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 – August 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp.

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

For the world of Sport, the elsewhere known “sleepy month” of August turned out to be the total opposite. Having only just recuperated from this year’s Tour de France, including a spectacular uphill sprint on bicycle shoes by later ‘Yellow Jersey’ winner Chris Froome, August brought another feast of marvellous sport (and subsequent legal drama): The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.More...


Sports arbitration and EU Competition law: the Belgian competition authority enters the arena. 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 14 July 2016, the Belgian competition authority refused to grant provisional measures to the White Star Woluwe Football Club (“The White Star”), which would have allowed it to compete in the Belgian top football division. The club was refused a licence to compete in the above mentioned competition first by the Licences Commission of the national football federation (“Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Foootball Association” or “URBSFA”) and then by the Belgian court of arbitration for sports (“Cour Belge d’Arbitrage pour le Sport” or “CBAS”). The White Star lodged a complaint to the national competition authority (“NCA”) and requested provisional measures. The Belgian competition authority rendered a much-overlooked decision (besides one commentary) in which it seems to accept the reviewability of an arbitral award’s conformity with EU competition law (articles 101 and 102 TFEU). More...

From Lord of the Rings to Lord of the Drinks – A legal take on the downfall of Yuri van Gelder at the Rio Olympics. By Guido Hahn (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Editor’s note: Guido graduated cum laude from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He teaches law at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He specializes in sports law and provides legal advice for the professional sports sector.


Introduction

This blog is a commentary on a recent case that hit like a bombshell in the Netherlands (and beyond) during the recent Olympic Games in Rio. The case concerns a Dutch athlete, Yuri van Gelder, who reached the Olympic finals in his sport, got sent home by ‘his’ NOC (NOC*NSF) after a night out in Rio and launched legal proceedings in front of a Dutch court to claim back his place in the finals. This commentary will attempt to explain the Dutch ruling and evaluate whether a different legal route would have been possible and preferable. More...


Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 2)

This is part two of the blog on the Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions. Where part one served as an introduction on the two cases, part two will analyze the compatibility assessment made by the Commission in two decisions.


The compatibility of the aid to MVV and Willem II (re-)assessed

Even though it was the Netherlands’ task to invoke possible grounds of compatibility and to demonstrate that the conditions for such compatibility were met, the aid granted to both Willem II and MVV was never notified. The Netherland’s failure to fulfill its notification obligation, therefore, appears to be at odds with the Commission’s final decision to declare the aid compatible with EU law. Yet, a closer look at the Commission’s decision of 6 March 2013 to launch the formal investigation shows that the Commission was giving the Netherlands a ‘second chance’ to invoke grounds that would lead to a justification of the measures.More...


Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 1)

The European Commission’s decisions of 4 July 2016 to order the recovery of the State aid granted to seven Spanish professional football clubs[1] were in a previous blog called historic. It was the first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities. Less attention has been given to five other decisions also made public that day, which cleared support measures for five football clubs in the Netherlands. The clubs in question were PSV Eindhoven, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen, FC Den Bosch and Willem II.

Given the inherent political sensitivity of State aid recovery decisions, it is logical that the “Spanish decisions” were covered more widely than the “Dutch decisions”. Furthermore, clubs like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona automatically get more media attention than FC Den Bosch or Willem II. Yet, even though the “Dutch decisions” are of a lower profile, from an EU State aid law perspective, they are not necessarily less interesting.

A few days before entering the quiet month of August, the Commission published the non-confidential versions of its decisions concerning PSV Eindhoven, Willem II and MVV Maastricht (hereinafter: “MVV”). The swiftness of these publications is somewhat surprising, since it often takes at least three months to solve all the confidentiality issues. Nonetheless, nobody will complain (especially not me) about this opportunity to analyze in depth these new decisions. More...

Fear and Loathing in Rio de Janeiro – Displacement and the Olympics by Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

‎Editor's Note: Ryan is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, he defended his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in December 2015. His dissertation examined human rights violations caused by international sporting events, and how international sporting organisations may be held accountable for these violations.

Introduction

On Sunday, August 21, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will end. The spotlight will dim not only on the athletes who return to their home countries to ply their trade in relative obscurity, but also on the country of Brazil.[1] Once the Games have ended, life will go ‘back to normal’, although for many residents of Rio de Janeiro, what is ‘normal’ is anything but. More...



