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 – February 2017. 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. More...

FIFA's Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses in Qatar – Part II: The Zurich Court's Ruling - By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell comes from Slovakia and is currently an LL.M. student in Public International Law at Leiden University. He contributes also to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a part-time intern.

This is a follow-up contribution to my previous blog on FIFA's responsibility for human rights abuses in Qatar published last week. Whereas the previous part has examined the lawsuit filed with the Commercial Court of the Canton of Zurich ('Court') jointly by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam ('Plaintiffs') against FIFA, this second part will focus on the Court's ruling dated 3 January 2017 ('Ruling').[1]  More...



FIFA's Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses in Qatar - Part I: The Claims Against FIFA - By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell comes from Slovakia and is currently an LL.M. student in Public International Law at Leiden University. He contributes also to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a part-time intern.

On 2 December 2010, the FIFA Executive Committee elected Qatar as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup ('World Cup'), thereby triggering a wave of controversies which underlined, for the most part, the country's modest size, lack of football history, local climate, disproportionate costs or corruption that accompanied the selection procedure. Furthermore, opponents of the decision to award the World Cup to the tiny oil-rich Gulf country also emphasized the country's negative human rights record.

More than six years later, on 3 January 2017, the Commercial Court of the Canton of Zurich ('Court') dismissed the lawsuit filed against FIFA[1] jointly by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam ('Plaintiffs').[2] The Plaintiffs requested the Court to find FIFA responsible for alleged human rights violations of migrant workers in connection with the World Cup in Qatar. Had the Plaintiffs' claims been upheld by the Court, such decision would have had far-reaching consequences on the fate of thousands of migrants, mostly from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, who are currently working on the construction of sporting facilities and other infrastructure associated with organization of the World Cup. More...

Doyen vs. Sporting II: The Bitter End of Sporting’s Fight at the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. By Shervine Nafissi

Editor’s Note: Shervine Nafissi (@SNafissi) is a Phd Student in sports law and teaching assistant in corporate law at University of Lausanne (Switzerland), Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC).

 

Introduction

The factual background

The dispute concerns a TPO contract entitled “Economic Rights Participation Agreement” (hereinafter “ERPA”) concluded in 2012 between Sporting Lisbon and the investment fund Doyen Sports. The Argentine player was transferred in 2012 by Spartak Moscow to Sporting Lisbon for a transfer fee of €4 million. Actually, Sporting only paid €1 million of the fee while Doyen Sports financed the remaining €3 million. In return, the investment company became the owner of 75% of the economic rights of the player.[1] Thus, in this specific case, the Portuguese club was interested in recruiting Marcos Rojo but was unable to pay the transfer fee required by Spartak Moscow, so that they required the assistance of Doyen Sports. The latter provided them with the necessary funds to pay part of the transfer fee in exchange of an interest on the economic rights of the player.

Given that the facts and circumstances leading to the dispute, as well as the decision of the CAS, were fully described by Antoine Duval in last week’s blog of Doyen vs. Sporting, this blog will solely focus on the decision of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (“FSC”) following Sporting’s appeal against the CAS award. As a preliminary point, the role of the FSC in the appeal against CAS awards should be clarified.More...

Doyen vs. Sporting I: Doyen’s Pyrrhic Victory at the CAS

At the end of December 2015, the CAS decided on a very public contractual dispute between Sporting Clube de Portugal Futebol SAD (Sporting) and Doyen Sports Investments Limited (Doyen). The club was claiming that Doyen’s Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA) was invalid and refused to pay Doyen’s due share on the transfer of Marcos Rojo to Manchester United. The dispute made a lot of noise (see the excellent coverage by Tariq Panja from Bloomberg here, here and here) as it was the first TPO case heard by the CAS after FIFA’s ban. Yet, and it has to be clear from the outset, the case does not affect the legality of FIFA’s TPO ban; it concerned only the compatibility of Doyen’s ERPA with Swiss civil law. The hearing took place in June 2015, but the case was put under a new light by the football leaks revelations unveiled at the end of 2015 (see our blog from December 2015). Despite these revelations, the CAS award favoured Doyen, and was luckily for us quickly made available on the old football leaks website. This blog will provide a commentary of the CAS decision. It will be followed in the coming days by a commentary by Shervine Nafissi on the judgment, on appeal, by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. More...

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations and the Rise of Football’s 1%

On 12 January 2017 UEFA published its eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, concerning the financial year of 2015. In the press release that accompanied the report, UEFA proudly announced that Financial Fair Play (FFP) has had a huge positive impact on European football, creating a more stable financial environment. Important findings included a rise of aggregate operating profits of €1.5bn in the last two years, compared to losses of €700m in the two years immediately prior to the introduction of Financial Fair Play.



