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

Will the World Cup 2022 Expansion Mark the Beginning of the End of FIFA’s Human Rights Journey? - 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.

About three years ago, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) adopted a new version of its Statutes, including a statutory commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. Since then, FIFA undertook a human rights journey that has been praised by various stakeholders in the sports and human rights field. In early June, the FIFA Congress is scheduled to take a decision that could potentially undo all positive efforts taken thus far.

FIFA already decided in January 2017 to increase the number of teams participating in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48. Shortly after, discussions began on the possibility to also expand the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar. Subsequently, FIFA conducted a feasibility study, which revealed that the expansion would be feasible but require a number of matches to be hosted in neighbouring countries, explicitly mentioning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One does not have to be a human rights expert to be highly alarmed by this list of potential co-hosting countries. Nevertheless, the FIFA Council approved of the possibility to expand in March 2019, paving the way for the FIFA Congress to take a decision on the matter. Obviously, the advancement of the expansion decision raises serious doubts over the sincerity of FIFA’s reforms and human rights commitments. More...

How Data Protection Crystallises Key Legal Challenges in Anti-Doping - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's Note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences. Her interests focus on interdisciplinary approaches as a way of designing effective solutions in the field of anti-doping and other science-based domains. Her book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law” was published through T.M.C Asser Press / Springer in late 2015. She participates as a co-author on a project hosted by the University of Neuchâtel to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. In her practice, she regularly advises international federations and other sports organisations on doping and other regulatory matters, in particular on aspects of scientific evidence, privacy or research regulation. She also has experience assisting clients in arbitration proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport or other sport tribunals.

Since the spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) has loomed over the sports sector,[1] a new wind seems to be blowing on anti-doping, with a palpable growing interest for stakes involved in data processing. Nothing that would quite qualify as a wind of change yet, but a gentle breeze of awareness at the very least.

Though the GDPR does mention the fight against doping in sport as a potential matter of public health in its recitals,[2] EU authorities have not gone so far as to create a standalone ground on which anti-doping organisations could rely to legitimise their data processing. Whether or not anti-doping organisations have a basis to process personal data – and specifically sensitive data – as part of their anti-doping activities, thus remains dependent on the peculiarities of each national law. Even anti-doping organisations that are incorporated outside the EU are affected to the extent they process data about athletes in the EU.[3] This includes international sports federations, many of which are organised as private associations under Swiss law. Moreover, the Swiss Data Protection Act (‘DPA’) is currently under review, and the revised legal framework should largely mirror the GDPR, subject to a few Swiss peculiarities. All anti-doping organisations undertake at a minimum to abide by the WADA International Standard for Privacy and the Protection of Personal Information (‘ISPPPI’), which has been adapted with effect to 1 June 2018 and enshrines requirements similar to those of the GDPR. However, the ISPPPI stops short of actually referring to the GDPR and leaves discretion for anti-doping organisations to adapt to other legislative environments.

The purpose of this blog is not to offer a detailed analysis of the requirements that anti-doping organisations must abide by under data protection laws, but to highlight how issues around data processing have come to crystallise key challenges that anti-doping organisations face globally. Some of these challenges have been on the table since the adoption of the first edition of the World Anti-Doping Code (‘WADC’) but are now exposed in the unforgiving light of data protection requirements. More...

What happens in Switzerland stays in Switzerland: The Striani Judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeals

In the last five years, the Striani case has been the main sword of Damocles hanging over UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. At the very least, the only real judicial threat they have faced (apart from the relatively harmless challenge mounted in the Galatasaray case at the CAS). Indeed, a Belgian player agent, Daniele Striani, represented by Bosman’s former lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, attempted, in various fora, to challenge the compatibility of UEFA’s CL&FFP Regulations with EU law. Striani lodged a complaint with the European Commission (which was quickly rejected in October 2014) and initiated a private action for damages before the Brussels Court of First Instance. The latter deemed itself not competent to decide on the matter, but nevertheless accepted to order a provisory stay of the enforcement of the UEFA FFP Regulations pending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (see Ben van Rompuy’s blog on the case here). The CJEU unsurprisingly rejected to enter into the matter, but UEFA and Striani decided to appeal the first instance ruling to the Court of Appeal, which rendered its decision on 11 April. It is unclear at this stage whether Striani will attempt to challenge it at the Belgian Cour de Cassation (Highest Civil Court), however this would entail considerable risks and costs and his lawyers to date have not indicated that they would do so (see here). 

