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

Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

Forget the European Championship currently held in France or the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. Doping scandals are making the headlines more than ever in 2016. From tennis star Sharapova receiving a two-year ban for her use of the controversial ‘meldonium’, to the seemingly never-ending doping scandals in athletics. As if this was not enough, a new chapter was added on 14 June to one of the most infamous and obscure doping sagas in history: the Operación Puerto.

The special criminal appeal chamber,  the Audiencia Provincial, has held that the more than 200 blood bags of professional athletes that have been at the center of the investigations since 2006 can be delivered to the relevant sporting authorities, such as the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD), WADA, the UCI and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In other words, there is now a good chance that the identities of the involved athletes might eventually be revealed.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/cycling/9834122/Operation-Puerto-doctor-Eufemiano-Fuentes-treated-tennis-players-athletes-footballers-and-a-boxer.html

This case note will analyze the court’s ruling and summarize its most important findings. Given the amount of time passed since the scandal first came to light (2004), the blog will commence with a short background summary of the relevant facts. More...

FIBA/Euroleague: Basketball’s EU Competition Law Champions League- first leg in the Landgericht München. By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 3 June 2016, the Landgericht München (“Munich Regional Court”) ordered temporary injunctions against the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) and FIBA Europe, prohibiting them from sanctioning clubs who want to participate in competitions organized by Euroleague Commercial Assets (“ECA”). The reasoning of the Court is based on breaches of German and EU competition law provisions. FIBA and FIBA Europe are, according to the judge, abusing their dominant position by excluding or threatening to exclude national teams from their international competitions because of the participation of their clubs in the Euroleague. This decision is the first judicial step taken in the ongoing legal battle between FIBA and ECA over the organization of European basketball competitions.

This judgment raises several interesting points with regard to how the national judge deals with the alleged abuse of a dominant position by European and international federations. A few questions arise regarding the competence of the Munich Regional Court that may be interesting to first look at in the wake of an appeal before examining the substance of the case. More...

The Müller case: Revisiting the compatibility of fixed term contracts in football with EU Law. By Kester Mekenkamp

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 17 February 2016, the Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz delivered its highly anticipated decision in the appeal proceedings between German goalkeeper Heinz Müller and his former employer, German Bundesliga club Mainz 05.[1] The main legal debate revolved around the question (in general terms) whether the use of a fixed term contract in professional football is compatible with German and EU law. 

In first instance (see our earlier blog posts, here and here), the Arbeitsgericht Mainz had ruled that the ‘objective reasons’ provided in Section 14 (1) of the German Part-time and Fixed-term Employment Act (Gesetz über Teilzeitarbeit und befristete Arbeitsverträge, “TzBfG”), the national law implementing EU Directive 1999/70/EC on fixed-term work, were not applicable to the contract between Müller and Mainz 05 and therefore could not justify the definite nature of that contract.[2] In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.[3] Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like implications, if held up by higher courts.[4] More...

The BGH’s Pechstein Decision: A Surrealist Ruling



The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Highest Civil Court in Germany, in the Pechstein case was eagerly awaited. At the hearing in March, the Court decided it would pronounce itself on 7 June, and so it did. Let’s cut things short: it is a striking victory for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and a bitter (provisory?) ending for Claudia Pechstein. The BGH’s press release is abundantly clear that the German judges endorsed the CAS uncritically on the two main legal questions: validity of forced CAS arbitration and the independence of the CAS. The CAS and ISU are surely right to rejoice and celebrate the ruling in their respective press releases that quickly ensued (here and here). At first glance, this ruling will be comforting the CAS’ jurisdiction for years to come. Claudia Pechstein’s dire financial fate - she faces up to 300 000€ in legal fees – will serve as a powerful repellent for any athlete willing to challenge the CAS.More...



The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary revisited? (Part 2)

On 18 May 2016, the day the first part of this blog was published, the Commission said in response to the Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller’s question, that it had “not specifically monitored the tax relief (…) but would consider doing so. The Commission cannot prejudge the steps that it might take following such monitoring. However, the Commission thanks (Niedermüller) for drawing its attention to the report of Transparency International.”

