Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The CAS Ad Hoc Division in 2014: Business As Usual? - Part. 2: The Selection Drama

In a first blog last month we discussed the problem of the scope of jurisdiction of the Ad Hoc Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The key issue was whether an athlete could get his case heard in front of the CAS Ad Hoc Division or not. In this second part, we will also focus on whether an athlete can access a forum, but a different kind of forum: the Olympic Games as such. This is a dramatic moment in an athlete’s life, one that will decide the future path of an entire career and most likely a lifetime of opportunities. Thus, it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, nor in disregard of the athletes’ due process rights. In the past, several (non-)selection cases were referred to the Ad Hoc Divisions at the Olympic Games, and this was again the case in 2014, providing us with the opportunity for the present review.

Three out of four cases dealt with by the CAS Ad Hoc Division in Sochi involved an athlete contesting her eviction from the Games. Each case is specific in its factual and legal assessment and deserves an individual review. More...

Should the CAS ‘let Dutee run’? Gender policies in Sport under legal scrutiny. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

The rise of Dutee Chand, India’s 100 and 200-meter champion in the under 18-category, was astonishing. Her achievements were more than promising: after only two years, she broke the 100m and 200m national junior records, competed in the 100m final at the World Youth Athletics Championships in Donetsk and collected two gold medals in the Asian Junior Championships in Chinese Taipei. But, in July 2014, this steady rise was abruptly halted. Following a request from the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), the Sports Authority of India (SAI) conducted blood tests on the Indian sprinters. Dutee was detected with female hyperandrogenism, i.e a condition where the female body produces high levels of testosterone. As a result, a few days before the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the AFI declared Dutee ineligible to compete under the IAAF Regulations and prevented her from competing in future national and international events in the female category. Pursuant to the IAAF ‘Hyperandrogenism Policy’, the AFI would allow Dutee to return to competition only if she lowers her testosterone level beneath the male range by means of medical or surgical treatment.[1] On 25 September 2014, Dutee filed an appeal before the CAS, seeking to overturn the AFI’s decision and declare IAAF and IOC’s hyperandrogenism regulations null and void. She is defending her right to compete the way she actually is: a woman with high levels of testosterone. Interestingly enough, albeit a respondent, AFI supports her case.

IAAF and IOC rules set limits to female hyperandrogenism, which is deemed an unfair advantage that erodes female sports integrity. While these rules have been contested with regard to their scientific and ethical aspects, this is the first time that they will be debated in court. This appeal could have far-reaching ramifications for the sports world. It does not only seek to pave the way for a better ‘deal’ for female athletes with hyperandrogenism, who are coerced into hormonal treatment and even surgeries to ‘normalise’ themselves as women[2], but it rather brings the CAS, for the first time, before the thorny question:

How to strike a right balance between the core principle of ‘fair play’ and norms of non-discrimination, in cases where a determination of who qualifies as a ‘woman’ for the purposes of sport has to be made? More...

The O’Bannon Case: The end of the US college sport’s amateurism model? By Zygimantas Juska

On 8 August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favour of former UCLA basketball player O'Bannon and 19 others, declaring that NCAA's longstanding refusal to compensate athletes for the use of their name, image and likenesses (NILs) violates US antitrust laws. In particular, the long-held amateurism justification promoted by the NCAA was deemed unconvincing.

On 14 November, the NCAA has appealed the judgment, claiming that federal judge erred in law by not applying a 1984 Supreme Court ruling. One week later, the NCAA received support from leading antitrust professors who are challenging the Judge Wilken’s reasoning in an amicus curiae. They are concerned that the judgment may jeopardize the proper regulation of college athletics. The professors argued that if Wilken’s judgment is upheld, it

would substantially expand the power of the federal courts to alter organizational rules that serve important social and academic interests…This approach expands the ‘less restrictive alternative prong’ of the antitrust rule of reason well beyond any appropriate boundaries and would install the judiciary as a regulatory agency for collegiate athletics”.   

More...