While the ruling of the Court of Appeal does not touch upon the much-discussed question of the compatibility of UEFA’s FFP Regulations with EU law (see our many blogs on the question here, here and here), it remains an interesting decision to discuss broader questions related to the procedural ease in challenging regulatory decisions passed by sports governing bodies (SGBs) based in Switzerland. Competition law constitutes the main legal tool available to sports stakeholders looking to challenge existing regulatory arrangements from the outside (e.g. not going through the internal political systems of the SGBs or the CAS route). Recent cases, such as the ISU decision of the European Commission, the Pechstein case in front of the German courts or the Rule 40 decision of the German competition authority, have demonstrated the potency of competition law to question the legality of the rules and decisions of the SGBs.[1] In this regard, the decision of the Brussels Court of Appeal narrows the range of parties allowed to challenge in European courts the SGBs’ rules and decisions on the basis of competition law. More...

Can European Citizens Participate in National Championships? An Analysis of AG Tanchev’s Opinion in TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third 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

To many it may seem obvious that athletes in a national championship should only be able to participate if they have the nationality of the relevant state. The Dutch Road Cycling National Championships should have Dutch cyclists, and the German Athletics Championships should have German athletes and so forth. However, in reality, foreign competitors are allowed to participate in many national championships in the EU, and there is a wide discrepancy between the rules of national sport governing bodies on this issue. There is no unified practice when investigating this point by country or by sport, and rules on participation range from a complete ban on foreign competitors to absolutely no mention of foreign athletes.[1] Thus, the question arises: should foreign athletes be able to participate in national sport championships?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will soon be required to provide an, at least partial, answer to this dilemma as a result of an application for a preliminary ruling.  A German Court has referred three questions to the CJEU on the case TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. (DLV) which in essence ask whether EU citizenship rights and in particular, the requirement of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, should be applied to non-nationals wishing to participate in an athletics national championship in Germany. In the meantime, the Advocate General (AG), who provides a non-binding opinion to the Court before a decision is delivered, Evgeni Tanchev has delivered an interesting opinion on the case. It addresses the claims from the applicants based on EU citizenship rights and urges the CJEU to instead review the case on the basis of the freedom of establishment.

This blog will dissect the AG’s opinion to assess the main arguments put forward in relation to freedom of establishment and EU citizenship. Furthermore, it will weigh the ramifications this case may have on the boundaries of EU law in relation to sport. To fully appreciate the AG’s opinion, it is necessary to first discuss the intriguing factual and legal background colouring this case. After all, this will not be the first time the CJEU faces thorny issues concerning discrimination on the basis of nationality and sport. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February and March 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 Court of Arbitration for Sport bans 12 Russian track and field athletes

On 1 February 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) communicated that it had rendered another 12 decisions in the seemingly endless saga concerning the state-sponsored doping programme in Russia. These first-instance decisions of the CAS involve 12 Russian track and field athletes who were all found guilty of anti-doping rule violations based on the evidence underlying the reports published by professor Richard McLaren and suspended from participating in sports competitions for periods ranging from two to eight years. Arguably the most prominent name that appears on the list of banned athletes is Ivan Ukhov, the 32-year-old high jump champion from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The case was brought by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) that sought to convince the arbitrators that the athletes in question had participated in and/or benefited from anabolic steroid doping programmes and benefited from specific protective methods (washout schedules) in the period between the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The CAS was acting in lieau of the Russian Athletics Federation that remains suspended and thus unable to conduct any disciplinary procedures. The athletes have had the opportunity to appeal the decisions to the CAS Appeals Arbitration Division.

