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

Introducing the new legal challenges of E-Sports. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Editor’s Note: Emre Bilginoglu[1] is an attorney in Istanbul and the co-founder of the Turkish E-Sports Players Association, a non-profit based in Istanbul that aims to provide assistance to professional gamers and to work on the relevant laws affecting them. 


The world is witnessing the rise of a new sport that is growing at an incredible speed: E-Sports. We are only starting to understand its legal implications and challenges.

In recent years, E-Sports has managed to attract thousands of fans to arenas to see a group of people play a video game. These people are literally professional gamers (cyber athletes)[2] who make money by competing in tournaments. Not all video games have tournaments in which professional players compete against each other.

The most played games in E-Sports competitions are League of Legends (LoL), Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). LoL and DotA are both Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, a genre of strategy video games in which the player controls a single character in one of two teams. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s main structure. CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS) game, a genre of video games where the player engages combat through a first-person perspective. The main objective in CS:GO is to eliminate the opposing team or to terrorize or counter-terrorize, planting bombs or rescuing hostages. Other games that have (popular) E-Sports competitions include Starcraft II (real time strategy), Hearthstone (collectible card video game), Call of Duty (FPS) and FIFA (football).

The gaming requires cooperation between team players, a high level of concentration, rapid reactions and some seriously fast clicking. E-Sports is a groovy term to describe organized competitive computer gaming. The E-Sports industry is exponentially growing, amounting to values expressed in billions of dollars. According to Newzoo, a website dedicated to the collection of E-Sports data, there are some 250 million occasional viewers of E-Sports with Asia-Pacific accounting for half of the total amount. The growth of the industry is indubitably supported by online streaming media platforms. This article aims to explain what E-Sports is and to give the readers an insight on the key legal questions raised by it. More...


Time for Transparency at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By Saverio Spera

Editor’s Note: Saverio Spera is an Italian lawyer and LL.M. graduate in International Business Law from King’s College London. He is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.


The time is ripe to take a closer look at the CAS and its transparency, as this is one of the ways to ensure its public accountability and its legitimacy. From 1986 to 2013, the number of arbitrations submitted to the CAS has grown from 2 to more than 400 a year. More specifically, the number of appeals submitted almost doubled in less than ten years (from 175 in 2006, to 349 in 2013[1]). Therefore, the Court can be considered the judicial apex of an emerging transnational sports law (or lex sportiva).[2] In turn, the increased authority and power of this institution calls for increased transparency, in order to ensure its legitimacy.[3]

More...


UEFA’s betting fraud detection system: How does the CAS regard this monitoring tool? By Emilio García.

Editor’s note: Emilio García (emilio.garcia@uefa.ch)  is a doctor in law and head of disciplinary and integrity at UEFA. Before joining UEFA, he was the Spanish Football Federation’s legal director (2004–12) and an arbitrator at the CAS (2012–13).In this blog, Emilio García provides a brief review of a recent case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS): Klubi Sportiv Skënderbeu v UEFA (CAS 2016/A/4650)[1], in which he acted as main counsel for UEFA. 


Sport and match-fixing – A quick overview

Match-fixing is now legally defined as “an intentional arrangement, act or omission aimed at an improper alteration of the result or the course of a sports competition in order to remove all or part of the unpredictable nature of the aforementioned sports competition with a view to obtaining an undue advantage for oneself or for others”.[2] It has been said that there has always been match-fixing in sport.[3] From the ancient Olympic Games to the most important global sports competitions of today, manipulation of results has always been an all-too-frequent occurrence.

We have seen a number of very prominent instances of this kind of issue over the years. One of the most remarkable examples, which was even the subject of a film,[4] was the match-fixing episode during the 1919 World Series, where several players from the Chicago White Sox were found guilty of accepting bribes and deliberately losing matches against the Cincinnati Reds.[5]

The situation has changed considerably since then. In particular, the globalisation of the sports betting industry has had a massive impact, with recent studies estimating that between €200bn and €500bn is betted on sport every year.[6] Match-fixing does not just affect football either;[7] it is also affecting other sports, most notably tennis.[8] More...


The Diarra Ruling of the Tribunal of Charleroi: The New Pechstein, Bosman or Mutu?

