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

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2019 - By Tomáš Grell

 Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines


The plight of Hakeem al-Araibi – the 25-year-old refugee footballer who was arrested last November in Bangkok upon his arrival from Australia on the basis of a red notice issued by Interpol in contravention of its own policies which afford protection to refugees and asylum-seekers – continued throughout the month of January. Bahrain – the country Hakeem al-Araibi fled in 2014 due to a (well-founded) fear of persecution stemming from his previous experience when he was imprisoned and tortured as part of the crackdown on pro-democracy athletes who had protested against the royal family during the Arab spring – maintained a firm stance, demanding that Hakeem be extradited to serve a prison sentence over a conviction for vandalism charges, which was allegedly based on coerced confessions and ignored evidence.

While international sports governing bodies were critised from the very beginning for not using enough leverage with the governments of Bahrain and Thailand to ensure that Hakeem’s human rights are protected, they have gradually added their voice to the intense campaign for Hakeem’s release led by civil society groups. FIFA, for example, has sent a letter directly to the Prime Minister of Thailand, urging the Thai authorities ‘to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia at the earliest possible moment, in accordance with the relevant international standards’. Yet many activists have found this action insufficient and called for sporting sanctions to be imposed on the national football associations of Bahrain and Thailand.      

When it looked like Hakeem will continue to be detained in Thailand at least until April this year, the news broke that the Thai authorities agreed to release Hakeem due to the fact that for now the Bahraini government had given up on the idea of bringing Hakeem ‘home’ – a moment that was praised as historic for the sport and human rights movement.

Russia avoids further sanctions from WADA despite missing the deadline for handing over doping data from the Moscow laboratory 

WADA has been back in turmoil ever since the new year began as the Russian authorities failed to provide it with access to crucial doping data from the former Moscow laboratory within the required deadline which expired on 31 December 2018, insisting that the equipment WADA intended to use for the data extraction was not certified under Russian law. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency thus failed to meet one of the two conditions under which its three-year suspension was controversially lifted in September 2018. The missed deadline sparked outrage among many athletes and national anti-doping organisations, who blamed WADA for not applying enough muscle against the Russian authorities.

Following the expiry of the respective deadline, it appeared that further sanctions could be imposed on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, but such an option was on the table only until WADA finally managed to access the Moscow laboratory and retrieve the doping data on 17 January 2019. Shortly thereafter, WADA President Sir Craig Reedie hailed the progress as a major breakthrough for clean sport and members of the WADA Executive Committee agreed that no further sanctions were needed despite the missed deadline. However, doubts remain as to whether the data have not been manipulated. Before WADA delivers on its promise and builds strong cases against the athletes who doped – to be handled by international sports federations – it first needs to do its homework and verify whether the retrieved data are indeed genuine.  

British track cyclist Jessica Varnish not an employee according to UK employment tribunal

On 16 January 2019, an employment tribunal in Manchester rendered a judgment with wider implications for athletes and sports governing bodies in the United Kingdom, ruling that the female track cyclist Jessica Varnish was neither an employee nor a worker of the national governing body British Cycling and the funding agency UK Sport. The 28-year-old multiple medal winner from the world and European championships takes part in professional sport as an independent contractor but sought to establish before the tribunal that she was in fact an employee of the two organisations. This would enable her to sue either organisation for unfair dismissal as she was dropped from the British cycling squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and her funding agreement was not renewed, allegedly in response to her critical remarks about some of the previous coaching decisions.

The tribunal eventually dismissed her challenge, concluding that ‘she was not personally performing work provided by the respondent – rather she was personally performing a commitment to train in accordance with the individual rider agreement in the hope of achieving success at international competitions’. Despite the outcome of the dispute, Jessica Varnish has insisted that her legal challenge contributed to a positive change in the structure, policies and personnel of British Cycling and UK Sport, while both organisations have communicated they had already taken action to strengthen the duty of care and welfare provided to athletes.  


Sports Law Related Decisions

Official Documents and Press Releases


In the news




Academic Materials

International Sports Law Journal



Law in Sport



Upcoming Events

Call for papers - Third Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 24 and 25 October 2019 - Asser Institute

The Editors of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invite you to submit abstracts for the third ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 24 and 25 October 2019 at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ, published by Springer and Asser Press, is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. The conference is a unique occasion to discuss the main legal issues affecting international sports with renowned academic experts and practitioners.

