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 Event! Zoom In on World Anti-Doping Agency v. Russian Anti-Doping Agency - 25 February - 16:00-17:30 CET

On Thursday 25 February 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret (University of Lausanne), organizes a Zoom In webinar on the recent award of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the case World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) v. Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), delivered on 17 December 2020.


Background
In its 186 pages decision the CAS concluded that RUSADA was non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) in connection with its failure to procure the delivery of the authentic LIMS data (Laboratory Information Management System) and underlying analytical data of the former Moscow Laboratory to WADA. However, the CAS panel did not endorse the entire range of measures sought by WADA to sanction this non-compliance. It also reduced the time frame of their application from four to two years. The award has been subjected to a lot of public attention and criticisms, and some have expressed the view that Russia benefited from a lenient treatment.   

This edition of our Zoom in webinars will focus on assessing the impact of the award on the world anti-doping system. More specifically, we will touch upon the decision’s effect on the capacity of WADA to police institutionalized doping systems put in place by certain states, the ruling’s regard for the rights of athletes (Russian or not), and its effect on the credibility of the world anti-doping system in the eyes of the general public.


To discuss the case with us, we are very happy to welcome the following speakers:


Participation is free, register HERE.

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 5: Rethinking Redistribution in Football - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi recently completed a Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

 

As one may have gathered from the series thus far, the question that comes out of this endeavour for me, is whether redistribution in football would be better divorced from the transfer system?

In my introductory blog I point towards historical, cultural, and of course the legal explanations as to why redistribution was established, and why it might be held onto despite obvious flaws. In my second blog, I point out how the training compensation and solidarity mechanisms work in practice through an African case study, as well as the hindrance caused and the Eurocentricity of the regulations. The key take-away from my third blog on the non-application of training compensation in women’s football might be that training compensation should apply to both men’s and women’s football, or neither. The sweeping generalisation that men’s and women’s football are different as justification for the non-application to the women’s game is not palatable, given inter alia the difference between the richest and poorest clubs in men’s football. Nor is it palatable that the training compensation mechanism is justified in men’s football to incentivise training, yet not in women’s football.

In the fourth blog of this series, I raise concerns that the establishment of the Clearing House prolongs the arrival of a preferable alternative system. The feature of this final blog is to consider alternatives to the current systems. This endeavour is manifestly two-fold; firstly, are there alternatives? Secondly, are they better?  More...


Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 4: The New FIFA Clearing House – An improvement to FIFA’s training compensation and solidarity mechanisms? - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi recently completed a Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and a Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

In September 2018, the Football Stakeholders Committee endorsed the idea of a Clearing House that was subsequently approved in October of the same year by the FIFA Council. A tender process commenced in July 2019 for bidders to propose jurisdiction, operation and establishment. Whilst many questions go unanswered, it is clear that the Clearing House will be aimed at closing the significant gap between what is owed and what is actually paid, in respect to training compensation and solidarity payments. The Clearing House will have other functions, perhaps in regard to agents’ fees and other transfer related business, though those other operations are for another blog. It will hence act as an intermediary of sorts, receiving funds from a signing and therefore owing club (“new” club) and then moving that money on to training clubs. Whilst separate to FIFA, to what extent is unclear.

I have landed at the position of it being important to include a section in this blog series on the soon to commence Clearing House, given it appears to be FIFA’s (perhaps main) attempt to improve the training compensation and solidarity mechanisms. As will be expanded upon below, I fear it will create more issues than it will solve. Perhaps one should remain patient and optimistic until it is in operation, and one should be charitable in that there will undoubtedly be teething problems. However, it is of course not just the function of the Clearing House that is of interest, but also what moving forward with the project of the Clearing House represents and leaves unaddressed, namely, the issues I have identified in this blog series. More...

