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 Odds of Match Fixing – Facts & Figures on the integrity risk of certain sports bets”. By Ben Van Rompuy

Media reports and interested stakeholders often suggest that certain types of sports bets would significantly increase the risks of match fixing occurring. These concerns also surface in policy discussions at both the national and European level. Frequently calls are made to prohibit the supply of “risky” sports bets as a means to preserve the integrity of sports competitions.

Questions about the appropriateness of imposing such limitations on the regulated sports betting, however, still linger. The lack of access to systematic empirical evidence on betting-related match fixing has so far limited the capacity of academic research to make a proper risk assessment of certain types of sports bets. 

The ASSER International Sports Law Centre has conducted the first-ever study that assesses the integrity risks of certain sports bets on the basis of quantitative empirical evidence. 

We uniquely obtained access to key statistics from Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System (FDS). A five-year dataset of football matches worldwide, which the FDS identified as likely to have been targeted by match fixers, enabled us to observe patterns and correlations with certain types of sports bets. In addition, representative samples of football bets placed with sports betting operator Betfair were collected and analysed. 

The results presented in this report, which challenge several claims about the alleged risks generated by certain types of sports bets, hope to inform policy makers about the cost-effectiveness of imposing limits on the regulated sports betting offer.More...

The Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München - Time for a new reform of CAS?

Editor's note (13 July 2015): We (Ben Van Rompuy and I) have just published on SSRN an article on the Pechstein ruling of the OLG. It is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2621983. Feel free to download it and to share any feedback with us!


On 15 January 2015, the earth must have been shaking under the offices of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne when the Oberlandesgericht München announced its decision in the Pechstein case. If not entirely unpredictable, the decision went very far (further than the first instance) in eroding the legal foundations on which sports arbitration rests. It is improbable (though not impossible) that the highest German civil court, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), which will most likely be called to pronounce itself in the matter, will entirely dismiss the reasoning of the Oberlandesgericht. This blogpost is a first examination of the legal arguments used (Disclaimer: it is based only on the official press release, the full text of the ruling will be published in the coming months).More...



In blood we trust? The Kreuziger Biological Passport Case. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

Over the last twenty years, professional cycling has developed the reputation of one of the “most drug soaked sports in the world”.[1] This should not come as a surprise. The sport’s integrity has plummeted down due to an unprecedented succession of doping scandals. La crème de la crème of professional cyclists has been involved in doping incidents including Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Alejandro Valverde and Lance Armstrong. The once prestigious Tour de France has been stigmatized as a race of “pharmacological feat, not a physical one”.[2]

In view of these overwhelming shadows, in 2008, the International Cycling Union (UCI), in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took a leap in the fight against doping. It became the first International Sports Federation to implement a radical new anti-doping program known as the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).[3] More...

A Question of (dis)Proportion: The CAS Award in the Luis Suarez Biting Saga

The summer saga surrounding Luis Suarez’s vampire instincts is long forgotten, even though it might still play a role in his surprisingly muted football debut in FC Barcelona’s magic triangle. However, the full text of the CAS award in the Suarez case has recently be made available on CAS’s website and we want to grasp this opportunity to offer a close reading of its holdings. In this regard, one has to keep in mind that “the object of the appeal is not to request the complete annulment of the sanction imposed on the Player” (par.33). Instead, Suarez and Barcelona were seeking to reduce the sanction imposed by FIFA. In their eyes, the four-month ban handed out by FIFA extending to all football-related activities and to the access to football stadiums was excessive and disproportionate. Accordingly, the case offered a great opportunity for CAS to discuss and analyse the proportionality of disciplinary sanctions based on the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FIFA DC).  More...

