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 | Illegally obtained evidence in match-fixing cases: The Turkish perspective - By Oytun Azkanar

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

Illegally obtained evidence in match-fixing cases: The Turkish perspective - By Oytun Azkanar

Editor’s Note: Oytun Azkanar holds an LLB degree from Anadolu University in Turkey and an LLM degree from the University of Melbourne. He is currently studying Sports Management at the Anadolu University.

 

Introduction

On 19 October 2017, the Turkish Professional Football Disciplinary Committee (Disciplinary Committee) rendered an extraordinary decision regarding the fixing of the game between Manisaspor and Şanlıurfaspor played on 14 May 2017. The case concerned an alleged match-fixing agreement between Elyasa Süme (former Gaziantepspor player), İsmail Haktan Odabaşı and Gökhan Sazdağı (Manisaspor players). The Disciplinary Committee acknowledged that the evidence relevant for proving the match-fixing allegations was obtained illegally and therefore inadmissible, and the remaining evidence was not sufficient to establish that the game was fixed. Before discussing the allegations, it is important to note that the decision is not only significant for Turkish football but is also crucial to the distinction between disciplinary and criminal proceedings in sports.

Background of the Case

During the last weeks of the 2016/2017 season in Turkish 2nd Division League, three teams, namely Manisaspor, Şanlıurfaspor and Gazişehir Gaziantep, were competing to avoid relegation. At the penultimate week, Manisaspor played against Şanlıurfaspor and won the game. Gazişehir Gaziantep also won its match. As a consequence of these results, Şanlıurfaspor was relegated to a lower division. At the end of the season, on 5 July 2017, Şanlıurfaspor claimed that the club Gazişehir Gaziantep had attempted to influence the outcomes of the games and Şanlıurfaspor appealed to the Turkish Football Federation (TFF).

Şanlıurfaspor’s claims mainly focused on the recording of the talk between Nizamettin Keremoğlu (Vice-President of Gazişehir), Elyasa Süme (a former Gaziantepspor player), Gökhan Sazdağı (Gazişehir player who was on loan at Manisaspor at the time) and İsmail Haktan Odabaşı (Manisaspor player). The recording was leaked and uploaded on Youtube. The content of the recording clearly demonstrates that incentives were provided to Manisaspor players by Gazişehir in order to encourage them to win against Şanlıurfaspor. Furthermore, Gökhan Sazdağı confessed in the recording that he had been involved in match-fixing before and that this would not be his first time. In addition, Gaziantepspor claimed that Elyasa Süme was involved in match-fixing. On 20 July 2017, based on these serious allegations and the incriminating evidence publically released, the TFF referred Şanlıurfaspor’s application to the Turkish Football Federation Ethics Committee (Ethics Committee). Following the Ethics Committee’s report, the TFF subsequently referred the case to the Disciplinary Committee for determining the possible sanctions to be imposed on Gazişehir Gaziantep, Nizmettin Keremoğlu, Elyasa Süme, Gökhan Sazdağı and İsmail Haktan Odabaşı. Finally, on 19 October 2017, the Disciplinary Committee decided that the evidence relevant for proving match-fixing was illegally obtained and the remaining evidence was not enough to establish an instance of match-fixing.

Separating Disciplinary and Criminal Proceedings

It is generally accepted that in sports law disciplinary proceedings are to be treated differently than criminal investigations.[1] In countries like Turkey, match-fixing and/or match-fixing attempts also constitute a crime. Article 11(1) of the Act on the Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sports stipulates that a person providing advantages or benefits in order to influence the final result of a game shall be punished with imprisonment from five to twelve years. Article 11(5) of the same regulation also states that in case of commission of the offense by offering or promising incentive pay with the intention of enabling one team to win a match, only half of the punishment is to be imposed.

On the other hand, match-fixing and incentives also appear in Article 58 of the Turkish Football Disciplinary Instruction. The said provision makes clear that it is forbidden to influence the outcome of the games illegally or unethically. Incentives fall also within the scope of this provision. In case of a breach, individuals will face a life-long ban. In case of an attempt at match-fixing or of the provision of unlawful incentives, clubs will be sanctioned by at least a 12 points deduction.

