Asser International Sports Law Blog

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

The CAS Ad Hoc Division in 2014: Business as usual? – Part.1: The Jurisdiction quandary

The year is coming to an end and it has been a relatively busy one for the CAS Ad Hoc divisions. Indeed, the Ad Hoc division was, as usual now since the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996[1], settling  “Olympic” disputes during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, it was also, and this is a novelty, present at the Asian Games 2014 in Incheon.  Both divisions have had to deal with seven (published) cases in total (four in Sochi and three in Incheon). The early commentaries available on the web (here, here and there), have been relatively unmoved by this year’s case law. Was it then simply ‘business as usual’, or is there more to learn from the 2014 Ad Hoc awards? Two different dimensions of the 2014 decisions by the Ad Hoc Division seem relevant to elaborate on : the jurisdiction quandary (part. 1) and the selection drama (part. 2). More...

Sports Politics before the CAS II: Where does the freedom of speech of a Karate Official ends? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

On 6 October 2014, the CAS upheld the appeal filed by the former General Secretary of the World Karate Federation (WKF), George Yerolimpos, against the 6 February 2014 decision of the WKF Appeal Tribunal. With the award, the CAS confirmed a six-months membership suspension imposed upon the Appellant by the WKF Disciplinary Tribunal.[1] At a first glance, the case at issue seems to be an ordinary challenge of a disciplinary sanction imposed by a sports governing body. Nevertheless, this appeal lies at the heart of a highly acrimonious political fight for the leadership of the WKF, featuring two former ‘comrades’:  Mr Yerolimpos and Mr Espinos (current president of WKF). As the CAS puts it very lucidly, "this is a story about a power struggle within an international sporting body"[2], a story reminding the Saturn devouring his son myth.

This case, therefore, brings the dirty laundry of sports politics to the fore. Interestingly enough, this time the CAS does not hesitate to grapple with the political dimension of the case. More...

The new “Arrangement” between the European Commission and UEFA: A political capitulation of the EU

Yesterday, the European Commission stunned the European Sports Law world when it announced unexpectedly that it had signed a “partnership agreement with UEFA named (creatively): ‘The Arrangement for Cooperation between the European Commission and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)’. The press release indicates that this agreement is to “commit the two institutions to working together regularly in a tangible and constructive way on matters of shared interest”. The agreement was negotiated (as far as we know) secretly with UEFA. Despite recent meetings between EU Commissioner for sport Vassiliou and UEFA President Platini, the eventuality of such an outcome was never evoked. It is very unlikely that third-interested-parties (FIFPro, ECA, Supporters Direct etc.) were consulted in the process of drafting this Arrangement. This surprising move by an outgoing Commission will be analysed in a three-ponged approach. First, we will discuss the substance of the Arrangement (I). Thereafter, we will consider its potential legal value under EU law (II). Finally, and maybe more importantly, we will confront the political relevance of the agreement (III).  More...

Sports Politics before the CAS: Early signs of a ‘constitutional’ role for CAS? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

It took almost six months, a record of 26 witnesses and a 68 pages final award for the CAS to put an end to a long-delayed, continuously acrimonious and highly controversial presidential election for the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). Worawi Makudi can sit easy and safe on the throne of the FAT for his fourth consecutive term, since the CAS has dismissed the appeal filed by the other contender, Virach Chanpanich.[1]

Interestingly enough, it is one of the rare times that the CAS Appeal Division has been called to adjudicate on the fairness and regularity of the electoral process of a sports governing body. Having been established as the supreme judge of sports disputes, by reviewing the electoral process of international and national sports federations the CAS adds to its functions a role akin to the one played by a constitutional court in national legal systems. It seems that members of international and national federations increasingly see the CAS as an ultimate guardian of fairness and validity of internal electoral proceedings. Are these features - without prejudice to the CAS role as an arbitral body- the early sign of the emergence of a Constitutional Court for Sport? More...

Olympic Agenda 2020: To bid, or not to bid, that is the question!

This post is an extended version of an article published in August on hostcity.net.

The recent debacle among the candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games has unveiled the depth of the bidding crisis faced by the Olympic Games. The reform process initiated in the guise of the Olympic Agenda 2020 must take this disenchantment seriously. The Olympic Agenda 2020 took off with a wide public consultation ending in April and is now at the end of the working groups phase. One of the working groups was specifically dedicated to the bidding process and was headed by IOC vice-president John Coates.  More...

The CAS jurisprudence on match-fixing in football: What can we learn from the Turkish cases? - Part 2: The procedural aspects. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

With this blog post, we continue the blog series on Turkish match-fixing cases and our attempt to map the still unchartered waters of the CAS’s match-fixing jurisprudence.

The first blog post addressed two issues related to the substance of match-fixing disputes, namely the legal characterization of the match-fixing related measure of ineligibility under Article 2.08 of the UEL Regulations as administrative or disciplinary measure and the scope of application of Article 2.08. In addition, The Turkish cases have raised procedural and evidentiary issues that need to be dealt with in the framework of match-fixing disputes.

