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 – November and December 2019- By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

WADA Conference and the Adoption of 2021 WADA Code Amid Calls for Reform

On November 5-7, WADA held its Fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport where it faced a busy schedule, including the adoption of the revised 2021 World Anti-Doping Code and the election of a new WADA President and Vice-President by the Foundation Board. Concerning the latter, Witold Bańka, Poland’s Minister of Sport and Tourism, was elected as WADA President and Yang Yang, a former Chinese speed skater, elected as Vice-President, replacing Sir Craig Reedie and Linda Helleland respectively.  As Helleland leaves her position, she has expressed some strong views on the state of sport governance, particularly that ‘there is an absence of good governance, openness and independence in the highest levels of international sports’. Helleland was not the only one to recently voice governance concerns, as Rob Koehler, Director General of Global Athlete, also called for a ‘wholesale structural change at WADA’, which includes giving ‘independent’ athletes a vote in WADA’s Foundation Board, ensuring a greater ‘separation of powers’ and ensuring greater protection of athletes’ rights.

In the midst of the calls for reform, the amended 2021 WADA Code and the amended International Standards were also adopted after a two year, three stage code review process. Furthermore, a major milestone in athletes’ rights was achieved with the adoption of the Athletes’ Anti-Doping Rights Acts (separate from the WADA Code), which enumerates certain basic rights to help ‘ensure that Athlete rights within anti-doping are clearly set out, accessible, and universally applicable’. On the other hand, the Act ‘is not a legal document’, which clearly circumscribes some of the potential effects the Act may have. Nonetheless, athlete representative groups have ‘cautiously welcomed’ some of the changes brought by the 2021 WADA Code, such as the ‘modified sanctions for substances of abuse violations’.

Sung Yang’s Historical Public Hearing at the CAS

After much anticipation, the second public hearing in CAS history occurred on November 15 in Montreux, Switzerland in the Sun Yang case (details of this case were discussed in August and September’s monthly report), which was livestreamed and can be seen in its totality in four different parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). This was an extremely unique opportunity, which hopefully will become a more common occurrence, to see just how CAS hearings are conducted and perhaps get a taste of some of the logistical issues that can emerge during live oral hearings. One of these problems, accurate translations, rapidly became apparent as soon as Sun Yang sat in the witness chair to give his opening statements. The translators in the box seemed to struggle to provide an intelligible English interpretation of Sun Yang and other witnesses’ statements, while Sun Yang also seemingly had trouble understanding the translated questions being posed to him. The situation degenerated to such an extent that ultimately one of WADA’s officials was called to replace the translators. However, the translation drama did not end there, since during Sun Yang’s closing statements an almost seemingly random person from the public appeared next to Sun Yang who claimed to have been requested from Sun Yang’s team to ‘facilitate’ the translation. Franco Frattini, president of the panel, questioned the identity of the ‘facilitator’ and explained that one could not just simply appear before the court without notice. Interestingly, Sun Yang’s legal team also rapidly intervened claiming that it had not been made of aware of the inclusion of the supporting translator, further complicating the matter. In the end, Sun Yang concluded his statements with the translation from the WADA official.

While it was Sun Yang’s legal team that had provided the original translators in the box, it still raises the question as to how translation at CAS could be improved to ensure a certain standard of translators. After all, quality translation is critical to the parties’ right to be heard under Article 6 (e) ECHR. Regardless, in the end, neither parties made an objection that their right to be heard was violated.

Russian Doping Saga Continues: WADA Compliance Review Committee Recommends Strong Sanctions

As was already discussed in August and September’s monthly report, WADA uncovered numerous inconsistencies concerning data taken from the Moscow Laboratory. After further investigation, WADA’s Compliance Review Committee has recommended that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) be found non-compliant with the WADA Code. Accompanying the recommendation, the Compliance Review Committee also suggested several sanctions, which include prohibiting Russian athletes from participating in major events like the Olympic Games and ‘any World Championships organized or sanctioned by any Signatory’ for the next four years unless they may ‘dmonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance’. It would also see an embargo on events hosted in Russia during the same period. However, these sanctions did not go far enough for some, like Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA, who wishes to prevent a repeat of Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 ‘in which a secretly-managed process permitting Russians to compete – did not work’. On the other hand, the IOC has advocated for a softer, individual based approach that pursues ‘the rules of natural justice and respect human rights’. In the midst of these developments, the Athletics Integrity Unit also decided to charge several members of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF), including its President Dmitry Shlyakhtin, after a 15 month investigation for ‘tampering and complicity’ concerning a Russian athlete’s whereabouts violations.

Following many calls for strong consequences, the WADA Executive Committee met on December 9th and adopted the recommendations of the Compliance Review Committee. Athlete representatives have expressed their disappointment with the sanctions, calling the decision ‘spineless’ since it did not pursue a complete ban on Russian participation at events such as Euro 2020 and the 2020 Olympics. At this point, RUSADA has sent notice to WADA that it will be disputing the decision of WADA’s Executive Committee’s decision at the CAS.More...