Image Rights in Professional Basketball (Part II): Lessons from the American College Athletes cases. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

In the wake of the French Labour Union of Basketball (Syndicat National du Basket, SNB) image rights dispute with Euroleague and EA Games, we threw the “jump ball” to start a series on players’ image rights in international professional basketball. In our first blogpost, we discussed why image rights contracts in professional basketball became a fertile ground for disputes when it comes to the enforcement of these contracts by the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT). Indeed, we pointed out that clubs might take advantage of the BAT’s inconsistent jurisprudence to escape obligations deriving from image rights contracts.

In this second limb, we will open a second field of legal battles “around the rim”: the unauthorized use of players’ image rights by third parties. We will use as a point of reference the US College Athletes image rights cases before US Courts and we will thereby examine the legal nature of image rights and the precise circumstances in which such rights may be infringed. Then, coming back to where we started, we will discuss the French case through the lens of US case law on players’ image rights. 


Source: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2013/09/27/ea-sports-settles-college-likeness-case/ More...


The Olympic Agenda 2020: The devil is in the implementation!

The 40 recommendations of the Olympic Agenda 2020 are out! First thought: one should not underplay the 40 recommendations, they constitute (on paper at least) a potential leap forward for the IOC. The media will focus on the hot stuff: the Olympic channel, the pluri-localisation of the Games, or their dynamic format. More importantly, and to some extent surprisingly to us, however, the IOC has also fully embraced sustainability and good governance. Nonetheless, the long-term legacy of the Olympic Agenda 2020 will hinge on the IOC’s determination to be true to these fundamental commitments. Indeed, the devil is always in the implementation, and the laudable intents of some recommendations will depend on future political choices by Olympic bureaucrats. 

For those interested in human rights and democracy at (and around) the Olympics, two aspects are crucial: the IOC’s confession that the autonomy of sport is intimately linked to the quality of its governance standards and the central role the concept of sustainability is to play in the bidding process and the host city contract.  More...

UEFA’s tax-free Euro 2016 in France: State aid or no State aid?

Last week, the French newspaper Les Echos broke the story that UEFA (or better said its subsidiary) will be exempted from paying taxes in France on revenues derived from Euro 2016. At a time when International Sporting Federations, most notably FIFA, are facing heavy criticisms for their bidding procedures and the special treatment enjoyed by their officials, this tax exemption was not likely to go unnoticed. The French minister for sport, confronted with an angry public opinion, responded by stating that tax exemptions are common practice regarding international sporting events. The former French government agreed to this exemption. In fact, he stressed that without it “France would never have hosted the competition and the Euro 2016 would have gone elsewhere”. More...

The New Olympic Host City Contract: Human Rights à la carte? by Ryan Gauthier, PhD Researcher (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Three weeks ago, I gave a talk for a group of visiting researchers at Harvard Law School on the accountability of the IOC for human rights abuses caused by hosting Olympic Games. On the day of that talk, Human Rights Watch announced that the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) would insert new language into the Host City Contract presumably for the 2022 Olympic Games onwards. The new language apparently requires the parties to the contract to:

“take all necessary measures to ensure that development projects necessary for the organization of the Games comply with local, regional, and national legislation, and international agreements and protocols, applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protection of the environment, health, safety, and labour laws.”More...

The UN and the IOC: Beautiful friendship or Liaison Dangereuse?

The IOC has trumpeted it worldwide as a « historical milestone »: the United Nations has recognised the sacrosanct autonomy of sport. Indeed, the Resolution A/69/L.5 (see the final draft) adopted by the General Assembly on 31 October states that it  “supports the independence and autonomy of sport as well as the mission of the International Olympic Committee in leading the Olympic movement”. This is a logical conclusion to a year that has brought the two organisations closer than ever. In April, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former IOC President, Jacques Rogge, Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport. At this occasion, the current IOC President, Thomas Bach, made an eloquent speech celebrating a “historic step forward to better accomplish our common mission for humanity” and a memorandum understanding was signed between the UN and the IOC. This is all sweet and well, but is there something new under the sun?More...

