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

The SFT’s Semenya Decision under European human rights standards: Conflicting considerations and why a recourse could be successful at Strasbourg - By Kevin Gerenni

Editor's note: Kevin Gerenni is Assistant Professor in Public International Law (Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Buenos Aires) and LLM Candidate 2021 in Public International Law at the London School of Economics.


Even though the decision rendered by the SFT in the Semenya Case was foreseeable, the Tribunal did put forward some concerning reasoning in terms of public policy (“ordre public”) and human rights. In case Semenya decides to challenge the Swiss state before the ECtHR, one can expect the case to shake some grounds at the ECtHR, which would be faced with the question of the application to sport not of fair trial guarantees (as in Mutu & Pechstein) but of substantial human rights provisions such as the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex (Article 14 ECHR) and the right to private life (Article 8 ECHR).

Under Swiss law, the reasons that may lead to the annulment of an arbitral award are enumerated in art. 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act (PILA). Semenya’s strongest case relied on art. 190(2)(e): the award’s incompatibility with public policy. Naturally, this point concentrated most of the SFT’s attention. In order to analyze the compatibility of the CAS award with Swiss public policy, the SFT focused on three main potential breaches of human rights: prohibition of discrimination, personality rights, and human dignity. In doing so, it put forward certain observations that differ with European human rights standards and the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. The purpose of this short article is to analyze those discrepancies and, consequently, Semenya’s prospects of success before the Strasbourg Tribunal.More...


Selected procedural issues –and questions– arising out the Caster Semenya Judgment of the Swiss Federal Tribunal - By Despina Mavromati

Editor's note: Dr Despina Mavromati is an attorney specializing in international sports law and arbitration (Sportlegis Lausanne) and a UEFA Appeals Body Member. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland

 

As the title indicates, this short note only deals with selected procedural issues and questions arising out of the very lengthy Semenya Judgment. In a nutshell, the SFT dismissed Semenya’s appeal to set aside the CAS Award, which had denied the request of Caster Semenya (Semenya, the Athlete) to declare unlawful the Differences of Sex Development (DSD) Regulations of World Athletics (formerly IAAF).[1]

At the outset, it has to be reminded that the CAS Award dealt with the merits of the Semenya case in a final and binding way by rendering an arbitral award according to Article R59 of the CAS Code (and Article 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act – PILA). Therefore, the SFT did not act as an appellate court but rather as a cassatory court, entitled to review only whether the exhaustively enumerated grounds for annulment set out in Article 190 (2) PILA were met (and provided that they were properly invoked and substantiated in the motion to set aside said award).More...

Caster Semenya Case Exposes Design Flaws in International Sports Governance - By Roger Pielke Jr.

Editor's note: Roger Pielke Jr. is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder

 

The decision this week by the Swiss Federal Tribunal not to revisit the arbitral decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the case of Caster Semenya was not unexpected, but it does help to expose a major design flaw in international sports governance. Specifically, the institutions that collectively comprise, create and enforce “sports law” appear incapable of addressing flawed science and violations of basic principles of medical ethics.

While different people will have different, and legitimate, views on how male-female competition classifications might be regulated, the issues highlighted involving science and ethics are not subjective, and are empirically undeniable. In normal systems of jurisprudence, procedures are in place to right such wrongs, but in sports governance processes in place prevent such course corrections. And that is a problem.

The empirical flaws in the science underpinning the IAAF (now World Athletics) Semenya regulations are by now well understood, and have been accepted by WA in print and before CAS (I was an expert witness for Semenya, and was present when IAAF accepted responsibility for the flawed research). You can read all the details here and in the CAS Semenya decision. I won’t rehash the flawed science here, but the errors are fatal to the research and obvious to see.

One key part of the comprehensive institutional failures here is that the journal which originally published the flawed IAAF research (the British Journal of Sports Medicine, BJSM) has, inexplicably, acted to protect that work from scrutiny, correction and retraction. Normally in the scientific community, when errors of this magnitude are found, the research is retracted. In this case, the BJSM refused to retract the paper, to require its authors to share their data or to publish a critique of the IAAF analysis. Instead, upon learning of the major errors, the BJSM published a rushed, non-peer reviewed letter by IAAF seeking to cover-up the errors. All of this is non-standard, and a scandal in its own right.