Balancing Athletes’ Interests and The Olympic Partner Programme: the Bundeskartellamt’s Rule 40 Decision - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1        Introduction

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), after many years of ineffective pushback (see here, here and here) over bye law 3 of rule 40[1] of the Olympic Charter (OC), which restricts the ability of athletes and their entourage to advertise themselves during the ‘blackout’ period’[2] (also known as the ‘frozen period’) of the Olympic Games, may have been gifted a silver bullet to address a major criticism of its rules. This (potentially) magic formula was handed down in a relatively recent decision of the Bundeskartellamt, the German competition law authority, which elucidated how restrictions to athletes’ advertisements during the frozen period may be scrutinized under EU competition law. The following blog begins by explaining the historical and economic context of rule 40 followed by the facts that led to the decision of the Bundeskartellamt. With this background, the decision of the Bundeskartellamt is analyzed to show to what extent it may serve as a model for EU competition law authorities. More...

Is UCI the new ISU? Analysing Velon’s Competition Law Complaint to the European Commission - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

The UCI may soon have to navigate treacherous legal waters after being the subject of two competition law based complaints (see here and here) to the European Commission in less than a month over rule changes and decisions made over the past year. One of these complaints stems from Velon, a private limited company owned by 11 out of the 18 World Tour Teams,[1] and the other comes from the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico, an entity based in Italy representing an amalgamation of stakeholders in Italian professional cycling. While each of the complaints differ on the actual substance, the essence is the same: both are challenging the way the UCI exercises its regulatory power over cycling because of a growing sense that the UCI is impeding the development of cycling as a sport. Albeit in different ways: Velon sees the UCI infringing on its ability to introduce new race structures and technologies; the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico believes the UCI is cutting opportunities for semi-professional cycling teams, the middle ground between the World Tour Teams and the amateur teams.

While some of the details remain vague, this blog will aim to unpack part of the claims made by Velon in light of previous case law from both the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to give a preliminary overview of the main legal issues at stake and some of the potential outcomes of the complaint. First, it will be crucial to understand just who/what Velon is before analyzing the substance of Velon’s complaint. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2019 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 


The Headlines

International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference 2019

The T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Asser International Sports Law Centre held the third International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference on October 24-25. The Conference created a forum for academics and practitioners to discuss, debate and share knowledge on the latest developments of sports law. It featured six uniquely themed panels, which included topics such as ‘Transfer systems in international sports’ and ‘Revisiting the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS’ to ‘The future of sports: sports law of the future’. The ISLJ Conference was also honored to have two exceptional keynote speakers: Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas. To kick off the conference, Moya Dodd shared her experiences from an athlete’s perspective in the various boardrooms of FIFA. The second day was then launched by Ulrich Haas, who gave an incredibly thorough and insightful lecture on the importance, function and legal basis of association tribunals in international sport. For a detailed overview of this year’s ISLJ Conference, click here for the official conference report.

The Asser International Sports Law Centre was delighted to have been able to host another great edition of the ISLJ Conference and is thankful to all the participants and speakers who made this edition such a success.

Moving towards greater transparency: Launch of FIFA’s Legal Portal

On October 31, FIFA announced that it was introducing a new legal portal on its website that will give greater access to numerous documents that previously were kept private. FIFA explains that this is in order to help increase its transparency, which was one of the key ‘Guiding Principles’ highlighted in FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future released in 2016. This development comes as many sport governing bodies face increasing criticism for the opacity of its judicial bodies’ decisions, which can have tremendous economic and societal impacts. The newly available documents will include: ‘decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the FIFA Appeal Committee (notified as of 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Ethics Committee (notified since 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Players’ Status Committee and the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber; non-confidential CAS awards in proceedings to which FIFA is a party (notified since 1 January 2019); list of CAS arbitrators proposed by FIFA for appointment by ICAS, and the number of times they have been nominated in CAS proceedings’. The list of decisions from all the aforementioned bodies are updated every four months, according to their respective webpages. However, time will ultimately tell how consistently decisions are published. Nevertheless, this move is a major milestone in FIFA’s journey towards increasing its transparency.

Hong Kong Protests, Human Rights and (e)Sports Law: The Blizzard and NBA controversies

Both Blizzard, a major video game developer, and the NBA received a flurry of criticism for their responses to persons expressing support for the Hong Kong protests over the past month. On October 8, Blizzard sanctioned Blitzchung, a professional Hearthstone player who expressed support of the Hong Kong protest during a post-match interview, by eliminating the prize money he had won and suspending him for one year from any Hearthstone tournament. Additionally, Blizzard will cease to work with the casters who conducted the interview. With mounting disapproval over the sanctions,  J. Allen Brack, the president of Blizzard, restored the prize money and reduced the period of ineligibility to 6 months.

