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 Olympic Agenda 2020: The devil is in the implementation!

The 40 recommendations of the Olympic Agenda 2020 are out! First thought: one should not underplay the 40 recommendations, they constitute (on paper at least) a potential leap forward for the IOC. The media will focus on the hot stuff: the Olympic channel, the pluri-localisation of the Games, or their dynamic format. More importantly, and to some extent surprisingly to us, however, the IOC has also fully embraced sustainability and good governance. Nonetheless, the long-term legacy of the Olympic Agenda 2020 will hinge on the IOC’s determination to be true to these fundamental commitments. Indeed, the devil is always in the implementation, and the laudable intents of some recommendations will depend on future political choices by Olympic bureaucrats. 

For those interested in human rights and democracy at (and around) the Olympics, two aspects are crucial: the IOC’s confession that the autonomy of sport is intimately linked to the quality of its governance standards and the central role the concept of sustainability is to play in the bidding process and the host city contract.  More...

UEFA’s tax-free Euro 2016 in France: State aid or no State aid?

Last week, the French newspaper Les Echos broke the story that UEFA (or better said its subsidiary) will be exempted from paying taxes in France on revenues derived from Euro 2016. At a time when International Sporting Federations, most notably FIFA, are facing heavy criticisms for their bidding procedures and the special treatment enjoyed by their officials, this tax exemption was not likely to go unnoticed. The French minister for sport, confronted with an angry public opinion, responded by stating that tax exemptions are common practice regarding international sporting events. The former French government agreed to this exemption. In fact, he stressed that without it “France would never have hosted the competition and the Euro 2016 would have gone elsewhere”. More...

The New Olympic Host City Contract: Human Rights à la carte? by Ryan Gauthier, PhD Researcher (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Three weeks ago, I gave a talk for a group of visiting researchers at Harvard Law School on the accountability of the IOC for human rights abuses caused by hosting Olympic Games. On the day of that talk, Human Rights Watch announced that the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) would insert new language into the Host City Contract presumably for the 2022 Olympic Games onwards. The new language apparently requires the parties to the contract to:

“take all necessary measures to ensure that development projects necessary for the organization of the Games comply with local, regional, and national legislation, and international agreements and protocols, applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protection of the environment, health, safety, and labour laws.”More...

The UN and the IOC: Beautiful friendship or Liaison Dangereuse?

The IOC has trumpeted it worldwide as a « historical milestone »: the United Nations has recognised the sacrosanct autonomy of sport. Indeed, the Resolution A/69/L.5 (see the final draft) adopted by the General Assembly on 31 October states that it  “supports the independence and autonomy of sport as well as the mission of the International Olympic Committee in leading the Olympic movement”. This is a logical conclusion to a year that has brought the two organisations closer than ever. In April, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former IOC President, Jacques Rogge, Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport. At this occasion, the current IOC President, Thomas Bach, made an eloquent speech celebrating a “historic step forward to better accomplish our common mission for humanity” and a memorandum understanding was signed between the UN and the IOC. This is all sweet and well, but is there something new under the sun?More...

Image Rights in Professional Basketball (Part I): The ‘in-n-out rimshot’ of the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal to enforce players’ image rights contracts. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

A warning addressed to fans of French teams featuring in the recently launched video game NBA 2K15: Hurry up! The last jump ball for Strasbourg and Nanterre in NBA 2K 15 may occur earlier than expected. The French Labour Union of Basketball (Syndicat National du Basket, SNB) is dissatisfied that Euroleague and 2K Games did not ask (nor paid) for its permission before including the two teams of Pro A in the NBA 2K15 edition. What is at issue? French basketball players’ image rights have been transferred to SNB, which intends to start proceedings before the US Courts against 2K Games requesting 120.000 euros for unauthorized use of the players’ image rights. SNB is clear: it is not about the money, but rather to defend the players’ rights.[1] Strasbourg and Nanterre risk to “warm up” the virtual bench if this litigation goes ahead. 

Source: More...

Sport and EU Competition Law: uncharted territories - (II) Mandatory player release systems with no compensation for clubs. By Ben Van Rompuy

The European Commission’s competition decisions in the area of sport, which set out broad principles regarding the interface between sports-related activities and EU competition law, are widely publicized. As a result of the decentralization of EU competition law enforcement, however, enforcement activity has largely shifted to the national level. Since 2004, national competition authorities (NCAs) and national courts are empowered to fully apply the EU competition rules on anti-competitive agreements (Article 101 TFEU) and abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 TFEU).

Even though NCAs and national courts have addressed a series of interesting competition cases (notably dealing with the regulatory aspects of sport) during the last ten years, the academic literature has largely overlooked these developments. This is unfortunate since all stakeholders (sports organisations, clubs, practitioners, etc.) increasingly need to learn from pressing issues arising in national cases and enforcement decisions. In a series of blog posts we will explore these unknown territories of the application of EU competition law to sport.