New Event! Zoom In on International Skating Union v. European Commission - 20 January - 16.00-17.30 (CET)

On Wednesday 20 January 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret, is organising a Zoom In webinar on the recent judgment of the General Court in the case International Skating Union (ISU) v European Commission, delivered on 16 December 2016. The Court ruled on an appeal against the first-ever antitrust prohibition decision on sporting rules adopted by the European Commission. More specifically, the case concerned the ISU’s eligibility rules, which were prohibiting speed skaters from competing in non-recognised events and threatened them with lifelong bans if they did (for more details on the origin of the case see this blog). The ruling of the General Court, which endorsed the majority of the European Commission’s findings, could have transformative implications for the structure of sports governance in the EU (and beyond).

We have the pleasure to welcome three renowned experts in EU competition law and sport to analyse with us the wider consequences of this judgment.


Guest speakers:

Moderators:


Registration HERE


Zoom In webinar series

In December 2020, The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret launched a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In. You can watch the video recording of our first discussion on the arbitral award delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Blake Leeper v. International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) case on the Asser Institute’s Youtube Channel. Click here to learn more about the Zoom In webinar series.

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 3: The Curious Non-Application of Training Compensation to Women’s Football – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

 

As recently as September 2020, questions were raised in the European Parliament on the non-application of training compensation to women’s football. Whilst this blog will predominantly consider potential inconsistencies in reasoning for and against training compensation in men’s and women’s football, the questions before the Commission were largely on the theme of disrespect and discrimination. Somewhat unfortunately, the questions raised were side-stepped, with Ms Gabriel (Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth) simply stating that: “The TFEU does not give the Commission the competence to interfere in the internal organisation of an independent international organisation such as FIFA.” This might be true in theory, though one might feel some degree of uneasiness if privy to the Commission’s role in the 2001 FIFA regulatory overhaul.

It is currently explicit in the regulations and the commentary, that in women’s football, signing clubs are not required to compensate training clubs for developing players, through the training compensation mechanism that exists in men’s football. Though it is a contentious comment and as will be expanded below, this may not have always been the case.

At Article 20 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), one will find that the principles of training compensation shall not apply to women’s football. Further, in FIFA’s recently released Women’s Football Administrator Handbook (the handbook), it states that disputes relating to training compensation are limited for the moment to male players only.[1]

Regulations on solidarity contributions on the other hand do apply to women’s football, but given transfer fees are not so common, the use of the mechanism is not either. As an indication of how uncommon the activation of the solidarity contribution mechanism in women’s football might be, FIFA reported in the handbook just four claims with the Players’ Status Department in 2016 (three claims involving the same player), and zero since.[2] That is in comparison to hundreds of claims made per season in men’s football, where signing and owing clubs had not fulfilled their obligation to pay the solidarity contribution.

Given the aforementioned, this blog will largely focus on training compensation and how it came to be the case that this mechanism, often presented as critical in the context of men’s football, does not apply in women’s football. To do so, I will first discuss the reasoning advanced in an unpublished CAS award, which one may reasonably suspect played a fundamental role in shaping the current exemption. I will then turn to FIFA’s timely response to the award and the adoption of its Circular No. 1603. Finally, I will point out the disconnect in FIFA’s decision to adopt two radically different approaches to the issue of training compensation in male and female professional football. More...


New Event! Zoom In on Transnational Sports Law - Blake Leeper v. IAAF - 4 December at 4pm (CET)

The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret is launching a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In. The first discussion (4 December at 16.00) will zoom in on the recent arbitral award delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Blake Leeper v. International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) case.

In this decision, reminiscent of the famous Pistorius award rendered a decade ago, the CAS panel ruled on the validity of an IAAF rule that places the burden on a disabled athlete to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give them an overall competitive advantage. While siding with the athlete, Blake Leeper, on the burden of proof, the CAS panel did conclude that Leeper’s prosthesis provided him an undue advantage over other athletes and hence that the IAAF could bar him from competing in its events.

To reflect on the key aspects of the decision and its implications, we have invited scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds to join the zoom discussion. 

Confirmed guests

 Moderators


The webinar is freely available, but registration here is necessary.