Yesterday the sports law world was buzzing due to the Diarra decision of the Tribunal de Commerce du Hainaut (the Tribunal) based in Charleroi, Belgium. Newspapers were lining up (here, here and here) to spread the carefully crafted announcement of the new triumph of Jean-Louis Dupont over his favourite nemesis: the transfer system. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to receive on this same night a copy of the French text of the judgment. My first reaction while reading quickly through the ruling, was ‘OMG he did it again’! “He” meaning Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, who after a string of defeats in his long shot challenge against FIFA’s TPO ban or UEFA’s FFP (see here and here), had [at least I believed after rushing carelessly through the judgment] manufactured a new “it”: a Bosman. Yet, after carefully re-reading the judgment, it became quickly clear to me that this was rather a new Mutu (in the sense of the latest CAS award in the ‘Mutu saga’, which I have extensively analysed on this blog and in a recent commentary for the new Yearbook of International Sports Arbitration) coupled with some reflections reminding a bit (but not really as will be explicated below) the Pechstein case.

In this blog, I will retrace briefly the story behind the case and then analyse the decision of the Belgium court. In doing so, I will focus on its reasoning regarding its jurisdiction and the compatibility of article 17(2) RSTP with EU law.More...

The Russian Doping Scandal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: The IPC’s Rio Ineligibility of Russian Paralympic Athletes

Editor's note: This blog is part of a special blog series on the Russian doping scandal at the CAS. Last year I analysed the numerous decisions rendered by the CAS ad hoc Division in Rio and earlier this year I reviewed the CAS award in the IAAF case.

Unlike the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was very much unaffected by the Russian doping scandal until the publication of the first McLaren report in July 2016. The report highlighted that Russia’s doping scheme was way more comprehensive than what was previously thought. It extended beyond athletics to other disciplines, including Paralympic sports. Furthermore, unlike the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the IPC had a bit more time to deal with the matter, as the Rio Paralympic Games were due to start “only” in September.

After the release of the McLaren Report, the IPC president Sir Philip Craven was “truly shocked, appalled and deeply saddened at the extent of the state sponsored doping programme implemented in Russia”. He immediately announced the IPC’s intention to review the report’s findings and to act strongly upon them. Shortly thereafter, on 22 July, the IPC decided to open suspension proceedings against the National Paralympic Committee of Russia (NPC Russia) in light of its apparent inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations. In particular, due to “the prevailing doping culture endemic within Russian sport, at the very highest levels, NPC Russia appears unable or unwilling to ensure compliance with and the enforcement of the IPC’s Anti-Doping Code within its own national jurisdiction”. A few weeks later, on 7 August, the IPC Governing Board decided to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee with immediate effect “due to its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory)”. Indeed, these “obligations are a fundamental constitutional requirement for all National Paralympic Committees (NPCs), and are vital to the IPC’s ability to ensure fair competition and to provide a level playing field for all Para athletes around the world”. Consequently, the Russian Paralympic Committee lost all rights and privileges of IPC membership. Specifically, it was not entitled to enter athletes in competitions sanctioned by the IPC, and/or to participate in IPC activities. Thus, “the Russian Paralympic Committee will not be able to enter its athletes in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games”. More...


The Russian Doping Scandal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: The IAAF’s Rio Ineligibility of Russian Athletes