Source: UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 107.


 Meanwhile the aggregate losses dropped by 81% from €1.7bn in 2011 to just over €300m in 2015.More...




International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2017. By Saverio Spera.

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 Diarra ruling of the Tribunal of Charleroi

On 19 January 2017, the Hainaut Commercial Tribunal – Charleroi rendered its decision on the lawsuit filed by the football player Lassana Diarra against FIFA and the Belgian FA (URBSFA) for damages caused by not being able to exercise the status of a professional football player during the entire 2014/2015 season. The lawsuit is linked to the decision, rendered by the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) on April 2015, to support Lokomotiv’s decision to terminate the player’s contract and to order Diarra to pay Lokomotiv the amount of EUR 10,500,000 for having breached his contract. According to the plaintiff, Diarra’s opportunity to be recruited by Sporting Charleroi was denied due to the club being potentially considered jointly liable for Diarra’s compensation pursuant to Article 17 (2) RSTP. The Belgian court held strongly that “when the contract is terminated by the club, the player must have the possibility to sign a new contract with a new employer, without restrictions to his free movement”. This case highlighted, once again, the need to read the RSTP in the light of EU law. Moreover, the decision is laying further ground for broader challenges to the RSTP on the basis of EU law (for a deeper insight into the Diarra ruling, see the recent blog written by our senior researcher Antoine Duval) More...


Introducing the new legal challenges of E-Sports. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Editor’s Note: Emre Bilginoglu[1] is an attorney in Istanbul and the co-founder of the Turkish E-Sports Players Association, a non-profit based in Istanbul that aims to provide assistance to professional gamers and to work on the relevant laws affecting them. 


The world is witnessing the rise of a new sport that is growing at an incredible speed: E-Sports. We are only starting to understand its legal implications and challenges.

In recent years, E-Sports has managed to attract thousands of fans to arenas to see a group of people play a video game. These people are literally professional gamers (cyber athletes)[2] who make money by competing in tournaments. Not all video games have tournaments in which professional players compete against each other.

The most played games in E-Sports competitions are League of Legends (LoL), Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). LoL and DotA are both Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, a genre of strategy video games in which the player controls a single character in one of two teams. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s main structure. CS:GO is a first-person shooter (FPS) game, a genre of video games where the player engages combat through a first-person perspective. The main objective in CS:GO is to eliminate the opposing team or to terrorize or counter-terrorize, planting bombs or rescuing hostages. Other games that have (popular) E-Sports competitions include Starcraft II (real time strategy), Hearthstone (collectible card video game), Call of Duty (FPS) and FIFA (football).

The gaming requires cooperation between team players, a high level of concentration, rapid reactions and some seriously fast clicking. E-Sports is a groovy term to describe organized competitive computer gaming. The E-Sports industry is exponentially growing, amounting to values expressed in billions of dollars. According to Newzoo, a website dedicated to the collection of E-Sports data, there are some 250 million occasional viewers of E-Sports with Asia-Pacific accounting for half of the total amount. The growth of the industry is indubitably supported by online streaming media platforms. This article aims to explain what E-Sports is and to give the readers an insight on the key legal questions raised by it. More...


Time for Transparency at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By Saverio Spera

Editor’s Note: Saverio Spera is an Italian lawyer and LL.M. graduate in International Business Law from King’s College London. He is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.


The time is ripe to take a closer look at the CAS and its transparency, as this is one of the ways to ensure its public accountability and its legitimacy. From 1986 to 2013, the number of arbitrations submitted to the CAS has grown from 2 to more than 400 a year. More specifically, the number of appeals submitted almost doubled in less than ten years (from 175 in 2006, to 349 in 2013[1]). Therefore, the Court can be considered the judicial apex of an emerging transnational sports law (or lex sportiva).[2] In turn, the increased authority and power of this institution calls for increased transparency, in order to ensure its legitimacy.[3]

More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | The EU State aid and Sport Saga - A legal guide to the bailout of Valencia CF

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 EU State aid and Sport Saga - A legal guide to the bailout of Valencia CF