Last call to register to the 2021 edition of the Sports Law Arbitration Moot - Deadline 1 December

Dear all,

Our Slovenian friends (and former colleague) Tine Misic and Blaž Bolcar are organising the second edition of the Sports Law Arbitration Moot (SLAM).

The best four teams of the SLAM competition will compete in the finals, which will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 30th and 31st March, 2021.

This is a great opportunity for students to familiarise themselves with the world of sports arbitration, to meet top lawyers and arbitrators in the field, and to visit beautiful Ljubljana.

Go for it!

You'll find more information and can register at https://sportlex.si/slam/en

Pistorius revisited: A comment on the CAS award in Blake Leeper v. IAAF - By Marjolaine Viret

On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).[1] The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall competitive advantage.

The award is remarkable in that it declared the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the underlying rules.

This article focuses on some key aspects of the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of sports regulations such as anti-doping.

The award also analyses broader questions regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 2: The African Reality – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


Having considered the history and justifications for the FIFA training compensation and solidarity mechanisms in my previous blog, I will now consider these systems in the African context. This appears to be a worthwhile undertaking given these global mechanisms were largely a result of European influence, so understanding their (extraterritorial) impact beyond the EU seems particularly important. Moreover, much has been written about the “muscle drain” affecting African football and the need for such drain to either be brought to a halt, or, more likely and perhaps more practical, to put in place an adequate system of redistribution to ensure the flourishing of African football that has essentially acted as a nursery for European football for at least a century. In the present blog, I intend to draw on my experiences as a football agent to expand on how FIFA’s redistributive mechanisms function in practice when an African player signs in Europe via one of the many kinds of entities that develop or purport to develop talent in Africa. I will throughout address the question of whether these mechanisms are effective in a general sense and more specifically in relation to their operation in Africa.More...



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


The Headlines

Aguero and Massey-Ellis incident: An Opportunity for Change and Education?

In mid-October a clip went viral of Argentinian star Sergio Aguero putting his hands on sideline referee, Sian Massey-Ellis. A heated debate ensued in many circles, some claiming that Aguero’s conduct was commonplace, others taking aim at the appropriateness of the action, around players touching official and a male touching a female with an unsolicited arm around the back, the squeeze and pull in. Putting the normative arguments aside for a moment, the irony of the debate was that all sides had a point. Football, almost exclusively, has grown a culture of acceptance for touching officials despite the regulations. Male officials who have let such conduct slide, have arguably let their female colleague down in this instance.

Whilst a partial defence of Aguero might be that this kind of conduct takes place regularly, the incident could serve as a learning experience. If Massey-Ellis’ reaction was not enough, the backlash from some of the public might provide Aguero and other players the lesson, that touching a woman in this way is not acceptable.

Returning to football, the respect and protection of officials in sport, the key here appears to be cracking down on touching officials entirely. This is not a foreign concept and football need only look at the rugby codes. Under no circumstances does the regulations or the culture permit that a player from the rugby codes touch a referee. It is likely the case that the obvious extra level of respect for officials in these sports derives from a firm culture of no touching, no crowding officials, communicating with officials through the team captain only, with harsh sanctions if one does not comply.

The Football Association of England has decided no action was necessary, raising questions of how seriously they take the safety of officials, and gender issues. This is ultimately a global football issue though, so the confederations or international bodies may need step in to ensure the protections that appear at best fragile.  


Rugby Trans issue

The World Rugby Transgender guideline has been released and contains a comprehensive unpacking of the science behind much of the regulatory framework. Despite many experts applauding World Rugby on the guidelines and the extensive project to reach them, the England Rugby Football Union is the first to defy the World Rugby ruling and transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future. This clash between national bodies and the international body on an important issue is concerning and will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on.

 

CAS rejects the appeal of Munir El Haddadi and the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football (FRMF)

The refusal to authorise a footballer to change national federation is in the headlines with the CAS dismissing the appeal of the player and Moroccan federation, confirming the original determination of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.