In this second installment of this blog series, we discuss a recent judgment of the regional court (Landgericht) of Dortmund finding that the International Handball Federation (IHF)’s mandatory release system of players for matches of national teams without compensation infringes EU and German competition law.[1] More...

The CAS Ad Hoc Division in 2014: Business as usual? – Part.1: The Jurisdiction quandary

The year is coming to an end and it has been a relatively busy one for the CAS Ad Hoc divisions. Indeed, the Ad Hoc division was, as usual now since the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996[1], settling  “Olympic” disputes during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, it was also, and this is a novelty, present at the Asian Games 2014 in Incheon.  Both divisions have had to deal with seven (published) cases in total (four in Sochi and three in Incheon). The early commentaries available on the web (here, here and there), have been relatively unmoved by this year’s case law. Was it then simply ‘business as usual’, or is there more to learn from the 2014 Ad Hoc awards? Two different dimensions of the 2014 decisions by the Ad Hoc Division seem relevant to elaborate on : the jurisdiction quandary (part. 1) and the selection drama (part. 2). More...

Sports Politics before the CAS II: Where does the freedom of speech of a Karate Official ends? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

On 6 October 2014, the CAS upheld the appeal filed by the former General Secretary of the World Karate Federation (WKF), George Yerolimpos, against the 6 February 2014 decision of the WKF Appeal Tribunal. With the award, the CAS confirmed a six-months membership suspension imposed upon the Appellant by the WKF Disciplinary Tribunal.[1] At a first glance, the case at issue seems to be an ordinary challenge of a disciplinary sanction imposed by a sports governing body. Nevertheless, this appeal lies at the heart of a highly acrimonious political fight for the leadership of the WKF, featuring two former ‘comrades’:  Mr Yerolimpos and Mr Espinos (current president of WKF). As the CAS puts it very lucidly, "this is a story about a power struggle within an international sporting body"[2], a story reminding the Saturn devouring his son myth.

This case, therefore, brings the dirty laundry of sports politics to the fore. Interestingly enough, this time the CAS does not hesitate to grapple with the political dimension of the case. More...

The new “Arrangement” between the European Commission and UEFA: A political capitulation of the EU

Yesterday, the European Commission stunned the European Sports Law world when it announced unexpectedly that it had signed a “partnership agreement with UEFA named (creatively): ‘The Arrangement for Cooperation between the European Commission and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)’. The press release indicates that this agreement is to “commit the two institutions to working together regularly in a tangible and constructive way on matters of shared interest”. The agreement was negotiated (as far as we know) secretly with UEFA. Despite recent meetings between EU Commissioner for sport Vassiliou and UEFA President Platini, the eventuality of such an outcome was never evoked. It is very unlikely that third-interested-parties (FIFPro, ECA, Supporters Direct etc.) were consulted in the process of drafting this Arrangement. This surprising move by an outgoing Commission will be analysed in a three-ponged approach. First, we will discuss the substance of the Arrangement (I). Thereafter, we will consider its potential legal value under EU law (II). Finally, and maybe more importantly, we will confront the political relevance of the agreement (III).  More...

Sports Politics before the CAS: Early signs of a ‘constitutional’ role for CAS? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

It took almost six months, a record of 26 witnesses and a 68 pages final award for the CAS to put an end to a long-delayed, continuously acrimonious and highly controversial presidential election for the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). Worawi Makudi can sit easy and safe on the throne of the FAT for his fourth consecutive term, since the CAS has dismissed the appeal filed by the other contender, Virach Chanpanich.[1]

Interestingly enough, it is one of the rare times that the CAS Appeal Division has been called to adjudicate on the fairness and regularity of the electoral process of a sports governing body. Having been established as the supreme judge of sports disputes, by reviewing the electoral process of international and national sports federations the CAS adds to its functions a role akin to the one played by a constitutional court in national legal systems. It seems that members of international and national federations increasingly see the CAS as an ultimate guardian of fairness and validity of internal electoral proceedings. Are these features - without prejudice to the CAS role as an arbitral body- the early sign of the emergence of a Constitutional Court for Sport? More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Final Report on the FIFA Governance Reform Project: The Past and Future of FIFA’s Good Governance Gap

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

Final Report on the FIFA Governance Reform Project: The Past and Future of FIFA’s Good Governance Gap

Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup left many people thunderstruck: How can a country with a population of 2 million people and with absolutely no football tradition host the biggest football event in the world? Furthermore, how on earth can players and fans alike survive when the temperature is expected to exceed 50 °C during the month (June) the tournament is supposed to take place?