It is important to note that Turkish prosecutors have not yet opened a criminal investigation for the allegations related to the provision of incentives, even if the allegations and evidence are serious.

The Position of FIFA, UEFA, and CAS with respect to Match-Fixing Allegations and Binding Rules for Turkish Authorities     

FIFA as the world's governing body of football has put in place significant provisions regarding match-fixing and corruption in football. Article 69 FIFA Disciplinary Code stipulates that anyone who unlawfully influences the outcomes of football games can be banned from taking part in any football-related activity for life. Furthermore, Article 3.10 FIFA Code of Conduct also highlights the importance of zero tolerance for bribery and corruption.  

UEFA president Michael Platini announced in 2011 that a zero tolerance policy was adopted by UEFA regarding match-fixing, and that all match-fixing allegations would be seriously investigated. Moreover, as evidenced in Sport Lisboa e Benfica Futebol SAD, Vitoria Sport Clube de Guimaraes v. UEFA and FC Porto Futebol SAD, UEFA is not bound by national associations’ decisions in this regard.

A zero-tolerance policy requires that match-fixing attempts be punished heavily. This does not mean, however, that there is no standard of proof for match-fixing allegations. According to the CAS, match-fixing allegations must be proved to its comfortable satisfaction. [2] Comfortable satisfaction is defined by the CAS as a standard that is higher than the civil standard of “balance of probability” but lower than the criminal standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.[3] In my view, considering the evidence in the case of Şanlıurfaspor, in particular the recordings and the statements of the clubs, it should be accepted that the standard of proof for match-fixing allegations was met.

What is crucial in our case is that UEFA and the CAS cannot intervene in the Turkish match-fixing proceedings due to Article 64(1) of the Statutes of the Turkish Football Federation stating that “CAS shall not, however, hear appeals on violation of the laws of the game, suspensions according to relevant provisions of the FIFA and UEFA Statutes, or decisions passed by the independent and duly constituted Arbitration Committee of the TFF”. Moreover, Article 59(3) of the Turkish Constitution provides that “the decisions of sports federations relating to administration and discipline of sporting activities may be challenged only through compulsory arbitration. The decisions of the Arbitration Board are final and shall not be appealed to any judicial authority”. On the other hand, in case of a breach, FIFA has the authority, relying on its Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Code, to take important steps in order to sanction clubs and/or individuals, even where national federations fail to do so. Therefore, on 25 October 2017, Şanlıurfaspor declared that if the Arbitration Board of the TFF did not sanction clubs and individuals who were allegedly involved in match-fixing, it would apply to FIFA to do so.

The Validity of Evidence

The main reason why the Disciplinary Committee did not find the clubs and individuals guilty of match-fixing was that the evidence, which was crucial to support the allegations, was obtained illegally. Therefore, it is of primary importance to compare this position to the one adopted by UEFA, CAS, and the Swiss Federal Tribunal with respect to the validity of illegally obtained evidence in disciplinary proceedings involving match-fixing.

UEFA’s position regarding the admissibility of evidence can be derived from specific provisions in its regulations. For instance, Article 4(2) 2017/2018 UEFA Champions League Regulations expressly states that if UEFA is comfortably satisfied that a club was involved in any activity aimed at arranging or influencing the outcome of a match, such club will be ineligible for the participation. While taking its decision, UEFA can rely on the decision of a national or international sporting body, but it is not bound by these decisions. Article 4(2) allows UEFA to punish clubs, even if they have been exonerated by other sporting bodies. Therefore, it can be concluded that if UEFA is comfortably satisfied, the validity of evidence will not be questioned. The article says nothing about the validity of evidence. In addition, even if national sports governing bodies do not punish clubs and/or individuals, UEFA is not bound by national decisions even if the evidence was illegally obtained. [4]

The CAS also supports the approach of UEFA with regard to the admissibility of evidence in match-fixing cases. According to the CAS jurisprudence, “even if evidence might not be admissible in a civil or criminal court in Switzerland, this does not automatically prevent a sports federation or an arbitration tribunal from taking such evidence into account in its deliberations”.[5] This statement clearly shows that the CAS distinguishes criminal or civil court proceedings from disciplinary proceedings. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that the CAS allows national sports governing bodies to evaluate the admissibility of match-fixing evidence less strictly than in criminal proceedings.