Why we should stop focusing on Caster Semenya by Marjolaine Viret (University of Neuchâtel)

Editor's Note:  Marjolaine is an attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.  She currently participates as a scientific collaborator at the University of Neuchâtel on a research project to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code.

Over the past days, we have been flooded by media reports discussing the “Caster Semenya-case”, reports rapidly relayed in social networks. Since the debate has a distinct legal component and since almost every report appears to draw significantly from the legal background, I granted myself permission – as compensation so to speak - to publish a somewhat more personal, less legal, post than I usually would.

Let me make one thing clear from the outset – I am still ‘agnostic’ about the question of how to solve the issues surrounding the male versus female divide in sports. Each time I have been asked to write or speak on the subject, I have tried to stick to describing the legal situation and its implications. I do not have the miracle solution as to how to handle this infinitely complex issue. And I am not sure anyone can claim to hold that solution at this point. Like everyone, I am doing my research and trying to be humble enough to stay within the realm of my competences. More...




Sporting nationality and the Olympic Games: selected issues by Yann Hafner (University of Neuchâtel)

Editor’s note: Yann Hafner is a Phd researcher at the University of Neuchâtel specialized in sports and nationality issues. He is also Legal Affairs Manager at the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball. Yann is an editor of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog and has previously published on the blog on nationality conundrums at the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil (see here).  

This contribution aims to decipher the relationship between sporting nationality and the Olympic Games. To this end, the author will first define sporting nationality and discuss athletes’ eligibility in national team in the context of the Olympic Games. Then, selected issues in relation with sporting nationality and the Olympic Games (with an emphasis on issues related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games) will be investigated. More...



Regulating the human body in sports: Lessons learned from the Dutee Chand case - by Dr Marjolaine Viret & Emily Wisnosky

Editor's note: Marjolaine Viret and Emily Wisnosky are both editors of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog specialized in anti-doping matters, they are also involved in the World Anti-Doping Commentary project funded by the Swiss National Science Fund.

Introduction

A remarkable aspect of the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games was the stream of negative media reports portraying broad-scale public mistrust in sport, with the most prominent topic being the doping scandals in athletics and questions surrounding the participation of Russia.  

A different controversy, but one also directed at the credibility of sports, has exposed a few female Olympians to repeated, and at times rather intrusive, media scrutiny. In June 2016, it was reported that Indian track-and-field athlete Dutee Chand had qualified for the Rio Olympic Games by breaking the national record, thus to become the first Indian athlete to run the 100m at the Olympics since 1980. The attention that Dutee Chand’s qualification attracted within international media, however, was not related only to her outstanding results. It came as part of a medical, ethical and legal controversy that has existed for many years relating to ‘policing’ the male versus female divide in sports. Another athlete who has found herself in the midst of this controversy is South African runner Semenya Caster, whose participation in the Olympics has been the object of much conjecture.

The divide between male and female athletes forms the core of most sports’ competition rules, including athletics. The justification for this basic divide has rarely been questioned as such, but has been a matter for debate when it comes to handling atypical situations on both sides of the ‘dividing line’ ­ such as ‘transgender’ or ‘intersex’ athletes. A category of athletes that has, especially, been viewed as a challenge to the divide is composed of female athletes affected by ‘hyperandrogenism’, a health condition that results in naturally elevated androgen levels, including testosterone levels.

On 24 July 2015, a CAS panel rendered a decision involving Dutee Chand (“Dutee Chand” or “the Athlete”) that has fuelled the ongoing debate about the policies regulating hyperandrogenism in sport. Much has been reported in the media about the case: controversial issues include whether the CAS was the appropriate forum to assess these questions; whether the decision was appropriate, both on the merits and on the procedure; and what the consequences of the CAS award would be, for the parties, for athletics and for the sporting community at large.

Much like the current crisis surrounding doping in sports, the public attention on women with (proven or suspected) hyperandrogenism is driven by a concern that an athlete’s physiology – natural or artificially induced ­ could distort competition, destroying the ‘level playing field’ that supports the Olympic ideal. Both topics are also often brought back to the goal of protecting an athlete’s health. Parallels are further found in the strong reactions both topics evoke, and the steps taken by the regulating authorities to convince the public that everything in their power is being done to preserve a level playing field.