The violation of basic principles of medical ethics required by the implementation of the WA Semenya regulations is also not contested. Both WA and the IOC have claimed to uphold the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration on medical and research ethics. Yet, the WMA has openly criticized the WA regulations as unethical and asked doctors not to implement them. In response, WA has stated that it will help athletes who wish to follow the regulations to identify doctors willing to ignore medical ethics guidelines.

Flawed science and ethical violations are obviously issues that go far beyond the case of Caster Semenya, and far beyond sport. In any normal system of jurisprudence such issues would prove readily fatal to regulatory action, either in the first instance of proposed implementation or via review and reconsideration.

Sport governance lacks such processes. At CAS, the panel claimed that matters of scientific integrity and medical ethics were outside their remit. The SFT is allowed to reconsider a CAS decision only on narrow procedural grounds, and thus also cannot consider matters of scientific integrity or medical ethics. So far then, the flaws in the WA regulations – sitting in plain sight and obvious to anyone who looks, have not been correctable.

This leaves the world of sport governance in a compromised position. Some may look past the scientific and ethical issues here, perhaps judging that barring Semenya from sport is far more important that correcting such wrongs. 

Regardless of one’s views on sex and gender classification in sport, the WA regulations and the processes that produced and have challenged them reveal that sports governance has not yet entered the 21st century. Science and ethics matter, and they should matter in sport jurisprudence as well.  It is time to correct this basic design flaw in international sport governance.

Caster Semenya at the SFT – in 10 points - By Jack Anderson

Editor's note: Jack Anderson is Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne

 

1.     Caster Semenya appealed to the Swiss Federal Court (SFT) arguing that World Athletics’ regulations violated human rights principles relating to gender discrimination and human dignity. The Swiss Federal Tribunal (as at CAS) held that World Athletics’ regulations may prima facie breach such human rights principles but were “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to maintain fairness in women's athletics;


2.     Although in part addressed at the SFT, expect further legal argument on this in the domestic courts of South Africa or at the ECtHR, and in the following ways:

  • Necessity - is the athletic advantage that Caster Semenya has of such a scientifically-measurable extent that it is necessary for World Athletics to intervene in such an invasive manner? In a broader ethical sense, is the incidence of what the World Athletics’ regulations call “difference of sex development” of such prevalence in the general population, and specifically in middle-distance athletics, that, by way of the principle of “sporting beneficence”, intervention is justified. Or, in contrast, is the incidence of DSD not at a level which justifies a departure from the ethical principle of primum non nocere – first, do no harm?
  • Reasonableness - if World Athletics’ regulations are necessary, is the manner of implementation reasonable and in line with the principle of human and bodily integrity? In answering such a question, the focus must be on the fact that in order to continue to compete in her favourite events (such as the 800 metres) Caster Semenya will have to lower her testosterone level through medication;
  • Proportionate - if World Athletics’ regulations are necessary and reasonable is the manner of implementation proportionate? In answering such a question, the focus must be on whether the regulations disproportionately discriminate against a certain, limited group of athletes in a certain, limited number of events and in a certain, limited manner.More...


Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold: Dissecting the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s Semenya Decision - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.

 

On 25 August 2020, the Swiss Supreme Court (Swiss Federal Tribunal, SFT) rendered one of its most eagerly awaited decisions of 2020, in the matter of Caster Semenya versus World Athletics (formerly and as referenced in the decision: IAAF) following an award of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In short, the issue at stake before the CAS was the validity of the World Athletics eligibility rules for Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD Regulation). After the CAS upheld their validity in an award of 30 April 2019, Caster Semenya and the South African Athletics Federation (jointly: the appellants) filed an application to set aside the award before the Swiss Supreme Court.[1] The SFT decision, which rejects the application, was made public along with a press release on 8 September 2020.

There is no doubt that we can expect contrasted reactions to the decision. Whatever one’s opinion, however, the official press release in English does not do justice to the 28-page long decision in French and the judges’ reasoning. The goal of this short article is therefore primarily to highlight some key extracts of the SFT decision and some features of the case that will be relevant in its further assessment by scholars and the media.[2]

It is apparent from the decision that the SFT was very aware that its decision was going to be scrutinised by an international audience, part of whom may not be familiar with the mechanics of the legal regime applicable to setting aside an international arbitration award in Switzerland.

Thus, the decision includes long introductory statements regarding the status of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the role of the Swiss Federal Tribunal in reviewing award issued by panels in international arbitration proceedings. The SFT also referred extensively throughout its decision to jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), rendered in cases related to international sport and the CAS. More...