The NBA controversy started when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for the protests in Hong Kong. The tweet garnered much attention, especially in China where it received a lot of backlash, including an announcement from CCTV, the official state broadcaster in China, that it was suspending all broadcasts of the NBA preseason games. In attempts to appease its Chinese audience, which is a highly profitable market for the NBA, Morey deleted the tweet and posted an apology, and the NBA responded by saying that the initial tweet was ‘regrettable’. Many scolded these actions and accused the NBA of censorship to which the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, responded that the NBA remains committed to freedom of expression.

Both cases highlighted how (e)sport organizations may be faced with competing interests to either guarantee greater protection of human rights or to pursue interests that perhaps have certain financial motivations. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – August and September 2019 - By Thomas Terraz

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

Another Russian Doping Crisis? Inconsistencies Uncovered in the Data from the Moscow Lab

Storm clouds are brewing once more in the Russian Doping Saga, after several inconsistencies were uncovered by WADA from data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory. More specifically, a certain number of positive tests had been removed from the data WADA retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory compared to the one received from the original whistleblower. WADA launched a formal compliance procedure on 23 September, giving three weeks for Russian authorities to respond and provide their explanations. WADA’s Compliance Review Committee is set to meet on 23 October in order to determine whether to recommend declaring Russia non-compliant.

Russian authorities are not the only ones now facing questions in light of these new revelations. Criticism of WADA’s decision to declare Russia compliant back in September 2018 have been reignited by stakeholders. That original decision had been vehemently criticized (see also Edwin Moses’ response), particularly by athlete representative groups.

The fallout of these data discrepancies may be far reaching if Russian authorities are unable to provide a satisfying response. There are already whispers of another impending Olympic Games ban and the possibility of a ban extending to other sports signed to the WADA Code. In the meantime, the IAAF has already confirmed that the Russian Athletes would compete as ‘authorised neutral athletes’ at the World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar.

Legal Challenges Ahead to Changes to the FIFA Football Transfer Market

FIFA is set to make amendments to its player transfer market that take aim at setting new boundaries for football agents. These changes will prohibit individuals from representing both the buying and selling club in the same transaction and set new limits on agent commissions (3 percent for the buying club and player representative and 10 percent for the selling team). FIFA is already in the process of creating a central clearinghouse through which all transfer payments would have to pass through, including agent commissions. FIFA will be making a final decision on these proposed changes at the FIFA Council meeting on 24 October.

If these proposed changes are confirmed, they will almost certainly be challenged in court. The British trade organization representing football agents, Association of Football Agents, has already begun its preparations for a costly legal battle by sending a plea to its members for donations. It claims that it had not been properly consulted by FIFA before this decision had been made. On the other hand, FIFA claims that ‘there has been a consultation process with a representative group of agents’ and that FIFA kept ‘an open dialogue with agents’. Regardless, if these proposed changes go through, FIFA will be on course to a looming legal showdown.

CAS Public Hearing in the Sun Yang Case: One Step Forward for Transparency?

On 20 August, 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the hearing in the appeal procedure of the Sun Yang case will be held publicly. It will be only the second time in its history that a public hearing has been held (the last one being in 1999, Michelle Smith De Bruin v. FINA). WADA has appealed the original decision of the FINA Doping Panel which had cleared Sun Yang from an alleged anti-doping rule violation. The decision to make the hearing public was at the request of both parties. The hearing is set to take place November 15th and is likely to be an important milestone in improving the CAS’ transparency.

Sun Yang, who has already served a doping ban for a previous violation in 2014, has also been at the center of another controversy, where Mack Horton, an Australian swimmer, refused to shake hands and stand on the podium with Sun Yang at the world championships in Gwangju. More...

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - By Thomas Terraz

On October 24th and 25th 2019, the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the International Sports Law Centre hosted the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference for a third year in a row, bringing together a group of academics and practitioners from around the world. This year’s conference celebrated the 20th year of the International Sports Law Journal, which was originally started by Robert Siekmann. Over the past 20 years, the ISLJ has aimed to be a truly international journal that addresses global topics in sports law while keeping the highest academic standards.

With this background, the conference facilitated discussions and exchanges over six differently themed panels on international sports law’s most pertinent issues and gave participants wide opportunities to engage with one another. Additionally, this year’s edition also had the great honor of hosting two distinguished keynote speakers, Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas, who were able to share their wealth of experience and knowledge with the conference participants.

The following report aims to give an overview of the ISLJ Conference 2019 to extract and underline the fundamental ideas raised by the different speakers.More...

