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 “Victory” of the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights: The End of the Beginning for the CAS

My favourite speed skater (Full disclosure: I have a thing for speed skaters bothering the ISU), Claudia Pechstein, is back in the news! And not from the place I expected. While all my attention was absorbed by the Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe (BVerfG or German Constitutional Court), I should have looked to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR). The Pechstein and Mutu joint cases were pending for a long time (since 2010) and I did not anticipate that the ECtHR would render its decision before the BVerfG. The decision released last week (only available in French at this stage) looked at first like a renewed vindication of the CAS (similar to the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH) ruling in the Pechstein case), and is being presented like that by the CAS, but after careful reading of the judgment I believe this is rather a pyrrhic victory for the status quo at the CAS. As I will show, this ruling puts to rest an important debate surrounding CAS arbitration since 20 years: CAS arbitration is (at least in its much-used appeal format in disciplinary cases) forced arbitration. Furthermore, stemming from this important acknowledgment is the recognition that CAS proceedings must comply with Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), in particular hearings must in principle be held in public and decisions freely available to all. Finally, I will criticise the Court’s finding that CAS complies with the requirements of independence and impartiality imposed by Article 6 § 1 ECHR. I will not rehash the  well-known facts of both cases, in order to focus on the core findings of the decision. More...

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2018 - Asser Institute - 25-26 October - Register Now!

Dear all,

Last year we decided to launch the 'ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference' in order to give a public platform to the academic discussions on international sports law featured in the ISLJ. The first edition of the conference was a great success (don't take my word for it, just check out #ISLJConf17 on twitter), featuring outstanding speakers and lively discussions with the room. We were very happy to see people from some many different parts of the world congregating at the Institute to discuss the burning issues of their field of practice and research.

This year, on 25 and 26 October, we are hosting the second edition and we are again welcoming well-known academics and practitioners in the field. The discussions will turn around the notion of lex sportiva, the role of Swiss law in international sports law, the latest ISU decision of the European Commission, the Mutu/Pechstein ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, or the reform proposal of the FIFA Regulations on the Transfer and Status of Players. It should be, it will be, an exciting two days!

You will find below the final programme of the conference, please feel free to circulate it within your networks. We have still some seats left, so don't hesitate to register (here) and to join us.

Looking forward to seeing you and meeting you there!

Antoine

Football Intermediaries: Would a European centralized licensing system be a sustainable solution? - By Panagiotis Roumeliotis

Editor's note: Panagiotis Roumeliotis holds an LL.B. degree from National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece and an LL.M. degree in European and International Tax Law from University of Luxembourg. He is qualified lawyer in Greece and is presently working as tax advisor with KPMG Luxembourg while pursuing, concomitantly, an LL.M. in International Sports Law at Sheffield Hallam University, England. His interest lies in the realm of tax and sports law. He may be contacted by e-mail at ‘p.roumeliotis@hotmail.com’.


Introduction

The landmark Bosman Ruling triggered the Europeanization of the labour market for football players by banning nationality quotas. In turn, in conjunction with the boom in TV revenues, this led to a flourishing transfer market in which players’ agents or intermediaries play a pivotal role, despite having a controversial reputation.

As a preliminary remark, it is important to touch upon the fiduciary duty of sports agents towards their clients. The principal-agent relationship implies that the former employs the agent so as to secure the best employment and/or commercial opportunities. Conversely, the latter is expected to act in the interest of the player as their relationship should be predicated on trust and confidence, as much was made clear in the English Court of Appeal case of Imageview Management Ltd v. Kelvin Jack. Notably, agents are bound to exercise the utmost degree of good faith, honesty and loyalty towards the players.[1]

At the core of this blog lies a comparative case study of the implementation of the FIFA Regulations on working with intermediaries (hereinafter “FIFA RWI”) in eight European FAs covering most of the transfers during the mercato. I will then critically analyze the issues raised by the implementation of the RWI and, as a conclusion, offer some recommendations. More...



