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

New Article Published! The Olympic Charter: A Transnational Constitution Without a State?

My latest article has just been published online by the Journal of Law and Society. It is available open access here.

The article stems from a conference organised by Jiri Priban from Cardiff University on Gunther Teubner's idea of societal constitutionalism applied to transnational regimes. My role was to test whether his descriptive and normative framework was readily applicable to the lex sportiva, and in particular its overarching "constitutional" text: the Olympic Charter.

As you will see my conclusion is mixed. I find that the Olympic Charter (OC) displays many constitutional features and is even able to regularly defend successfully its autonomy vis-à-vis national states and their laws. However, while I document some inception of limitative constitutional rules, such as the ban on discrimination or the principle of fair play, I also conclude that those have limited impact in practice. While constitutional changes to the OC can be triggered by scandal, resistance and contestation, as illustrated by the emergence of environmental concerns after the Albertville Games and the governance reshuffle of the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal, I am also sceptical that these were sufficient to tackle the underlying problems, as became obvious with the unmatched environmental damage caused by the Sotchi Games in 2014.

In conclusion, more than sporadic public outrage, I believe that the intervention of national law and, even more, European Union law will be capable and needed to rein the Olympic regime and impose external constitutional constraints on its (at least sometimes) destructive operations.

Here is the abstract of the article: This article examines various aspects of Teubner's theory of societal constitutionalism using the lex sportiva as an empirical terrain. The case study focuses on the operation of the Olympic Charter as a transnational constitution of the Olympic movement. It shows that recourse to a constitutional vocabulary is not out of place in qualifying the function and authority of the Charter inside and outside the Olympic movement. Yet, the findings of the case study also nuance some of Teubner's descriptive claims and question his normative strategy.

Good read! (And do not hesitate to share your feedback)


New Position - Internship in International Sports Law - Deadline 15 August


The T.M.C. Asser Instituut offers post-graduate students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the field of international and European sports law.  The T.M.C. Asser Instituut, located in The Hague, is an inter-university research institute specialized in international and European law. Since 2002, it is the home of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, a pioneer in the field of European and international sports law. More...


Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...



Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 25 & 26 October - Asser Institute, The Hague

 Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2018

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is inviting you to submit abstracts for its second ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ published by Springer in collaboration with Asser Press is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes academics and many practitioners active in the field. This call is open to researchers as well as practitioners. 

We are also delighted to announce that Prof. Franck Latty (Université Paris Nanterre), Prof. Margareta Baddeley (Université de Genève), and Silvia Schenk (member of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board) have confirmed their participation as keynote speakers.

Abstracts could, for example, tackle questions linked to the following international sports law subjects:

  • The interaction between EU law and sport
  • Antitrust and sports regulation
  • International sports arbitration (CAS, BAT, etc.)
  • The functioning of the world anti-doping system (WADA, WADC, etc.)
  • The global governance of sports
  • The regulation of mega sporting events (Olympics, FIFA World Cup, etc.)
  • The transnational regulation of football (e.g. the operation of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players or the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations)
  • The global fight against corruption in sport  
  • Comparative sports law
  • Human rights in sport 

Please send your abstract (no more than 300 words) and CV no later than 30 April 2018 to a.duval@asser.nl. Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2018. All papers presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special edition of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference edition of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2018.  Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and will provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 300€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please justify your request in your submission. 

Stepping Outside the New York Convention - Practical Lessons on the Indirect Enforcement of CAS-Awards in Football Matters - By Etienne Gard

Editor’s Note: Etienne Gard graduated from the University of Zurich and from King's College London. He currently manages a project in the field of digitalization with Bratschi Ltd., a major Swiss law firm where he did his traineeship with a focus in international commercial arbitration.

1. Prelude

On the 10th of June, 1958, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, widely known as the “New York Convention”, was signed in New York by 10 countries.[1] This rather shy figure progressively grew over the decades to now reach 157 signatory countries, turning the New York Convention into the global recognition and enforcement instrument it is today. As V.V. Veeder’s puts it, “One English law lord is said to have said, extra judicially, that the New York Convention is both the Best Thing since sliced bread and also whatever was the Best Thing before sliced bread replaced it as the Best Thing.”[2]

However, among the overall appraisal regarding the New York Convention, some criticisms have been expressed. For instance, some states use their public policy rather as a pretext not to enforce an award than an actual ground for refusal.[3]  A further issue is the recurring bias in favor of local companies.[4] Additionally, recognition and enforcement procedures in application of the New York Convention take place in front of State authorities, for the most part in front of courts of law, according to national proceeding rules. This usually leads to the retaining of a local law firm, the translation of several documents, written submissions and one, if not several hearings. Hence, the efficiency of the New York Convention as a recognition and enforcement mechanism comes to the expense of both money and time of both parties of the arbitral procedure.