We are delighted to announce the following confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Beckie Scott (Chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Athlete Committee, Olympic Champion, former member of the WADA Executive Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)),
  • Ulrich Haas (Professor of Law at Univerzität Zürich, CAS arbitrator), and
  • Kimberly Morris (Head of FIFA Transfer Matching System (TMS) Integrity and Compliance).

We welcome abstracts from academics and practitioners on any question related to international sports law. We also welcome panel proposals (including a minimum of three presenters) on a specific issue. For this year’s edition, we specifically invite submissions on the following themes:

  • The role of athletes in the governance of international sports
  • The evolution of sports arbitration, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport
  •  The role and functioning of the FIFA transfer system, including the FIFA TMS
  •  The intersection between criminal law and international sports (in particular issues of corruption, match-fixing, human trafficking, tax evasion)
  • Hooliganism
  • Protection of minor athletes
  • Civil and criminal liability relating to injuries in sports

Please send your abstract of 300 words and CV no later than 30 April 2019 to Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2019. All papers presented at the conference are eligible (subjected to peer-review) for publication in a special issue of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference issue of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2019.  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. 250€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please indicate it in your submission. 

A Reflection on the Second Report of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board - By Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands and works as Research Officer for the Centre for Sports and Human Rights. 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 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.


On November 26th, the Human Rights Advisory Board[1] of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) published its second report. This blog provides a summary and brief evaluation of the report, by drawing a comparison to the previous report issued by the Human Rights Advisory Board (hereinafter: the Board) based on the content of the recommendations and FIFA’s efforts to implement the Board’s recommendations. The third part of this blog briefly reflects on the broader implications of some of the new recommendations issued for FIFA’s internal policies. The conclusion provides five more general points of observation on the report. More...

The Kristoffersen ruling: the EFTA Court targets athlete endorsement deals - By Sven Demeulemeester and Niels Verborgh

Editor’s note: Sven Demeulemeester and Niels Verborgh are sports lawyers at the Belgium law firm, Altius.



In its 16 November 2018 judgment, the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States (the EFTA Court) delivered its eagerly awaited ruling in the case involving Henrik Kristoffersen and the Norwegian Ski Federation (NSF). 

On 17 October 2016, Kristoffersen had taken the NSF to the Oslo District Court over the latter’s refusal to let the renowned alpine skier enter into a sponsorship with Red Bull. At stake were the commercial markings on his helmet and headgear in races organised under the NSF’s umbrella. The NSF refused this sponsorship because it had already granted the advertising on helmet and headgear to its own main sponsor, Telenor. Kristoffersen claimed before the Oslo District Court, that the NSF should be ordered to permit him to enter into an individual marketing contract with Red Bull. In the alternative, Kristoffersen claimed damages up to a maximum of NOK 15 million. By a letter of 25 September 2017, the Oslo District Court referred several legal questions to the EFTA Court in view of shedding light on the compatibility of the rules that the NSF had invoked with EEA law.

If rules do not relate to the conduct of the sport itself, but concern sponsorship rights and hence an economic activity, these rules are subject to EEA law. The EFTA Court ruling is important in that it sets out the framework for dealing with - ever more frequent - cases in which an individual athlete’s endorsement deals conflict with the interest of the national or international sports governing bodies (SGBs) that he or she represents in international competitions.More...

Season 2 of football leaks: A review of the first episodes

Season 2 of #FootballLeaks is now underway since more than a week and already a significant number of episodes (all the articles published can be found on the European Investigative Collaborations’ website) covering various aspect of the (lack of) transnational regulation of football have been released (a short German documentary sums up pretty much the state of play). For me, as a legal scholar, this new series of revelations is an exciting opportunity to discuss in much more detail than usual various questions related to the operation of the transnational private regulations of football imposed by FIFA and UEFA (as we already did during the initial football leaks with our series of blogs on TPO in 2015/2016). Much of what has been unveiled was known or suspected by many, but the scope and precision of the documents published makes a difference. At last, the general public, as well as academics, can have certainty about the nature of various shady practices in the world of football. One key characteristic that explains the lack of information usually available is that football, like many international sports, is actually governed by private administrations (formally Swiss associations), which are not subject to the similar obligations in terms of transparency than public ones (e.g. access to document rules, systematic publication of decisions, etc.). In other words, it’s a total black box! The football leaks are offering a rare sneak peak into that box.