Federal Cartel Office in Germany finds Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter disproportionately restrictive

At the end of February, the German competition authority Bundeskartellamt announced that it had entered into a commitment agreement with the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in which these two organisations had agreed to considerably enhance advertising opportunities for German athletes and their sponsors during the Olympic Games. The respective agreement is a direct consequence of the Bundeskartellamt’s finding that the IOC and the DOSB had abused their dominant position on the market for organising and marketing the Olympic Games by demanding that the athletes refrain from promoting their own sponsors while the Games are ongoing, as well as shortly before and after the Games. This restriction stems from Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter under which no competitor who participates in the Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes, unless the IOC Executive Board allows him/her to do so.

As part of fulfilling its obligations under the commitment agreement, the DOSB has relaxed its guidelines on promotional activities of German athletes during the Olympic Games. For its part, the IOC has declared that these new guidelines would take precedence over Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter. However, it still remains to be seen whether in response to the conclusions of the German competition authority the IOC will finally change the contentious rule.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights refuses to pronounce itself on Claudia Pechstein’s case

Claudia Pechstein’s challenge against the CAS brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has not yielded the desired result for the German athlete. On 5 February 2019, a Panel of the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR decided that the Grand Chamber would not entertain the case. This means that the judgment handed down by the 3rd Chamber of the ECtHR on 2 October 2018, in which the ECtHR confirmed that except for the lack of publicity of oral hearings the procedures of the CAS are compatible with the right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, has now become final and binding. However, the protracted legal battle between the five-time Olympic champion in speed skating and the CAS is not over yet since there is one more challenge against the CAS and its independence pending before the German Constitutional Court.  More...

New Event! FIFA and Human Rights: Impacts, Policies, Responsibilities - 8 May 2019 - Asser Institute

In the past few years, FIFA underwent intense public scrutiny for human rights violations surrounding the organisation of the World Cup 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. This led to a reform process at FIFA, which involved a number of policy changes, such as:

  • Embracing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • The inclusion of human rights in the FIFA Statutes;
  • Adopting new bidding rules including human rights requirements;
  • And introducing a Human Rights Advisory Board.

To take stock of these changes, the Asser Institute and the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research (NNHRR), are organising a conference on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and human rights, which will take place at the Asser Institute in The Hague on 8 May 2019.

This one-day conference aims to take a deeper look at FIFA’s impacts on human rights and critically investigate the measures it has adopted to deal with them. Finally, we will also address FIFA’s potential legal responsibilities under a variety of human rights laws/instruments.

Preliminary Programme

9:00 Registration & Coffee

9:45 Welcome by Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) & Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

10:00 Opening Remarks by Andreas Graf (Human Rights Officer, FIFA)

10:30 Panel 1: FIFA & Human Rights: Impacts

  • Zoher Shabbir (University of York) – The correlation between forced evictions and developing nations hosting the FIFA World Cup
  • Roman Kiselyov (European Human Rights Advocacy Centre) - FIFA World Cup as a Pretext for a Crackdown on Human Rights
  • Eleanor Drywood (Liverpool University) - FIFA and children’s rights: theory, methodology and practice 

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Panel 2: FIFA & Human Rights: Policies

  • Lisa Schöddert & Bodo Bützler (University of Cologne) – FIFA’s eigen-constitutionalisation and its limits
  • Gigi Alford (World Players Association) - Power Play: FIFA’s voluntary human rights playbook does not diminish Switzerland’s state power to protect against corporate harms
  • Brendan Schwab (World Players Association) & Craig Foster - FIFA, human rights and the threatened refoulement of Hakeem Al Araibi 