The International Sports Law Digest – Issue II – July-December 2014

I. Literature


1. Antitrust/Competition Law and Sport

G Basnier, ‘Sports and competition law: the case of the salary cap in New Zealand rugby union’, (2014) 14 The International Sports Law Journal 3-4, p.155

R Craven, ‘Football and State aid: too important to fail?’ (2014) 14 The International Sports Law Journal 3-4, p.205

R Craven, ‘State Aid and Sports Stadiums: EU Sports Policy or Deference to Professional Football (2014) 35 European Competition Law Review Issue 9, 453


2. Intellectual Property Rights in Sports law / Betting rights/ Spectators’ rights/ Sponsorship Agreements

Books

W T Champion and K DWillis, Intellectual property law in the sports and entertainment industries (Santa Barbara, California; Denver, Colorado; Oxford, England: Praeger 2014)

J-M Marmayou and F Rizzo, Les contrats de sponsoring sportif (Lextenso éditions 2014) 

More...






Time to Cure FIFA’s Chronic Bad Governance Disease

 After Tuesday’s dismissal of Michael Garcia’s complaint against the now infamous Eckert statement synthetizing (misleadingly in his eyes) his Report on the bidding process for the World Cup 2018 and 2022, Garcia finally decided to resign from his position as FIFA Ethics Committee member. On his way out, he noted: “No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization”. It took Garcia a while to understand this, although others faced similar disappointments before. One needs only to remember the forgotten reform proposals of the Independent Governance Committee led by Prof. Dr. Mark Pieth. More...

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...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | Sport and EU Competition Law: uncharted territories - (II) Mandatory player release systems with no compensation for clubs. 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: 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] 


Background

In 2009, the Spanish Handball League (ASOBAL) and Group Club Handball (the predecessor of the Forum Club Handball (FCH); an association representing the interest of the top European handball clubs) launched a complaint with the European Commission alleging that the rules of the IHF and EHF on the mandatory release of players were in breach of Articles 101 and 102 TFEU.[2] The Commission opened a preliminary investigation. This prompted the EHF to seek an amicable solution with the complainants.

In May 2010, the EHF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FCH, covering issues such as the terms of compensation for the release of players and the representation of clubs and other stakeholders in the bodies of the EHF:

  • The EHF agreed to pay compensation to the clubs for the release of their players to the national team. Starting from the 2010 European Championship, the EHF paid a fee of 270 EUR per player per match via the national federations to the clubs (amounting to a total compensation of 400.000 EUR, i.e. 10 percent of the profits of the 2010 European Championship).[3]

  • The EHF agreed on the principle that “each day a player spends with the national team/selection his salary should be insured by the National Federation, EHF or IHF in case of injury in favour of the clubs”.[4]

    The EHF took an important step towards more inclusive governance by creating the Professional Handball Board, a strategic platform for various stakeholders (leagues, clubs, national federations, and players). It plays an advisory role through the submission of reports and analyses to the EHF Executive Committee and contributes to the decision-making process through its chairperson (who is a full member of the Executive Committee).

Since many of the complainants’ demands were met, ASBOL and FCH withdrew their competition law complaint. Subsequently, the European Commission closed its preliminary investigation in June 2010.

The EU handball “case” is a good illustration of the remedial potential of EU competition law to strengthen good governance in sport. The mere threat of a formal investigation by the European Commission proved sufficient for the EHF to change its rules for the release of players and to establish a channel for clubs and other stakeholders to participate in its decision-making process.

In 2014, the EHF and FCH renewed the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) until June 2018. The modified MoU, which has been the subject of negotiations for more than one year, foresees increased fees for the release of players to the European Championships.

Strengthened by the satisfactory outcome reached with the EHF in 2010, the FCH made attempts to come to a similar arrangement with the IHF. Following negotiations during the course of 2010 and 2011, the IHF for the first time in history paid compensation for the release of players to the World Championship and signed insurance for player salaries for injured players. The IHF Council also proposed to integrate the clubs as stakeholders in its bylaws. The clubs, however, did not accept with the terms and conditions of the proposal and no agreement was reached. The clubs were also dissatisfied with the amount of the compensation paid by the IHF: qualification matches were not compensated and the fee only amounted in average to 10-20 percent of the monthly salary paid by the European top clubs. The prospects of reaching an agreement between the IHF and the CFH dimmed. In March 2012, the IHF made clear that it was no longer prepared to discuss a MoU with the FCH. This prompted 30 German clubs to sue the IHF and the German Handball Federation (DHB) before the regional court of Dortmund in April 2013. 