After a decade of financial misery, it appears that Valencia CF’s problems are finally over. The foreign takeover by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim will be concluded in the upcoming weeks, and the construction on the new stadium will resume after five years on hold due to a lack of money. On 3 June Bankia, the Spanish bank that “saved” Valencia CF in 2009 by providing a loan of €81 million, gave the green light for the takeover. However, appearances can be deceiving. Indeed, Valencia CF has been the subject of numerous Spanish Court decisions since March 2013, the latest dating from 22 May 2014. The cases concern a guarantee given by the local authorities and whether this guarantee should be relied upon since Valencia CF is incapable of repaying its debt. Meanwhile, the European Commission announced that it will soon reach a final decision regarding the formal investigations into alleged State aid measures granted to the club. Strangely enough, the Spanish Courts are showing little interest in the pending Commission Decision and Mr Lim seems to be ignoring it as well. True, EU institutions have so far never sanctioned public authorities of Member States for granting aid to football clubs, but the evidence in this case is so damning that it will be difficult to overlook. Our aim in this blog-post is to disentangle the legal complexity of a case fought both at the national and the European level.  


Saving Valencia CF with public money

The aid measure has its origins in 2009, when Valencia CF, aiming to reduce the clubs total debt of €596 million and continue the construction works on a new stadium, decided to sell new shares for a total capital injection of €92 million. Unfortunately, club members only subscribed €18 million in shares. The majority of the shares were acquired by La Fundación del Valencia Club de Fútbol, (a foundation especially created by the club for this purpose) becoming majority shareholder of the club (70%) for the sum of €75 million. The money was loaned by BANCAJA, the largest financial institution of the autonomous region of Valencia. The loan was later increased to €81 million in November 2010. The Fundación and BANCAJA also agreed that the revenues for the old “Mestalla” stadium, which was for sale, would go to the bank. Furthermore, on 26 August 2009, the Instituto Valenciano de Finanzas (hereafter: IVF[1]) had issued a guarantee on the controversial loan.[2] In case of a default by the Fundación, the IVF was to pay back to the bank the outstanding amount. In return, the IVF would receive an annual premium of 0.5% and the Fundación is prevented to selling shares without the previous consent by the IVF.[3]

In September 2012, Bankia (the new name of the bank following a merger in 2010) was forced to restructure the deal it had with the Fundación. Bankia was suffering heavily from the financial crisis and, after being rescued by the Spanish Government, was forced to decrease its financial debt by increasing its liquidity and reducing its real estate portfolio. Thus, Valencia CF was to negotiate the refinancing of its debt, given that the Fundación was unable to repay the loan to Bankia.

By February 2013 the total of Valencia’s debts reached €387 million owed to different creditors, including the €81 million it owed to Bankia. In light of the guarantee issued, the Consell de la Generalitat de la Comunidad Autónoma de Valencia (the local government of the autonomous region of Valencia, also known as the Generalitat) was asked to transfer €4.8 million to Bankia to cover interest payments. Even worse, the Generalitat might have to bear the full debt of €81 million the Fundación owed to Bankia. As a result, the Generalitat would hold 70% of the shares in Valencia CF, thereby making the football club state-owned.[4]

Claiming that the guarantee breached both Spanish and EU law and should therefore be declared void, two club shareholders lodged a complaint against the local government of Valencia.[5] In its judgment, dating from 8 March 2013, the Administrative Court of Valencia annulled the guarantee, arguing inter alia that the operation would not generate benefits for the IVF and that the restrictions placed by the public authorities on the selling of shares by Valencia CF will distort competition.[6] Finally, the duty to evaluate whether the operation was subject to EU State aid rules had not been complied with.[7]

This last argument by the Administrative Court is no surprise, in light of the blatant State aid. Indeed, both the press and Members of the European Parliament quickly jumped onto the allegations that State aid in the form of loan guarantees was granted by Spanish public authorities. The European Commission forced by this judgment, press reports and a flood of information sent by Spanish citizens officially asked Spain to comment on these reports on 8 April 2013.[8] After analysing all the information the Commission decided to initiate the procedure laid down in Article 108(2) TFEU on alleged illegal State aid on 18 December 2013. Now that the Commission has announced in its Management Plan 2014 that the final decision will be published in 2014, one can reasonably expect the case to draw to its close.


The strategy of the Spanish Courts: Let’s ignore State aid rules and the Commission

The judgment by the Administrative Court of Valencia was only the first in a whole string of judgments by the Spanish Courts. The most important ones date from 15 November 2013, 19 December 2013, and 22 May 2014. 