Caster Semenya’s Legal Battle Against Gender Stereotypes: On Nature, Law and Identity - By Sofia Balzaretti (University of Fribourg)

Editor's note: Sofia Balzaretti is a Graduate research assistant and a PhD candidate at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) where she is writing a thesis on the Protection against Gender Stereotypes in International Law. In addition to research in human rights and feminist legal theory, she has also carried out some research in legal philosophy and on the relationship between gender and the law.

 

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the monitoring body of track and field athletics, regularly submitted South African middle distance runner and Olympic gold medalist Mokgadi Caster Semenya to sex verification tests when it began questioning her sexual characteristics and speculating whether her body belonged on the Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) spectrum. DSD Syndrome is often defined as an “intersex condition” which affects the clear development of either/or genitalia, gonads and chromosomes into one distinctive sex or another. The spectrum of the intersex condition is particularly wide, and the disorder can sometimes be minimal - some cases of female infertility can actually be explained by an intersex condition.

The IAAF deemed the controversial sex verification tests necessary on the grounds that it was required to prove Semenya did not have a “medical condition” which could give her an “unfair advantage”. It was eventually found that, because of an intersex trait, Semenya did have abnormally high levels of testosterone for a woman, which, in the IAAF’s opinion, justified a need for regulatory hormonal adjustments in order for her to keep competing in the women’s category. The IAAF also funded research to determine how ‘hyperandrogenism’ affects athletic performance. In 2018, it issued Eligibility Regulations on Female Classification (“Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development”) for events from 400m to the mile, including 400m, hurdles races, 800m and 1’500m. The IAAF rules indicated that in case of an existing high level of testosterone, suppression or regulation by chemotherapy, hormonal castration, and/or iatrogenic irradiation was mandatory in order to take part in these events.

Semenya and her lawyers challenged the IAAF Regulations in front of the CAS, who, in a very controversial decision, deemed the Regulations a necessary, reasonable and proportionate mean “of achieving the aim of what is described as the integrity of female athletics and for the upholding of the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in certain events” (§626). More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June and July 2019 - By Tomáš Grell

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.

 

The Headlines

The European Court of Justice finds that rule of a sports association excluding nationals of other Member States from domestic amateur athletics championships may be contrary to EU law

On 13 June 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a preliminary ruling at the request of the Amtsgericht Darmstadt (Local Court Darmstadt, Germany) filed in the course of the proceedings involving Mr Daniele Biffi, an Italian amateur athlete residing in Germany, and his athletics club TopFit based in Berlin, on the one hand, and the German athletics association Deutscher Leichtathletikverband, on the other. The case concerned a rule adopted by the German athletics association under which nationals of other Member States are not allowed to be awarded the title of national champion in senior amateur athletics events as they may only participate in such events outside/without classification. The ECJ’s task was to decide whether or not the rule in question adheres to EU law.

The ECJ took the view that the two justifications for the rule in question put forward by the German athletics association did not appear to be founded on objective considerations and called upon the Amtsgericht Darmstadt to look for other considerations that would pursue a legitimate objective. In its judgment, the ECJ analysed several important legal questions, including amongst others the applicability of EU law to amateur sport or the horizontal applicability of European citizenship rights (for detailed analysis of the judgment, please see our blog written by Thomas Terraz).

Milan not featuring in this season’s edition of Europa League following a settlement with UEFA

On 28 June 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rendered a consent award giving effect to a settlement agreement between UEFA and the Milan Football Club, under which the Italian club agreed to serve a one-year ban from participation in UEFA club competitions as a result of its breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations over the 2015/2016/2017 and the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring periods, while the European football’s governing body agreed to set aside previous decisions of the Investigatory and Adjudicatory Chamber of its Club Financial Control Body which had found Milan guilty of the respective breaches.   

This was not the first intervention of the CAS related to Milan’s (non-)compliance with UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. In July 2018, the CAS annulled the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body of 19 June 2018 which was supposed to lead to the exclusion of the Italian club from UEFA club competitions for which it would otherwise qualify in the next two seasons (i.e. 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 seasons). Following such intervention of the CAS – which concerned the 2015/2016/2017 monitoring period – it may have appeared that Milan would eventually manage to escape a ban from participation in UEFA club competitions for breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. However, Milan’s case was again referred to the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body in April 2019 – this time its alleged breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations concerned the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring period – and such referral apparently forced Milan into negotiations with UEFA which led to the settlement agreement ratified by the CAS.      

Swiss Federal Tribunal gives Caster Semenya a glimmer of hope at first but then stops her from running at the IAAF World Championships in Doha

Caster Semenya’s legal team brought an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal in late May against the landmark ruling of the CAS which gave the IAAF the green light to apply its highly contentious Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Difference of Sexual Development) preventing female athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone from participating in certain athletic events unless they take medication to supress such levels of testosterone below the threshold of five nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months. The appeal yielded some positive partial results for Caster Semenya early on as the Swiss Federal Tribunal ordered the IAAF on 3 June 2019 to suspend the implementation of the contested regulations. However, the Swiss Federal Tribunal overturned its decision at the end of July which means that Caster Semenya is no longer able to run medication-free and this will most likely be the case also when the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships kick off in Doha in less than one month’s time. The procedural decisions adopted by the Swiss Federal Tribunal thus far have no impact on the merits of Caster Semenya’s appeal.More...