This has been given considerable recent attention and seemingly worth following, perhaps best summed up by FIFA Director of Football Regulatory, James Kitching, where in a tweet he notes: “The new eligibility rules adopted by the FIFA Congress on 18 September 2020 have passed their first test. We will be publishing our commentary on the rules in the next fortnight. Watch this space.” More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

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

Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

Editor's note: Björn Hessert is a research assistant at the University of Zurich and a lawyer admitted to the German bar.

 

The discussion revolving around the invalidity of arbitration clauses in organised sport in favour of national and international sports arbitral tribunals has been at the centre of the discussion in German courtrooms.[1] After the decisions of the German Federal Tribunal[2] (“BGH”) and the European Court of Human Rights[3] (“ECtHR”) in the infamous Pechstein case, this discussion seemed to have finally come to an end. Well…not according to the District Court (LG) of Frankfurt.[4] On 7 October 2020, the District Court rendered a press release in which the court confirmed its jurisdiction due to the invalidity of the arbitration clause contained in the contracts between two beach volleyball players and the German Volleyball Federation[5] (“DVV”) – but one step at a time.

 

1.     Arbitration clauses in organised sport

Over the past few decades, the Olympic movement has created its own judicial system in its endeavour to create and maintain a uniform judicial level playing field outside national courts. This is important, because athletes participating in international sports competitions need to be subject to the same sanctioning regime in the light of fairness and equality in sport.[6] In this regard, the jurisdiction of national courts threatens the uniform application of rules and regulations of international sports federations insofar as they could apply them differently. This could lead to the unsatisfying result that, for example, an athlete from Germany is punished for an anti-doping rule violation with a 2-year ineligibility sanction while a Swedish athlete is subject to a lifetime ban for the same misconduct.

In order to preserve the uniform application of sporting rules and – ultimately – a legal level playing field, the rules and regulations of the respective sports federation or individual contracts, including employment contracts or athlete agreements and licence agreements (“entry forms”), generally contain arbitration clauses in favour of private sports arbitral tribunals, e.g. the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”). As a result, the arbitration agreement between the parties to membership contracts or entry forms ousts the jurisdiction of national courts.[7] Due to the fact that athletes are not generally direct members of national and international sports federations, contractual clauses in their employment contracts or entry forms make reference to arbitration clauses set out in the rules and regulations of said sports federations. For example, international football players are generally bound by the regulations of the Fédération Internationale the Football Association (“FIFA”), including its statutes. Article 58(1) of the FIFA Statutes (2020 edition) provides that “[a]ppeals against final decisions passed by FIFA’s legal bodies against decisions passed by confederations, member associations or leagues shall be lodged with CAS […]”. References in individual contracts of sportspersons contained in the rules and regulations of sports federations, so-called “arbitration agreements by reference”, have been considered to be valid. In this respect, the Swiss Federal Tribunal (“SFT”) held that

in sporting matters the Swiss Federal Tribunal examines arbitration agreements between parties with a certain goodwill in order to promote the fast resolution of disputes by specialised courts, which as the CAS, offer comprehensive guarantees of independence and neutrality.[8]

Athletes are generally forced to accept such arbitration agreements in favour of sports arbitral tribunals due to the monopolistic structure in organised sport, meaning that only one national and international sports federation governs each sport on the basis of the pyramidal European Model of Sport (so-called Ein-Platz-Prinzip).[9] In other words, athletes can only choose between accepting such arbitration agreements (by reference) or renouncing their calling as professional athletes.[10] Against this background, it appears to be questionable whether mandatory arbitration agreements in organised sport concluded between monopolistic sports federations and athletes are valid, taking into account that arbitration as a mechanism of alternative dispute resolution generally finds its basis in the free and voluntary will of the parties to the dispute concerned. The validity of mandatory arbitration agreements was at the heart of the Pechstein[11] case and has now been addressed in the recent decision rendered by the District Court of Frankfurt[12].