New Transnational Sports Law Articles Released on SSRN - Antoine Duval

I have just released on SSRN four of my most recent articles on Lex Sportiva/Transnational Sports Law. The articles are available open access in their final draft forms, the final published version might differ slightly depending on the feedback of the editors. If you wish to cite those articles I (obviously) recommend using the published version.

I hope they will trigger your attention and I look forward to any feedback you may have!

Antoine


Abstract: This chapter focuses on the emergence of a transnational sports law, also known as lex sportiva, ruling international sports. In the transnational law literature, the lex sportiva is often referred to as a key example or case study, but rarely studied in practice. Yet, it constitutes an important playground for transnational legal research and practice, and this chapter aims to show why. The focus of the chapter will first be on the rules of the lex sportiva. Law, even in its transnational form, is still very much connected to written rules against which a specific behaviour or action is measured as legal or illegal. As will be shown, this is also true of the lex sportiva, which is structured around an ensemble of rules produced through a variety of law-making procedures located within different institutions. The second section of this chapter will aim to look beyond the lex sportiva in books to narrate the lex sportiva in action. It asks, what are the institutional mechanisms used to concretize the lex sportiva in a particular context? The aim will be to go beyond the rules in order to identify the processes and institutions making the lex sportiva in its daily practice. Finally, the enmeshment of the lex sportiva with state-based laws and institutions is highlighted. While the lex sportiva is often presented as an autonomous transnational legal construct detached from territorialized legal and political contexts, it is shown that in practice it operates in intimate connection with them. Hence, its transnational operation is much less characterized by full autonomy than assemblage.


Abstract: This chapter aims to show that the work of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’), which is often identified as the institutional centre of the lex sportiva, can be understood as that of a seamstress weaving a plurality of legal inputs into authoritative awards. In other words, the CAS panels are assembling legal material to produce (almost) final decisions that, alongside the administrative practices of sports governing bodies (‘SGBs’), govern international sports. It is argued that, instead of purity and autonomy, the CAS’ judicial practice is best characterised by assemblage and hybridity. This argument will be supported by an empirical study of the use of different legal materials, in particular pertaining to Swiss law, EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), within the case law of the CAS. The chapter is a first attempt at looking at the hermeneutic practice of the CAS from the perspective of a transnational legal pluralism that goes beyond the identification of a plurality of autonomous orders to turn its sights towards the enmeshment and entanglement characterising contemporary legal practice.


Abstract: Has the time come for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to go public? This article argues that after the Pechstein decision of the European Court of Human Rights, CAS appeal arbitration must be understood as forced arbitration and therefore must fully comply with the due process guarantees enshrined in Article 6(1) ECHR. In particular, this entails a strong duty of transparency with regard to the hearings at the CAS and the publication of its awards. This duty is of particular importance since the rationale for supporting the validity of CAS arbitration, if not grounded in the consent of the parties, must be traced back to the public interest in providing for the equality before the (sports) law of international athletes. Thus, the legitimacy and existence of the CAS is linked to its public function, which ought to be matched with the procedural strings usually attached to judicial institutions. In short, if it is to avoid lengthy and costly challenges to its awards, going public is an urgent necessity for the CAS.


Abstract: In 1998 the FIFA welcomed the Palestinian Football Association as part of its members - allegedly, as an attempt by then FIFA President, the Brazilian João Havelange, to showcase football as an instrument of peace between Israeli and Palestinians. Ironically, almost 20 years after Palestine’s anointment into the FIFA family, instead of peace it is the conflict between Israeli and Palestinians that moved to FIFA. In recent years the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and the Israeli Football Association (IFA) have been at loggerheads inside FIFA over the fate - I will refer to it as the transnational legality – of five (and then six) football clubs affiliated to the IFA which are physically located in the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). This chapter chronicles the legal intricacies of this conflict, which will serve as a backdrop to discuss arguments raised regarding the legality of business activities of corporations connected to the Israeli settlements. Indeed, as will be shown in the first part of this chapter, the discussion on the legality of economic activities in the OPT has recently taken a business and human rights turn involving systematic targeting of corporations by activists. Interestingly, we will see that this business and human rights turn also played a role in the conflict between the IFA and the PFA. This case study is therefore an opportunity to examine how the strategy of naming and shaming private corporations, and in our case not-for-profit associations, for their direct or indirect business involvement in the settlements has fared. It is also an occasion to critically assess the strength of the human rights ‘punch’ added to the lex sportiva, by the UNGPs.