With the actual implementation in Hungary appearing to deviate from the original objectives and conditions of the aid scheme, as discussed in part 1 of this blog, a possible monitoring exercise by the Commission of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme seems appropriate. The question remains, however, whether the Commission follows up on the intent of monitoring, or whether the intent should be regarded as empty words. This second part of the blog will outline the rules on reviewing and monitoring (existing) aid, both substantively and procedurally. It will determine, inter alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission to act and, if so, in what way. More...

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)

The tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 9 November 2011 marked a turning point as regards the Commission’s decisional practice in the field of State aid and sport. Between this date and early 2014, the Commission reached a total of ten decisions on State aid to sport infrastructure and opened four formal investigations into alleged State aid to professional football clubs like Real Madrid and Valencia CF.[1] As a result of the experience gained from the decision making, it was decided to include a Section on State aid to sport infrastructure in the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation. Moreover, many people, including myself, held that Commission scrutiny in this sector would serve to achieve better accountability and transparency in sport governance.[2]

Yet, a recent report by Transparency International (TI), published in October 2015, raises questions about the efficiency of State aid enforcement in the sport sector. The report analyzes the results and effects of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme and concludes that:

“(T)he sports financing system suffers from transparency issues and corruption risks. (…) The lack of transparency poses a serious risk of collusion between politics and business which leads to opaque lobbying. This might be a reason for the disproportionateness found in the distribution of the subsidies, which is most apparent in the case of (football) and (the football club) Felcsút.”[3]

In other words, according to TI, selective economic advantages from public resources are being granted to professional football clubs, irrespective of the tax benefit scheme greenlighted by the Commission or, in fact, because of the tax benefit scheme. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2016. By Marine Montejo

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

This month saw the conflict between FIBA Europe and the Euroleague (more precisely its private club-supported organizing body, Euroleague Commercial Assets or ‘ECA’) becoming further entrenched. This dispute commenced with FIBA creating a rival Basketball Champions League, starting from the 2016-2017 season with the hope to reinstate their hold over the organization of European championships. The ECA, a private body that oversees the Euroleague and Eurocup, not only decided to maintain its competitions but also announced it would reduce them to a closed, franchise-based league following a joint-venture with IMG. In retaliation, FIBA Europe suspended fourteen federations of its competition (with the support of FIBA) due to their support for the Euroleague project.More...


The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? More...

Guest Blog - Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): Legal Issues by Laura Donnellan

Editor's note: Laura Donnellan is a lecturer at University of Limerick. You can find her latest publications here.


Introduction

On Tuesday the 12th of April, João Carvalho passed away in the Beaumont Hospital after sustaining serious injuries from a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Dublin on the previous Saturday. The fighter was knocked out in the third round of a welterweight fight against Charlie Ward. Aside from the tragic loss of life, the death of Carvalho raises a number of interesting legal issues. This opinion piece will discuss the possible civil and criminal liability that may result from the untimely death of the Portuguese fighter.

It is important to note at the outset that MMA has few rules and permits wrestling holds, punching, marital arts throws and kicking. MMA appears to have little regulation and a lack of universally accepted, standardised rules. There is no international federation or governing body that regulates MMA. It is largely self-regulated. MMA is not recognised under the sports and governing bodies listed by Sport Ireland, the statutory body established by the Sport Ireland Act 2015 which replaced the Irish Sports Council. MMA is considered a properly constituted sport so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, there are appropriate safety procedures, the rules are enforced by independent referees, and it appropriately administered.

The Acting Minister for Sport, Michael Ring, has called for the regulation of MMA. Currently there are no minimum requirements when it comes to medical personnel; nor are there any particular requirements as to training of medical personnel. The promoter decides how many doctors and paramedics are to be stationed at events. In February 2014 Minister Ring wrote to 17 MMA promoters in Ireland requesting that they implement safety precautions in line with those used by other sports including boxing and rugby.

Despite this lack of regulation, this does not exempt MMA from legal liability as the discussion below demonstrates.More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Nudging, not crushing, private orders - Private Ordering in Sports and the Role of States - By Branislav Hock

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

Nudging, not crushing, private orders - Private Ordering in Sports and the Role of States - By Branislav Hock

Editor's note: Branislav Hock (@bran_hock)  is PhD Researcher at the Tilburg Law and Economics Center at Tilburg University. His areas of interests are transnational regulation of corruption, public procurement, extraterritoriality, compliance, law and economics, and private ordering. Author can be contacted via email: b.hock@uvt.nl.