Other people were less surprised when FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, pulled the piece of paper with the word “Qatar” out of the envelope on 2 December 2010. This was just the latest move by a sporting body that was reinforcing a reputation of being over-conservative, corrupt, prone to conflict-of-interest and convinced of being above any Law, be it national or international.

Interestingly enough, by 2011, FIFA itself was increasingly becoming aware of its loss of popularity. After his (third) re-election, President Blatter began to promote the idea of a “Solutions Committee to help promote reforms within FIFA”. In August of that same year Prof. Dr. Mark Pieth, Chairman of the OECD Working Group on Bribery, was asked to analyse the existing governance structure and to make recommendations for its improvement. His review, published on 19 September 2011, recommended FIFA to e.g. introduce a conflict-of-interest regulation foreseeing the removal of FIFA officials in case of breach and to set term limits for FIFA officials such as the President. As a result of the review, President Blatter decided to appoint an Independent Governance Committee (IGC), to be led by Prof. Pieth.

The project called the ‘FIFA Governance Reform Project’ was to “oversee the creation and implementation of a framework of good governance and controls for FIFA to ensure the organization’s integrity with the ultimate goal of restoring confidence amongst FIFA stakeholders, including fans and the wider public”[1]. The IGC’s first report, published on 20 March 2012, contained a set of recommendations that were very similar to what Prof. Pieth had recommended in his previous review: FIFA had to become more transparent and independent judicial and financial/compliance oversight bodies had to be established.

Initially, FIFA followed the IGC’s proposals by establishing an Ethics Committee and an Audit & Compliance Committee. However, The IGC stated that the reform process was far from completed, highlighting that there is still an urgent need to update internal regulations on compliance, conflict-of-interest and the internal organization in general. To the IGC’s growing disappointment, it soon became clear that FIFA was proving very reluctant to modernize in accordance with good governance requirements.

On numerous occasion the IGC stressed the need to introduce further transparency and accountability throughout FIFA[2]. To achieve this, FIFA officials would have to undergo an integrity check performed by an independent body prior to their (re-) election, the President and the Members of the FIFA Executive Committee would have to be be subjected to limited terms in office and two independent Members would have to attend the meetings of the FIFA Executive Committee. A major setback for the IGC was the unanimous declaration  of all 53 Member Associations of UEFA of 24 January 2013. UEFA was of the opinion that no term limits for members of the FIFA Executive Committee and that integrity checks on candidates shall not be performed by FIFA but by the Confederations, such as UEFA. Quoting IGC’s own report, this was a signal that the reform agenda was likely to be high-jacked by rivalling interest groups within FIFA, supported by those fearing to lose their long-time privileges and networks[3]. The fact that on the eve of the FIFA Congress of 2013 UEFA demanded a decision to be taken on the limited terms proposal, knowing that the motion would fail to meet the ¾ majority vote, meant that it would do everything in its power to prevent the IGC’s recommendations of being implemented. Feeling frustrated, several members of the IGC decided to leave the Independent Governance Committee after it became clear to them that FIFA was not serious about the proposed changes[4].  

The remaining Members of the IGC, whose mandate terminated at the end of 2013, published their final report on 22 April 2014. The 15 page report specifies a detailed chronological summary of the IGC’s work, including why FIFA gave it the task to provide recommendations and what recommendations had been implemented. More importantly, however, the report also mentioned all the difficulties the IGC encountered while performing its mandate and it highlighted once again the recommendations, which had not been implemented by FIFA: term limits for FIFA officials, integrity checks for all members of FIFA standing committees performed by FIFA itself and improved reviews of key processes, such as the World Cups bidding process[5]. Not surprisingly, the IGC strongly advocates that these recommendations are implemented nonetheless. Furthermore, the IGC insisted that the new Ethics Committee should be able to investigate events that occurred before the Governance Reform Project was started, especially Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.  

The next FIFA Congress will take place in Sao Paulo on 11 June 2014, one day before the World Cup kicks off. As the supreme and legislative body, the Congress has the right to vote on proposals for amendments to FIFA Statutes and Regulations and is therefore competent for implementing scores of the IGC’s recommendations. Taking into account UEFA’s position at last year’s Congress and FIFA’s overall reluctance to reform itself in accordance with good governance standards, chances of a significant change are very slim. But, with the whole world looking at FIFA due to the World Cup, this could well be a golden opportunity to push FIFA to endorse the IGC’s remaining recommendations and finally become the transparent and accountable sporting governing body that the football family deserves.

[1] Final Report by the Independent Governance Committee to the Executive Committee of FIFA, 22 April 2014

[2] See for example: Media releases of 8 February 2013  and 21 March 2013

[3] Final Report by the Independent Governance Committee to the Executive Committee of FIFA, page 10

[4] See for example: Media release of 24 April 2013

[5] Final Report by the Independent Governance Committee to the Executive Committee of FIFA, page 12-13

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