14:30 Break

15:00 Panel 3: FIFA & Human Rights: Responsibilities

  • Daniel Rietiker (ECtHR and University of Lausanne) - The European Court of Human Rights and Football: Current Issues and Potential
  • Jan Lukomski (Łukomski Niklewicz law firm) - FIFA and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights : Obligations, duties and remedies regarding the labour rights         protected under the ICESCR
  • Raquel Regueiro Dubra (Complutense University of Madrid) - Shared international responsibility for human rights violations in global events. The case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
  • Wojciech Lewandowski (Polish Academy of Sciences/University of Warsaw) - Is Bauer the new Bosman? – The implications of the newest CJEU jurisprudence for FIFA and other sport governing bodies

17:00 Closing Remarks by Mary Harvey (Chief Executive, Centre for Sports and Human Rights)

More information and registration at

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...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

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.


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. 


The saga can be traced back to the interview by the Spanish sports newspaper AS with the cyclist Jesus Manzano in 2004. During the interview, Manzano admitted that he, as well as other members of his team (Kelme), were involved in blood doping practices, and denounced his team doctor Eufemiano Fuentes as the mastermind behind the operations.[1] As a result of his declarations, Manzano became the victim of regular abuse by the “professional cycling world” and even received death threats. Manzano reported the death threats to the Guardia Civil (a Spanish law enforcement agency), who saw itself obliged to investigate the matter. The results of the Guardia Civil’s investigation proved that the information provided by Manzano regarding names, locations and practices were correct. However, the scope of the Guardia Civil’s investigations was limited due to the fact that, according to Spanish law in force at the time, doping was not considered a criminal offence.

On 23 May 2006, several people were arrested, including doctor Fuentes, who was accused of committing a “crime against public health” enshrined in Article 361 of the Spanish Criminal Code.[2] After his arrest, the Guardia Civil conducted domiciliary visits in the various domiciles owned by Fuentes, in which it found over 200 blood and plasma samples. The blood and plasma bags were labelled with coded names, in order not to reveal the true identity of Fuentes’ clients. Nonetheless, it was clear that Fuentes’ network was much more extensive than previously anticipated and that he had hundreds of clients, from a variety of sports and nationalities.

The relevant SGBs, such as WADA, petitioned for the blood samples to be analysed and all the identities revealed, with the aim of sanctioning the athletes involved. The Spanish public authorities, however, denied the SGBs requests[3], claiming that handing over the blood samples would breach the athletes’ right to privacy and reiterating that athletes involved in doping practices were not (at the time) committing any criminal offence according to Spanish law.

A long-awaited judgment was finally delivered[4] by the Madrid criminal court on 29 April 2013, a judgment which raised many eyebrows worldwide (see for example this critical analysis by the French newspaper Le Monde). Fuentes received a one-year prison sentence for committing a crime against public health and was suspended for four years from practicing sport medicine. More importantly, the court ordered the destruction of the blood samples, as well as other pieces of evidence, such as documents and recorded telephone conversations once the decision becomes final.[5] Given that the case was not about a doping offense but about a crime against public health, the court argued, the investigation of the blood samples would be in breach of the privacy rights of the athletes.

The judgment was appealed by several parties, including Fuentes and the SGBs (AEPSAD, WADA, UCI and CONI). Fuentes demanded to be acquitted, whereas the SGBs appealed the order to have the blood samples destroyed.  

Sentencia Nº 302/2016 of 14 June 2016

The Audiencia Provincial made its judgment public on 14 June 2016. The judgment consists of 23 different appeals by different parties. This case note, however, will only analyze section 18 (on the question whether blood is considered a medicine) and section 21 (regarding the blood and plasma samples). 

Section 18 – Is blood a medicine?

The answer to this question was highly relevant for Fuentes’ appeal against the prison sentence. Article 361 of the Spanish Criminal Code provides inter alia that a person who offers medicine in unauthorized locations[6] or does not fulfill the relevant hygiene criteria, shall be punished with an imprisonment from six months to three years.[7] Fuentes argued that blood extracted from an athlete, which is later injected back into the athlete, was legally not considered a medicine in 2006.