Since the release of the earth-shattering ARD documentary two years ago, the athletics world has been in a permanent turmoil. The International Athletics Association Federation (IAAF) is faced with both a never-ending corruption scandal (playing out in front of the French police authorities) and the related systematic doping of Russian athletes. The situation escalated in different phases led by the revelations of Russian insiders. First, in December 2014 with the ARD documentary, which demonstrated how widespread (and organized) the recourse to doping was in Russian athletics. It triggered the Pound investigation financed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which led to two damaging reports (available here and here) for the Russian anti-doping system and the IAAF itself. Thereafter, in November 2015, the IAAF had no other choice but to provisionally suspend the Russian athletics federation (ARAF then RusAF) and its members from IAAF competitions. Yet, this was only the beginning as shortly after the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory provided a detailed sketch to the New York Times of the operation of a general state-led doping scheme in Russia. The system was designed to avert any positive doping tests for top-level Russian sportspeople and was going way beyond athletics. These allegations were later largely confirmed and reinforced by the McLaren investigation initiated by WADA in May 2016, and which published its first report in July 2016 shortly before the Rio Olympics. In June 2016, the IAAF anticipated the conclusions of the report (it had received most of McLaren’s evidence beforehand) and decided to maintain the ineligibility of Russian athletes for IAAF competitions, and for the Rio Olympics. It did, however, foresee a narrow exception for Russian athletes able to show that they were properly tested outside of Russia. Nonetheless, the athletes using this exception were to compete under a neutral flag at the Olympics. Unsurprisingly, Russian athletes led by pole superstar (and now IOC member), Yelena Isinbayeva, and the Russian Olympic Committee decided to challenge this decision in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Interestingly, while the decision was rendered on 21 July 2016, the full text of the award was publically released only on 10 October 2016. In September, I analysed the Rio CAS Ad Hoc Decisions involving Russian athletes aiming to participate to the Olympics. I will now turn to the IAAF decision, which is of great importance to the future of the anti-doping system. Indeed, it lays out the fundamental legal boundaries of the capacity of international federations to impose sanctions on their members (and their members) in order to support the world anti-doping fight. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – November and December 2016. By Saverio Spera.

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

The Russian State Doping Scandal and the crisis of the World Anti-Doping System

Russian doping and the state of the Anti-Doping System has been the dominant international sports law story in November and December. This is mainly due to the release of the second report of the McLaren’s investigation on 9 December 2016. The outcome of McLaren’s work showed a “well-oiled systemic cheating scheme” that reached to the highest level of Russian sports and government, involving the striking figure of 30 sports and more than 1000 athletes in doping practices over four years and two Olympic Games. The report detailed tampering with samples to swap out athletes’ dirty urine with clean urine.More...


FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 3: The compatibility of Article 19 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. 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 final blog aims to provide some broader perspective, by sketching first the grander scheme in which Article 19 RSTP – FIFA's provision on the protection of minors – operates. Thereafter, the focus will shift towards testing Article 19 RSTP, thereby keeping in mind the previous blogs (Part 1: The Early Years and Part 2: The 2009 reform and its aftermath), against EU free movement law.  


Putting Article 19 RSTP into perspective: The bigger picture

After having investigated the nuts and bolts of FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors in the first two parts of this blog, it might be useful to address its bigger picture.

Article 19 RSTP and its accompanying provisions regulate only a small share of the targeted activity. There is, unfortunately, also an illegal world. Circumvention of the prohibition is allegedly commonplace.[1] Visas and passports can be falsified.[2] Work permits can be obtained on the basis of jobs arranged by clubs.[3] More...


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] More...


FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 1: The Early Years. 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 master thesis. 


On 24 November 2016, a claim was lodged before a Zurich commercial court against FIFA’s transfer regulations by a 17-year-old African football player.[1] The culprit, according to the allegation: The provision on the protection of minors, Article 19 of the Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players.[2] The claimant and his parents dispute the validity of this measure, based on the view that it discriminates between football players from the European Union and those from third countries. Besides to Swiss cartel law, the claim is substantiated on EU citizenship rights, free movement and competition law. Evidently, it is difficult to assess the claim’s chance of success based on the sparse information provided in the press.[3] Be that as it may, it does provide for an ideal (and unexpected) opportunity to delve into the fascinating subject of my master thesis on FIFA’s regulatory system aimed at enhancing the protection of young football players and its compatibility with EU law. This three-part blog shall therefore try to provide an encompassing overview of the rule’s lifespan since its inception in 2001. More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | 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

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

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: http://forums.nba-live.com/viewtopic.php?f=149&t=88661&start=250 

The clash between SNB and 2K Games, albeit unprecedented at the European level, should not come as a surprise. The commercialization of athletes’ image rights has become a sine qua non component of sports marketing.[2] The transfer of professional players’ image rights to their clubs or third parties is for some of them more lucrative than their salaries. In the framework of international basketball, this has led to the proliferation of image rights contracts, signed by the players in addition to their employment contracts. While the legal nature of image rights and their unauthorized use by third parties has been recently extensively debated- in the wake of US College Athletes image rights cases before US Courts which will be discussed in the second part of this blog series[3]-, image rights contracts and their enforcement by basketball players before the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT)[4] are still very much uncharted territories.