The CAS panels have drawn a clear line between substantial and procedural matters. In this light, the Eskişehirspor panel declared the nature of Article 2.08 UEL Regulations to be administrative and rejected the application of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations to the substance. Nonetheless, it upheld that disciplinary rules and standards still apply to the procedure. This conclusion, however, can be considered puzzling in that disciplinary rules apply to the procedural matters arising by a pure administrative measure. To this extent, and despite the bifurcation of different applicable rules into substantial and procedural matters, the credibility of the qualification of Article 2.08 as administrative seems to be undermined. And here a question arises: How can the application of rules of different nature to substantial and procedural matters in an identical match-fixing dispute be explained?More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga – A blockade to Florentino Perez’ latest “galactic” ambitions (part 2)

This is the second part of a blog series on the Real Madrid State aid case. In the previous blog on this case, an outline of all the relevant facts was provided and I analysed the first criterion of Article 107(1) TFEU, namely the criterion that an advantage must be conferred upon the recipient for the measure to be considered State aid. Having determined that Real Madrid has indeed benefited from the land transactions, the alleged aid measure has to be scrutinized under the other criteria of Article 107(1): the measure must be granted by a Member State or through State resources; the aid granted must be selective; and it must distorts or threatens to distort competition. In continuation, this blog will also analyze whether the alleged aid measure could be justified and declared compatible with EU law under Article 107(3) TFEU.More...

The CAS jurisprudence on match-fixing in football: What can we learn from the Turkish cases? - Part 1 - By Thalia Diathesopoulou

The editor’s note:

Two weeks ago we received the unpublished CAS award rendered in the Eskişehirspor case and decided to comment on it. In this post Thalia Diathesopoulou (Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre) analyses the legal steps followed and interpretations adopted by CAS panels in this case and in a series of other Turkish match-fixing cases. The first part of the post will deal with the question of the legal nature of the ineligibility decision opposed by UEFA to clubs involved in one way or another into match-fixing and with the personal and material scope of UEFA’s rule on which this ineligibility is based. The second part is dedicated to the procedural rules applied in match-fixing cases.


Introduction

The unpredictability of the outcome is a sine qua non feature of sports. It is this inherent uncertainty that draws the line between sports and entertainment and triggers the interest of spectators, broadcasters and sponsors. Thus, match-fixing by jeopardising the integrity and unpredictability of sporting outcomes has been described, along with doping, as one of the major threats to modern sport.[1] More...


Sport and EU Competition Law: uncharted territories - (I) The Swedish Bodybuilding case. 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 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.More...

The Legia Warszawa case: The ‘Draconian’ effect of the forfeiture sanction in the light of the proportionality principle. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

The CAS denial of the urgent request for provisional measures filed by the Legia Warszawa SA in the course of its appeal against the UEFA Appeals Body Decision of 13 August 2014 put a premature end to Legia’s participation in the play-offs of the UEFA Champion’s League (CL) 2014/2015. Legia’s fans- and fans of Polish football - will now have to wait at least one more year to watch a Polish team playing in the CL group stage for the first time since 1996. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The Evolution of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules – Part 2: The Legal Challenges. By Christopher Flanagan

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 Evolution of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules – Part 2: The Legal Challenges. By Christopher Flanagan

The first part of this series looked at the legal framework in which FFP sits, concluding that FFP occupied a ‘marginal’ legal position – perhaps legal, perhaps not. Given the significant financial interests in European football – UEFA’s figures suggest aggregate revenue of nearly €17 billion as at clubs’ 2015 accounts – and the close correlation between clubs’ spending on wages and their success on the field,[1] a legal challenge to the legality of FFP’s ‘break even’ requirement (the Break Even Requirement), which restricts a particular means of spending, was perhaps inevitable.

And so it followed.

Challenges to the legality of the Break Even Requirement have been brought by football agent Daniel Striani, through various organs of justice of the European Union and through the Belgian courts; and by Galatasaray in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. As an interesting footnote, both Striani and Galatasaray were advised by “avocat superstar” Jean-Louis Dupont, the lawyer who acted in several of sports law’s most famous cases, including the seminal Bosman case. Dupont has been a vocal critic of FFP’s legality since its inception.


Mr Striani’s Complaints

Initially, Mr Striani made a complaint to the European Commission to the effect that the Break Even Requirement breached European competition law, and that it restricts several fundamental freedoms of the European Union guaranteed by the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU); namely, the right to free movement of people (Article 45 TFEU), the right to free movement of capital (Article 56 TFEU), and the right to free movement of services (Article 63 TFEU).