The court firstly established that the Criminal Code does not legally define “medicine”, meaning that the definition needed to be found in administrative laws,[8] such as the Medicine Law[9]. This law stipulates that blood derivatives could be considered medicine, but blood as a whole cannot.[10] The court also looked for a definition in EU law, more specifically EU Council Directive 98/381/CEE laying down special provisions for medicinal products derived from human blood or human plasma. Article 1, point 2, holds that whole blood, plasma or blood cells of human origin are outside the scope of the Directive. Having established that the blood and plasma samples found in Fuentes’ domiciles cannot be considered medicine, the court concluded that the doctor could subsequently not be punished for committing a crime against public health as stipulated in Article 361 of the Criminal Code. A punishment of any kind would be contrary to the “principle of legality”.[11] 

Section 21 – blood and plasma samples

The RFEC, WADA, UCI and CONI wanted to see the destruction order of the blood and plasma samples overturned and, instead, the samples delivered to them.[12]  Importantly, both the criminal court in first instance and the Audiencia Provincial recognized that a possible doping investigation by the SGBs after a handover of the blood samples would be an administrative procedure, rather than a criminal procedure such as in the case at hand.[13]

However, the first instance court had also indicated that the SGBs could not use the blood samples, because administrative sanctioning procedures do not allow this type of evidence to be used. To reach this conclusion, the court in first instance referred to an administrative law case involving disciplinary proceedings against a magistrate. In that case, recorded phone conversations were not deemed receivable evidence because of a breach of privacy, which would infringe Article 8 of the ECHR. The court transposed this reasoning to Operación Puerto and held that using the blood samples for an administrative proceeding was inadmissible.

The Audiencia Provincial did not follow this reasoning. Instead it referred to criminal case law, which established a difference between the recording of phone conversations on the one hand and domiciliary visits on the other. So-called “casual findings” during domiciliary visits of evidence for crimes that were not the ones the visits were authorized for, can still be used as evidence. In fact, the blood and plasma bags cannot be considered “casual findings”, since the public authorities were authorized to undertake the domiciliary visits to find evidence for an alleged crime against public health. Moreover, contrary to the recording of phone conversations which is only authorized in case of a penal procedure, domiciliary visits are measures that could also be authorized in administrative procedures.[14]  In other words, this type of evidence obtained in the framework of a criminal procedure can also be used in an administrative disciplinary procedure, such as doping cases.

As regards the transfer of the blood and plasma samples to an SGB, the court stated the following: In accordance with the provisions of the 2013 anti-doping laws, the samples can be handed over to the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency. The Agency would need to submit a formal request to a court, and the court would consider the request taking into account the principle of proportionality.[15]  The Audiencia Provincial considers that a transfer of the blood samples could be proportionate since it pursues the objective of fighting against doping. This is so because: doping use is contrary to the ethical values of sport, which are fair play and competition. Not allowing the transfer of the blood and plasma samples would give the impression that doping is not really a problem and might indicate that in sports the end justify the means.[16]  


On the day the judgment was released, AEPSAD expressed its satisfaction with the Audiencia Provincial’s decision and stated that it is studying the possible measures it can now take, either by itself or together with the other SGBs referred to in the judgment. WADA too acknowledged the court “for having reached the decision to provide anti-doping authorities with this crucial evidence”, but also stated that it is “dismayed that it took so long to receive the decision”. Finally, UCI regrets it had to wait this long for the decision, but will now partner with WADA, the RFEC, AEPSAD and CONI, to determine the legal options available with regards to analyzing the blood and plasma bags; and, where applicable, pursuing anti-doping rule violations.