Seraing vs. FIFA: Why the rumours of CAS’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Rumours are swirling around the decision (available in French here) of the Court of Appeal of Brussels in the case opposing RFC Seraing United to FIFA (as well as UEFA and the Belgian Football Federation, URSBFA) over the latter’s ban on third-party ownership. The headlines in various media are quite dramatic (see here and here), references are made to a new Bosman, or to a shaken sport’s legal system. Yet, after swiftly reading the decision for the first time on 29th August, I did not have, unlike with the Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München, the immediate impression that this would be a major game-changer for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the role of arbitration in sports in general. After careful re-reading, I understand how certain parts of the ruling can be misunderstood or over-interpreted. I believe that much of the press coverage failed to accurately reflect the reasoning of the court and to capture the real impact of the decision. In order to explain why, I decided to write a short Q&A (including the (not water-proof) English translations of some of the key paragraphs of the decision).

 More...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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



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

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

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Prelude

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

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

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



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

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


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

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



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Is UCI the new ISU? Analysing Velon’s Competition Law Complaint to the European Commission - By Thomas Terraz

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

Is UCI the new ISU? Analysing Velon’s Competition Law Complaint to the European Commission - 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.

 

1.     Introduction

The UCI may soon have to navigate treacherous legal waters after being the subject of two competition law based complaints (see here and here) to the European Commission in less than a month over rule changes and decisions made over the past year. One of these complaints stems from Velon, a private limited company owned by 11 out of the 18 World Tour Teams,[1] and the other comes from the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico, an entity based in Italy representing an amalgamation of stakeholders in Italian professional cycling. While each of the complaints differ on the actual substance, the essence is the same: both are challenging the way the UCI exercises its regulatory power over cycling because of a growing sense that the UCI is impeding the development of cycling as a sport. Albeit in different ways: Velon sees the UCI infringing on its ability to introduce new race structures and technologies; the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico believes the UCI is cutting opportunities for semi-professional cycling teams, the middle ground between the World Tour Teams and the amateur teams.

While some of the details remain vague, this blog will aim to unpack part of the claims made by Velon in light of previous case law from both the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to give a preliminary overview of the main legal issues at stake and some of the potential outcomes of the complaint. First, it will be crucial to understand just who/what Velon is before analyzing the substance of Velon’s complaint.

 

2.     Who / What is Velon?

From an outsider’s point of view, the answer to this question is not so obvious as it may seem. Velon itself is owned by 11 World Tour Teams, which is the pinnacle of the UCI’s men’s team classification. In other words, Velon represents more than half of the largest team stakeholders in road cycling.[2] However, Velon does not just simply advocate for these teams’ interests, but it engages in its own economic activities, which can be categorized into two types. First, it has been the organizer of a new series of races called the Hammer Series (or as the UCI would prefer, simply Hammer) where instead of having individual cyclists (competing on behalf of a team) placing individually in a stage of a race, the entire team is classified through a points-based system. The point of this format is ‘crowning the best team in professional cycling’.

Velon also created a ‘digital content and live data platform’ through VelonLive via a partnership with EY, which was first made public in May of this year. VelonLive essentially collects data from road cycling races in order to give spectators more insight into the race. For example, it collects ‘real-time biometric rider data’, including heart rate, power and cadence data from specific riders in a race to on bike cameras and cameras in team cars. The aim is to try to bring the race closer to the spectator by offering more data and new ways to see and understand the race. Major race organizers, like the Giro D’Italia and the Tour of Flanders have jumped on these new race visualization technologies and used VelonLive this year in their respective races.

So not only does Velon act as a representative of a large group of first-rate road cycling teams, but it also organizes races and is working to develop innovative ways for cycling fans to experience road cycling races.

 

3.     The Complaint

Velon, through a press release on their website, announced that it had launched a formal complaint against the UCI to the European Commission on 20 September, 2019 to which it added an ‘Addendum to the Complaint’ on 8 November, 2019. While these press releases and accompanied ‘context notes’ are rather bare in explaining the factual background to the complaint, it is still enough to extract the essence of what is being alleged. At its core, Velon is making a three-pronged complaint against the UCI: first, that the UCI acted in a way that has ‘hampered the development of the Series’ (Hammer Series); secondly, that the UCI is discriminating against women’s cycling by denying the approval of a women’s race that would accompany the already existing men’s race in Hammer Stavanger; lastly, that the amendments to the UCI’s Technical Regulations effectively take away Velon and other race organizers’ control over live race data technologies and were adopted without sufficiently consulting stakeholders.  Concerning the last complaint, Velon seems to be referring to certain amendments from 15 February, 2019 made to the equipment regulations Article 1.3.024ter. The changes essentially introduced a pre-authorization scheme for ‘onboard technology equipment’ in which the UCI or an event organizer with the UCI’s consent must give prior authorization for ‘any intended use by a team or rider’ of such equipment. However, given both the scarce details and length restraints, this blog concentrates on the on the first two elements of the complaint, which are further dissected here.