Image Rights in Professional Basketball (Part I): The ‘in-n-out rimshot’ of the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal to enforce players’ image rights contracts. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

A warning addressed to fans of French teams featuring in the recently launched video game NBA 2K15: Hurry up! The last jump ball for Strasbourg and Nanterre in NBA 2K 15 may occur earlier than expected. The French Labour Union of Basketball (Syndicat National du Basket, SNB) is dissatisfied that Euroleague and 2K Games did not ask (nor paid) for its permission before including the two teams of Pro A in the NBA 2K15 edition. What is at issue? French basketball players’ image rights have been transferred to SNB, which intends to start proceedings before the US Courts against 2K Games requesting 120.000 euros for unauthorized use of the players’ image rights. SNB is clear: it is not about the money, but rather to defend the players’ rights.[1] Strasbourg and Nanterre risk to “warm up” the virtual bench if this litigation goes ahead. 

Source: http://forums.nba-live.com/viewtopic.php?f=149&t=88661&start=250 More...

Sport and EU Competition Law: uncharted territories - (II) Mandatory player release systems with no compensation for clubs. By Ben Van Rompuy

The European Commission’s competition decisions in the area of sport, which set out broad principles regarding the interface between sports-related activities and EU competition law, are widely publicized. As a result of the decentralization of EU competition law enforcement, however, enforcement activity has largely shifted to the national level. Since 2004, national competition authorities (NCAs) and national courts are empowered to fully apply the EU competition rules on anti-competitive agreements (Article 101 TFEU) and abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 TFEU).

Even though NCAs and national courts have addressed a series of interesting competition cases (notably dealing with the regulatory aspects of sport) during the last ten years, the academic literature has largely overlooked these developments. This is unfortunate since all stakeholders (sports organisations, clubs, practitioners, etc.) increasingly need to learn from pressing issues arising in national cases and enforcement decisions. In a series of blog posts we will explore these unknown territories of the application of EU competition law to sport.

In this second installment of this blog series, we discuss a recent judgment of the regional court (Landgericht) of Dortmund finding that the International Handball Federation (IHF)’s mandatory release system of players for matches of national teams without compensation infringes EU and German competition law.[1] More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Sport and EU Competition Law: New developments and unfinished business. By Ben Van Rompuy

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

Sport and EU Competition Law: New developments and unfinished business. By Ben Van Rompuy

Editor's note: Ben Van Rompuy, Head of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, was recently interviewed by LexisNexis UK for their in-house adviser service. With kind permission from LexisNexis we reproduce the interview on our blog in its entirety. 

How does competition law affect the sports sector?  

The application of EU competition law to the sports sector is a fairly recent and still unfolding development. It was only in the mid-1990s, due to the growing commercialization of professional sport, that there emerged a need to address competition issues in relation to, for instance, ticketing arrangements or the sale of media rights.  

Apart from the evident link between competition law and commercial activities related to sport, competition law also has a vital role to play in relation to the regulatory aspects of sport. Most markets for the organization of sports events are a textbook example of monopolistic markets. As a result, sports associations exercise pure monopsony power: athletes have no choice but to accept unilaterally imposed restrictions. Albeit limited to case-by-case inquiry, competition law is thus a meaningful instrument to curb the otherwise unfettered private regulatory power of sports associations. Unfortunately, it remains underutilized. Only a handful of international sports federations have truly experienced the “Bosman effect” and faced scrutiny of their regulatory activity under the EU antitrust rules.   


Have there been any important sports-related antitrust cases in recent years? 

Not at the EU level. Regarding commercial activities, the latest case dates from 2006, namely the Commission’s commitment decision on the joint selling of the Premier League media rights. And after some politically difficult uphill battles around the 2000s against FIFA and the International Automobile Federation the European Commission has been extremely reluctant to intervene in regulatory matters. Lasts year’s rejection of the complaint against UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules was the latest “achievement”. In the last few months, however, the Commission has received a number of new interesting complaints. 

Since the decentralization of EU antitrust enforcement in 2004, National Competition Authorities have addressed more than 40 decisions concerning the joint selling of sports media rights. For the most part, the remedy package designed by the Commission has been replicated, but there are some differences: the more widespread use of a “no single buyer” obligation and the acceptance of exclusive rights contracts exceeding three years. 