Book Review - Football and the Law, Edited by Nick De Marco - By Despina Mavromati (SportLegis/University of Lausanne)

 Editor's Note: Dr. Despina Mavromati, LL.M., M.B.A., FCIArb is an Attorney-at-law specialized in international sports law and arbitration (SportLegis) and a Member of the UEFA Appeals Body. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and is a former Managing Counsel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.


This comprehensive book of more than 500 pages with contributions by 53 authors and edited by Nick De Marco QC “aims to embody the main legal principles and procedures that arise in football law”. It is comprised of 29 chapters and includes an index, a table of football regulations and a helpful table of cases including CAS awards, UEFA & FIFA Disciplinary Committee decisions and Football Association, Premier League and Football League decisions. 

The 29 chapters cover a wide range of regulatory and legal issues in football, predominantly from the angle of English law. This is logical since both the editor and the vast majority of contributing authors are practitioners from England.

Apart from being of evident use to anyone involved in English football, the book offers additional basic principles that are likely to be of use also to those involved in football worldwide, including several chapters entirely dedicated to the European and International regulatory framework on football: chapter 3 (on International Federations) gives an overview of the pyramidal structure of football internationally and delineates the scope of jurisdiction among FIFA and the confederations; chapter 4 explains European law and its application on football deals mostly with competition issues and the free movement of workers; and chapter 29 deals with international football-related disputes and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In addition to the chapters exclusively dealing with international football matters, international perspectives and the international regulatory landscape is systematically discussed – in more or less depth, as the need might be – in several other chapters of the book, including: chapter 2 on the “Institutions” (from governing bodies to stakeholders groups in football); chapter 6 on the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP); chapter 8 dealing with (national and international) player transfers; chapter 11 (on Third Party Investment) and chapter 16 on Financial Fair Play (mostly discussing the UEFA FFP Regulations); chapter 23  on disciplinary matters (very briefly discussing the disciplinary procedures under FIFA and UEFA Disciplinary rules); chapter 24 on domestic and international doping-related cases in football, with an overview of the CAS jurisprudence in this respect; and finally chapter 23 on corruption and match-fixing (with a very short description of the FIFA and UEFA regulations).

Furthermore, the book offers extensive chapters in less discussed – yet of high importance – football topics, including: chapter 13 on image rights and key clauses in image rights agreements; chapter 14 on taxation (referring also to taxation issues in image rights and intermediary fees); chapter 15 on sponsoring and commercial rights, with a guide on the principal provisions in a football sponsoring contract and various types of disputes arising out of sponsorship rights; chapter 17 on personal injury, discussing the duty of care in football cases (from the U.K.); and chapter 18 on copyright law and broadcasting (with short references to the European law and the freedom to supply football broadcasting services).

Some chapters seem to have a more general approach to the subject matter at issue without necessarily focusing on football. These include chapters 27 (on mediation) and 22 (on privacy and defamation), and even though they were drafted by reputable experts in their fields, I would still like to see chapter 27 discuss in more detail the specific aspects, constraints and potential of mediation in football-related disputes as opposed to a general overview of mediation as a dispute-resolution mechanism. The same goes for chapter 22, but this could be explained by the fact that there are not necessarily numerous football-specific cases that are publicly available. 

As is internationally known, “football law” is male-dominated. This is also demonstrated in the fact that of the 53 contributing authors, all of them good colleagues and most of them renowned in their field, only eight are female (15%). Their opinions, however, are of great importance to the book due to the subject matter on which these women have contributed, such as player contracts (Jane Mulcahy QC), player transfers (Liz Coley), immigration issues in football (Emma Mason), broadcasting (Anita Davies) or disciplinary issues (Alice Bricogne).

The book is a success not only due to the great good work done by its editor, Nick De Marco QC but first and foremost due to its content, masterfully prepared by all 53 authors. On the one hand, the editor carefully delimited and structured the scope of each topic in a logical order and in order to avoid overlaps (a daunting task in case of edited volumes with numerous contributors like this one!), while on the other hand, all 53 authors followed a logical and consistent structure in their chapters and ensured an expert analysis that would have not been possible had this book been authored by one single person.  

Overall, I found this book to be a great initiative and a very useful and comprehensive guide written by some of the most reputable experts. The chapters are drafted in a clear and understandable way and the editor did a great job putting together some of the most relevant and topical legal and regulatory issues from the football field, thus filling a much-needed gap in the “football law” literature.