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June - August 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

 

The Headlines

CAS Decision on Manchester City FC Case

After the UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control’s (CFCB) decision earlier this year to ban Manchester City FC for two seasons, observers waited impatiently to see the outcome of this high profile dispute. The CFCB’s decision had found that Manchester City FC overstated sponsorship revenues and in its break-even information given to UEFA. While some feared this showdown could lead to the demise of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the now publicized CAS panel’s decision is more nuanced. The panel’s decision turned on (see analysis here and here) (a) whether the ‘Leaked Emails’ were authentic and could be admissible evidence, (b) whether the ‘CFCB breached its obligations of due process’, (c) whether the conclusions of the 2014 Settlement Agreement prevents the CFCB from charging Manchester City FC, (d) whether the charges are time-barred, (e) the applicable standard of proof, (f) whether Manchester City FC masked equity funding as sponsorship contributions, and (g) whether Manchester City FC failed to cooperate with CFCB. In the end, among other findings, the Panel held that some of the alleged breaches were time-barred but maintained that Manchester City FC had failed to cooperate with CFCB’s investigation. In light of this, the Panel significantly reduced the sanction placed on Manchester City FC by removing the two-season suspension and reducing the sanction from 30 million euros to 10 million euros.

 

Qatar Labour Law Reforms Effectively Abolishes the Kafala System

Just a few days after Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report on abusive practices suffered by migrant workers in Qatar, Qatar adopted a series of laws that effectively gets rid of the Kafala system by no longer requiring migrant workers to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from their employer in order to start another job. The International Labour Organization declared that this development along with the elimination of the ‘exit permit requirements’ from earlier this year means that the kafala system has been effectively abolished. In addition to these changes, Qatar has also adopted a minimum wage that covers all workers and requires that employers who do not provide food or housing at least give a minimum allowance for both of these living costs. Lastly, the new laws better define the procedure for the termination of employment contracts.

In reaction to these changes, Amnesty International welcomed the reforms and called for them to be ‘swiftly and properly implemented’. Indeed, while these amendments to Qatar’s labour laws are a step in the right direction, Amnesty International also cautions that the minimum wage may still be too low, and in order to be effective, these new laws will have to be followed with ‘strong inspection and complaint mechanisms’.

 

CAS Decision Concerning Keramuddin Karim Abuse Case

In June of last year, Keramuddin Karim, former president of Afghanistan’s soccer federation, was banned by FIFA for life (see the decision of the adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee) after reports of sexual and physical abuse that emerged in late 2018. Following a lengthy and tumultuous investigation in Afghanistan, Afghan officials came forward with an arrest warrant for Mr. Karim. Nevertheless, despite attempts to apprehend Mr. Karim, Mr. Karim has still avoided arrest over a year later. Most recently in August, Afghan Special Operation officers attempted to apprehend him but he was not at the residence when they arrived.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karim had appealed FIFA’s lifetime ban to the CAS and the CAS Panel’s decision has recently been released. In its decision, the Panel upheld both the lifetime ban and the 1,000,000 CHF fine, finding that due to the particular egregious nature of Karim’s acts, ‘they warrant the most severe sanction possible available under the FCE’. Since both Karim and his witnesses were unable to be heard, the case raises questions connected to the respect of fundamental procedural rights at the CAS.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March-May 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Over Sports

Since the last monthly report, the coronavirus pandemic has completely taken over the headlines and has had enormous impacts on the sports field. The most significant of these impacts so far was the rather slow (see here and here) decision by the IOC to move the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 after a widespread push among athlete stakeholders to do so. Concerns were raised that besides the wellbeing of the participants, athletes under lockdowns would not have the access to the training facilities, meaning preparations for the Games would suffer. The IOC has already started its new planning for Tokyo 2021 and sees this new opportunity to be ‘an Olympic flame’ at the end of a ‘dark tunnel’ for the entire world.