The 2014 Dortmund judgment

The IHF Player Eligibility Code provides that a club having a foreign player under contract is obliged to “release such player to his National Federation if he is called up to take part in activities of that federation's national team” (Article 7.1.2). The activities include the Olympic Games, World Championships, and continental championships as well as the qualification matches and tournaments for these events. According to Article 7.2 of the Code, a club releasing a national player “shall not have any claim to compensation”. Furthermore, the club must take out insurance coverage for the player in the event of personal injury and resulting consequences for the period for which the player has been called to his federation’s activities (Article 7.3.2). A club failing to release a player that is able to play will be penalized in accordance with the IHF Regulations Concerning Penalties and Fines and the disciplinary regulations of the Continental Confederation concerned (Article 7.4.4).

The German handball clubs, supported by the FCH, argued that the rules concerning the mandatory release of players to the national team and their application by the IHF and DHB constitute an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by Article 102 TFEU and the equivalent German competition law provision (§ 19 Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen, GWB).

The regional court of Dortmund first addressed a number of procedural issues. Considering that the DHB is bound by the rules of the IHF, the court decided to join the proceedings against the IHF and DHB. Moreover, the court did not defer to the jurisdictional exclusivity claimed by the defendants. It stressed that the internal disciplinary bodies or even the Court of Arbitration could not be considered independent and impartial for the purpose of reviewing the compatibility of the mandatory player release system with competition law.[5] According to the court, neither the IHF nor the DHB regulations could prevent the clubs from seeking direct recourse to an ordinary civil court. Lastly, the court found German law to be applicable. Even though Article 7 of the IHF Player Eligibility Code affects handball clubs worldwide, its obligations also substantially affect the German market in which the claimants operate.[6] The intimate connection between the claims against the IHF and the DHB further supported the conclusion that the regional court of Dortmund was the appropriate legal venue for hearing the case.

On substance, the court found that the IHF is a monopolist on the market for the organisation of international handball events, including the World Championships and the Olympic Games (i.e. events in which national teams compete), and on a number of other separate, but closely related, commercial markets (e.g. sponsorship). Also on the markets for the organisation of European and national handball competitions, the IHF holds a dominant position (solely and together with the EHF and the national federations).[7]

Turning to the contested rule of the IHF Player Eligibility Code (Article 7), the court stressed that the obligation for clubs to release players for matches of national teams without compensation is incompatible with the civil code rule of good faith in contractual performance.[8] In any normal business, it would be unthinkable that an undertaking would provide for free a resource, its employees, to a competitor seeking to make profits from that resource.[9] At the same time, the court found that this obligation constitutes an exploitative abuse of a dominant position prohibited by § 19 GWB and Article 102 TFEU. When recruiting top foreign-raised players, clubs must take into account the costs of paying their players while they are absent and, what is more, the costs incurred if those players would get injured during an international match. As such, uncompensated player release restricts the clubs’ contractual freedom and distorts competition between the clubs.

Although Article 102 TFEU does not contain an exemption clause similar to Article 101(3) TFEU, an undertaking may escape an abuse finding by demonstrating an objective justification or efficiency defense for its conduct. The court, however, brushed aside the arguments put forward by the IHF and DHB to this end. 

First, the defendants contended that without the player release system, clubs would not be willing to release their players to national teams. The release rules would also prevent clubs from trying to weaken foreign national teams in favor of their own national team.[10] The court stressed, however, that the mandatory release of players for national teams in itself is not being contested. It also pointed to the fact that the IHF, notwithstanding Article 7.2 of the Player Eligibility Code, decided to pay compensation for the release of players to the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. This indicates that in principle a compensation would not adversely affect the sporting or other interests of the IHF. In addition, the court made numerous references to the MoU reached between the EHF and the FCH as well as to the MoU between FIFA and the European Club Association (ECA) (i.e. the deal as a result of which the Oulmers litigation was terminated, see below). These examples indeed exemplify that an uncompensated player release system cannot be considered indispensable.