This blogpost will look at the basketball players’ image rights contracts in a three-pronged approach. First, we will explain how image rights contracts in international basketball serve as tax loopholes by the clubs, which increasingly force players to sign them (I). Thereafter, based on BAT’s case law, we will attempt to build a legal roadmap with regard to the enforcement of image rights contracts by players. In this light, we will examine the relationship between the main contract and the image rights contract as well as the role of the different dispute settlement clauses included in the different contracts when assessing BAT’s jurisdiction (II). Finally, we will analyse the position of the BAT in enforcing image rights contracts and the significant impact of its awards in the basketball world, taking into account the unique features of basketball arbitration (III). 


I. Image rights contracts in international basketball: Cherchez l’argent!

The use of image rights contracts leads to two possible scenarios. In the first one, which is the most common, a player signs an employment contract with a club indicating the player’s remuneration net of all taxes. This initial contract is usually characterized as the “main agreement”[5] or “master agreement”[6]. Thereafter, the club approaches the player with two additional contracts: the league contract which provides for a remarkably lower monthly salary than the main contract; and an image rights contracts, where the player assigns his rights to a third party, an image rights company. The league contract reporting a much lower wage than the wage actually offered to the player is sent to the league and is used for tax purposes. In parallel, the club signs an image rights contract with the image rights company to which the player has previously assigned his intellectual property rights. According to this contract, the company owns the player’s image rights. This means that the player assigns to the club the use of these rights for commercial and promotional purposes. As a result of this assignment, the club undertakes the obligation to pay a specific amount of money per month to the company. Once the club pays the image rights company, the image rights company transfers this amount to the player.

In order to understand this quite complex scheme, let’s use a concrete example. A player signs with the club a main contract indicating a remuneration of EUR 300.000. Thereafter, the player signs the league contract indicating a remuneration of EUR 30.000 by the club, while the club signs a contract with an image rights company and undertakes to pay a total amount of EUR 270.000. Finally, the player receives the amount of EUR 270.000 by the image rights company. Thus, it is clear that a combination of the league and the image rights contracts amounts to sum foreseen in the main contract (30.000+270.000=300.000). While this fictitious transfer of money through a third party does not seem to have a practical effect on the player’s remuneration, the split of the main contract into two separate agreements helps the club to tailor its tax obligations. In fact, the club would in principle have had to pay taxes on the full amount of EUR 300.000. Nonetheless, by breaking up the payment into different amounts, the club pays taxes and social contributions for the individual income of EUR 30.000 only. True, the club is also obliged to pay the taxes due on the EUR 270.000 transferred to the image rights company. However, taking into account that the tax rate over intellectual property rights is typically much lower than that concerning individual income, the club gains significant tax benefits.[7]

In the second potential scenario, in parallel to the main contract, the player signs a side agreement with the club, which explicitly splits the net compensation into an amount derived from the league contract and an amount derived from the image contract. Subsequently the player enters into an exclusive license agreement with an image rights company to which he assigns the use of his image rights receiving as compensation the amount stipulated in the side agreement. At the same time, the club enters into a sublicense agreement with the image rights company in order to use the player’s image rights, by paying the company the same amount of money that the company then pays to the player under the license agreement.

In short, this scheme is a fiction invented by the clubs in order to get significant tax advantages. While this is done pro forma, without any intent of changing the player’s rights and obligations under the main contract[8], this tax evasion scheme can lead to the club evading also its contractual duties when a club fails to pay the player. In this case, with respect to any outstanding remuneration, can the player enforce the image rights contract against the club in BAT proceedings? 


II. How the BAT establishes its jurisdiction on image rights contracts disputes

An overview of the BAT case law shows that players bring a dispute against their club for outstanding payments on the grounds of a broadly drafted arbitration clause in the main contract, which provides for BAT’s jurisdiction over any dispute arising out of, or in connection with the main contract. However, as is already discussed, a player’s remuneration is often based on a matrix of several contracts – the main contract, the league contract, the image rights contract and/or the license agreement-, which may contain a dispute resolution clause of their own that does not refer to the BAT. Therefore, when a dispute for outstanding payments is brought before the BAT, the arbitrator first has to determine whether the claim made by the player falls within the scope of the BAT arbitration clause included in the main contract. Thus, the arbitrator must consequently determine the relation between the main contract and the other contracts, including the image rights contracts.

