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

Final Report on the FIFA Governance Reform Project: The Past and Future of FIFA’s Good Governance Gap

Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup left many people thunderstruck: How can a country with a population of 2 million people and with absolutely no football tradition host the biggest football event in the world? Furthermore, how on earth can players and fans alike survive when the temperature is expected to exceed 50 °C during the month (June) the tournament is supposed to take place?

Other people were less surprised when FIFA’s President, Sepp Blatter, pulled the piece of paper with the word “Qatar” out of the envelope on 2 December 2010. This was just the latest move by a sporting body that was reinforcing a reputation of being over-conservative, corrupt, prone to conflict-of-interest and convinced of being above any Law, be it national or international.More...

Doping Paradize – How Jamaica became the Wild West of Doping

Since the landing on the sporting earth of the Übermensch, aka Usain Bolt, Jamaica has been at the centre of doping-related suspicions. Recently, it has been fueling those suspicions with its home-made scandal around the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO). The former executive of JADCO, Renee Anne Shirley, heavily criticized its functioning in August 2013, and Jamaica has been since then in the eye of the doping cyclone. More...

Cocaine, Doping and the Court of Arbitration for sport - “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me”. By Antoine Duval

Beginning of April 2014, the Colombian Olympic Swimmer Omar Pinzón was cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) of an adverse finding of Cocaine detected in a urine sample in 2013. He got lucky. Indeed, in his case the incredible mismanagement and dilettante habits of Bogotá’s anti-doping laboratory saved him from a dire fate: the two-year ban many other athletes have had the bad luck to experience. More...

The French “betting right”: a legislative Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By Ben Van Rompuy

The European Commission has published the “Study on Sports Organisers’ Rights in the EU”, which was carried out by the ASSER International Sports Law Centre (T.M.C. Asser Institute) and the Institute for Information Law (University of Amsterdam). 

The study critically examines the legal protection of rights to sports events (sports organisers’ rights) and various issues regarding their commercial exploitation in the field of media and sports betting, both from a national and EU law perspective.  

In a number of posts, we will highlight some of the key findings of the study. 

“It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty.” 

In recent years, numerous national and European sports organisers have called for the adoption of a specific right to consent to the organisation of bets (“right to consent to bets”), by virtue of which no betting operator could offer bets on a sports event without first entering into a contractual agreement with the organiser. More...

Five Years UEFA Club Licensing Benchmarking Report – A Report on the Reports. By Frédérique Faut, Giandonato Marino and Oskar van Maren

Last week, UEFA, presented its annual Club Licensing Benchmark Report, which analyses socio-economic trends in European club football. The report is relevant in regard to the FFP rules, as it has been hailed by UEFA as a vindication of the early (positive) impact of FFP. This blog post is a report on the report. We go back in time, analysing the last 5 UEFA Benchmarking Reports, to provide a dynamic account of the reports findings. Indeed, the 2012 Benchmarking Report, can be better grasped in this context and longer-lasting trends be identified.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga – Setting the scene

The last years has seen the European Commission being put under increasing pressure to enforce EU State aid law in sport. For example, numerous Parliamentary questions have been asked by Members of the European Parliament[1] regarding alleged State aid to sporting clubs.  In reply to this pressure, on 21 March 2012, the European Commission, together with UEFA, issued a statement. More...

FFP for Dummies. All you need to know about UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations.

Football-wise, 2014 will not only be remembered for the World Cup in Brazil. This year will also determine the credibility of UEFA’s highly controversial Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations. The FFP debate will soon be reaching a climax, since up to 76 European football clubs are facing sanctions by the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB). More...

Prof. Weatherill's lecture on : Three Strategies for defending 'Sporting Autonomy'

On 10 April, the ASSER Sports Law Centre had the honour of welcoming Prof. Weatherill (Oxford University) for a thought-provoking lecture.

In his lecture, Prof. Weatherill outlined to what extent the rules of Sports Governing Bodies enjoy legal autonomy (the so-called lex sportiva) and to what extent this autonomy could be limited by other fields of law such as EU Law. The 45 minutes long lecture lays out three main strategies used in different contexts (National, European or International) by the lex sportiva to secure its autonomy. The first strategy, "The contractual solution", relies on arbitration to escape the purview of national and European law. The second strategy, is to have recourse to "The legislative solution", i.e. to use the medium of national legislations to impose lex sportiva's autonomy. The third and last strategy - "The interpretative or adjudicative solution"- relies on the use of interpretation in front of courts to secure an autonomous realm to the lex sportiva



Tapping TV Money: Players' Union Scores A Goal In Brazil. By Giandonato Marino

On March 27, 2014, a Brazilian court ruling authorized the Football Players’ Union in the State of Sao Paulo[1] to tap funds generated by TV rights agreements destined to a Brazilian Club, Comercial Futebol Clube (hereinafter “Comercial”). The Court came to this decision after Comercial did not comply with its obligation  to pay players’ salaries. It is a peculiar decision when taking into account the global problem of clubs overspending and not complying with their financial obligations.  Furthermore, it could create a precedent for future cases regarding default by professional sporting clubs.


International transfers of minors: The sword of Damocles over FC Barcelona’s head? by Giandonato Marino and Oskar van Maren

In the same week that saw Europe’s best eight teams compete in the Champions League quarter finals, one of its competitors received such a severe disciplinary sanction by FIFA that it could see its status as one of the world’s top teams jeopardized. FC Barcelona, a club that owes its success both at a national and international level for a large part to its outstanding youth academy, La Masia, got to FIFA’s attention for breaching FIFA Regulations on international transfers of minors. 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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