In contrast with the field of commercial arbitration, where the New York Convention is often considered the only viable option in order to enforce an award, international football organizations, together with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”), offer an effective enforcement alternative. This article aims at outlining the main features of the indirect enforcement of CAS awards in football matters in light of a recent case. More...



The International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) and the quest for good governance: Of brave men and rotting fish - By Thomas Kruessmann

Editor's note: Prof. Thomas Kruessmann is key expert in the EU Technical Assistant Project "Strengthening Teaching and Research Capacity at ADA University" in Baku (Azerbaijan). At the same time, he is co-ordinator of the Jean-Monnet Network "Developing European Studies in the Caucasus" with Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia).


The notion that “fish rots from the head down” is known to many cultures and serves as a practical reminder on what is at stake in the current wave of anti-corruption / integrity and good governance initiatives. The purpose of this blog post is to provide a short update on the recent founding of the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), intermittently known as the International Sports Integrity Partnership (IPAS), and to propose some critical perspectives from a legal scholar’s point of view.

During the past couple of years, the sports world has seen a never-ending wave of corruption allegations, often followed by revelations, incriminations and new allegation. There are ongoing investigations, most notably in the United States where the U.S. Department of Justice has just recently intensified its probe into corruption at the major sports governing bodies (SGBs). By all accounts, we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg. And after ten years of debate and half-hearted reforms, there is the widespread notion, as expressed by the Council of Europe’s (CoE’s) Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Resolution 2199/2018 that “the sports movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”. More...



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

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 

Anti-doping whereabouts requirements declared compatible with the athletes' right to privacy and family life

On 18 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment with important consequences for the world of sport in general and the anti-doping regime in particular. The Strasbourg-based court was called upon to decide whether the anti-doping whereabouts system – which requires that a limited number of top elite athletes provide their National Anti-Doping Organisation or International Federation with regular information about their location, including identifying for each day one specific 60-minute time slot where the athlete will be available for testing at a pre-determined location – is compatible with the athletes' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and their freedom of movement pursuant to Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention. The case was brought by the French cyclist Jeannie Longo and five French athlete unions that had filed their application on behalf of 99 professional handball, football, rugby, and basketball players.

While acknowledging that the whereabouts requirements clash with the athletes' right to private and family life, the judges took the view that such a restriction is necessary in order to protect the health of athletes and ensure a level playing field in sports competitions. They held that ''the reduction or removal of the relevant obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports, and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control''. Accordingly, the judges found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, in a similar vein, ruled that Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention was not applicable to the case.

 

Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

It has been a record-breaking January transfer window with Premier League clubs having spent an eye-watering £430 million on signing new acquisitions. These spiralling transfer fees enable football agents, nowadays also called intermediaries, to charge impressive sums for their services. However, this might soon no longer be the case as the main stakeholders in European football are preparing to take action. UEFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the European Professional Football Leagues acknowledge in their joint resolution that the 2015 FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries failed to address serious concerns in relation to the activities of intermediaries/agents. They recognise in broad terms that a more effective regulatory framework is needed and call among other things for a reasonable and proportionate cap on fees for intermediaries/agents, enhanced transparency and accountability, or stronger provisions to protect minors.

 

The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website an arbitral award delivered on 4 August 2017 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the dispute between the Ghanian football referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey and FIFA. The CAS sided with FIFA and dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Lamptey against an earlier decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee which (i) found him to have violated Article 69(1) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code as he unlawfully influenced the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal that took place on 12 November 2016; (ii) as a consequence, banned him for life from taking part in any football-related activity; and (iii) ordered the match in question to be replayed. In reaching its conclusion, the CAS relied heavily on multiple reports of irregular betting activities that significantly deviated from usual market developments.  More...


Towards a Suitable Policy Framework for Cricket Betting in India - By Deeksha Malik

Editor's note: Deeksha Malik is a final-year student at National Law Institute University, India. Her main interest areas are corporate law, arbitration, and sports law. She can be reached at dkshmalik726@gmail.com.


In 2015, while interrogating cricketer Sreesanth and others accused in the IPL match-fixing case, Justice Neena Bansal, sitting as Additional Sessions Judge, made the following observations as regards betting on cricket matches.

“Cricket as a game of skill requires hand-eye-coordination for throwing, catching and hitting. It requires microscopic levels of precision and mental alertness for batsmen to find gaps or for bowlers to produce variety of styles of deliveries’ (medium pace, fast, inswing, outswing, offspin, legspin, googly). The sport requires strategic masterminds that can select the most efficient fielding positions for piling pressure on the batsmen. Based on above description, cricket cannot be described anything, but as a game of skill.”