Velon alleges that the UCI acted to prevent the organization of Hammer races into a series and threatened to not register the men’s Hammer races in the 2020 calendar if Velon proceeded to do so. As of 11 November, 2019, the three men’s Hammer races are still listed in the 2020 calendar, while the women’s Hammer Stavanger race is not listed, since it was rejected by the UCI. Velon also claims that the UCI did not give any reasons for its opposition to the series and that it ‘hampered’ the overall development of the series. Further details are rather murky; however, it is essential to point out that the UCI, like many other SGBs, employs a pre-authorization scheme[3] for cycling events, and it prohibits both teams and individual cyclists (of all levels) in participating in non-authorized third-party events under the threat of sanctions. Individuals may face a one-month suspension and a fine of 50 to 100 CHF.[4] Such an event pre-authorization scheme has been the focal point of two major EU sports competition law cases: the CJEU’s decision in MOTOE and the Commission’s decision concerning the ISU’s eligibility rules. It is likely that if the Commission takes on this case, it will closely scrutinize the UCI’s pre-authorization scheme and its actual application, including the accompanied sanctions. From the outset, it is critical to bear in mind that the CJEU has held that rules of sport governing bodies may escape the prohibitions under Article 101 TFEU  if ‘the consequential effects restrictive of competition are inherent in the pursuit of those objectives (Wouters and Others, paragraph 97) and are proportionate to them’.[5] On the other hand, a dominant undertaking may justify its actions under Article 102 TFEU if it can demonstrate ‘that its conduct is objectively necessary or by demonstrating that its conduct produces substantial efficiencies which outweigh any anti-competitive effects on consumers’.[6]

As a preliminary note, it should be stated that if the Commission decides to pursue the case under Article 102 TFEU, it will not be hard pressed to find the UCI and its respective national federations collectively dominant[7] in the relevant market.[8] The relevant market regarding the Hammer races will most likely be confined to the organization and commercial exploitation of international road cycling races on the worldwide market.[9] Even though the Professional Cycling Council (PCC) adopts the UCI WorldTour calendar, Velon could still contend that the UCI exerts control over its adoption given the composition of the PCC.[10]

 

4.     Analysis of the ‘hampered’ Series and alleged discrimination against women’s cycling

4.1.MOTOE

In MOTOE, ELPA, a Greek motorsport organization, was given the regulatory power through a national law to approve or deny motorsport events in Greece, while also organizing and commercially exploiting such events itself.[11] MOTOE challenged the national law giving ELPA this power after one of its events was not approved. The CJEU ruled that the dual role of ELPA as both a regulator and commercial exploiter was contrary to competition law because it had not given an ‘equality of opportunity’ ‘between the various economic operators’.[12] AG Kokott’s Opinion goes further and describes a ‘conflict of interest’ in which sport governing bodies are placed if they are both the gatekeeper and promoter of sport events.[13] A similar situation in the Commission’s FIA case even resulted in the complete separation of FIA’s ‘commercial and regulatory functions’ in order to cease its breach of EU competition law.[14]

Unlike ELPA, the UCI is not given the power to regulate the events included in its calendar by an act of a state or public body. Nonetheless, it still wields an immense power over the regulation and approval of events in road cycling deriving from its position as the world’s cycling governing body. The UCI also benefits considerably from the registration of events in its calendar, a fact that is quickly verified by having a glance at its yearly financial report,[15] which demonstrates the extent to which it is dependent on revenues connected to its sanctioned events. The UCI can only justify charging fees for events if there is the existence of an official closed calendar of events. Additionally, the UCI itself is an event organizer since it arranges the annual UCI Road World Championships. Therefore, it is very likely that the UCI may be faced with a ‘conflict of interest’ because it holds the keys to its events calendar while having an apparent financial stake in the approval of events.

 At this point, it is also helpful to examine the Commission’s decision in the ISU case which delves in depth on the compatibility of event pre-authorization schemes with EU law.