A less obvious but equally important point of comparison can be found in the issues both topics raise concerning the legal validity of decisions made by sports organizations, especially in a science-related context. This blog focuses on those more ‘legal’ aspects, through the prism of the decision of the CAS in the Dutee Chand matter and its legal implications. After touching briefly on the background of the case, we will comment on two aspects of the Chand award with respect to challenges in regulating hyperandrogenism in sport within the confines of the law: First from the viewpoint of a CAS panel called upon to evaluate the validity of a set of regulations, and second from the viewpoint of the sports organizations seeking to both adequately protect fairness in sport and to provide a legally valid (and effective) regulatory solution.[1]

More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – July 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 have overlooked. 

The Headlines

The McLaren Report on Russia’s State Doping System

It is difficult not to start this monthly report without referring to the never-ending Russian doping investigation that is shaking the sporting world. On 18 July, the independent investigation on Sochi 2014 winter Olympics led by Prof. McLaren, a Canadian law professor, and requested by the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), released its report. It confirmed evidence of widespread, State-sponsored doping in Russian sports and called for a full ban on the country from the next Rio Olympics. In response to the report, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) vowed to take the “toughest sanctions available”. However, and despite the race against time in the run-up to Rio 2016, the IOC delayed its decision for several days amid a WADA statement and several press articles calling for a ban of Russia from Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, it did open an investigation against Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, the head official who allegedly supervised the overall doping cover up and explored all possible legal actions against Russia. On 21 July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) rejected the appeal of the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian athletes against the International Association of Athletics Federations (“IAAF”) decisions to suspend All Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) from IAAF membership given the evidence of a state-sponsored doping system. As a consequence, Russian track and field athletes were also banned from Rio 2016 Olympics. With the IAAF welcoming this decision, one could think that nothing was standing in the way of a full Olympic ban for all Russian athletes. While some Russian athletes announced that they would appeal the CAS award to the Swiss Federal Court. Yelena Isinbayeva, the banned pole vault champion, even took it a step further by claiming that she would challenge the IAAF decision as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Yet, it is very improbable that any of these challenges be decided in time for the Rio Games.More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | RFC Seraing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: How FIFA’s TPO ban Survived (Again) EU Law Scrutiny

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

RFC Seraing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: How FIFA’s TPO ban Survived (Again) EU Law Scrutiny

Doyen (aka Doyen Sports Investment Limited) is nothing short of heroic in its fight against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has (sometimes indirectly through RFC Seraing) attacked the ban in front of the French courts, the Belgium courts, the European Commission and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This costly, and until now fruitless, legal battle has been chronicled in numerous of our blogs (here and here). It is coordinated by Jean-Louis Dupont, a lawyer who is, to say the least, not afraid of fighting the windmills of sport’s private regulators. Yet, this time around he might have hit the limits of his stubbornness and legal ‘maestria’. As illustrated by the most recent decision of the saga, rendered in March by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a case opposing the Belgium club RFC Seraing (or Seraing) to FIFA. The arguments in favour of the ban might override those against it. At least this is the view espoused by the CAS, and until tested in front of another court (preferably the CJEU) it will remain an influential one. The French text of the CAS award has just been published and I will take the opportunity of having for once an award in my native language to offer a first assessment of the CAS’s reasoning in the case, especially with regard to its application of EU law.

 

I.               The facts and procedure of the case

To cut a relatively long story short, RFC Seraing [the variation of the name of the club remains a disturbing mystery in the various proceedings in Belgium and at FIFA] entered a TPO agreement with Doyen on 30 January 2015, stipulating that the club transfers the economic rights of three players to Doyen against a sum of €300.000. At that time the transitory phase of FIFA’s TPO ban enshrined in art. 18ter RSTP was already in force and the FIFA TMS, tasked with monitoring the enforcement of the RSTP, quickly jumped on the matter. The issue was referred to FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, which opened on 2 July 2015 proceedings against RFC Seraing for breaching arts. 18bis and 18ter RSTP. Additionally, on 7 July 2015, Seraing introduced in the TMS a request to recruit a Portuguese player, to which it attached an ERPA (on Doyen’s ERPAs see our blog here) attributing 25% of the economic rights attached to the player to Doyen against a payment of €50 000. A few days after, the FIFA TMS started another investigation into the transfer and on 21 July 2015 the FIFA Disciplinary Committee extended the existing proceedings to also cover this matter.