The difficulty emerges from the fact that the contracts do not define how they should inter-relate. As a result, the BAT has to interpret the contracts and decide whether the subsequent contracts actually supersede the main contract and the applicable BAT arbitration clause or whether they only supplement the main contract. Namely, the clubs, relying on the fact that the image rights contract is signed after the main contract and referring to the legal principle lex posterior derogate legi priori[9], claim that the dispute settlement provision contained in those contracts override the BAT arbitration clause included in the main contract.[10]

In order to decide on its jurisdiction and the underlying relation between the several contracts, the BAT has consistently used a double test based on the common intention of the parties and the wording of the BAT arbitration clause contained in the main contract. At first, the BAT examines whether the main contract includes all the essential elements with regard to the player’s rights remuneration. Then, it elaborates whether these terms reflect the parties’ common intent under the main agreement to guarantee the payment of the full salary to the player, irrespective of any modalities that would be agreed upon in subsequent contracts as to the mode and schedule of payments.[11] If the main contract is seen as containing the common agreement of the parties on the full amount of remuneration, any further agreement referring to the way this payment is organized has only a supplementary function. The second criterion is based on the interpretation of the BAT arbitration clause. The main contract usually contains a broad BAT arbitration provision that covers any dispute arising from the main contract. Once established that the common intent of the parties is to guarantee the salary stipulated in the main contract, the broad terms of the arbitration clause necessarily encompass any dispute relating to the non- payment of any part of the player’s total salary. Once these criteria are fulfilled, the BAT asserts that the outstanding payments deriving from the image rights contracts fall within the scope of the BAT arbitration clause.

Furthermore, in some cases, the BAT has introduced other criteria, such as the necessity to establish a link between the contracts. In the 0115/10 case, the BAT established a close link between the main contract and the image rights contract, in a way that the image rights contract could not exist but for the original contract.[12] Interestingly enough, this rather broad interpretation has been inspired by the liberal case law of the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which requires that the interconnection between different contracts be taken into account when examining the substantive validity of an arbitration agreement.[13]

It is remarkable that until now, when examining the jurisdictional basis, the BAT has consistently adopted a rather liberal approach by piercing the fictitious veil between the club, the player and the third party when using overlapping contractual constructions. However, on the merits, the BAT’s approach is not totally consistent. 


III. Enforcing image rights contracts: the BAT’s enigmatic approach

In a series of awards, the BAT has found the clubs liable for the breach of the image rights contract and the subsequent outstanding payment of the player.

Applying the legal roadmap established above, the BAT has addressed the supplementary role of the subsequent contracts in organizing the payment schedule of the full remuneration of the player provided in the main contract. Indeed, from a contractual point of view, the terms of the main contract are deemed sufficient to entitle the player to claim the entire amount owed to him on the basis of that contract alone.[14] In this sense, the fact that image rights payments have been made via a third party does not free the club from its duty to guarantee the full remuneration of the player.[15] To reinforce this argument, the BAT has even asserted that the only case in which the club would not be found liable for breach of image rights contract would be the case where the image rights contract explicitly provided a waiver of the player’s claims against the club relating to image rights.[16]

However, this - until recently- consistent approach has been overturned in the latest BAT award concerning the enforcement of image rights contracts.[17] In that case, the image contract was signed between a company to which the claimant assigned the rights to his promotion and a company managing the image and endorsement rights of the club. Although having confirmed the supplementary role of the image rights contract with regard to the employment contract at hand, the arbitrator chose to deviate from the entrenched interpretation in BAT jurisprudence of the intent of the parties. Namely, the arbitrator interpreted the parties’ behaviour as intending to discharge the club of its obligation to guarantee the full amount of the player’s salary under the main contract.

While, in this particular case, the company to which the player assigned his image rights could have been found liable for not transferring the missing amounts to the player, the BAT’s approach is questionable in that it undermined the club’s liability under the main contract. At this point, it should be highlighted that BAT decides all cases ex aequo et bono.[18] In this light, it is the opinion of the author of this blogpost that it would be contrary to general considerations of justice and fairness to consider that the club could take advantage of a tax-optimising structure to no longer guarantee principal amounts contractually due to the player. In other words, it would be unfair to consider that the player has implicitly renounced the guarantees offered to him by the club under the main contract. 