Besides the Olympics, football has also experienced colossal effects as this crisis landed right as leagues were approaching the end of their season. In this context, FIFA has released specific guidelines on player contracts and transfer windows, which has included extending player contracts to the new postponed end of season dates. It has also organized a working group on COVID-19, which has already made recommendations to postpone all men and women’s international matches that were to be played during the June 2020 window. Earlier in March, UEFA had already announced that the EURO 2020 was also postponed by 12 months and has also recently approved guidelines on domestic competitions. These guidelines place emphasis on ‘sporting merit’ and urge ‘National Associations and Leagues to explore all possible options to play all top domestic competitions giving access to UEFA club competitions to their natural conclusion’. Nevertheless, UEFA also emphasizes that the health of all stakeholders must remain the top priority.

In the end, numerous sport federations have also had to amend their calendars due to the pandemic (see UCI and FIBA) and a variety of sport stakeholders have been confronted with immense financial strain (e.g. football, tennis and cycling). For example, UEFA has acted preemptively in releasing club benefit payments to try to alleviate the economic pressure faced by clubs. There have also been efforts to support athletes directly (e.g. FIG and ITF). All in all, the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on sport have been unprecedented and will require creative solutions while continuing to place public health as the top priority.

Platini’s ECtHR Appeal Falls Flat

There have also been a few other stories that have (understandably) been overshadowed by the pandemic. One of these include Michel Platini’s unsuccessful appeal to the ECtHR challenging his 2015 football ban. The ECtHR’s decision concerned the admissibility of his appeal and in the end found it to be ‘manifestly ill-founded’. This is because he failed to raise his procedural rights concerns under Article 6 (1) ECHR in his proceedings at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Besides rejecting his other claims based on Article 7 and 8 ECHR, the ECtHR decision also touched upon the issue of CAS’ procedural and institutional independence. In doing so, it referred to its Pechstein decision and once more affirmed that the CAS is sufficiently independent and impartial (see para 65), further giving credence to this notion from its case law. However, there are still concerns on this matter as was highlighted in the Pechstein dissent. Overall, the decision indicates that the ECtHR is willing to give the CAS the benefit of the doubt so long as it sufficiently takes into account the ECHR in its awards.

Mark Dry – UKAD Dispute

In February, Mark Dry was suspended by UKAD after a decision of the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) Appeal Tribunal  for four years after having given a ‘false account’ in order to ‘subvert the Doping Control process’. Specifically, Dry had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing after he had missed a test at his residence. After further investigation, Dry admitted that he had forgotten to update his whereabouts while he was actually visiting his parents in Scotland and in panic, had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing. Following the decision of the NADP Appeal Tribunal, athlete stakeholders have argued the four-year ban was disproportionate in this case. In particular, Global Athlete contended that Whereabouts Anti-Doping Rule Violations only occur in cases where an athlete misses three tests or filing failures within a year. Furthermore, even if Dry had ‘tampered or attempted to tamper’, a four-year sanction is too harsh. Subsequently, UKAD responded with a statement, arguing that ‘deliberately providing false information’ is ‘a serious breach of the rules’ and that the UKAD NADP Appeal Tribunal ‘operates independently’. In light of the mounting pressure, Witold Bańka, WADA President, also responded on Twitter that he is ‘committed to ensuring that athletes’ rights are upheld under the World Anti-Doping Code’. More...

Anti-Doping in Times of COVID-19: A Difficult Balancing Exercise for WADA - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.


I.               Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the manner in which we approach human interactions that suppose close and prolonged physical contact. Across the world, authorities are having to design ways to resume essential activities without jeopardising participants’ health, all the while guaranteeing that other fundamental rights are paid due respect. The fight against doping is no exception. Anti-doping organizations – whether public or private – have to be held to the same standards, including respect for physical integrity and privacy, and considerate application of the cornerstone principle of proportionality.

Throughout this global crisis, the World Anti-Doping Agency (‘WADA’) has carefully monitored the situation, providing anti-doping organizations and athletes with updates and advice. On 6 May 2020, WADA issued the document called ‘ADO Guidance for Resuming Testing’ (‘COVID Guidance’). A COVID-19 ‘Q&A’ for athletes (‘Athlete Q&A’) is also available on WADA’s website, and has been last updated on 25 May 2020. This article focuses on these two latest documents, and analyses the solutions proposed therein, and their impact on athletes.

Like many public or private recommendations issued for other societal activities, the WADA COVID Guidance is primarily aimed at conducting doping control while limiting the risk of transmission of the virus and ensuing harm to individuals. More specifically, one can identify two situations of interest for athletes that are notified for testing:

  1. The athlete has or suspects that they may have been infected with COVID-19, or has come in close contact with someone having COVID-19;
  2. The athlete fears to be in touch with doping control personnel that may be infected with COVID-19.