On 4 September 2015, the Disciplinary Committee rendered its (unpublished) decision finding that ‘FC Seraing’ breached arts. 18bis and 18ter RSTP. Consequently, it banned the club from recruiting players (at national and international level) for the next four transfer windows and handed out a fine of CHF 150.000. Seraing challenged the decision with FIFA’s Appeal Committee, which decided on 7 January 2016 to reject the appeal and confirmed the original decision. Eventually, Seraing appealed this decision to the CAS, leading to the latest award. As a side note, it feels like the disputes involving RFC Seraing (or FC Seraing or Seraing United) are a set-up prompted by Doyen to be able to challenge the validity of art. 18ter RSTP in various jurisdictions. If it were true it should not affect the question of the legality of the ban, but it is probably not of great support to the credibility of some arguments raised by Doyen, or its alter ego Seraing, in these proceedings.


II.             The CAS’ assessment of the compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban under EU law

As the competence of CAS in this matter was not contested, the key question was against which law(s) should the compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban be assessed. Due to the history of RFC Seraing’s key lawyer, it is no surprise that much of the award is spent assessing the EU law compatibility of the ban. In the past, as I have argued elsewhere (my CAS and EU law article is accessible for free here, download it now!), the CAS has been rather reluctant to apply EU law rigorously. This case is therefore a great opportunity to assess whether it has raised its standards in this regard.

a.    The applicability of EU law

First, is EU law applicable to the case? The CAS has rarely applied EU law (the exception confirming the rule being the rather old CAS 98/200 case, which was later challenged in front of the EU Commission leading to the ENIC decision), an absurdity in light of the Bosman (and prior Walrave) case law of the CJEU, which made clear that EU law is applicable to the regulations of Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs), even when seated outside of the EU. Additionally, in light of the centrality of the free movement rights in EU integration, it is to be expected that like the EU competition rules they be considered part and parcel of a European public policy with which arbitral awards must comply to be recognized and enforced by national courts in the EU.

Thus, the less spectacular, but probably more important, aspect of the award is the clear affirmation that EU law is applicable because it constitutes a “mandatory provision of foreign law” in the sense of art. 19 of the Swiss Federal Act on Private International Law (PILA).[1] Mandatory provisions of foreign law must be taken into account when three cumulative conditions prevail:

  1. Such rules belong to a special category of norms which need to be applied irrspective of the law applicable to the merits of the case;
  2. there is a close connection between the subject matter of the dispute and teh territory where the mandatory rules are in force;
  3. in view of Swiss legal theory and practice, the mandatory rules must aim to protect legitimate interest and crucial values and their application must lead to a decision which is appropriate.[2]

In this case, the Panel considers that the three cumulative conditions are fulfilled because:

  1. EU competition law and EU provisions on fundamental freedoms are largely regarded as pertaining to the category of mandatory rules by courts and scholars within the EU;
  2. the close connections between (a) the territory on which EU competition law  and EU provisions on fundamental freedoms are in force and (b) the subject matter of the dispute results from the fact that the challenge against the legality of the RSTP has an obvious impact on the EU territory. Indeed, the RSTP aims to regulate the activity of football clubs, many of which are European. Furthermore, the particular decision affects the participation of RFC Seraing to competitions taking place on the European soil.
  3. Finally, the Swiss legal system shares the interests and values protected by EU law, specifically by the EU competition rules and EU fundamental freedoms.[3]

This is a strong confirmation that EU law (mainly EU free movement rights and EU competition law), which applies almost naturally to decisions and regulations of the SGBs[4], will always be deemed applicable if invoked in front of the CAS to challenge their legality. This, as Seraing has learned in the present instance, does not mean that the SGBs rules will be automatically found incompatible with EU law. Instead, it merely subjects them to a duty of justification and proportionality, which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.[5] The message for sports lawyers appearing in front of the CAS is then: Work hard on your EU law! But don’t get your hopes up too high… 

b.    The compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban with EU law

The rest of the CAS award is mainly dedicated to assessing the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law.[6] In doing so, the CAS, rightly in my view, considered that the conditions regarding the compatibility, or not, of a private regulation of an SGB with the EU free movement rights and competition rules overlap with regard to the key question: the proportionality of the rule.