The debate on the issue of betting in sports has since resurfaced and gained the attention of sportspersons, media, sports bodies, policymakers, and the general public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order directing the government to come up with an appropriate framework for regulating betting in sports. The arguments put forth in the PIL present various dimensions. One of these pertains to economic considerations, a submission that regulated betting would be able to generate annual revenue of Rs. 12,000 crores by bringing the earnings therefrom within the tax net. As for policy considerations, it was submitted that a proper regulation in this area would enable the government to distinguish harmless betting from activities that impair the integrity of the game such as match-fixing. Further, betting on cricket matches largely depends on the skill of the concerned players, thereby distinguishing it from pure chance-based activities.

The issue of sports betting witnesses a divided opinion till this day. This is understandable, for both sides to the issue have equally pressing arguments. Aside from its regulation being a daunting task for authorities, sports betting is susceptible to corruption and other unscrupulous activities. At the same time, it is argued that it would be better for both the game and the economy if the same is legalised. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – December 2017. By Tomáš Grell

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 International Skating Union's eligibility rules declared incompatible with EU competition law

On 8 December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had rendered a decision in the case against the International Skating Union (ISU). The Commission upheld the complaint lodged in October 2015 by two Dutch professional speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, represented in this case by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval (you can read their joint statement here), and ruled that the ISU's eligibility rules preventing athletes from participating in speed skating competitions not approved by the ISU under the threat of severe penalties are in violation of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission held that these rules restrict the commercial freedom of (i) athletes who may be deprived of additional source of income as they are not allowed to participate in speed skating competitions other than those authorised by the ISU; and (ii) independent organisers who are unable to attract top athletes. And while the Commission recognised that sporting rules with restrictive effects might be compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective such as the protection of athletes' health and safety or the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, it found that the ISU's eligibility rules pursue only its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and independent organisers of speed skating competitions. The ISU eventually escaped financial sanctions, but it must modify or abolish its eligibility rules within 90 days; otherwise it would be liable for non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily turnover. For more information on this topic, we invite you to read our recent blog written by Professor Stefano Bastianon.

 

The International Olympic Committee bans Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games

The world has been waiting impatiently for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. This was finally communicated on 5 December 2017. Having deliberated on the findings of the Schmid Commission, the IOC Executive Board decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee with immediate effect, meaning that only those Russian athletes who demonstrate that they had not benefited from the state-sponsored doping programme will be able to participate in the Games. Such clean athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic Flag, bearing the name 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' on their uniforms. Further to this, the IOC Executive Board sanctioned several officials implicated in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, including Mr Vitaly Mutko, currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and formerly the Minister of Sport. Mounting public pressure subsequently forced Mr Mutko to step down as head of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Meanwhile, 21 individual Russian athletes were sanctioned (see here, here, here, and here) in December (in addition to 22 athletes in November) by the IOC Oswald Commission that is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Oswald Commission also published two full decisions in the cases against Evgeny Belov and Aleksandr Tretiakov who were both banned from all future editions of the Games. It is now clear that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have quite some work in the coming weeks as the banned athletes are turning to this Swiss-based arbitral tribunal to have their sanctions reviewed (see here and here).

 

Universal Declaration of Player Rights

14 December 2017 was a great day for athletes all over the globe. On this day, representatives of the world's leading player associations met in Washington D.C. to unveil the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a landmark document developed under the aegis of the World Players Association that strives to protect athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. The World Players Association's Executive Director Brendan Schwab emphasised that the current system of sports governance ''lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport'' and stated that ''athlete rights can no longer be ignored''. Among other rights, the Declaration recognises the right of athletes to equality of opportunity, fair and just working conditions, privacy and the protection of personal data, due process, or effective remedy.

 

Chris Froome failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España

The world of cycling suffered yet another blow when it transpired that one of its superstars Chris Froome had failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España, a race he had eventually emerged victorious from for the first time in his career. His urine sample collected on 7 September 2017 contained twice the amount of salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma, than permissible under the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2017 Prohibited List. Kenyan-born Froome has now hired a team of medical and legal experts to put forward a convincing explanation for the abnormal levels of salbutamol in his urine and thus to avoid sanctions being imposed on him. More...

The ISU Commission's Decision and the Slippery Side of Eligibility Rules - By Stefano Bastianon (University of Bergamo)

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in European Law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar. He is also member of the IVth Division of the High Court of Sport Justice (Collegio di Garanzia dello sport) at the National Olympic Committee.

1. From the very beginning, the outcome of the ISU case was highly predictable, at least for those who are familiar with the basics of antitrust law. Nevertheless, more than twenty years after the Bosman judgment, the sports sector has shown the same shortsightedness and inability to see the forest for the trees. Even this attitude was highly predictable, at least for those who know the basics of sports governance. The final result is a clear-cut decision capable of influencing the entire sports movement. 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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