] Art. 3(2) Annexe 2 FIFA RSTP 2009.

[17] Art. 5(1) Annexe 2 FIFA RSTP 2009.

[18] Art. 5(2) Annexe 2 FIFA RSTP 2009.

[19] FIFA Document, Protection of minors – Pertinent facts to be included in documents.

[20] Art. 9 and Annexe 3 FIFA RSTP 2009.

[21] For precise steps see FIFA TMS, Global Transfer Market Report 2016, p. 8; Supra at 4, p. 101.

[22] FIFA, Transfers, Player’s status, Clubs, Agents Regulations - Archived regulations

[23] Arbitration CAS 2011/A/2354 E. v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), award of 24 August 2011: At the same time, he participated in a three-year educational/trainee program at a company in Frankfurt, which aimed “to prepare him as office clerk to apply for a job as ‘Airport Manager’”. The German national football association, on behalf of Muhic and Kickers Offenbach made a request to FIFA for an exception via a special authorization for the transfer, founded on the “hardship based on the specific circumstances of the present case, namely the move of the player from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Germany without his parents, but with their expressed consent, for reasons not linked to football but to benefit from a humanitarian educational project” (p. 2.).

[24] Ibid, para. 17.

[25] Ibid, para. 18.

[26] Ibid, para. 18 and p. 2; Furthermore, the Panel recalled that Bosnia and Herzegovina is neither a member of the EU nor of the EEA and, as a consequence thereof, a player with this nationality cannot rely on the exception of Article 19(2)(b) RSTP (para. 20). The Panel subsequently, by emphasizing that the rationale for this exception is the “free movement of services and services suppliers within the EU and the EEA (and other production factors)”, quickly dismissed the appellant’s claim for the application of this provision resting on “the Stabilization and Association Agreement signed between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina” (paras. 21-23). In final, the CAS once more indicated that Article 19’s rationale was not to stop voluntary movement, yet it felt compelled to apply the protection of minors strictly: “Opening up the door to exceptions beyond those carefully drafted and included in the present text would unavoidably lead to cases of circumvention of the rationale for this provision” (para. 26). Moreover, Muhic could still continue his education, which was his primary reason to move to Germany, and likewise train with his team. He did have to wait a few months before becoming 18 years of age and thus eligible to start in professional matches. Nevertheless, the Panel concluded that this could not amount to constitute an “exceptional hardship going beyond the general impact of the provisions on the protection of minors” (para. 27).

[27] Supra at 11, p. 15.

[28] Arbitrage TAS 2012/A/2862 FC Girondins de Bordeaux c. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), sentence du 11 janvier 2013 (Vada II); Arbitrage TAS 2011/A/2494 FC Girondins de Bordeaux c. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), sentence du 22 décembre 2011 (Vada I).

[29] TAS 2012/A/2862 (Vada II), para. 3.

[30] Ibid, para. 18.

[31] Ibid, para. 19.

[32] Ibid, para. 19; Bulletin TAS CAS Bulletin 2014/2, p. 29.

[33] Supra at 29, para. 91.

[34] Ibid, para. 94.

[35] Ibid, para. 95.

[36] CAS 2008/A/1485 FC Midtjylland A/S v. Féderation Internationale de Football Association, paras. 19-21.

[37] Supra at 29, para. 96; Bulletin TAS CAS Bulletin 2014/2, p. 29.

[38] Supra at 29, para. 97.

[39] Ibid, paras. 98-100.                                                                                                                                                                  

[40] The Guardian, 29 April 2015, “Atlético Madrid and Real deny reports they are facing Fifa transfer embargo”.

[41] Arbitration CAS 2013/A/3140 A. v. Club Atlético de Madrid SAD & Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) & Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), award of 10 October 2013.

[42] CAS 2005/A/955 Càdiz C.F., SAD v FIFA and Asociación Paraguaya de Fútbol and CAS 2005/A/956 Carlos Javier Acuña Caballero v/FIFA and Asociación Paraguaya de Fútbol; CAS 2008/A/1485 FC Midtjylland A/S v. Féderation Internationale de Football Association.

[43] Supra at 41, paras. 8.20-8.23.

[44] TAS 2011/A/2494 FC (Vada I), paras. 31-38.

[45] Supra at 41, paras. 8.25.

[46] Ibid, para. 8.30.

[47] Ibid, para. 8.31.

[48] Ibid, paras. 8.32-36.

[49] Arbitration CAS 2014/A/3611 Real Madrid FC v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), award of 27 February 2015: The PSC Sub-Committee had rejected the request, which was again founded on the “parent rule”. It did so inter alia since the player’s parents had merely obtained a temporary residence permit that denied them the right to work, while the submitted employment contracts “made reference to enterprises incorporated and domiciled in Venezuela” (para. 11). This in combination with the fact that the player had moved to Spain one month in advance of his parents, led the PSC to believe that their move was linked to Real Madrid’s interest in their son (paras. 12-14). The subsequent proceedings before the CAS are only of interest in relation to the procedural aspects, since the appeal was declared inadmissible and consequently did not address the merits (paras. 63-66).

[50] CAS 2014/A/3793 Fútbol Club Barcelona v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), award of 24 April 2015.

[51] Bulletin TAS CAS Bulletin 2015/2, p. 76; Supra at 52, paras. 2.3-2.11.

[52] Supra at 50, para. 2.2.

[53] Supra at 51, p. 77.

[54] Supra at 50, paras. 9.1-9.2.

[55] Ibid, paras. 9.2-9.3.

[56] Ibid, para. 9.4.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid, para. 9.7.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid, para. 9.8.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid, para. 9.9.

[64] Ibid, paras. 9.10-9.12.

[65] Ibid, para. 9.14.

[66] Ibid, para. 9.18.

[67] Ibid, para. 9.19.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid, paras. 9.29-9.36 and 10.

[70] Ibid, para. 2.18.

[71] CAS 2014/A/3813 Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), 27 November 2015.

[72] Coincidentally the exact same number of minors under investigation as in the FC Barcelona Case. Be that as it may, in the case a hand the minors transferred to various Spanish clubs.

[73] Bulletin TAS CAS Bulletin 2016/1. P. 66.

[74] Ibid, p. 63, the Panel stated “As a member of the European Union, the Kingdom of Spain had acknowledged the application of this general prohibition throughout Spain and no express Spanish law stating otherwise had been brought to the Panel’s attention”.

[75] Supra at 73, p. 63.

[76] Ibid, p. 64.

[77] Ibid.

[78] FIFA, 14 January 2016, “Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid sanctioned for international transfers of minors”.

[79] FIFA, 8 September 2016, “FIFA rejects appeals of Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid in relation to transfers of minors”.

[80] The Guardian, 8 September 2016, “Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid lose appeals against Fifa transfer ban”.

[81] CAS, 16 September, “Request for stay filed by Real Madrid CF granted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport”.

[82] Independent, 22 September 2016, “Manchester City could face transfer ban after being reported to Fifa for 'trafficking' of youngster”; USA Today, 29 October 2016, “CAS rejects US teenager’s challenge to FIFA transfer rules”.

[83] Supra at 11, p. 15; FIFA Circular no. 1542, 1 June 2016.

[84] Art. 19(3) FIFA RSTP 2016.

[85] Reuters, 24 November 2016, “FIFA faces lawsuit over rules banning transfer of minors”.

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