Based on what I have read so far (this blog was written on Friday 9 November), there are three main aspects I find worthy of discussion:

  • The (lack of) enforcement of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations
  • The European Super League project and EU competition law
  • The (lack of) separation of powers inside FIFA and UEFA More...

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: Altius

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very happy to finish this series of interviews with Sven Demeulemeester from Altius, a Belgian law firm based in Brussels with a very fine (and academically-minded!) sports law team. 

1. Can you explain to our readers the work of Altius in international sports law? 

Across different sports’ sectors, Altius’ sports law practice advises and assists some of the world’s most high-profile sports governing bodies, clubs and athletes, at both the national and the international level. The team has 6 fully-dedicated sports lawyers and adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, which guarantees a broad range of legal expertise for handling specific cases or wider issues related to the sports industry. We are proud to be independent but, in cross-border matters, are able to tap into a worldwide network.

2. How is it to be an international sports lawyer? What are the advantages and challenges of the job? 

Sports law goes beyond one specific field of law. The multiplicity of legal angles keeps the work interesting, even after years of practising, and ensures that a sports lawyer rarely has a dull moment. The main downside is that the sports industry is fairly conservative and sometimes ‘political’. While the law is one thing, what happens in practice is often another. Bringing about change is not always easy. 

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference? 

 The much-anticipated overhaul of the football transfer system is eagerly anticipated and is worth a thorough debate, also in terms of possible, viable alternatives. The impact of EU law - both internal market rules, competition law and fundamental rights – can hardly be underestimated. Also, dispute resolution mechanisms within the realm of sports - and an accessible, transparent, independent and impartial sports arbitration in particular - will remain a ‘hot’ topic in the sector for years to come. Furthermore, ethics and integrity issues should remain top of the agenda, as is being demonstrated by the current money-laundering and match-fixing allegations in Belgium. Finally, in a sector in which the use of data is rife, the newly-adopted GDPR’s impact remains somewhat ‘under the radar’.

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference? 

The ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference is refreshing, both in terms of its topics and participants. The academic and content-driven approach is a welcome addition to other sports law conferences in which the networking aspect often predominates.

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: LawInSport

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very happy to continue this series of interviews with LawInSport, a knowledge hub and educational platform for the community of people working in or with an interest in sport and the law  (many thanks to LawInSport's CEO Sean Cottrell for kindly responding to our questions).

1. Can you explain to our readers what LawInSport is about?

LawInSport is a knowledge hub, educational platform and global community of people working in or with an interest in sport and the law.

Our objective is to help people ‘understand the rules of the game™’. What does this mean? It means people in sport having access to information that enables them to have a better understanding the rules and regulations that govern the relationships, behaviours and processes within sports. This in turn creates a foundation based on the principles of the rule of law, protecting the rights of everyone working and participating in sport.  

2. What are the challenges and perks of being an international sports law 'reporter’ ?

I do not consider myself a reporter, but as the head of an organisation that has a responsibility to provide the highest quality information on legal issues in sport,  focusing on what is important and not just what is popular, whilst trying to stay free from conflicts of interests. These two issues, popularism and conflict of interest, are the two of the biggest challenges.

Popularism and the drive to win attention is, in my opinion, causing a lack of discipline when it comes to factual and legal accuracy in coverage of sports law issues, which on their own may seem harmless, but can cause harm to organisations and individuals (athletes, employees, etc).

Conflict of interest will obviously arise in such a small sector, however, there is not a commonly agreed standard in internationally, let alone in sports law. Therefore, one needs to be diligent when consuming information to understand why someone may or may not hold a point of view, if they have paid to get it published or has someone paid them to write it. For this reason it can be hard to get a full picture of what is happening in the sector.

In terms of perks, I get to do something that is both challenging and rewarding on a daily basis, and as  a business owner I have the additional benefit of work with colleagues I enjoy working with. I have the privilege of meeting world leaders in their respective fields (law, sport, business, science, education, etc) and gain insights from them about their work and life experiences which is incredibly enriching.  Getting access to speak to the people who are on the front line, either athletes, coaches, lawyers, scientists, rather than from a third party is great as it gives you an unfiltered insight into what is going on.