Quite obviously, either situation has the potential to create significant challenges when it comes to balancing the interests of anti-doping, with individual rights and data protection concerns. This article summarises how the latest WADA COVID Guidance and Athlete Q&A address both situations. It explores how the solutions suggested fit in with the WADA regulatory framework and how these might be assessed from a legal perspective.

The focus will be on the hypothesis in which international sports federations – i.e. private entities usually organised as associations or similar structures – are asked to implement the COVID Guidance within their sport. National anti-doping organizations are strongly embedded in their national legal system and their status and obligations as public or semi-public organisations are likely to be much more dependent on the legislative landscape put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in each country. Nevertheless, the general principles described in this article would apply to all anti-doping organizations alike, whether at international or national level. More...



(A)Political Games: A Critical History of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’ have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g. professionalism in sport),[1] while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g. protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space.  For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’ ability to represent their personal sponsors[2]). Nowadays, the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security operations created to protect the Olympic sites.

Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people together’.[3] In this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set aside’?[4] Should one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible to separate politics and sport?  

Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.[5] However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression during the Games (see here, here and here). Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless, what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal.[6] Sport nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to validate its global prowess and stature.

To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively. The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Introducing the new legal challenges of E-Sports. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

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. 


Is E-Sports a Sport?

The introductory legal question regarding E-Sports is whether it is a sport. There are different definitions of “sport”. According to the Council of Europe, “sport” means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.

SportAccord a non-profit association which is composed of autonomous and independent international sports federations and other international organisations contributing to sport in various fields, also offers a definition of sport. According to this definition, sport:

1) includes an element of competition;

2) does not rely on any element of “luck” specifically integrated into the sport;

3) does not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its athletes or participants;

4) is in no way harmful to any living creature;

5) and does not rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier.


Sport categories designated by SportAccord are primarily: physical sports (e.g. basketball); mind sports (e.g. chess); motorized sports (e.g. motorcycle racing); coordination sports (e.g. snooker); and animal-supported sports (e.g. equestrianism).

SportAccord also states that activities with limited physical or athletic activity would be carefully considered. E-Sports indeed involves a limited physical activity. The professional gamer generally sits in front of a designated computer. However, at this point it is important to highlight the existence of multiplayer video games that involve a considerable amount of physical activity. Home video game consoles that detect movement were released in early 2000s, paving the way for true E-Sports cyber athletes in the near future. Until now however, games that require physical activity have not been played at a professional level.

Having said this, E-Sports does involve a clear element of competition, does not rely only on luck, does not pose an undue risk to the health and safety of its competitors and is not harmful to any living creature. At some point, it does rely on equipment that is provided by a single supplier, as the subject game that is played is in general produced by a single supplier. In other words, E-Sports clearly complies with the remaining criteria (2 to 5) suggested to be defined as a “sport”.

Even though there are a myriad of multiplayer games, one mostly categorizes E-Sports as a primarily mind and coordinated sport. It does not require lots of physical activities except for very fast finger movement. A similar sport is chess. It is challenging to oppose the argument of David Papineau, professor of philosophy of science at King’s College London, who, as regards chess, said that “(t)he activity is playing a game, therefore it is not a sport but a game”. However, chess is a strategy board game and at the same time it is an organized sport with an international governing body, namely FIDE.


Can E-Sports Be an Olympic Sport?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the supreme authority of the Olympic movement. The IOC decides which sports are included in the Olympic Games. Choices of the IOC always bring forth discussions and debates in the sports community. Some sports are discontinued and some are re-introduced. Wrestling was announced to be dropped from the 2020 Olympic Games in 2020, but was reinstated seven months after losing its place. Even though wrestling is one of the founding sports of the Olympics, the IOC could have removed it from the Olympic Games. The IOC recently reinstated baseball and softball, and added skateboarding -, karate, climbing and surfing- to the sports programme for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Therefore, it is possible to say that popularity is one of the crucial elements for a sport to be included to the Olympic Games. Chess, led by FIDE, is attempting to be an Olympic Sport. Although the attempt for Tokyo 2020 was not successful, things may change in the future.