The legitimacy of the objectives of the TPO ban

The Panel’s assessment focuses firstly, and therefore mainly, on a possible disproportionate restriction of the free movement of capital guaranteed under art. 63 TFEU. The Panel decides to assume, without addressing it, that article 63 applies horizontally. This is still a widely uncharted territory and the CJEU has yet to take a clear stand on it. However, the CAS decided to be better safe than sorry and, thus, followed a maximalist interpretation of the scope of application of the article by applying it horizontally to the rules of FIFA. From the outset, it is uncontested that articles 18bis and 18ter RSTP constitute a restriction to the free movement of capital in the EU.[7] Yet, as emphasized by the Panel, a restriction does not entail an automatic incompatibility with EU law. Instead, the restrictive effect might be justified by a legitimate objective and compatible with EU law if the rule or measure is a proportionate mean to attain that objective. In the present case, FIFA invoked a number of potential legitimate objectives underlying the TPO ban:

  • The preservation of the contractual stability;
  • The preservation of the independence and autonomy of clubs in the management of their recruitment policy;
  • The securing of the integrity of football and preservation of the loyalty and equity of competitions;
  • The prevention of conflicts of interests and the securing of transparency in the transfer market.[8]

Those objectives remained uncontested by Seraing and the Panel concluded that they could be deemed legitimate in the sense of the CJEU’s jurisprudence.[9] Instead, Seraing tried to argue that the ‘real’ objective of FIFA in adopting the TPO ban was to ensure that the clubs monopolize the financial streams generated by the transfers of players.[10] Yet, it failed to provide the necessary evidence to convince the Panel, which insisted that “TPO has triggered amongst many commentators and inside the various instances and organisations of football intense worries to which the objectives invoked by FIFA are a response”[11]. Additionally, the Panel considers “that this practice gives way to numerous risks, in particular: risks linked to the opacity of investors escaping the control of football organizations and who are able to freely sell-on their investment; risks of a restriction of the economic freedom and rights of players, through the influencing with a speculative interest of their transfer; risks of conflicts of interests, or even of rigging or manipulation of games, contrary to the integrity of competitions, as the same investor can have TPO deals and multiples clubs involved in the same competition; risks linked to the ethics of sport because the objective pursued by investors is purely a financial and speculative one, to the detriment of sportive and moral considerations”.[12] Hence, the arbitrators buoyed the legitimacy of FIFA’s objectives in adopting the TPO ban.

The proportionality of the ban

The key question is then whether the FIFA ban can be deemed a proportionate means to attain its legitimate objectives. It is at this most crucial stage of the evaluation of the compatibility with EU law that a number of academic commentators have denied the ban’s proportionality.[13] It is the most important part of the award, which will be most likely scrutinized and attacked in follow-up cases in front of national or European courts. It is important to note that SGB regulations have never failed in front of the CJEU because they were lacking a legitimate objective, but rather because they were not considered adequate or necessary to attain their objectives. This stage of the analysis entails political considerations and a comparative analysis of the policy alternatives (and their feasibility) available to tackle a specific problem. In other words, it is not sufficient to claim that you can think in the abstract of a less restrictive alternative, you need to factually demonstrate that this less restrictive alternative is a credible candidate to attain the objective. This is obviously a difficult task for a lawyer. Furthermore, procedural considerations connected to the rulemaking process will come into play. If a sporting rule has been devised via an inclusive legislative procedure and finds broad support amongst the affected actors, then it will in turn be more likely to be deemed proportionate. Instead, if a rule is the result of a secretive, exclusive and authoritarian procedure, then it will be easier to challenge its proportionality. Thus, both substantial (effects-based) and procedural (legitimacy-based) considerations are key to evaluate the proportionality of the TPO ban.