On the other side of things, we get the opportunity to help people through either having a better understand of the legal and regulatory issues in sports or to understand how to progress themselves towards their goals academically and professionally is probably the most rewarding part of my work. 

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference?

  • The long-term implications of human rights law in sport;
  • The importance of meaningful of stakeholder consultation in the creation and drafting of regulations in sport;
  • Effective international safeguarding in sport.

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference?

We support ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference as it is a non-profit conference that’s purpose is to create a space to explore a wide range of legal issues in sport. The conference is an academic conference that does a great job in bringing a diverse range of speakers and delegates. The discussions and debates that take place will benefit the wider sports law community.  Therefore, as LawInSport’s objective is focused on education it was a straight forward decision to support the conferences as it is aligned with our objectives. 

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: Women in Sports Law

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very proud to start this series of interviews with Women in Sports Law, an association launched in 2016 and which has already done so much to promote and advance the role of women in international sports law (many thanks to Despina Mavromati for kindly responding to our questions on behalf of WISLaw).

1. Can you explain to our readers what WISLaw is about?

Women In Sports Law (WISLaw, is an international association based in Lausanne that unites more than 300 women from 50 countries specializing in sports law. It is a professional network that aims at increasing the visibility of women working in the sector, through a detailed members’ directory and various small-scale talks and events held in different countries around the world. These small-scale events give the opportunity to include everyone in the discussion and enhance the members’ network. Men from the sector and numerous arbitral institutions, conference organizers and universities have come to actively support our initiative.

2. What are the challenges and opportunities for women getting involved in international sports law?

Women used to be invisible in this sector. All-male panels were typical at conferences and nobody seemed to notice this flagrant lack of diversity. WISLaw created this much-needed platform to increase visibility through the members’ directory and through a series of small-scale events where all members, independent of their status or seniority, can attend and be speakers.

Another difficulty is that European football (soccer) is traditionally considered to be a “male-dominated” sport, despite the fact that there are so many great female football teams around the world. The same misperception applies to sports lawyers!

Last, there is a huge number of women lawyers working as in-house counsel and as sports administrators. There is a glass ceiling for many of those women, and the WISLaw annual evaluation of the participation of women in those positions attempts to target their issues and shed more light into this specific problem.

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference?

The ISLJ Annual Conference has already set up a great lineup of topics combining academic and more practical discussions in the most recent issues in international sports law. 

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference?

The Asser International Sports Law Centre has promoted and supported WISLaw since the very beginning. The ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference was the first big conference to officially include a WISLaw lunch talk in its program, allowing thus the conference attendees to be part of a wider informal discussion on a specific topical issue and raise their questions with respect to WISLaw. Another important reason why WISLaw supports this conference is because the conference organizers are making sincere efforts to have increased diversity in the panels : this year’s ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference is probably the first sports law conference to come close to a full gender balance in its panels, with 40% of the speakers being women !

The proportionality test under Art. 101 (1) TFEU and the legitimacy of UEFA Financial fair-play regulations: From the Meca Medina and Majcen ruling of the European Court of Justice to the Galatasaray and AC Milan awards of the Court of Arbitration for Sport – By Stefano Bastianon

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


1. On the 20th July 2018, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (hereinafter referred to as “CAS”) issued its decision in the arbitration procedure between AC Milan and UEFA. The subject matter of this arbitration procedure was the appeal filed by AC Milan against the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Financial Control Body dated 19th June 2018 (hereinafter referred to as “the contested decision”). As many likely know, the CAS has acknowledged that, although AC Milan was in breach of the break-even requirement, the related exclusion of the club from the UEFA Europe League was not proportionate. To date, it is the first time the CAS clearly ruled that the sanction of exclusion from UEFA club competitions for a breach of the break-even requirement was not proportionate. For this reason the CAS award represents a good opportunity to reflect on the proportionality test under Art. 101 TFEU and the relationship between the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (hereinafter referred to as “ECJ”) in the Meca Medina and Majcen affair and the very recent case-law of the CAS. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - 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

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - By Thomas Terraz

On October 24th and 25th 2019, the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the International Sports Law Centre hosted the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference for a third year in a row, bringing together a group of academics and practitioners from around the world. This year’s conference celebrated the 20th year of the International Sports Law Journal, which was originally started by Robert Siekmann. Over the past 20 years, the ISLJ has aimed to be a truly international journal that addresses global topics in sports law while keeping the highest academic standards.