In my opinion, E-Sports can very well be regarded as an Olympic sport in the near future. Whatever game that is played on a professional level, may be regarded as its discipline. The crucial setback is the perishability of games. Video games become “obsolete” with time. This is especially the case with sports games. Squads and the game play changes every season. That is one of the reasons why FIFA releases a new video game every single year. Therefore, video games such as FIFA are unlikely to make it to the top E-Sports games awarding prize money.


What type of Governance for E-Sports ?

The formation of a single internationally recognized E-Sports federation would be a first step in a long journey to reach the Olympics. Currently however, several international E-Sports organizations exist.

In South Korea, where E-Sports is what football is to Brazil, the South Korean E-Sports Association was founded in 2000. The Association regulates the working conditions of cyber athletes. The highest earnings in E-Sports by countries are listed as: China, the United States, South Korea, Sweden and Canada. As for international associations, three of them need to be mentioned.

First, there is the World E-Sports Association (WESA), founded in 2016 by a group of E-Sports teams and ESL (i.e. largest video game event company in the world). WESA aims to professionalize the industry, regulating matters regarding revenues and schedules. WESA even has an internal arbitration court, namely WESA Arbitration Court. It operates independently from WESA and is open to everyone involved in E-Sports, such as players, teams, organizers and publishers.

The second is the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF), an international organization based in Seoul, South Korea. A total of 46 nations are member of the IeSF. It has listed seven objectives in its Statute, the first one being as follows: to “constantly improve e-Sports and promote it in the light of its values - humanitarian, educational, cultural, unity of purpose and ability to promote peace”. IeSF is a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC). ESL also endorsed the WADC and conducts doping tests on cyber athletes. Stimulants- drugs that improve reaction time and concentration are prohibited.

The third association worth mentioning is the International eGames Committee (IEGC), a non-profit E-Sports organization, supported by the government of the United Kingdom. It aims to positively shape the future of competitive gaming.

In my view, countries that seek to be a part of the E-Sports world should establish their own national federations and apply to IeSF. IeSF should collaborate with WESA, which is founded by the most significant organizations in the industry. IeSF is capable of growing into an internationally recognized authority that is in charge of international competitions between national teams, whereas WESA would be in charge of all competitions between clubs.


E-Sports and Free Speech
Since there is a certain amount of (virtual) killing and planting bombs involved, some games are not suitable for children. Deciding who can play which game is up to certain institutions around the world. One of them is Pan European Game Information (PEGI). PEGI is the age rating system for video games in Europe, Israel and Quebec. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is another institution providing an age rating system for video games, this time for North America. PEGI and ESRB standards are generally not legally binding. PEGI standards are legally enforced in few jurisdictions, one being the United Kingdom. Another example is Austria. In Austria, protection of minors are implemented by states. Two of the nine states, Vienna and Carinthia, legally adopted PEGI standards.

California passed a law that prohibited the sale of certain video games to minors. It was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that video games were protected speech under the First Amendment.[3] The Supreme Court had its own reasons, such as “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.or “This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.”


E-Sports and IP Law
Apart from constitutional law, video games can be subject to other fields of the law. Intellectual property law is one of such fields. For example, DotA is a fan-made custom map originated with Warcraft III, a strategy video game created by Blizzard Entertainment. It was not a separate game until published by Valve Corporation as Dota 2. Blizzard sought to prevent registration by its competitor Valve of the trademark Dota by resorting to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Subsequently, Blizzard and Valve reached a settlement agreement and Valve went on to publish Dota 2.

Playing Dota 2 is free of charge and Valve speedily hosted its first competition in 2011, with a prize pool of 1.6 million dollars. The International became an annual Dota 2 E-Sports tournament. The prize pool for the tournament in 2016 was approximately 20 million dollars. The team Wings Gaming of China completed the tournament in first place and was awarded 9.1 million dollars. The final was viewed by almost 6 million spectators. Dota 2 tournaments have awarded a total prize money of approximately 90 million dollars so far. League of Legends took the second place with 36 million dollars, followed by Counter Strike: GO (nearly 27 million dollars) and Starcraft II (nearly 22 million dollars). 