 

2.     The decisions of the BGH and the ECtHR in the Pechstein case

Claudia Pechstein is a professional speed-skater. Prior to the speed-skating world championships, organised by the International Skating Union (“ISU”), she signed an entry form, including an arbitration agreement in favour of the CAS.[13] During her proceedings before German courts and the ECtHR, Pechstein argued that the arbitration agreement concluded between her and the ISU had not been accepted freely and voluntarily, because otherwise she would not have been eligible to participate in professional speed-skating competitions.

After the Higher Regional Court (OLG) of Munich had decided that the arbitration agreement signed by Ms Pechstein was invalid under German competition law as a result of ISU’s abuse of a dominant position[14], the BGH overruled this decision.[15] In the view of the BGH, the ISU is a monopoly within the meaning of sec. 19(1) of the German Competition Act (“GWB”).[16] However, the BGH took the view that the dominant position of a party to the arbitration agreement does not automatically revoke the voluntary nature of the consent to an arbitration agreement in favour of private sports arbitral tribunals.[17] Instead, the examination of the validity of the arbitration agreement is subject to a balancing process in consideration of the interests of both parties, i.e. sports federations and individual athletes.[18] In consideration of the legal protection of athletes and the specificity of sport, particularly in ensuring fair competitions and uniform case law in organised sport, which “would be seriously jeopardised”[19] by the invalidity of the arbitration agreement, the court came to the conclusion that the interests of the ISU prevail in this regard.[20] The CAS is a genuine arbitration court and guarantees legal protections for athletes equivalent to national courts.[21] Furthermore, the consistent application of the rules and regulations of sports federations by a specialised arbitration institution is not only in the interest of sports federations, but also in the interest of athletes.[22] 

The ECtHR indirectly confirmed the validity of the arbitration agreement concluded between Ms Pechstein and the ISU. However, in determining the free will of athletes when entering into an arbitration agreement with a monopolistic sports federation, the court held that the arbitration clause is generally not based on the free consent of the athlete and thus has a forced nature.[23] In case the athlete is compelled to accept an arbitration agreement, Article 6(1) of the ECHR is applicable to the sports arbitration proceedings in protection of the procedural rights of the athlete.[24]  

However, arbitration agreements in organised sport are not compulsory per se if the applicable sports rules and regulations leave it to the sports federation and the athlete to freely and voluntarily agree on an arbitration agreement. In this case, athletes are not in the same predicament and may therefore choose between different clubs before signing an arbitration agreement.[25]Furthermore, the complaining athlete must provide evidence that “other professional football clubs, which perhaps have more modest financial means, would have refused to hire him on the basis of a contract providing for dispute settlement in ordinary courts.”[26]

According to the BGH, the validity of arbitration agreements in organised sport is subject to a balancing process between the competing interests of the parties to it. However, if an athlete was compelled to accept arbitration clauses of monopolistic sports federations, the ECtHR concluded that Article 6(1) of the ECHR is applicable to the arbitration proceedings concerned. Both courts therefore set the benchmark against which the validity of arbitration agreements and proceedings in organised sport is measured. 

 

3.     Decision of the District Court of Frankfurt (based on the press release)

The decision of the District Court of Frankfurt is insofar remarkable as the court was in the position to consider both the decision of the BGH and the ECtHR in its decision-making process. With regard to the validity of the arbitration agreement concluded between two volleyball players and the DVV, the court stated in its press release of 7 October 2020[27] as follows:

Die Streitigkeit habe nicht vorrangig vor einem Schiedsgericht ausgetragen werden müssen. Zwar enthielten die Verträge der Klägerinnen mit dem Beklagten jeweils eine Schiedsvereinbarung. Dieser sei aber unwirksam, «weil die Klägerin sich ihr nicht freiwillig unterworfen habe», so die Richter. Seit der Entscheidung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschenrechte (EGMR) im Fall Pechstein sei bei professionellen Leistungssportlern von einer unfreiwilligen Unterwerfung unter einer Schiedsgerichtsbarkeit auszugehen, wenn die Profisportler «vor der Wahl stehen, eine Schiedsklausel anzunehmen, um durch die Ausübung ihres Sports ihren Lebensunterhalt bestreiten zu können, oder sie nicht zu akzeptieren und damit vollständig auf ihren Lebensunterhalt durch Ausübung des Sports zu verzichten.» Es sei nicht belegt, dass die Klägerinnen seinerzeit tatsächlich die Wahl hatten, die Schiedsklauseln abzuschliessen oder nicht. Deswegen sei von einer Unfreiwilligkeit auch dann auszugehen, wenn die Volleyballerinnen die Klauseln kritiklos unterzeichnet hätten.”

[free translation: The dispute did not have to be settled primarily before an arbitration tribunal. It is true that the plaintiffs' contracts with the defendant each contained an arbitration agreement. However, this was invalid ‘because the plaintiff did not voluntarily submit to it’, the judges said. Since the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the Pechstein case, professional athletes must be presumed to have involuntarily submitted to arbitration if the professional athletes ‘are faced with the choice of accepting an arbitration clause in order to be able to earn their living by practising their sport or not accepting it and thus refrain completely from earning a living from their sport’. There is no evidence that the plaintiffs at the material time actually had the choice of whether or not to accept the arbitration clauses. Therefore, it can be assumed that the arbitration was involuntary even if the volleyball players had signed the clauses without criticism/objection.]

Based on the wording of the press release – and in absence of the full judgement – it appears that the court sided with the findings of the ECtHR insofar as it qualified the arbitration agreement contained in entry forms of athletes as mandatory in nature.

Furthermore, it can only be speculated why the court stated in its press release that the athletes had not objected to the signing of an arbitration clause. The court may have considered that the volleyball players were in a similar position than Ms Pechstein. This approach would be consequent, because beach volleyball players, like the plaintiffs in the proceedings before the District Court Frankfurt, are generally faced with the same dilemma as Ms Pechstein was. They cannot choose between different national federations for the sport of volleyball. In this case, it is not necessary for the athletes to show that they could not conclude a contract with the DVV without an arbitration agreement in favour of a sports arbitral tribunal.

Be it as it may, it is – with the BGH decision in the Pechstein case in mind – difficult to understand how the District Court of Frankfurt came to the conclusion that the arbitration agreement between the beach volleyball players and the DVV is invalid. It appears that the court deduces this invalidity from the compulsory nature of arbitration clauses in organised sport, as highlighted by the ECtHR. This would contradict the BGH’s view that forced arbitration can be justified in the sporting context and that the validity of particular clause must be determined on the basis of a balancing process.[28] If the District Court of Frankfurt applied such a balancing process between the competing interests of the parties to the dispute, it will be interesting to see why the court arrived at the conclusion that the arbitration agreement is invalid. In light of the above, the specificity of sport, particularly the consistent and uniform application of rules and regulations of sports federations, is a strong argument in favour of forced arbitration. Indeed, the legal level playing field and ultimately the sporting level playing field would be jeopardised if national courts would decide on sporting cases instead of national sports arbitral tribunals, such as the German Court of Arbitration for Sport (“DIS”) or the CAS. The interest of sports federations also prevails in domestic disputes. Otherwise, there is a risk that the national courts will interpret the sporting rules of a particular sports federation inconsistently.

On balance, it will be important to carefully analyse how the Frankfurt court substantiated its departure from the BGH decision in the Pechstein case. In my view, the press release indicates that the court was apparently unable to strike a fair balance between the competing interests involved, bearing in mind the specificities of sport.


[1] See e.g. District Court (LG) Cologne, decision of 13 September 2006, 28 O (Kart) 38/05; District Court (LG) Munich I, decision of 26 February 2014, 37 O 28331/12; Higher Regional Court (OLG) Munich, decision of 15 January 2015 – U 1110/14 Kart.

[2] BGH, decision of 7 June 2016, KZR 6/15; a translation of the decision is published on the CAS website.

