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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. Simultaneously, the IOC has over the last months announced 101 positive tests from retesting samples collected at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 and announced sanctions, 27 of which were for Russians athletes (for more information, see here, here and here).

A few weeks before the publication of the McLaren report, on 20 November the WADA Foundation Board met in Glasgow, in what, at least that we argued on this blogshould have been a turning point in the global fight against drugs in sport. In that occasion, the board endorsed a sanctioning framework for non-compliance that “will equip the anti-doping system with the ability to levy meaningful, predictable and proportionate sanctions in cases of non-compliance by anti-doping organizations (ADOs) with the World Anti-Doping Code (Code)”. The Board also agreed to continue evaluating the request made by the Olympic Summit to establish an Independent Testing Authority (ITA). In addition, the Board’s recommendation about the whistleblower program aims at appropriately supporting, protecting and rewarding whistleblowers in order to strengthen the Anti-Doping System. The hope is that those recommendations will help filling the massive gaps exposed in the World Anti-Doping System by the Russian scandal. 

The Football Leaks: Second edition

It is not the first time that the football leaks appear on this blog. Already in December 2015, we started analysing contracts released by an earlier (certainly more amateurish, but also more transparent) apparition of the football leaks. Back then we focused on Doyen’s TPO deals (you can dive back into the blogs here, here, here and here). Our conclusion was very much the same as the one advanced by the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC): there is something rotten in the globalized football economy and it is in dire need of proper regulation (and regulators).

Moving forward, on 9 December Der Spiegel published its first in-depth piece on the new football leaks. The data gathered by Der Spiegel (Germany) and the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), includes 18.6 million documents comprising of original contracts. This data revealed a large and uncontrolled use of murky financial operations, complex contractual networks and tax schemes in the world of professional football. In particular linked to the operation of the transfer market. Evidence on player contracts revealed by football leaks showed, for example, that in what has been called ‘the Cypriot scheme’ football players were bought and loaned out by the Cypriot club Apollon Limassol without ever playing for the club, or – at least in one case - without even entering the country. In so doing, the Cypriot club had taken over the role of Third Party Owner usually held by investment funds, a practice that was banned by the FIFA’s regulation from May 2015, in order to avoid, among other things, loss of control over transfer operations.

NRC (The Netherlands) and EIC network have also discovered that agents of various South American football stars (such as Colombian James Rodríguez) used the Netherlands as a pivot country for tax reasons to carry out the transfer of their clients to top clubs in Europe (a story to which our Senior Researcher, Antoine Duval, contributed). There is also evidence of continuous alternation of companies involved in the transfers, with contracts passing from firms in The Netherlands to the tax heavens British Virgin Island, Panama and The Caribbean. The story of the transfer of the football player Kondogbia from the Spanish club Sevilla to the French club Monaco in 2013, emerged through football leaks as well, adds another layer to the evidence of dirty tricks linked to TPO (for more information on the Economic Rights of Players Agreement (ERPA) involving Kondogbia, see our ‘old’ blog from April 2016).

So, should one be fatalist about these wrongdoings and abuses on the transfer market and around it? No. We believe that the European Union and its Member States could and should act (see our proposition in French here, and comments to NRC in this piece) to regulate the worst economic practices of the football worlds. 

CAS award on Real Madrid’s transfers of minors

Finally, in the much-watched dispute between Real Madrid FC and FIFA over the Spanish club’s transfers of minors, the CAS partially sided with the football club. The CAS award modifies the decision rendered by the FIFA Appeal Committee in these terms: Real Madrid’s ban from registering any new national or international player is reduced from two transfer periods to one and the fine the club is imposed to pay to FIFA is reduced from 360,000 CHF to 240,000 CHF. The reasoned decision will be notified to the parties early 2017.  

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