This blog post is based on a paper co-authored with Suren Gomtsian, Annemarie Balvert, and Oguz Kirman.


Game-changers that lead to financial success, political revolutions, or innovation, do not come “out of the blue”; they come from a logical sequence of events supported by well-functioning institutions. Many of these game changers originate from transnational private actors—such as business and sport associations—that produce positive spillover effects on the economy. In a recent paper forthcoming in the Yale Journal of International Law, using the example of FIFA, football’s world-governing body, with co-authors Suren Gomtsian, Annemarie Balvert, and Oguz Kirman, we show that the success of private associations in creating and maintaining private legal order depends on the ability to offer better institutions than their public alternatives do. While financial scandals and other global problems that relate to the functioning of these private member associations may call for public interventions, such interventions, in most cases, should aim to improve private orders rather than replace them.

FIFA example – from gentlemen’s agreements to a rich global regulator

FIFA is the governing body for football (or soccer, as it is known in some countries). Founded in 1904 under Swiss law by seven football associations, just 40 years ago, FIFA was a small gentlemen's club with a staff of 11, far from politics, which produced little cash. Since then, it has evolved into a powerful organization generating billions of dollars in annual revenues through sales of media and marketing rights; now it employs hundreds. The rise of FIFA has been a continuous process that was made possible by the reluctance of states and supra-national organizations such as the European Union (EU) to intervene in the governance of sport, particularly football. Hence, supported by and benefitting from the special treatment of sports, FIFA filled the regulatory gap and strengthened its status as a private regulator.

Besides the rules of the game, FIFA’s legal order includes privately-designed rules of cooperation and a complex organizational structure that spans every involved party including players, clubs, coaches, managers, club investors, officials, sponsors, and spectators. The centerpiece of the relations regulated by the rules of FIFA are employment-related questions. Most importantly, FIFA’s Transfer Regulations create strong tensions between FIFA’s regulatory autonomy and public orders such as the sovereign jurisdictions of FIFA’s member associations and supra-national organizations. Tensions between different levels of employment rules are especially visible in matters related to equality and/or non-discrimination of workers, the treatment and qualification of minors, the freedom to choose employment, and the freedom of movement. For example, the inability of players to terminate their contracts without cause, before expiry and without paying compensation, is in stark contrast with traditional employment laws, according to which employees are free to end employment without cause by prior notice. Figure below illustrates the relationships between the different levels of “football ordering” and public ordering when it comes to labor rules.

The Relationship of Labor Rules in Football

Furthermore, FIFA has also private dispute resolution venues and sophisticated system of sanctions and incentives promoting compliance with the decisions of the private order’s dispute resolution bodies. Possible sanctions vary but they are leveraged by the monopoly power of FIFA. Consider the right of FIFA to suspend a member association for a specific period or expel it fully from FIFA for failure to comply with its obligations, including an obligation to comply with FIFA or CAS decisions. Given FIFA's monopoly, this, in fact, means that national teams and licensed clubs from the suspended or expelled country cannot participate in any organized game. As a consequence, FIFA has been able to maintain cooperation among all involved actors, yet, along with the increasing commercial dimension, the incentives of states and other public orders, particularly the EU, to intervene have grown.

Integrity vs. legal order

The fact that FIFA is undermined by corruption is nothing surprising. Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi shows that the average public integrity in more than 200 countries whose soccer associations are the FIFA constituents “is just 5, on a scale where New Zealand has ten and Somalia 1” […] “Were FIFA a country, it would clearly not be in the upper half, but somewhere near Brazil, whose officials seem to have been waist deep in its corruption, and which ranks around 121, with a 4.2”. FIFA’s administrative structure, certainly, needs reforms that will improve its financial stability and decrease corruption risks within the organization. These reforms, indeed, may require “public nudge” by the enforcement of extraterritorial “anti-mafia” statutes such as the US Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) that played the central role in the so-called FIFAGate. Moreover, in the light of “the second FIFAGate”—six months after the original scandal, a number of FIFA officials that replaced the old leadership were charged with a 92-count indictment—and after the recent neutralization of its internal corruption investigations (see here), more radical “public nudge” may be desirable. Indeed, these developments, as was discussed in this blog some time ago, may call for a more powerful intervention by, for example, the EU, to impose ‘certain basic “constitutional” requirements’ to FIFA.