Conclusive Remarks

The system of image rights contracts in international basketball is fragile. Based on the lack of legal certainty in BAT jurisprudence, this blogpost has evidenced the risk that clubs use the BAT to escape their obligations deriving from the image rights contracts. Taking into account that BAT awards are directly enforceable under the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, subject only to an appeal on the limited grounds provided in Article 190 Swiss Private International Law Act (PILA)[19], a denial of the BAT to enforce image rights contracts against the clubs leaves the players deprived of any real legal avenue to vindicate their rights. In this sense, a consistent approach of the BAT with regard to the intimate relation existing between the image rights contract and the main employment contract would not only be desirable, but would also be in line with the ex aequo et bono principle.


[1] Johan Passave-Ducteil, the president of SNB remarks in l’Equipe:"Ce n’est pas une histoire d’argent, on défend le droit des joueurs"

[2] D-R Martens, ‘An innovative System for Resolving Disputes in Sport (only in Sport?)’ (2011) 1-2 International Sports Law Journal 54, 60.

[3] Edward O’ Bannon et al v National Collegiate Athletics Association, Electronic Arts Inc and Collegiate Licensing Company ( US District Court, 08.08.2014) and NCAA Student-Athlete Name and Likeness Licensing Litigation, 724 F. 3d 1268 (9th Cir. 2013).

[4] The tribunal was established by FIBA in 2006 under the name “FIBA Arbitral Tribunal (FAT)”. In accordance with the 2010 FIBA General Statutes, the tribunal was renamed into “Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT)”.

[5] Vladimir Golubovic v Basketball Club Union Olimpija Ljubljaba, BAT 0174/11, para 6.

[6] Pawel Kikoeski v KK Union Olimpija Ljubljana, BAT 0155/11, para 23.

[7] In the case where the image rights company is seated in a tax haven state, the tax benefits are almost double for the club.

[8] BAT 0155/11(n 6), para 51.  See also, 0174/11(n 5) para 10: “The Club suggested the image contract because it served tax driven purposes only. That was the only purpose for such a contract, and it was irrelevant for the player, because his remuneration were settled in net amount (tax free)”.

[9] i.e a subsequent law imparts the abolition of a previous one

[10] Richard Hendrix v Club Baloncesto Granada, FAT 0115/10, para 36.

[11] FAT 0115/10(n 10), para 44, Dalibor Bagaric v Fortitudo Pallacanestro SrL FAT 0105/10 para 49, Lazaros Papadopoulos v Fortitudo Palacanestro Societa’ Sportica Dilettantistica a R.L. FAT 0071/09 para 61, Darryl Eugene Strawberry and Bill Duffy International Inc v Fortitudo Palacanestro Societa’ Sportica Dilettantistica a R.L. FAT 0067/09, para 66.

[12] FAT 0115/10 (n 10), para 41.

[13] Ibid, para 43 where the arbitrator makes an extensive reference to Swiss Federal Tribunal case law: Decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal of 16 October 2003, reported in ATF 129 III 727, 735 using the

word “liberal” with reference to ATF 121 III 38, 45 and the decisions 4P.126/2001 of 18 December 2001

reported in ASA Bulletin 2002, p. 482; 4C.40/2003 of 19 May 2003 at 4, reported in ASA Bulletin 2004, p.

344; see also decision 4P.230/2000 of 7 February 2001 reported in ASA Bulletin 2001, p. 523.

[14] FAT 0067/09 (n 11), para 83.

[15] FAT 0071/09 (n 11), para 76.

[16] FAT 0115/10 (n 10), para 64.

[17] Steven Smith v Virtus Palacanestro Bologna S.p.A, BAT 0413/13

[18] BAT Arbitration Rules, Article 15.1: "Unless the parties have agreed otherwise the Arbitrator shall decide the dispute ex aequo et bono, applying general considerations of justice and fairness without reference to any particular national or international law ".

[19] In fact, according to Article 190 (2) PILA, only serious procedural defects or rulings on substance that are contrary to international public policy may constitute grounds to set aside an award. See A Rigozzi, ‘Challenging Awards of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’ (2010)1 Journal of International Dispute Settlement 217, 217-254.

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