4.2.The Commission’s ISU Decision

The ISU case concerned two Dutch speed skaters who challenged the ISU eligibility rules precluding them from participating in non-ISU authorized events, subject to a potential lifetime ban (the ban was amended during the proceedings to allow greater flexibility on the sanction but was still found to be contrary to EU law). The concerned skaters wished to participate in IceDerby’s events. IceDerby is an ice-skating events organizer who aimed to create a new race format that would introduce ‘a new type of skating events on a different size track than the ISU recognized track’.[16] This very much echoes some of the fact pattern of the present case in which Hammer seeks to introduce a new road cycling race format. The Commission found that the severity of the sanctions in case of a breach of the ISU’s eligibility rules inherently aimed ‘at preventing athletes from participating in events not authorised by the ISU, resulting in the foreclosure of competing event organizers’.[17] In the end, the case largely turned on whether the ISU’s eligibility rules pursued legitimate objectives and whether they were inherent and proportionate to its aims. The Commission identified that ‘the integrity of the sport, the protection of the athletes’ health and safety and the organisation and proper conduct of sport’ could be considered legitimate objectives but that the ISU’s eligibility rules did not actually pursue any of these objectives.[18] Moreover, the Commission found that the financial and economic interests of the ISU could not be considered legitimate objectives.[19]

In Velon’s complaint, as in the ISU case, there are two connected, yet separate elements that the Commission will most likely have to analyze: (a) the prohibition of participating in non-approved events and the relevant sanctioning framework and (b) the UCI’s events approval process (the pre-authorization scheme). Concerning the former, Pat McQuaid, the former UCI president explained the aim of the rules banning participation in non-approved events in a letter to USA Cycling back in 2013. He explained that it ‘allows for a federative structure’, ‘which is inherent in organised sport and which is essential to being a part of the Olympic movement’. The Commission dismissed this notion in the ISU case when it pointed out that there are several sport federations that do not have an ‘ex-ante control system’ that effectively precludes athletes from participating in third party events.[20] Nevertheless, this stated objective may still fall under the organization and proper function of sport, which was deemed a legitimate objective by the Commission.

However, the issue remains as to whether the UCI’s pre-authorization scheme, the latter element identified above, pursues legitimate objectives while meeting the proportionality requirements.  In other words, why does the UCI oppose the organization of Hammer races in a series and approving a corresponding women’s event? From Velon’s claims, it is questionable whether the UCI has a ‘pre-established objective, nondiscriminatory and proportionate criteria’ in approving events since it claims that it never received an explanation as to why its series was rejected.[21] In addition, the UCI must elaborate its reasoning in denying a women’s Hammer Stavanger event beyond that it ‘was not in the best interest of women’s cycling’. The UCI will have to explain why it not only allegedly threatened to remove Hammer races from the calendar and denied the inclusion of a women’s race but also why it did not provide Velon a full response that gave objective justifications, not tied to any economic or financial interests, as to why it is opposed the organization of a Hammer Series and a women’s Hammer Stavanger race.

In the end, in order for the ISU to keep its event pre-authorization scheme it was required to: (a) ‘provide for sanctions and authorization criteria that are inherent in the pursuit of legitimate objectives’, (b) ‘provide for objective, transparent and non-discriminatory sanctions and authorization criteria’ that are proportionate to its objectives, and (c) ‘provide for an objective, transparent and non-discriminatory procedure for the adoption and effective review of decisions’ concerning the ‘authorisation of speed skating events’.[22] The Commission will likely evaluate the UCI’s pre-authorization scheme in light of these criteria.

4.2.1.    The UCI’s pre-authorisation scheme in light of the ISU criteria

This examination will begin by investigating the second and third criteria before returning to the first criteria. On the second criteria, the UCI lays out the sanctions for participating in ‘forbidden races’ in Part 1 of its Regulations under Article 1.2.021 that plainly states that breaches ‘shall render the licence holder liable to one month’s suspension and a fine of CHF 50 to 100’. Since the sanction is not nearly as draconian as the ISU’s sanctions, the UCI may have a greater chance of arguing that it is proportionate to its objective, although it could still be argued that the sanction does not give much flexibility depending on the circumstances of the case.[23] Concerning the event authorization criteria, the UCI explains the requirements to register a race in the international calendar in the ‘Registration Procedure for UCI Calendars 2020/2020-2021’, which sets out the financial obligations of event organizers, the relevant deadlines, and the documentation[24] that event organizers will have to provide. In addition, the UCI does not have the same intrusive financial disclosure requirements, which was strongly rebuked by the Commission.[25] However, nowhere does it explicitly mention ‘an interest of cycling’ criteria, which makes it a real wonder as to why this was the reason given, according to Velon, concerning the rejection of the women’s Hammer Stavanger race. Consequently, the Commission will have to examine whether the criteria are in practice applied in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner and whether the UCI uses other criteria to assess the inclusion of an event on the international calendar. The Commission did not condone the ISU’s non-exhaustive list of criteria and the broad margin of discretion it had in approving or rejecting event applications.[26]