With this background, the conference facilitated discussions and exchanges over six differently themed panels on international sports law’s most pertinent issues and gave participants wide opportunities to engage with one another. Additionally, this year’s edition also had the great honor of hosting two distinguished keynote speakers, Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas, who were able to share their wealth of experience and knowledge with the conference participants.

The following report aims to give an overview of the ISLJ Conference 2019 to extract and underline the fundamental ideas raised by the different speakers.

Day 1:
Opening Speech: Moya Dodd

The conference was kickstarted by Moya Dodd, a former FIFA Council member and current ICAS member, who gave an engaging presentation on her experiences as an athlete in boardrooms of FIFA. After retiring from the Australian National Team, she began to become involved in sport governance, starting as a member of the AFC Executive Committee. She eventually made her way to the FIFA Executive Committee where she made it a priority to represent groups who did not have a voice in FIFA’s governance. In this vain, she launched a task force for women, which helped spearhead reforms that brought gender issues into light. Ms. Dodd also explained how she worked hard to keep connections with persons outside of the sports governing structures in order to represent them from the inside. In the end, she explained how the experience playing sports helped develop skills that became invaluable in the boardroom. This includes, teamwork skills, constantly striving to improve oneself, valuing persons for their capabilities, and the ability to deal with setbacks. This discussion led particularly well into the first panel of the conference, which took a magnifying glass to the role of athletes in sports governance.

Panel 1: Where is the athletes’ voice? The (il)legitimacy of international sports governing bodies

Antoine Duval and Marjolaine Viret began the first panel of the conference by exploring the athletes’ voice in the fight against doping and particularly within WADA. They explained that in order for the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) and WADA to be considered legitimate, the actors most affected by its policies, athletes, would need to be participating meaningfully and have a real input in the decision-making process. This input requires an actual reflection in the regulatory output of WADA, and it entails not only consulting with athlete stakeholders but that representatives have voting powers on both the code revision process and the administrative bodies of WADA. Their study examines to what extent the current operation of WADA is in line with these ideals by examining the role of athletes in WADA’s bodies and its actual regulatory output.

Mark Conrad studied the issue from a wider lens by explaining how the current representation of athletes in sports governing bodies is inadequate and why there needs to be a fundamental rethinking of the current athlete committee model. This model, he explains, is ineffective in truly representing athletes’ interests, since their mandates are not clearly defined and greatly rely on the good favor of the federations’ management. As an alternative model, he presented a collective bargaining approach, which already is widespread in North America, in which athlete unions would represent athletes’ interests in a bargaining process with the sports governing bodies. Such a model would give the athletes ‘real’ representation by relying on their strength in numbers and by negotiating agreements that would entitle them to specific rights. These agreements could cover salary standards, salary controls, free agency, drug testing and many other aspects of the employment relationship. He concluded by discussing the general pros and cons of such a model but that overall, since athletes would actually have an effective representation, it would overcome any of the negative effects of such a model.

Panel 2: Criminal law and sports – criminal law of sports

The day’s conversation then shifted from sports governance structures to the application of criminal law in sports. Björn Hessert kicked off the panel with a presentation on the cooperation and reporting obligations in sport investigations. He began by illustrating the catch-22 situation in which athletes may find themselves during an investigation. On the one hand, they are required to ‘cooperate fully’ with the investigation authorities, including providing self-incriminating evidence, or face sanctions. If they choose not to cooperate, then they also receive sanctions. This state of affairs may have had a direct impact on the skyrocketing number of sanctions over the past few years involving reporting and cooperation violations. Hessert argued that this situation could be significantly improved by introducing fundamental procedural rights found in criminal law systems to these investigations, such as the right to remain silent and the privilege against self-incrimination. These rights are found in article 6 (1) and (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Such a regime would force sports governing bodies to be creative in finding new strategies to investigate and prosecute alleged sports rule violations.

After Hessert’s presentation on procedural rights in sports investigations, Jan Exner took the podium to discuss the proportionality of the sanctions in the anti-doping code. He began by giving an overview of the characteristics of the sanctions in the WADC, which include a fixed sanction framework and limited flexibility for panels hearing alleged doping rule violations. He explained that due to the rigid sanction framework of the WADC, panels hearing a doping dispute are unable to go below limits set therein and that in certain exceptional cases, these sanctions may be disproportionate. Exner then illustrated some of the negative effects of the current system in which CAS panels hearing similar factual circumstances end up with delivering different sanctions. Such a predicament, Exner argues, goes against any equality of outcome of the proceedings. In the end, he contended that there should be a revised sanction framework that would allow hearing panels to go below the limits set in the WADC as long as certain criteria are met in order to ensure that the sanction is proportionate to the rule violation.