In general, the CAS is bound by Swiss law because it is domiciled in Switzerland. Therefore, the Swiss Federal Tribunal may annul the CAS awards if they are contrary to Swiss public policy. One could argue that a decision based on illegally obtained evidence violates Swiss public policy. Thus, the approach of the Swiss Federal Tribunal also needs to be taken into account. The Swiss Federal Tribunal discussed the admissibility of evidence in A. v The Football Federation of Ukraine. In this case, the appellant claimed that using illegally obtained evidence, violated Swiss public policy. As a response to this claim, the respondent (CAS) argued that there was an overriding public interest in preserving football’s integrity. Therefore, the evidence should have been admissible according to the CAS. The Swiss Federal Tribunal held that pursuant to Article 152(2) Swiss Private International Law Act (PILA), “illegally obtained evidence shall be considered only if there is an overriding interest in finding the truth”. In that particular case, the Swiss Federal Tribunal upheld the decision of the CAS and stated that if necessary to prove an instance of match-fixing, illegally obtained evidence was not inadmissible.

The Approach of Turkish Law against Match-Fixing

As explained above, the Act on the Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sports and the Turkish Football Disciplinary Instruction contain significant provisions aimed at combating match-fixing. However, these rules say nothing about the admissibility of evidence. Pursuant to Article 38(6) Turkish Constitution, “findings obtained through illegal methods shall not be considered evidence”. Contrary to the PILA, the Turkish Constitution does not provide for exemptions. Additionally, Article 206(2) and 217(2) Turkish Criminal Procedure Code provide that illegally obtained evidence cannot be accepted by criminal courts in Turkey. Nevertheless, there is no definitive verdict about the admissibility of evidence in sporting disciplinary proceedings in Turkey. Furthermore, Turkish sports regulations do not contain specific rules for assessing the evidence in match-fixing allegations. Therefore, it can be argued that in Turkey, there is a loophole in disciplinary proceedings as to whether illegally obtained evidence is admissible or not.

Conclusion

The fight against match-fixing is vital for sports governing bodies. This article has demonstrated that UEFA, CAS, and the Swiss Federal Tribunal share the same view that illegally obtained evidence is not always inadmissible when used to evidence an instance of match-fixing. In my view, the Disciplinary Committee disregarded the approach of UEFA, CAS, and the Swiss Federal Tribunal, and instead followed the practice of the Turkish Criminal Court. Because match-fixing is also a breach of the Turkish Act on the Prevention of Violence and Disorder in Sports, it is the duty of criminal courts in Turkey to assess whether the evidence was obtained legally or not. However, as a disciplinary body, the Disciplinary Committee was not forced to deny the admissibility of illegally obtained evidence. I believe it should have followed the established practices of UEFA, FIFA, and the CAS, and assess the available evidence to determine whether it met the comfortable satisfaction standard of proof. Hence, based on the confession recorded in the YouTube video, the Disciplinary Committee should have decided that the individuals concerned, at a minimum, attempted to fix the match and it should have imposed the corresponding sanctions.   

___________________________

[1] Adam Lewis and Jonathan Taylor, Sport: Law and Practice (Bloomsbury, 3rd ed, 2014) 249.

[2] Michael J Beloff et al, Sports Law (Hart Publishing, Second edition, 2012) 188.

[3] Beşiktaş Jimnastik Kulübü v UEFA [2013] CAS 2013/A/3258 [119].

[4] Public Joint-Stock Company “Football Club Metalist” v. Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) & PAOK FC [2013] CAS 2013/A/3297 [8.8].

[5] Public Joint-Stock Company “Football Club Metalist” v. Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) & PAOK FC [2013] CAS 2013/A/3297 [2].

 

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