The Panel insists first that the TPO ban has limited effects on the freedom to invest in football. Indeed, it finds that investors are not barred from investing in clubs or to finance specific operations (such as transfers), the ban is devised only to exclude certain types or modalities of investing.[14] On the procedural/legislative side, the Panel notes that the ban has been introduced after a broad consultation and on the basis of numerous, though unpublished, expert reports.[15] This positive assessment of the adoption process could be contested, especially because FIFA did not release the expert reports to the public, which were therefore not subjected to the critical scrutiny of their peers.  Moreover, the Panel takes due note of the relatively long experimentation of a lighter measure (article 18bis RSTP), which has proven inefficient to control the widespread recourse to TPO.[16] The question was then whether Seraing would be able to come up with a credible less restrictive alternative to rein the anarchic use of TPO in football. The Belgian club claimed that FIFA’s legitimate objectives could have been attained through regulation and measures improving transparency (very similar to La Liga’s argument here).[17] Nonetheless, the arbitrators noted that Seraing failed to specify the alternative measures it envisaged.[18] Instead, the Panel sided with FIFA in finding that it lacks the capacity and legal competence to properly police investors which are not subjected contractually to its disciplinary power.[19] In such a context, the Panel finds that the risks of conflicts of interests stemming from TPO contracts cannot be properly controlled by FIFA and the national federations, and the alternative measures proposed by Seraing are bound to fail.[20] Finally, the Panel also referred to the previously existing bans in France, England and Poland, insisting that FIFA was also aiming at harmonizing the rules applicable to the transfer market in Europe to alleviate any potential discrimination.[21] Hence, the arbitrators conclude that the ban is a proportionate restriction to art. 63 TFEU and compatible with EU law. While the Panel doubts that the TPO ban has substantial restrictive effects on the free movement of players and on the freedom to provide services of agents,[22] in any case it refers to its findings under art. 63 TFEU to conclude that it must be held proportionate.[23]

Regarding the compatibility of the ban with EU competition law, Seraing argued that it constitutes an unlawful restriction to free competition under article 101 TFEU and an abuse of a dominant position under article 102 TFEU. The CAS deemed (uncontroversially) FIFA an association of undertaking for the purpose of article 101 TFEU and recognized that the TPO ban affects trade between the Member States.[24] However, the arbitrators emphasized that Seraing bears the burden of proving that the ban constitutes a restriction by object or effect of free competition in the internal market.[25] In that regard, the CAS referred to the CJEU’s analytical framework developed in its Wouters case.[26] It concluded, referring to its previous holdings, that the ban had legitimate objectives and was necessary to attain them, and therefore did not constitute a restriction in the sense of article 101 (1) TFEU. As far as the abuse of a dominant position is concerned, after criticizing the lack of serious economic analysis by the appellant,[27] the Panel simply reiterated its previous findings regarding the legitimate objectives and proportionality of the ban.[28] 

The CAS swiftly rejected all the other arguments raised by Seraing on the basis of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter,[29] the European Convention of Human Rights,[30] and Swiss law.[31] Nonetheless, it did held that the sanction imposed on Seraing by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee was too stringent in light of the proportionality principle and reduced Seraing’s transfer ban to three windows and a fine of CHF 150.000.[32]

 

III.           Conclusion

Doyen lost a new battle and, while the war is still raging on, the controversial company is slowly starting to run out of legal ammunitions to challenge FIFA’s TPO ban. I have explained elsewhere why I believe the ban to be compatible with EU law and many of the arguments of the CAS in this award resonate with my own views.  Yet, though I think banning TPO is a step in the right direction to a healthier transfer market, I also believe that FIFA is artificially sustaining a transfer market that leads to the shadowy financiarization of football brutally exposed in the recent football leaks. In other words, the fact that a challenge against articles 18bis or 18ter fails does not mean that the whole RSTP is compatible with EU law, and for various reasons I believe that the current article 17RSTP is likely to fall foul of the EU internal market rules.[33]

The broader lesson of this TPO saga is that EU law is (at last) becoming a potent tool to challenge SGBs and their rules at the CAS. However, EU law is not blind to the necessary regulatory function they exercised vis-à-vis transnational sporting activities. What EU law targets is the SGBs’ illegitimate, disproportionate, and abusive regulatory behaviour to the detriment of the affected actors. When invoking EU law, sports lawyers must be aware of the need to show concretely the disproportionate nature of the rule or decision challenged. This is a heavy evidentiary burden. In other words, one cannot be satisfied with simply pointing out a restrictive effect, instead an interdisciplinary engagement with the economic and social effects of a regulation as well as with its legislative process is in order.

On a final note, I am truly pleased to see that the CAS is finally taking EU law a bit more seriously. This is a giant step forward, which will protect its awards from challenges in front of national courts, foster its reputation in Europe’s legal communities, and empower it as a counter-power inside the system of the lex sportiva. I urge the CAS to fully embrace this change and to continue to thoroughly assess the EU law compatibility of the sporting rules challenged in front of it. In this regard, it should keep in mind that the more these rules are the result of a deliberative and inclusive (in a way democratic) transnational legislative process, the more they can be deemed legitimate in the eyes of EU law…and vice versa.