Ruby Panchal closed the panel by shining a light on match-fixing. She argued that sports governing bodies have been so concerned with doping that match fixing has not been sufficiently addressed. Much like how anti-doping rules have been significantly developed over time, anti-match-fixing laws also need to be made far more robust. Panchal explained that certain factors essential for the development of lex sportiva will be essential in the growth of this field. These factors include the validity of unilateral action clauses, a growing relationship between sports governing bodies and state courts, the creation of evidentiary processes in disciplinary proceedings, and co-operation between sports governing bodies and investigative authorities. Panchal closed her talk by examining the approach of the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (Macolin Convention) in addressing this regulatory void. While the Convention takes a ‘hopeful approach’, the question remains open as to how effective it will be in combatting match-fixing.

Panel 3: Transfer systems in international sports

The last panel of day one of the conference took a deep dive into transfer systems in international sports. Jan Łukomski opened the panel by studying the finalization of international football transfers and professional football players’ contracts. There are many kinds of agreements that could be potentially involved in the transfer of a football player, including offers, pre-contracts, definite contracts, that have significantly different legal effects. For example, the CAS explained in CAS 2008/A/1589 MKE Ankaragücü Spor Külübü v. J. that the difference between a pre-contract and a contract ‘is that the parties to the ‘precontract’ have not agreed on the essential elements of the contract or at least the “precontract” does not reflect the final agreement’. This is just one example of a growing CAS case law on issues of contractual validity of football contracts. In the end, Łukomski explains that often times disputes on contractual validity stems from ‘mistakes’ that were made by clubs and players during the negotiation process.

Following the examination of the transfer system in football, Xavier Mansat gave the participants a small peek into the archaic transfer model currently in place in volleyball. He took the audience on a journey of the transfer of one volleyball player by emphasizing all the different steps and actors participating in the process. Mansat also elucidated the various administrative and transfer fees that are taken out at every step by the involved actors. He closed the panel by explaining that the current system is in the process of being challenged by a new stakeholder group, Association des Clubs Professionels de Volleyball (ACPV) and that it is likely that some of the components in the current transfer framework are incompliant with EU law.

Day one ended with an opportunity for the conference participants to unwind over a dinner in the charming harbor of Scheveningen.

Day 2:

Keynote lecture: Ulrich Haas

Day two of the ISLJ Conference was launched by a lecture from Ulrich Haas, who gave an in-depth lecture on the nature and function of association tribunals in international sport. Haas underlined that while association tribunals are the most important dispute resolution mechanism in practice, legal literature on them is scarce. The sheer volume of the decisions made by association tribunals is staggering. In the case of FIFA, the decisions are around 10000-11000 per year. After having demonstrated the incredible importance of association tribunals to the functioning of sports governance, he outlined their legal basis, which is based in the freedom of association (in Switzerland and Germany). Austria, on the other hand, makes association tribunals mandatory. Haas then began to unpack the differences between authoritarian decision-making, used by association tribunals, compared to other forms of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. Interestingly, he concluded that while all these differences can serve as indications of whether a body is an association tribunal or an arbitration panel, there is no set international standard to make this determination. Hence, there is a need to refer to national law in order to fill this void. In conclusion, Haas endorsed a procedural law approach over a substantive law approach to determine the appeals status of an association body’s decision.

Panel 4: Rethinking sports arbitration

The first panel of day two of the ISLJ Conference took to rethinking the current framework of sports arbitration. Veronica Lavista was first to go and presented her findings on the influence of international dispute settlement on sports. She took an empirical approach to her study by going through CAS’ case law and placing the arbitrators in those cases into different categories based on their background, such as a sports law, corporate law, or international law specialist. Based on this determination, Lavista was then able to identify that the makeup of the panel had an appreciable influence on the extent certain legal issues were discussed in the award. Lavista also underlined some of the overlaps between international dispute resolution and the CAS, including the voluntary nature of their jurisdiction, the use of ad hoc panels, and the explosion of case law over the past few decades.