[3] Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018.

[4] District Court Frankfurt, 7 October 2020, 2-06 O 457/19 (unpublished); press release available at https://ordentliche-gerichtsbarkeit.hessen.de/sites/ordentliche-gerichtsbarkeit.hessen.de/files/PM%207_10_2020%20Schadensersatz%20f%C3%BCr%20Profi-Volleyballerinnen_0.pdf.

[5] Press Release, District Court Frankfurt, 7 October 2020 available at https://ordentliche-gerichtsbarkeit.hessen.de/sites/ordentliche-gerichtsbarkeit.hessen.de/files/PM%207_10_2020%20Schadensersatz%20f%C3%BCr%20Profi-Volleyballerinnen_0.pdf.

[6] Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018, para. 98.

[7] Daniel Girsberger and Nathalie Voser, International Arbitration (3rd edn, Schulthess Juristische Medien AG, 2016) 4; see also Antoine Duval, ‘Not in my Name! Claudia Pechstein and the Post-Consensual Foundations of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’ Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No 2017-01.

[8] SFT, decision of 7 November 2011, 4A_246/2011, para. 2.2.2; see also SFT, decision of 28 May 2018, 4A_314/2017, para. 2.3.1; SFT, decision of 2 February 2018, 4A_490/2017, para. 3.1.2.

[9] Commission of the European Communities, ‘White Paper on Sport’, COM(2007) 391 final, 13. SFT, decision of 22 March 2007, 4P.172/2006, para. 4.3.2.2.; BGH, decision of 7 June 2016, KZR 6/15; Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018, para. 113.

[10] SFT, decision of 22 March 2007, 4P.172/2006, para. 4.3.2.2.; BGH, decision of 7 June 2016, KZR 6/15; Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018, para. 113.

[11] BGH, decision of 7 June 2016, KZR 6/15; Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018.

[12] District Court Frankfurt, 7 October 2020, 2-06 O 457/19 (unpublished)¸ ); press release available at https://ordentliche-gerichtsbarkeit.hessen.de/sites/ordentliche-gerichtsbarkeit.hessen.de/files/PM%207_10_2020%20Schadensersatz%20f%C3%BCr%20Profi-Volleyballerinnen_0.pdf.

[13] BGH, decision of 7 June 2016, KZR 6/15, para. 2.

[14] Higher Regional Court (OLG) Munich, decision of 15 January 2015 – U 1110/14 Kart.

[15] BGH, decision of 7 June 2016, KZR 6/15.

[16] Ibid, para. 9.

[17] Ibid, para. 54; Ulrich Haas, ‘The German Federal Court on Treacherous Ice- A final point in the Pechstein case’ in Christoph Müller, Sébastian Besson and Antonio Rigozzi (eds), New Development in International Commercial Arbitration 2016 (1st edn, Schulthess Juristische Medien AG, 2016) 219, 256 et seq.

[18] Ibid, para. 55.

[19] Ibid, para. 50.

[20] Ibid, para. 59; Ulrich Haas, ‘The German Federal Court on Treacherous Ice- A final point in the Pechstein case’ in Christoph Müller, Sébastian Besson and Antonio Rigozzi (eds), New Development in International Commercial Arbitration 2016 (1st edn, Schulthess Juristische Medien AG, 2016) 219, 263 et seq.

[21] Ibid, para. 62.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018, para. 113.

[24] Mutu and Pechstein v Switzerland, ECtHR, Application no. 40575/10 and no. 67474/10, 2 October 2018, para. 115.

[25] Ibid, para. 120.

[26] Ibid, para. 119.

[27] Press Release, District Court Frankfurt, 7 October 2020, 2.

[28] Ulrich Haas, ‘The German Federal Court on Treacherous Ice- A final point in the Pechstein case’ in Christoph Müller, Sébastian Besson and Antonio Rigozzi (eds), New Development in International Commercial Arbitration 2016 (1st edn, Schulthess Juristische Medien AG, 2016) 219, 250.

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