E-Sports Clubs, Athletes and the Law
The E-Sports teams that participate in these kind of high level competitions have different rosters for different games. They are starting to become more and more important business entities with their superstar players. The teams are mainly sponsored by tech firms, consumer electronics companies, gaming equipment producers, web hosting companies, automobile manufacturers, energy drinks manufacturers and business people who dream of owning a sports team but who cannot afford to acquire a professional football club. Football clubs themselves are also keen on forming their own E-Sports club, not only limited to football games. PSG (FIFA, LoL, Starcraft, CS, Call of Duty and Hearthstone) Schalke 04 (LoL) and Manchester City (FIFA) have already signed their own E-Sports players. Besiktas was the first football club in the world to form an E-Sports team in 2015. Fenerbahce has also entered the arena in 2016 and will be competing in the upcoming Turkish League of Legends season with a roster of accomplished players. As for football, FIFA and EA Sports organise the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2017. FIFA announced that the winning prize would be 200 thousand dollars.

High level cyber athletes are mostly men. However, the industry is trying to tackle gender discrimination and promote women cyber athletes. Cyber athletes sign contracts with their teams and sometimes receive salaries from video game developers. The developer of League of Legends, Riot Games chooses to pay salaries to competitors. Cyber athletes may want to make some extra money by streaming on online platforms, an important issue while drafting a contract. Therefore, E-Sports concerns both labor law and contract law. It also concerns criminal law, as there have been several incidents of betting-related match-fixing in E-Sports. In one such case, the manager of a LoL club was inciting his players to lose against big teams, claiming that the organizers would kick them out of the league should they win. The players allegedly did so, believing their manager. In the end, the manager was found to be betting against his own team, which finished the season with no wins. A player of the team attempted suicide, leaping off a building. Fortunately, he survived. In another case, a Dota 2 player placed a bet against his own team in a major event and won $322. “322” is now a nickname for players who deliberately fail in a game.

In Turkey, where I practice law, E-Sports players became athletes licensed by the “Federation of Developing Sports”, established by the Sports Ministry. There are about three thousand licensed players. The level of professionalism in elite clubs is surprising, and they are actually pretty successful in international tournaments. Space Soldiers (CS:GO), SuperMassive (LoL) are followed by tens of thousands of fans, even though they were founded only a few years ago.

The primary concern of the athletes and their families in general is the lack of opportunities after their brief but intense careers. Successful cyber athletes require a superordinate level of reactions and excellent reflexes. These attributes become slower with time. Consequently, cyber athletes are usually active between the ages 18-23. It is arduous for them to find time to study, as they need at least eight hours of training per day. National legislators around the world should also focus on devising E-Sports regulations, as more and more professional contracts are being signed. Cyber athletes are transferred from clubs to other clubs as in any other sport and foreign cyber athletes may encounter problems regarding their visas. France recently tackled the legal vacuum and granted a specific legal status for cyber athletes.


Conclusion
Call it a sport or not, E-Sports is growing exponentially. It is an industry worth billions and watched by millions. Although the industry is a commercial success, there are still lots of legal issues to tackle. These legal issues fall within the scope of various fields of law causing lawyers to work on improving their respective national laws.

Transfers of cyber athletes, drafting contracts for cyber athletes and the resolution of contractual disputes are some of the key issues, as well as tackling doping and match-fixing, intellectual property rights, broadcasting rights in particular, and the exploitation of minors or professional gamers. WESA and IeSF are significant international organizations that can endeavor on unifying E-Sports regulations and tackling legal problems faced by the players and the clubs.

The 21st century will offer more new games to play. Considering the current growth in the industry, I would dare predict that the industry will be worth hundreds of billions in the near future. I would recommend the countries and E-Sports governing bodies leading the industry to work together and bring forth certain essential regulations. This would also benefit game developers, as their games and gamers would find a place in the industry on a legal basis. I would also suggest the industry to incite women cyber athletes and facilitate their involvement in professional competitions, so that possible instances of discrimination are proactively precluded.




[1] Nurettin Emre Bilginoglu, LLM, Attorney-at-law - Istanbul, Turkey.  E-mail: emre@caglayanyalcin.com.

[2] Although there is no precise definition of a “professional E-Sports player”, the approach of FIFA could be deemed applicable by analogy. According to Article 2 of FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, a professional is a player who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for his footballing activity than the expenses he effectively incurs. In E-Sports, certain players are paid more for their gaming activities than the expenses they incur.

[3] Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 786 (2011).

Comments (1) -

  • Adem Yaşar

    2/6/2017 4:55:32 PM |

    A new milestone has been recorded in the history of eSports. So, that is very good to deal with this matter in terms of legal implications.
    Good luck from Heidelberg University

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