Regarding regulatory aspects, a string of recent national cases have challenged rules that disproportionally restrict athlete participation in events not organized and promoted by the official federation, notably in smaller sports such as motor sport, horseracing and bodybuilding (Ireland, Italy, Sweden). What characterizes these cases is that the remedial action was purely national in scope. In Germany, by contrast, two exploitative abuse cases are making their way up through the courts that have the potential of becoming important EU-wide precedents. Both are concerned with unfair trading conditions – a rarity these days: mandatory arbitration clauses (International Skating Union) and rules concerning the mandatory release of players to the national team without compensation (International Handball Federation).  


What other aspects of competition law are important in the sporting context? 

The State aid rules are the last unexplored frontier. For decades, national and regional public authorities have directly or indirectly financed sports organisations, sports infrastructure or individual clubs, but these measures have blissfully remained under the radar of EU State aid control. Yet in the last four years, the number of complaints against alleged unlawful State aid to professional sport, mostly football clubs, has been rising. Interestingly, citizens filed most of these complaints. 

With the enactment of the new Block Exemption Regulation and several formal decisions on for instance Belgian, French, German, and Swedish State aid for the construction and renovation of stadiums, the Commission has developed a coherent set of principles for infrastructure funding. The most complex cases are still pending. They concern land swaps/sale of State property (Spain, the Netherlands), tax advantages (Spain), and bank loans, guarantees or debt waivers (Spain, the Netherlands). The beneficiaries include top clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona so the decisions are bound to attract huge media interest. 


Are there likely to be any developments in the future? 

Competition problems related to the sale of sports media rights will continue to arise at the national level. Public authorities will inevitably face stricter State aid control when supporting professional sports. State aid control could also be an effective instrument to put an end to the practice that selective tax exemptions for UEFA, FIFA, the IOC, etc. are a condition for applications to host international sporting events. 

The European Commission is currently examining a new complaint against FIFA’s ban on third-party ownership of players’ economic rights (TPO) in football and one concerning FIFA’s new regulations for player’s agents. These could result in high-profile cases. 

I do hope that the Commission will reclaim its responsibility for ensuring that rules and practices of international sports associations comply with EU competition law, particularly when athletes lodge complaints. National competition authorities lack the political power to confront international federations. And for most athletes, the possibility of private enforcement is not a real alternative given clauses barring access to national courts, the costs and the length of proceedings. For example, I am currently advising two Dutch Olympic speed skaters whose faith lies entirely in the hands of the Commission. They filed a complaint against the International Skating Union, who threatens them with a lifelong ban if they would participate in lucrative events outside the official calendar. The European Parliament has urged the Commission to open a formal investigation so we are optimistic that the Commission will take its responsibility and handle this case.  


What should lawyers in this field advise their clients? 

It is all about justifications. What you often see is that, in an attempt to shield certain practices from competition law scrutiny, much effort is put into arguments that, for example, sports associations or clubs are not “undertakings”. And only when these fail, recourse is made to underdeveloped arguments about the specificity of sport. Yet the true test lies here: are the restrictive effects reasonably necessary for the organization and proper conduct of sport? This obviously necessitates a good understanding of the sports sector and its internal dynamics. Even more so because competition authorities and courts typically give considerable deference to the legitimate role and expertise of sports associations in regulating their competitions.  

Given that most sports-related antitrust cases are now being addressed at the national level, there is a strong need to learn and draw from this decisional practice and case law. I am currently developing a database that reports and comments on all these cases, which should be a useful resource for those advising clients in the sports world.


Comments (1) -

  • Loek Jorritsma

    5/22/2015 1:25:32 PM |

    I have some questions. Where can I find why and what is a sportorganisation? Is, for example, indeed the International Automobile Federation a sportorganisation? Who decides? On what grounds? And is bodybuilding a sport? Why and who decides? On what arguments? In my opinion, since sportorganisations are not by name and activity defined by national and international law, there is no groud to exempt them form competition law. And I dislike it. Because I think sportorganisation have to be considerd as the organisations to deliver services of general interest. There is still a gap between the status of organisations and their activities.

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