In its press release, UCI points to the crucial question that will need an (un)satisfying answer: Can the SGBs still pursue anti-doping violations, or is too late? Article 17 of the 2015 WADA Code enshrines that the statute of limitations is 10 years. Coincidentally, it has been 10 years and two months since the arrests of Fuentes was made and Operación Puerto started taking shape. It is therefore unlikely that doping sanctions will be handed out on the basis of blood samples collected during the period 2002-2006. But simply discovering the identity of the doped athletes could have far-reaching consequences on its own. For example, when Bjarne Riis admitted in 2007 that he used EPO during his victorious 1996 Tour de France, the UCI was not able to sanction him anymore. However, the Tour de France organizing organization (ASO) has removed him as a past winner. Similar consequences are thinkable with the discoveries of the identities in the Operación Puerto case. Furthermore, Operación Puerto, widely recognized as the darkest chapter in the history of Spanish professional sport, can only truly be closed when the identities of the athletes are revealed. Publicly naming and shaming the athletes is an important mean to create a fairer competition and to prevent other athletes from doping themselves.  

[1] The actual interview with AS is not available anymore. A summary of the interview can be read at

[2] Sentencia de la Audiencia Provincial de Madrid Nº 302/2016 de 10 de junio 2016, page 7. A few months later, in 2006, Article 361bis was added to the Spanish Penal Code, a provision that made doping a criminal offense.

[3] Cyclists, such as Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi and Óscar Sevilla were known to be among Fuentes’ clients, for the most part thanks to journalist investigations. The German cyclist Jörg Jaksche admitted voluntarily, and Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde received a suspension by the Italian Olympic Committee CONI in 2010.

[4] As can be seen from the 176-page judgment, the names of the suspects have been changed. For example, primary suspect Eufemanio Fuentes is called “Juan Máximo”.

[5] Sentencia del Juzgado Penal de Madrid Nº 144/203 de 29 de abril 2013, pages 175-176.

[6] A hospital, for example, would be considered an authorized location. A cycling team bus, or a hotel room, could be considered unauthorized locations for the offering of certain types of medicine.

[7] Artículo 361 Código Penal: “El que fabrique, importe, exporte, suministre, intermedie, comercialice, ofrezca o ponga en el mercado, o almacene con estas finalidades, medicamentos, incluidos los de uso humano y veterinario, así como los medicamentos en investigación, que carezcan de la necesaria autorización exigida por la ley, o productos sanitarios que no dispongan de los documentos de conformidad exigidos por las disposiciones de carácter general, o que estuvieran deteriorados, caducados o incumplieran las exigencias técnicas relativas a su composición, estabilidad y eficacia, y con ello se genere un riesgo para la vida o la salud de las personas, será castigado con una pena de prisión de seis meses a tres años, multa de seis a doce meses e inhabilitación especial para profesión u oficio de seis meses a tres años”.

[8] Sentencia de la Audiencia Provincial de Madrid Nº 302/2016 de 10 de junio 2016, page 61.

[9] Ley 25/1990, de 20 de diciembre, del Medicamento.

[10] Sentencia de la Audiencia Provincial de Madrid Nº 302/2016 de 10 de junio 2016, pages 59-61.

[11] Ibid., pages 69-73.

[12] Ibid., pages 76-77.

[13] Ibid., pages 78-79.

[14] Ibid., pages 80-81.

[15] Artículo 33(5) de la Ley Orgánica 3/2013, de 20 de junio, de protección de la salud del deportista y lucha contra el dopaje en la actividad deportiva: “La Agencia Española de Protección de la Salud en el Deporte podrá solicitar que le sean remitidas aquellas diligencias de instrucción practicadas que sean necesarias para la continuación de los procedimientos sancionadores. Dicha petición será resuelta por el Juez de instrucción, previa audiencia de los interesados, en el plazo de 20 días. En dicha audiencia los interesados podrán solicitar que sean también remitidos los documentos que les puedan beneficiar. La resolución del Juez será plenamente respetuosa con el principio de proporcionalidad, entregando a la Administración, mediante resolución motivada, únicamente las diligencias que la aplicación de tal principio autorice”.

[16] Sentencia de la Audiencia Provincial de Madrid Nº 302/2016 de 10 de junio 2016, page 83.

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