On the third criteria, the UCI does have a rather transparent process (see flow chart below[27]) concerning the adoption of its calendar, and it also has a process for the review of a rejection of an event application.[28] If the UCI management committee rejects an application, the event organizers may have the opportunity to defend the application. If it does not have this opportunity, the organizer may appeal to the UCI’s arbitral board, however, the decision is final and cannot be appealed further. It is at this point that the UCI’s event pre-authorization scheme may run into further difficulties meeting the ISU criteria because it does not even allow the possibility for the organizer to appeal to the CAS. Even the ISU in its Communication No. 1974 allowed for an appeal to the CAS, which still did not preclude the Commission from questioning the extent an appeals arbitration would ensure the effectiveness of EU competition law, to which it concluded that an appeal to the CAS reinforced the restriction of competition.[29] Against this background, the Commission would likely find the UCI’s grip over the review process restrictive of competition.

Returning to the first of the ISU criteria, the question is whether the UCI’s sanctions and pre-authorization criteria are inherent in the pursuit of a legitimate objective. Considering the above, it is doubtful whether the potentially open list of criteria and the limited effective review of decisions could be considered inherent in the pursuit of a legitimate objective such as ‘the organisation and proper conduct of sport’. Furthermore, Velon’s case may turn on how well it can demonstrate that it has been unjustly put under pressure from the UCI.

4.3. Final thoughts on the ‘hampered’ series

It appears that the UCI has allegedly wielded its regulatory power through its event pre-authorization scheme to force Velon to remove a critical aspect of its races: the series. The UCI’s alleged move is further puzzling by the fact that none of the Hammer races interfere with the men’s or women’s World Tour race calendar (with the exception of Il Lombardia and Hammer Hong Kong), meaning that teams and riders would anyway be available. Even if there was an interference, it is important to keep in mind that professional cycling teams are usually sufficiently large and organized to compete in more than one race in the world simultaneously.

Finally, while the UCI did not actually remove the men’s Hammer races from the calendar, just an imminent threat of doing so may be sufficient to restrict competition. Cyclists are severely discouraged to participate in non-authorized events considering the sanctions they may face. Hence, event organizers, such as Velon, are completely reliant on the UCI to approve their events in order to have any chance at a successful and economically viable event,[30] and consequently, Velon cannot risk losing the UCI’s

approval for the Hammer races. Furthermore, the UCI has in practice already denied a women’s race at Hammer Stavanger, which greatly strengthens Velon’s claims against the UCI. Lastly, given the vagueness of the claim that the UCI overall hampered the development of the Hammer Series, it is possible that there are additional details that have not been publicized that could further support a potential violation of EU competition law by the UCI.

 

5.     Conclusion

Velon has also requested interim measures that would force the UCI’s approval of a women’s race during Hammer Stavanger 2020. However, since interim measures are rarely granted,[31] it is unlikely  Velon will succeed on this front. Nevertheless, based on the discussion above, there are quite a few signs that the UCI has perhaps overstepped its regulatory powers. The UCI’s alleged actions, especially its opposition to the organization of a women’s Hammer Stavanger race, beg the question as to how it will defend its decision as pursuing legitimate objectives and respecting the proportionality requirements. Moreover, it should be recalled that Velon’s complaints also concern the UCI’s equipment regulations and that there is a completely separate complaint from the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico. Thus, due to the large territorial scope and the potentially wide range of actors affected by the UCI’s actions in these cases, it would be a missed opportunity if the Commission declines to further elucidate how sport governing bodies must exercise their regulatory powers in order to comply with EU competition law, especially when their own financial interests may be in play.


[1] Teams include: Bora-Hansgrohe, CCC Team, Deceuninck–QuickStep, EF Education First, Lotto Soudal, Mitchelton-Scott, Team Ineos, Team Jumbo-Visma, Team Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates.