Nevertheless, while FIFA may need “public help” to clean its house and improve some areas of its legal order, no public order is a better alternative. Common rules spanning across borders, predictable contractual relations, and incentives to invest in training young players are only some advantages made possible by FIFA’s tailored rules of behavior. These advantages would be lost if public interventions would crash the FIFA order and replace it by a patchwork of national laws, unstable contractual relations, more costly dispute resolution and enforcement mechanisms, and limited ability to encourage talent development. Therefore, while FIFA as an administrative organization may generally be considered as more corrupt than an average government, it has been able to offer harmonized institutions that in many cases are better accustomed to the needs of the involved parties than their state-made alternatives, which often are based on one-size-fits-all approach and lack certainty of application.

Public orders as the reversed civil society

It does not mean that public orders such as the EU and nation states should do nothing. Private entities often need a “public nudge” not only to prevent excesses, but also to maintain incentives to produce rules that reflect new economic and social developments. In numerous writings (for an overview see Katz), law-and economics scholars indicate that while in principle private orders should be best left alone, states should limit the potential of powerful interest groups to undermine the roots of private orders such as FIFA. Who, how, and when should determine the benchmark of what is excessive is difficult, and law-and economics has declined to offer a general theory of the role of public orders in nudging private orders to limit interest groups’ power. Nevertheless, determining the role of public orders is no more difficult than the question what civil society should do when it comes to the performance of nation states.

In the context of nation states, the key role in limiting the power of elites belongs to the civil society. In case of monopolistic orders such as FIFA’s, however, there is often no direct representation of various actors inside such orders. Shouldn’t, then, states and the EU assume the role of a reversed civil society when interacting with large and successful private orders? In practice, particularly the EU is more and more involved in an informal co-determination of football-related regulation (for similar argument see here). For example, the recent social dialogue in European football, brokered by the EU Commission, is an example how public orders can fulfill their role as reversed civil society. The EU Commission, instead of intervening directly and regulating sports, encouraged, and should do so much more, various stakeholder groups, such as the European Club Association and FIFPro, to engage in a dialogue with the purpose of improving the practices of player protection (however, it is true that the EU Commission had a way deeper impact through EU competition law, see Duval). For the private order itself participation in this dialogue and active encouragement of the enforcement of its results is the best way to guarantee its role as a supplier of rules (see generally Colucci & Geeraert). In contrary, refusal to accommodate certain mechanisms, and mainly these that effectively limit FIFA’s executives’ power (e.g. Ethics Committee), may lead to a forceful, but legitimate, public intervention with possibly tragic consequences for the world of football.

Conclusion: Taking over fallen FIFA

What is so fascinating about FIFA is that it exemplifies how a very small number of enthusiastic people could set a mechanism that is ultimately able to create institutions that aim to regulate behavior of involved actors globally as well as to keep them away from regular courts. FIFA is an example of an order that has created huge economic and social value by being able to overcome many hurdles that prevented countless other member associations from creating their own orders (think of lawyers or investment bankers, for example). The fact that such order locks-in all involved football actors, despite some, such as small teams, benefiting significantly less by their participation than others, suggests that there is a value, despite FIFA’s monopoly power, that alternatives cannot offer. Some of them, such as increased certainty, are in the interests of all involved actors, whereas others, such as commitment to enforce contractual practices or training compensation awards, are more preferred by sophisticated actors (i.e. clubs and prominent footballers) and small clubs, respectively. This, though not allowing to state plainly that the private order is maximizing the welfare of all involved actors, also does not justify arguments for abandoning the current system in favor of state laws. In contrary, failure to accommodate mechanisms that limit the power of inside interest groups might undermine the order by giving incentives to interest groups to advocate public orders’ involvement, thereby putting an end to the monopoly of FIFA’s order, and possibly its destruction.

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