Asser International Sports Law Blog

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

Goodbye 2015! The Highlights of our International Sports Law Year

2015 was a good year for international sports law. It started early in January with the Pechstein ruling, THE defining sports law case of the year (and probably in years to come) and ended in an apotheosis with the decisions rendered by the FIFA Ethics Committee against Blatter and Platini. This blog will walk you through the important sports law developments of the year and make sure that you did not miss any.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport challenged by German Courts 

The more discrete SV Wilhelmshaven ruling came first. It was not even decided in 2015, as the ruling was handed out on 30 December 2014. Yet, unless you are a sports law freak, you will not have taken notice of this case before 2015 (and our blog). It is not as well known as the Pechstein ruling, but it is challenging the whole private enforcement system put in place by FIFA (and similar systems existing in other SGBs). Indeed, the ruling foresees that before enforcing a sanction rendered by FIFA, the national (or in that case regional) federation must verify that the award underlying the sanction is compatible with EU law. The decision has been appealed to the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH) and a final ruling is expected in 2016.

Later on, in January, the Oberlandesgericht München dropped its legal bomb in the Pechstein case. The court refused to recognize the CAS award sanctioning Claudia Pechstein with a doping ban, as it was deemed contrary to German antitrust rules. The reasoning used in the ruling was indirectly challenging the independence of the CAS and, if confirmed by the BGH, will trigger a necessary reform of the functioning and institutional structure of the CAS. Paradoxically, this is a giant step forward for international sports law and the CAS. The court acknowledges the need for CAS arbitration in global sport. However, justice must be delivered in a fair fashion and the legitimacy of the CAS (which relies on its independence from the Sports Governing Bodies) must be ensured (see our long article on the case here).

We will see how the BGH will deal with these cases in 2016. In any event, they constitute an important warning shot for the CAS. In short, the CAS needs to take EU law and itself seriously. If it truly addresses these challenges, it will come out way stronger.


The new World Anti-Doping Code and the Russian Doping Scandal

On the doping front, 2015 is the year in which the new World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) came into force (see our Blog Symposium). The Code introduces substantial changes in the way the anti-doping fight is led and modifies the sanction regime applicable in case of an adverse analytical finding. It is too early to predict with certainty its effects on doping prevalence in international sports. For international sports lawyers, however, it is in any event a fundamental change to the rules applicable to anti-doping disputes, which they need to get closely acquainted with.

The new World Anti-Doping Code was largely overshadowed by the massive doping scandal involving Russian sports, which was unleashed by an ARD documentary (first released in 2014) and revived by the crushing report of the Independent Commission mandated by the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate the matter. This scandal has shaken the legitimacy of both the anti-doping system and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It has highlighted the systematic shortcomings of the anti-doping institutions in Russia, and, the weakness of the control exercised on these institutions at a transnational level, be it by IAAF or WADA.

In 2015 again, doping proved to be a scourge intimately linked with international sports. The confidence and the trust of the public, and of clean athletes, in fair sports competitions is anew put to the test. WADA, which was created in the wake of another massive doping scandal in the nineties, has shown its limits. In practice, the decentralization of the enforcement of the WADC empowers local actors, who are very difficult to control for WADA. Some decide to crackdown on Doping with criminal sanctions (see the new German law adopted in December 2015), others prefer to collaborate with their national athletes to improve their performances. The recent proposals at the IOC level aiming at shifting the testing to WADA can be perceived as a preliminary response to this problem. Yet, doing so would entail huge practical difficulties and financial costs.


EU law and sport: 20 years of Bosman and beyond

2015 was also the year in which the twentieth anniversary of Bosman was commemorated through multiple conferences and other sports law events. The ASSER International Sports Law Centre edited a special edition of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law and a book celebrating the legacy of the ruling is forthcoming with the publisher Springer. The ruling did not have the dramatic effects predicted at the time of the decision, since football is still alive and kicking. Surely, it has given way to new challenges and sharply accelerated the transnationalization of football (and sport in general). A key legacy of Bosman is that this transnationalization, which goes hand in hand with the commercialization of sport, cannot side-line an essential category of stakeholders: the athletes.

It is with this spirit in mind, and a little push of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, that the European Commission decided to open an investigation into the rules of the International Skating Union (ISU) barring, under the threat of a life ban, speed skaters (and any other affiliate) from joining speed skating competitions which are not condoned by the ISU. Though the case is rather low profile outside of the Netherlands, this is an important step forward for the EU Commission, as it had not opened an EU competition law investigation in sporting matters in almost 15 years. Many other competition law complaints (e.g. TPO or Formula 1) involving sport are currently pending in front of the EU Commission, but it is still to decide whether it will open a formal investigation. 2015 is also the year in which we have desperately expected the release of the EU State aid decisions regarding football clubs, and amongst them Real Madrid, but in the end this will be a matter for 2016.


FIFA and the chaotic end of the Blatter reign

FIFA is not the only SGB to have put an abrupt end to the (very) long reign of its great leader (think of the messy downfall of Diack at the IAAF). Yet, when talking about FIFA and football, the resonance of a governance crisis goes well beyond any other. It is truly a global problem, discussed in nearly all news outlets. This illustrates very much how a Swiss association became a global public good, for which an Indian, Brazilian, American or European cares as much as a Swiss, who is in traditional legal terms the only one able to influence FIFA’s structure through legislation. The global outrage triggered by the progressive release by the US authorities of information documenting the corrupt behaviour of FIFA executives has led to two immediate consequences: a change of the guard and a first reform of the institution.

There are now very few FIFA Executive Committee members left who were present in 2010 for the election of Qatar as host city for the 2022 World Cup. The long-time key figures of FIFA, Blatter, Platini and Valcke, are unlikely to make a comeback any time soon. And, the upcoming February election of the new FIFA president is more uncertain than ever with five candidates remaining. Simultaneously, FIFA has announced some governance reforms, which aim at enhancing the transparency of its operation and the legitimacy of its decision-making. We are living through a marvellous time of glasnost and perestroika at FIFA. The final destination of this transformative process remains unknown. There are still some major hurdles to overcome (starting with the one association/one vote system at the FIFA congress) before FIFA is truly able to fulfil its mission in a transparent, accountable and legitimate manner. We hope it will be for 2016!


The ASSER International Sports Law Blog in 2015

Finally, a few words on our blog in 2015. In one year we have published 60 posts, our most-read-blog concerned the Pechstein ruling that was read 3054 times.

Our peak day was reached on 4 September with 621 page views (thanks to a great post on the Essendon case by @jrvkfootball).

Our readers are based all around the world, but the majority is based in the EU and the US.



We hope to be able to keep you interested and busy in 2016 and we wish you a great year!

The ASSER International Sports Law Blog Team

Comments (1) -

  • Paul David QC

    1/8/2016 8:34:31 PM |

    Thanks for your interesting blogs.

Comments are closed