[2] Both Team Sunweb and Trek-Segafredo also operate professional women’s cycling teams.

[3] See Registration Procedure for UCI Calendars: 2020/ 2020-2021, 11 on how the UCI approves events.

[4] See UCI Regulations, Part I: General organization of cycling as a sport, arts 1.2.019, 1.2.020, and 1.2.021 and Part 2 Road Races, art 5.006.

[5] Case C-519/04 David Meca-Medina and Igor Majcen v Commission of the European Communities [2006] ECR I-06991, para 42; See also Commission, ‘White Paper on Sport’ COM/2007/0391 final.

[6] Guidance on the Commission’s enforcement priorities in applying Article 82 of the EC Treaty to abusive exclusionary conduct by dominant undertakings [2009] OJ C45/02, para 28.

[7] See the role of the national federations in handling the event registrations in the flow chart under section 4.2.1.

[8] See Commission, ‘Commission Staff Working Document - The EU and Sport: Background and Context - Accompanying document to the White Paper on Sport’ COM(2007) 391 final, section 2.1.4: ‘sports associations usually have practical monopolies in a given sport and may thus normally be considered dominant in the market of the organization of sport events under Article 82 EC’.

[9] Articles 1.2.002 and 1.2.004 of the UCI Regulations govern the cycling calendars, and it separates road cycling events into different calendars: the international calendar, which includes the UCI WorldTour and continental calendars, and the national calendars to which national federations are responsible. The UCI management committee holds the final say concerning the approval of continental calendars, see flow chart in Registration Procedure for UCI Calendars 2020/ 2020-2021, 11.

[10] The PCC is composed of 12 members (six appointed by UCI management, two representing athletes, two representing the WorldTour Teams and two representing the UCI WorldTour Organizers) and a president nominated by the UCI management (after consultation with the other members). However, given the PCC’s aforementioned composition and the fact that decisions are taken by a simple majority vote, in theory, the UCI only needs to rally its members and the UCI appointed president to ensure a motion is passed. Furthermore, ‘the UCI Executive Committee may suspend the application of regulations adopted by the PCC if it considers that interests of the UCI WorldTour are threatened’, see point 15 of the hyperlinked document.

[11] Case C-49/07 Motosykletistiki Omospondia Ellados NPID (MOTOE) v Elliniko Dimosio [2008] ECLI:EU:C:2008:376.

[12] ibid para 51.

[13] Case C-49/07 Motosykletistiki Omospondia Ellados NPID (MOTOE) v Elliniko Dimosio [2008] ECLI:EU:C:2008:376, Opinion of AG Kokott, para 98.

[14] Commission, ‘Notice published pursuant to Article 19(3) of Council Regulation No 17 concerning Cases COMP/35.163 — Notification of FIA Regulations, COMP/36.638 — Notification by FIA/FOA of agreements relating to the FIA Formula One World Championship, COMP/36.776 — GTR/FIA ' others’ (2001/C 169/03) OJ C 169.

[15] See UCI, Financial/Annual Report 2018, 110.

[16] International Skating Union’s Eligibility rules (CASE AT. 40208) [2017] C(2017) 8240, para 64.

[17] ibid para 168.

[18] ibid para 219.

[19] ibid para 220.

[20] ibid para 252.

[21] ibid para 244.

[22] ibid paras 340-342.

[23] The sanctions under the ISU’s 2014 Eligibility Rules also did not examine the specific circumstances of the infringement. See how the Commission examined this issue in ibid paras 260-262.

[24] UCI Regulations, Part I: General organization of cycling as a sport, art 1.2.009 provides that the organizer must submit the following documentation for the first time a race is organized: ‘- type of race (discipline, speciality, format); - description of the course including total length (in km) and, where applicable, that of stages and circuits; - the type and number of participating teams and/or riders' categories wanted; - financial aspects (prizes, travel and subsistence expenses); - references concerning organization’.

[25] International Skating Union’s Eligibility rules, paras 255-256.

[26] ibid para 257.

[27] Taken from the Registration Procedure for UCI Calendars 2020/ 2020-2021, 11.

[28] UCI Regulations, Part I: General organization of cycling as a sport, art 1.2.013.

[29] See International Skating Union’s Eligibility rules, paras 268-286.

[30] See how this issue is mirrored in ibid paras 68 and 133.

[31] Interim measures were only recently granted after not having been issued for nearly 20 years.

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