Second, the defendants argued that participation in international handball events increases the exposure and thus the value of the players, which indirectly benefits the clubs.[11] Also this argument failed to convince the court. If the IHF and DHB would be able to quantify this advantage, this could be taken into consideration when determining the compensation. Yet it could not objectively justify the denial of compensation for the release of players or for their potential injuries.

In light of these observations, the court declared the conditions for the release of players to foreign national teams, embedded in Article 7.2 and 7.3.2 of the IHF Player Eligibility Code, null and void. Interestingly, the court also suggested that the IHF would introduce a cap on the number of days an association would be entitled to call up players for the national team. 


A landmark judgment in the making?

Unsurprisingly, the IHF and the DHB lodged an appeal against the judgment before the higher regional court (Oberlandesgericht) of Düsseldorf. It is not unthinkable that eventually the case will trigger a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice and emerge as the successor of the abandoned Oulmers litigation against the FIFA player release system.

The regional court of Dortmund did not expressly rely on the Wouters proportionality test, transposed in Meca-Medina, to assess whether the IHF’s player release system constituted an abuse of a dominant position. The court’s analysis is, however, largely consistent with the analysis that the Court of Justice would follow. After having established that the contested rules emanate from an undertaking that has a dominant position, the court verified whether there are less restrictive means to achieve the objectives pursued by the IHF’s mandatory player release system. It did not call into question the necessity of a mandatory player release system for the organisation of international handball competitions, but the court did conclude that the current system – which leaves clubs uncompensated – could not be objectively justified.

For at least two reasons the Dortmund judgment, while not final yet, has potential to become an important precedent for many other sports.

First and foremost, it offers the first substantive assessment of the compatibility of player release rules with EU (and national) competition law. Particularly in the event of a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice, the case could serve as a much-needed wake up call to all international sports federations that currently operate a similar system. Arguably, federations could assert that the compensation should not cover all the costs incurred by the clubs. Indirect benefits to the clubs could be discounted. Yet it appears undeniable that the imposition of the burden on clubs to supply players without allowing them a fair share of the resulting benefits constitutes an abuse prohibited by Article 102 TFEU.

Second, even though sports federations usually have practical monopolies in a given sport, the remedial potential of Article 102 TFEU to tackle abusive conduct remains underexplored. This case, and even the earlier competition law complaint lodged against the EHF, reveals that it offers a powerful instrument to steer sports federations into the direction of better governance. Eventually the IHF will have to follow the path that others (e.g. EHF, FIFA) have traveled. After all, the determination of a fair compensation for player release necessitates a consensual strategy that balances the needs of stakeholders, in this case the clubs, with the needs of the federation.


We continue to follow this case closely, so stay tuned.



[1] Landgericht Dortmund, Urteil vom 14.05.2014, 8 O 46/13.

[2] Cases COMP/39659 ASOBAL v handball federations and COMP/39669 Group Club Handball v handball federations.

[3] Forum Club Handball, EHF pays compensation to the clubs, 28 February 2010.

[4] Forum Club Handball, Insurance of player salaries in case of injury, 15 June 2010.

[5] Landgericht Dortmund, Urteil vom 14.05.2014, 8 O 46/13, paras. 104-114.

[6] Idem, para. 118.

[7] Idem, paras. 121-122.

[8] German Civil Code, Section 242 (An obligor has a duty to perform according to the requirements of good faith, taking customary practice into consideration”).

[9] Landgericht Dortmund, Urteil vom 14.05.2014, 8 O 46/13, para. 129.

[10] Idem, para. 130.

[11] Idem, para. 132.

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