Next up, Daniela Mirante and Artur Flaminio da Silva offered a case study in the Portuguese context of sports arbitration to argue that perhaps switching to a mandatory arbitration scheme would alleviate many of the issues currently present in the ‘voluntary’ arbitration model. Portugal created a permanent sport arbitration center in the Portuguese Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD), which has a mandatory jurisdiction for ‘all sports disputes related to administrative law’. After underlining many of the issues plaguing the TAD, such as institutional independence and arbitrators’ impartiality, the confidentiality of the awards, and the high costs of arbitration, they explained the advantages of mandatory sports arbitration. First, it would get rid of the concept of consent, which they argue is a fiction since athletes must consent to arbitration or else not be able to participate in the sport. It would also reduce the time needed to render a decision since there would be less room for parties to challenge the jurisdiction of arbitration panels. They concluded that mandatory arbitration definitely could be a future path for sports arbitration but that it would have to follow a different path than the current Portuguese model.

To close the panel, Massimiliano Trovato brought forth his three ‘radical’ proposals to ensure the legitimacy of the CAS. Before unveiling the three proposals, Trovato gave a brief historical overview of the CAS and its relationship with the Olympic Movement to contextualize his arguments. He highlighted the interactions between the two and how certain individuals have held top positions in the CAS bodies and other sports governing bodies, like the IOC, leading to potential conflicts of interest. At this point, Trovato revealed his first proposal that article S4 and S6 of the CAS Statutes be amended to make the ICAS into a body ran by the arbitrators themselves, since they have both the ability and expertise to run the CAS for the interests of all the parties involved. Second, Trovato argued that the closed-list system of arbitrators be abolished under article S14 and move towards an open system. The quality of the arbitrators, Trovato explained, could still be assured by introducing certain minimum eligibility requirements for the arbitrators. The third proposal Trovato presented was that Article R65 be altered to make sports governing bodies responsible for the costs of arbitration, not the parties.  Shifting the burden would make sports governing bodies more disciplined and would help compensate for the fact that athletes are essentially forced into arbitration.

Book L(a)unch: The Court of Arbitration for Sport and its Jurisprudence: An Empirical Inquiry Into Lex Sportiva by Johan Lindholm

During lunchtime, the conference participants were treated to a very special book launch from the ISLJ’s chief editor, Johan Lindholm. His book, The Court of Arbitration for Sport and its Jurisprudence: An Empirical Inquiry Into Lex Sportiva, is an exhaustive and thorough empirical study into the CAS’ jurisprudence, its arbitrators, and its parties. Covering a period of 30 years (1984-2014), the book tries to unpack some of the most often raised arguments against the CAS and puts these claims to the ultimate test. For example, whether particular arbitrators are more likely to be chosen by certain parties. Furthermore, the book, through impressive data visualization graphics, illustrates a variety of intriguing data samples, including what kind of cases the CAS has deliberated and to what extent the CAS can call itself a global international sports tribunal.

Panel 5: Revisiting the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS

Following the book l(a)unch, the next panel treated conference participants to a fascinating debate on the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS. Velislava Hristova launched the panel by exploring the intersection between human rights and sports arbitration and in particular, the right to a public hearing in sport cases. She used the ECtHR case of Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland to illustrate the topic. Before jumping into the legal issues, Hristova gave an overview of the nearly 10-year legal history of the Pechstein Saga. She explained that the case boiled down to four main issues: whether Article 6 (1) ECHR (right to a fair and public hearing) could be applicable to sports arbitration, whether Pechstein waived this right, whether the CAS is sufficiently independent and impartial, and whether the lack of a public hearing in this case actually violated Article 6 (1). Next, Hristova analyzed the findings of the ECtHR on these four issues and explained how the ECtHR concluded that while the right to a public hearing is not absolute, the lack of a public hearing in Pechstein’s case was a violation because of the compulsory nature of sports arbitration, the fact that a public hearing was requested, the ‘nature and complexity’ of the case, and since the factual background had been contested. In the end, athletes, arbitrators and the CAS will have to take this landmark ruling into account moving forward.