[1] TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, 9 mars 2017, para. 73 : « La Formation arbitrale considère que le droit de l’Union Européenne (« droit de l’UE »), dont notamment les dispositions des traités en matière de liberté de circulation et de droit de la concurrence, doivent être prises en compte par la Formation arbitrale, dans la mesure où elles constituent des dispositions impératives du droit étranger au sens de l’article 19 de la Loi fédérale sur le droit international privé du 18 Décembre 1987 (« LDIP »).

[2] This English translation is taken from CAS 2016/A/4492 Galatasaray v. UEFA, 23 juin 2016, para. 43.

[3] TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, para. 76. The French version reads as follows :

i.       Les dispositions de droit européen, concernant notamment le droit de la concurrence et les libertés de circulation, sont communément considérées comme des règles impératives par les juridictions de l’Union et la doctrine ;

ii.     Les relations étroites entre (a) le territoire sur lequel le droit européen est en vigueur et (b) l’objet du litige, tiennent au fait que la mise en cause de la légalité du RSTJ a un impact évident sur le territoire européen. En effet, le RSTJ vise à réguler l’activité des clubs de football, dont de nombreux clubs européens. De plus, la Décision attaquée affecte notamment la participation du RFC Seraing à des compétitions se déroulant sur le sol européen.

iii.    Enfin, l’ordre juridique suisse partage les intérêts et valeurs protégées par le droit européen et notamment les dispositions de droit européen en matière de droit de la concurrence et de libertés de circulation.

[4] See B. van Rompuy, The role of EU Competition Law in Tackling Abuse of Regulatory Power by Sports Associations. In general, see S. Weatherill, European Sports Law, Asser Press, 2014. For my take on the centrality of EU law to exercise a ‘counter-democratic’ check on the lex sportiva, see my PhD thesis (in French) available here.

[5] See crucially CJEU, Meca Medina, 18 July 2006, ECLI:EU:C:2006:492, para.42.

[6] See TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, paras 90-144

[7] Ibid., para.97.

[8] Ibid., para 101. En l'espèce la FIFA invoque plusieurs objectifs poursuivis par les mesures en cause, et qu’il convient de reprendre : la préservation de la stabilité des contrats de joueurs , la garantie de l'indépendance et l'autonomie des clubs et des joueurs en matière de recrutement et de transferts, la sauvegarde de l'intégrité dans le football et du caractère loyal et équitable des compétitions, la prévention de conflits d'intérêts et le maintien de la transparence dans les transactions liées aux transferts de joueurs.

[9] Ibid., paras 102-104.

[10] Ibid., paras 105-106.

[11] Ibid. para. 107.

[12] Ibid., para.108.

[13] See J. Lindholm, Can I please have a slice of Ronaldo? The legality of FIFA’s ban on third-party ownership under European union law and S. Egger, Third-party Ownership of Players’ Economic Rights und Kartellrecht, in K. Vieweg, Inspirationen des Sportrechts, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 2016, pp.307-331.  

[14] TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, paras 109-112

[15] It refers to “une phase significative d’étude, de consultation, de travaux et discussions à laquelle ont participle de nombreux interlocuteurs”, at Ibid., para.113.

[16] Ibid., para.114.

[17] Ibid., para. 116.

[18] Ibid.

[19]“La FIFA ne peut pas contrôler les intérêts de personnes qui ne lui sont pas affiliées, ni les contrats qui sont conclus à l'occasion ou à la suite de transferts par d'autres personnes que les clubs, joueurs et agents et dont la déclaration est obligatoire via le TMS.” Ibid., para.117.

[20] Ibid., para.118.

[21] Ibid., para. 120.

[22] Ibid., paras 125-127.

[23] Ibid., para. 128.

[24] Ibid., para. 135.

[25] Ibid., para. 137.

[26] Ibid., para. 138.

[27] Ibid., para. 142.

[28] Ibid., para. 143.

[29] Ibid., paras 145-148.

[30] Ibid., paras 149-151.

[31] Ibid., paras 152-161.

[32] Ibid., paras 167-179.

[33] On this see R. Parrish, Article 17 of the Fifa Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players : Compatibility with EU Law and G. Pearson, Sporting Justifications under EU Free Movement and Competition Law: The Case of the Football ‘Transfer System’.

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