Bankia appealed the judgment of 8 March 2013, claiming it should have been invited as a party at the trial. At first, the Administrative Court of Valencia upheld the previous decision annulling the guarantee, but Bankia’s second appeal, this time in front of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Comunidad Valenciana, sala de lo Contencioso (the High Administrative Court of the autonomous region of Valencia) was successful. On 15 November 2013, the High Court, found the judgments by the Administrative Court to be void due to a procedural deficiency. Indeed, as Bankia was not provided the opportunity to present its views at the first trial, the tribunal violated Bankia’s right to be heard. More precisely the High Court considered that the IVF had not informed Bankia adequately when, as a public authority, it had the obligation to do so; Bankia’s own financial troubles and instability were too important for it to be left out of the procedure; and the fate of the football club would be at stake if the guarantee is revoked.[9] Hence, the guarantee provided by the local authorities on the loan was considered legally valid and Valencia CF’s bankruptcy risk dismissed. That the guarantee probably is in breach of EU State aid rules was irrelevant to the High Court.

In response to this latest judgment the same shareholders demanded an injunction that consisted in suspending the execution of the guarantee since it could constitute illegal State aid. Once again the demanding parties won the day and the execution of the guarantee was suspended in a decision dating from 19 December 2013. The timing by the Administrative Court to suspend the execution could not have been better. Indeed, the decision occurred only 24 hours after the Commission announced a formal investigation into the Valencia F.C case, thus, the alleged state aid could have been used as a fitting legal justification to suspend the guarantee. However, strangely enough, the Administrative Court did not refer to the State aid constellation. In the fourth paragraph of its judgment, the Court did recognize that procedural rules were breached including the European procedural rules on State aid[10], but the reasoning used to freeze the guarantee was based on national law. 


Peter Lim appears on stage: the end of all the trouble?

By January of this year, the IVF received a formal offer from Mr Lim to invest €210 million in the club. Mr Lim would, thus, take over IVF’s debt with Bankia. The Valencian government must have hoped for the end of their troubles. Indeed, it appeared that it was only the Commission decision it had to worry about.

But, Bankia, on the other hand, still believed it had a right to compensation by the Valencian government for refusing to execute the guarantee and launched a new civil procedure. In a ruling dating from 22 May 2014, the high Civil Court in Valencia sided with the bank and upheld the validity of the guarantee (yet again). Furthermore, the judge ordered the local government to pay €4.2 million as a compensation for loss of opportunities.[11] To make the legal uncertainty certain, the Valencian government quickly reaffirmed its refusal to pay any compensation to Bankia since it considered the execution of the guarantee as suspended by the Administrative Court.[12]


The ball in the Commission’s Court

From a substantive perspective, the Valencia State aid case seems quite straightforward. Valencia CF is a professional football club engaged in economic activities and should therefore be considered an undertaking under EU State aid rules. The guarantee provided by the local government constitutes an economic advantage for the football club over its competitors, as it is technically shield from the possibility of going bankrupt. The measure is selective, distorts competition towards clubs not enjoying a similar guarantee and is funded by State (more precisely the regional governments) resources. In other words, the criteria of article 107(1) TFEU can be considered as fulfilled. Finally, the measure does not appear to fall under any of the exemptions of articles 107(2) and 107(3) nor under any provisions of the General Block Exemption Regulation. 

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Commission will take an unprecedented action and sanction the local authorities of a Member State for supporting financially a professional football club. The Valencia case certainly provides an outstanding opportunity to do so. First of all, the facts of the case cast little doubt as to whether or not the measure breached EU State aid law. Second, even though the Commission cannot decide the matter in place of the Spanish Courts, any decision will create a guiding precedent hopefully putting a final point to the prevailing legal uncertainty of a long-lasting and protracted legal saga.



[1] The IVF is the Public Entity that  performs the public credit policy of the government of the autonomous region of Valencia

[2] Memoria de Actividades: Institut Valencià de Finances, Informe Anual 2009, page 48

[3] Sentencia N° 103/2013, N° de Recurso 239/2010, 8 March 2013, §5

[4] Ibid

[5] J. M. Bortvalencia, “Creo que Bankia no puede recurrir esta sentencia”, Levante – EMV, 21 March 2013

[6] Supra Nº3, §7

[7] Ibid

[8] Commission Decision State aid SA.36387 – Spain: Alleged aid in favour of three Valencia football clubs

[9] Las Provincias, El Valencia gana tranquilidad al decretar el TSJ que la Generalitat vuelve a ser avalista, 16 November 213

[10] Auto N° 239/2010,  19 December 2013, §4

[11] Iusport, Bankia levanta el hacha de guerra y ejecuta parte del aval del Valencia, 27 May 2014

[12] Las Provincias, La Generalitat «no se plantea pagar nada» por el aval a la Fundación del Valencia CF, 27 May 2014

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