Antonio Rigozzi further delved into the issue of the (in)dependence of the CAS by not only looking at the Pechstein case but also the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) decision in the Seraing case and how these rulings could potentially impact the CAS. Concerning the Seraing case, he explained how the SFT had to determine whether the CAS is structurally independent, which differs from the Lazutina case because the SFT had to determine whether it was independent from FIFA, not the IOC. In the end, the SFT did not find it necessary to depart from its analysis in the Lazutina case and deemed the CAS to be independent so long there were no overriding reasons indicating that FIFA is given special treatment. Furthermore, the SFT noted that the CAS had made significant efforts to strengthen its independence by improving its structure and functioning. Rigozzi finished by drawing some conclusions from the Pechstein and Seraing cases. First, the Pechstein case has made public hearings at the CAS an inevitability now that Article 6 (1) ECHR is fully applicable to its proceedings, and the CAS will have to improve the optics concerning its rules on the appointment of the president of the panel. Secondly, the SFT in the Seraing made clear that while CAS could be further ‘perfected’, it was not the proper institution to take on such a project. Instead, it placed the responsibility in the hands of the Swiss legislator, and it is yet to be seen whether they will actually take the initiative to introduce change.

The panel was brought to a close by Tom Seamer, who plunged into the issue of the independence and impartiality of CAS arbitrators. He argued that there could be two main areas of improvement in this regard, the ICAS and the appointment of arbitrators. Concerning the ICAS, only minor changes would be necessary to drastically improve the status quo, such as ensuring that its president be neutral and has no connections with any sports governing body, athlete or clubs. Secondly, Seamer supported the contention that certain arbitrators are repeatedly nominated by the same parties and often make decisions in favor of that particular party. He explained that in order to test this theory, one must only look at the period in which the particular arbitrator was on the approved CAS list and then determine the proportion of cases they were called upon by a particular party during that same period. Seamer closed by asserting more needed to be done in order to tackle these issues, while acknowledging some of the challenges ahead.

Panel 6: The future of sports: sports law of the future

The last panel of the conference took the opportunity to look forward into the future of sports law and discussed the growing fields of e-sports and extreme sports. On e-sports, Cedric Aghey tackled the issue of e-sports governance and how it could be potentially integrated into the current sports governing structures, since currently there is an unharmonized e-sport structure. At the moment, e-sports relies on a variety of stakeholders operating at different levels, such as games publishers, e-sports governing bodies, and investors. In order to address this situation, Aghey argued that the e-sports definition should be narrowed only to video games that seek to emulate ‘traditional’ sports. This would allow for a rather seamless integration of these e-sports into the already existing sports federations. For example, FIFA would absorb its FIFA e-sport counterpart.

Nick Poggenklaas also presented on e-sports but instead took a wider definition of e-sports by not only limiting e-sports to games based on ‘traditional’ sports. He contended that the current regulatory framework present in e-sports is inadequate to sufficiently protect minors from the negative aspects of sport. This issue is particularly pertinent, since minors make an exceptionally large share of the e-sport athletes, which is especially worrying since there have been cases of doping and sexual and financial abuse. Such cases question whether enough is being done to really combat these problems. Thus, Poggenklaas put forth several proposals that could substantially improve the situation of minor’s rights in e-sports. He submitted that by creating an overarching e-sport governing body that would manage an abuse hotline, minors would be subject to a more rigid regulatory regime that would at least provide them with the opportunity and means to raise their concerns. Furthermore, Poggenklaas believes that the creation of players unions and further parent involvement would also help to ensure that minors’ interests are sufficiently protected.

Lastly, Angela Busacca examined extreme sports and the kind of civil liability applicable to these activities. She first described the elements and different classifications of extreme sports under Italian law. For instance, extreme sports have a component of risk and require a certain interaction with nature. They can also be placed on a scale ranging from sports that have a set of pre-defined rules to those where there are no pre-defined rules and consequently giving a free range for the athlete’s actions. In addition, extreme sports are categorized by those that have a clear governance organizational structure to those who do not have a defined structure. All these aforementioned components can have an impact on the establishment of civil liability and whom is responsible in case of an accident.


After two intense days of discussion and debate of international sports law’s most pressing topics through six differently themed panels, two keynote lectures, eighteen invited speakers, and many other highlights, the ISLJ Conference 2019 came to a close. The Asser International Sports Law Centre was honored to have been able to host another successful edition. On behalf of the organizers, we would like to thank all the speakers and participants who made this conference such a success and look forward to seeing you all back at the Institute soon!

Comments are closed