Can a closed league in e-Sports survive EU competition law scrutiny? The case of LEC - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1.     Introduction

The organizational structure of sports in Europe is distinguished by its pyramid structure which is marked by an open promotion and relegation system. A truly closed system, without promotion and relegation, is unknown to Europe, while it is the main structure found in North American professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and the NHL. Recently, top European football clubs along with certain members of UEFA have been debating different possibilities of introducing a more closed league system to European football. Some football clubs have even wielded the threat of forming an elite closed breakaway league. Piercing through these intimidations and rumors, the question of whether a closed league system could even survive the scrutiny of EU competition law remains. It could be argued that an agreement between clubs to create a completely closed league stifles competition and would most likely trigger the application of Article 101 and 102 TFEU.[1] Interestingly, a completely closed league franchise system has already permeated the European continent. As outlined in my previous blog, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) is a European e-sports competition that has recently rebranded and restructured this year from an open promotion and relegation system to a completely closed franchise league to model its sister competition from North America, the League Championship Series. This case is an enticing opportunity to test how EU competition law could apply to such a competition structure.

As a preliminary note, this blog does not aim to argue whether the LEC is a ‘real’ sport competition and makes the assumption that the LEC could be considered as a sports competition.[2]

More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

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 boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. 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.

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? The European Commission already held that European football championships, the Olympics and Formula 1 are premium rights but the question remains open for various other sports because they have not been the subject of competition proceedings yet. Two recent cases (the decisions are accessible here and here) brought before the French competition authority concerning rugby TV rights highlighted the need to bring out objective criteria to determine what are premium sport rights, bearing in mind that something premium in France may be qualified as non-premium in another market depending on its characteristics. Before discussing the need for legal certainty for sport rights holders, we will appraise the two French decisions on rugby and how premium sports are qualified.  


From non-premium to premium 

Canal Plus, the current holder of the rights, and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (national rugby league, “LNR”) entered into a negotiated procedure regarding the renewal of their Top 14 TV rights. However, in December 2013, the procedure was unsuccessful and the LNR decided to terminate the contract it had with Canal Plus. In so doing, the LNR started a legal war with its former broadcaster. As one of the conditions for the approval of the TPS/Canal Sat merger, Canal Plus was required to give the LNR the option to terminate their contract at the end of the 2013/2014 season.[1] The LNR, deciding that the price Canal Plus was paying did not correspond to the reality of the market anymore, started an open call for tenders for the next four seasons which led Canal Plus to file several legal actions to challenge the interruption of the negotiations, the termination of the contract and the call for tenders. Almost immediately the LNR suspended the call for tenders and resumed its negotiations with Canal Plus. In January 2014, the exclusive TV rights for all the Top 14 matches were awarded to Canal Plus - not only for the subsequent four but ultimately the following five seasons (2014/2015 to 2018/2019). Canal Plus had to put 355 million euros on the table to acquire the exclusive rights, amounting to twice the amount it paid for the previous broadcasting contract. BeIN Sports, a newcomer on the French sport TV rights market,[2] filed a complaint and asked for interim measures with the Autorité de la concurrence.[3]

The French competition authority, in its decisional practice,[4] distinguishes six different markets for sport TV rights acquisitions: (i) the national football first division market (Ligue 1); (ii) the market for annual football championships involving French teams (Ligue, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League); (iii) the market for the most attractive foreign football championships; (iv) the market for other football competitions; (v) the market for events of major importance other than football; and (vi) the market for sport competitions other than football and events of major importance (or “other rights”). The first five markets are better known as premium rights while the last one consists of all other non-premium rights. Rugby media rights were considered as non-premium before that decision.

The Autorité recognized that rugby and more importantly, the Top 14 championship, were facing an important growth in popularity as reflected by the high value of its broadcastings rights and the high audiences it attracts. At the time of the decision, rugby was the third sport, after football and tennis, in terms of viewers and Canal Plus accepted to pay an average of 71 million euros per season for the rights.

 

Top 14 average rights price per season (1998-2014) 


Canal Plus Top 14 audiences and best audiences per season (2008-2014)

 

The Top 14 appears to be an important source of subscriptions (pt. 100) which makes it particularly attractive for pay TV channels. This competition was the second driver of subscriptions (32%) for Canal Plus just after the Ligue 1 (51%) but before the UEFA Champions League (31%). In light of these circumstances, the Top 14 rights should be considered as premium TV rights.

Next, in considering which market these rights should belong to, the Autorité set four criteria to be met to decide on the relevant premium market: (i) key sales driver for TV subscription; (ii) high audiences; (iii) value over 10 million euros per season; and (iv) competition characteristics (level and regularity). Without being particularly clear, the Autorité seems to consider that the Top 14 rights belong to a separate premium market (pt. 138). As a consequence, given the particularities of the French market, the Top 14 rights shifted from the non-premium market to the premium market which means that their commercialisation should have been awarded through a transparent and non-discriminatory tender procedure, for a limited period of time and divided into several packages consistent with the national and European practices.[5] 


From non-premium to semi-premium? 

The question concerning the premium qualification of sport TV rights arose again in a more recent case[6] before the French competition authority, this time concerning the live broadcasting rights for rugby’s second tier (“Pro D2”). The LNR carried out a public consultation for the marketing of commercial rights for the Pro D2 championships for the 2015/2016 to 2019/2020 seasons. Following three rounds of negotiation, Canal Plus and Eurosport were awarded the rights for a total of 31 million euros. The third and rejected applicant, Ma Chaîne Sport (“MCS”), a fairly new but growing sports channel[7] and more importantly part of the Altice group (a multinational cable, fiber, telecommunications, contents and media company), filed a complaint before the French Autorité de la Concurrence. In this complaint, it claimed it was excluded from the selling process as a result of both a cartel between Eurosport, Canal Plus and the LNR, and an abuse of dominant position from the LNR on “the market for the acquisition of semi-premium sport TV rights” (pt.47).

The TV rights for the Pro D2 championship are part of the sport “other rights” market as the competition authority never had to decide on that particular case before. However, MCS is claiming that these rights should belong to a new and different market of semi-premium sport rights that, without combining together the usual criteria found in the jurisprudence to identify premium rights, are still able to attract significant audiences, making them sufficiently attractive to be of interest to premium channels.[8] MCS further argues that the Pro D2, the football Ligue 2 (second division), the basketball Pro A and the handball D1 (all first division) belong on that market. All those rights, with the exception of the Ligue 2 rights which are considered as premium, are valuable in terms of killer content for pay TV but currently belong to the non-premium rights market. The Autorité acknowledges that the non-premium rights market is set as default and brings together a heterogeneous set of rights in attractiveness and value (pt.55). It also acknowledges that some of these rights attract higher prices but not quite enough to meet the threshold of 10 million euros per season to be considered as premium. Referring to its consistent decision making, the Autorité considers that relying on a sole criterion, namely a higher selling price than the average prices in the non-premium market, is not sufficient to change the relevant market to a premium market, without a substitutability analysis (pt.58). As a consequence, those rights are still deemed to belong to the non-premium rights market.

The recognition of a semi-premium market would have led to a division in the non-premium rights market (i.e. semi-premium rights on the one hand and the remaining rights that are less valuable on the other hand). Once again, the Autorité points out that such a categorization within the non-premium category is irrelevant from a competition law point of view (pt.59). Establishing a specific premium TV rights market should involve legal consequences as usually occurs when TV rights shift from the non-premium market to a specific premium market. Within the same market, it is difficult to see what those legal consequences should be. The non-premium TV market is ruled by common contract law in contrast to premium rights that have to comply with a number of obligations to ensure compliance with EU competition law (open and transparent tendering process, packages, and limits in duration). Imposing those remedies on the semi-premium market would lead to the absorption of the market by the premium TV rights markets (pt.63). As a consequence, the Autorité finds that there is no legal need to define a semi-premium sport TV rights market.  


Towards legal certainty for sport rights holders

We have seen that the shift between non-premium and premium sport rights is the tipping point that leads rights holders to start open tendering processes for the selling of their rights. However, in France, the Code du Sport provides that sport federations are the owners[9] of the media rights for their sport. These federations can decide to transfer this ownership to clubs.[10] In this case, joint selling by the league is compulsory[11] and it has to be done through an open and transparent tender process, the rights must be packaged and they must be sold for a maximum period of four years.[12] The Code du Sport codifies the remedies imposed by the European Commission in the joint selling of football media rights cases, but it does not mention premium rights. These obligations are applicable in the case of transfer of ownership and where a professional league exists. Thus, in France it only applies in relation to football, rugby, basketball, volleyball and handball, five sport for which a professional league has been set up. In practice, the French football federation is the only federation that transferred the ownership of rights to its clubs for the first and second divisions[13] and, as a consequence, the football national league, responsible for the joint selling on behalf of the clubs, has to respect the obligations laid down in the Code. It is possible that, in hoping to circumvent those obligations, the other four federations decided to keep the ownership of the media rights. This is, in particular, the case of the rugby federation where the league is selling the media rights for the Top 14 and Pro D2 on behalf of the federation.[14]

Both decisions on the Top 14 and Pro D2 reintegrate the notion of premium and non-premium rights into the legal analysis. In the case of rugby, where the national provisions for the selling of sport rights did not apply because the federation was the owner of these rights and not the clubs, the shift from non-premium to premium rights leads to the application of competition remedies. Moreover, the Top 14 decision opens the way to tendering processes, packaging and the limiting of contract durations in cases of sports where national provisions do not apply because there is no professional league. Indeed, in this scenario, the media rights will be considered as premium because they fulfil all criteria. Hence, two scenarios can be envisaged: where a professional league exists, the federation has to decide whether it transfers the rights ownership to clubs and respects the obligations laid down in the law; and where it decides to retain ownership, or if there is no league, the federation or league has to make sure its rights are not premium in accordance with the Top 14 decision before deciding on the marketing procedure it has to follow.

The criteria developed by the French competition authority appear to be quite objective and effective as these criteria were also used by the Belgian competition authority in a dispute between Proximus and Telenet concerning the rights of the 2015-2016 cycle-cross Superprestige competition that were awarded to Telenet.[15] Telenet used the cumulative criteria from the Top 14 decision to show that cycle-cross does not constitute a separate market from the other cycling rights that are not premium. The national competition authority however, also referring to the French decision, considers that these rights should be on a separate premium market because of their popularity throughout Flanders and that they are subscriptions driver. The question remaining here is whether it would be useful to codify these criteria. First, it has to be stated that these criteria were only used in the case of live TV and that it is difficult to assess if they are objective enough to be used for all media transmissions (which are mostly Internet-based). On the other hand, media is a fast moving market and it is absolutely not certain that engaging in a legislative process to codify those criteria will give the margin of appreciation necessary to correctly assess premium sport media rights markets and prevent any distortion of competition. A full codification does not appear essential in that case and, as shown in the Belgian cycle-cross situation, these criteria can be used in other sports and markets to determine the premium qualification of media rights which gives a modicum of legal certainty to sport rights holders.

However, a question remains surrounding sport rights that almost fall within the premium market. For non-premium rights, rights holders have the freedom to decide how they want to organise the selling of their TV rights. As Telenet in the Belgian decision on cycle-cross rightly pointed out, the imposition of a transparent tender procedure for rights holders that belong to the non-premium market creates an imbalance as they do not have the same resources as the premium rights holders to organise such a costly tender procedure. Yet, in practice, and in the Pro D2 case, rights holders tend to organise tender procedures and unbundle their rights even though they are not legally obliged to do so. In the case of the Top 14, the LNR carried out a market assessment before even starting its negotiations with Canal Plus and should have known its rights fell into the premium category. The problem here for rights holders is to prevent any dispute arising after the selling process concerning the non-premium/premium qualification of the TV rights in question. Identifying a semi-premium category may be useful for rights holders in better managing the shift from non-premium to premium rights holders. Right holders that are close to seeing their non-premium rights become premium should carefully assess the commercial attractiveness of their rights and probably decide on a formal selling procedure in order not to risk their selling process being annulled by competition authorities.

As seen with these two French cases, the value of sport TV rights may change over time, depending on factors such as the improvement in the level of competition and the public interest, which creates the possibility for these rights to change categories. Moreover, this appreciation may change from one national market to another. Moving from the non-premium to premium market implies some important changes in the selling process and rights holders should carefully appraise the value and popularity of their sport beforehand. The criteria laid down in the Top 14 decision may be considered as guiding principles in this process and, accordingly, it may be used by other competition authorities faced with similar circumstances.



[1] Autorité de la concurrence, 12-DCC-100, 23/07/2012

[2] BeIN Sport is a French sport premium channel in direct competition with Canal Plus and Eurosport and owns an important portfolio of sport rights for football (Ligue 1, Ligue 2, UEFA Champions League and Europa League), rugby, tennis and handball in particular. In February 2016 Canal Plus announced it had reached an agreement to exclusively distribute beIN Sports. The French competition authority is expected to decide very soon on that issue.

[3] Autorité de la concurrence, 14-MC-01, 30/07/2014 and Cour d’Appel de Paris, arrêt du 09 octobre 2014.

[4] Autorité de la concurrence, 12-DCC-100, 23/07/2012.

[5] Commission Decision, UEFA Champions League (Case COMP/C.2-37.398), 23/07/2003

[6] Autorité de la concurrence, 16-D-04, 23/03/2016.

[7] MCS (from July 2016, SFR Sport channels) sport rights portfolio mainly consists of the competition rights overlooked by the biggest actors on the market. However, it owns some valuable rights such as the basketball Pro A (French first division basketball championship), the CEV DenizBank Volleyball Champions League, the WTA tour in tennis and more importantly, from 2016, the FA Premier League.

[8] « qui, sans réunir l’ensemble des critères habituellement retenus par la jurisprudence pour identifier un caractère premium, sont des moteurs d’audience significatifs pour les chaînes thématiques sportives et des contenus suffisamment attractifs pour également intéresser les chaînes premium », pt.49

[9] Code du Sport, articles L.331-1 and R.333-1

[10] Ibid, L.331-1

[11] Ibid, article R.333-2

[12] Ibid, article R.333-3

[13] See article 25 of the FFF/LFP convention

[14] See article 28 of the FFR/LNR convention

[15] Belgische Mededingingsautoriteit, 15-VM-65, 05/11/2015

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