In his complaint to the Commission, Mr Striani identified five anti-competitive effects of the Break Even Requirement:

  1. It restricts external investment into football;
  2. It will have the effect of calcifying the hierarchy of the game, preventing ‘small’ clubs from competing at higher levels;
  3.  It will depress the transfer market;
  4.  It will depress players’ wages; and
  5. It will therefore adversely affect players’ agents’ revenue.

Superficially at least, each point above has merit and internal logic. Equally, there are coherent rebuttals. For balance, some (of the various) potential counter arguments are listed below:

  1. From the outset, FFP has not altogether restricted exogenous investment into football and loss making (regardless of quantum) has been permissible for certain expenditure. Rather than restricting investment, FFP funnels loss-making investment in certain directions such as stadium and infrastructure spending.
  2. There is little movement in football’s sporting hierarchy under any model. The evidence suggests that those clubs who spend the most on wages tend to experience the most success on the pitch;[2] however, it is questionable whether there is inherent merit in supplanting the clubs that are best able to maximise revenue generation with those that have the owners most willing to fund losses. Under either model, those with the most money to expend on players’ wages will usually win.[3]
  3. It is reductive to equate a healthy, functioning transfer market with clubs’ rights to make losses; nor is it of intrinsic value to the sport for transfers to be significant in magnitude, whether in cost or volume.
  4. Owners’ equity inputs are far from the only source of salary growth. In any event, further consideration should be given as to whether, if a deflationary effect can be established, this is a function of the top end of the salary scale being depressed reducing mean salary, or whether the impact is felt by in modal or median salary. Ultimately, FFP could depress wages on an aggregate basis but still benefit most players should median or modal wages improve in a more financially stable environment.
  5. Players’ intermediaries may not have a sufficiently proximate interest in the financial regulatory aspects of clubs’ spending. UEFA’s rule-making power is given effect and legitimacy by way of complex contractual relationship between players, clubs and the sport’s governing bodies and intermediaries do not have privity of contract with UEFA insofar as FFP is concerned.

Mr Striani also brought a claim, on similar legal basis, in the Belgian national courts (Mr Striani being based in Belgium). In part because of these collateral proceedings, the Commission rejected Mr Striani’s complaint. In a press release, Mr Dupont confirmed that the Commission had given its view to the effect that Mr Striani, being an agent and therefore not directly subject to FFP, lacked a legitimate interest in the rules, and that the Belgian national courts, already having been seized of the case, were a suitable forum for a hearing of the merits.

Mr Striani was joined by various other parties in his claim in the Belgian courts. However, Mr Striani (along with his co-complainants) was again frustrated on technical grounds outwith the substantive issues of his dispute.  The Belgian court found that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute, because, to put it simply, under the relevant jurisdictional rules (the Lugano Convention), UEFA was entitled to be sued in the courts of its place of domicile, i.e Switzerland. Ben van Rompuy goes into more detail on the jurisdictional nuances here.

Somewhat oddly, given its self-proclaimed jurisdictional incompetence, the Belgian Courts did make an order referring the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the CJEU rejected the referral on the basis that it was “manifestly inadmissible,” and also “observing that the national court had failed to provide any of the necessary information to enable the European Court to address European competition law issues.”[4]

This puts Mr Striani’s complaint into no man’s land. Rejected by the Commission; rejected by the Belgian national courts; and rejected by the CJEU; all without any substantive adjudicative decision as to the legality of the Break Even Requirement. Irrespective of one’s views on FFP, it is a source of frustration that five years on from FFP’s introduction, its legality remains an unresolved question despite vigorous and not frivolous challenge. Mr Striani’s challenges have, to date, proven impotent in settling the (increasingly academic) debate.

Evidently frustrated at the Commission’s refusal to formally review the legality of FFP, Mr Striani went on to make a complaint to the EU Ombudsman alleging maladministration by Vice President of the Commission at the material time, Joaquín Almunia. The complaint centred on Mr Almunia’s association with Athletic Bilbao and his prior statements perceived as endorsing FFP. However, the Ombudsman found no maladministration to have occurred. 


Galatasaray’s CAS Appeal

There is, however, a forum in which a decision has been made as to the legality of the Break Even Requirement; namely the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Galatasary v UEFA (CAS 2016/A/4492). Galatasaray, like Mr Striani, were represented by Mr Dupont; and, like Mr Striani, the basis of Galatasaray’s case was that the Break Even Requirement breached EU competition law and illegally trammelled EU fundamental freedoms as to workers, services and capital.

The context of the dispute was as follows: Galatasaray was investigated by the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB), which, as mentioned in Part One, oversees and enforces adherence to FFP, in respect of a potential breach of FFP, and in particular the Break Even Requirement. The procedural rules governing the CFCB allow clubs to enter into a ‘settlement agreement’ at the discretion and direction of the CFCB Chief Investigator.

The CFCB Chief Investigator determined that Galatasaray had breached the Break Even Requirement and a settlement agreement was reached that provided, inter alia, that the Turkish club must “be break even compliant…at the latest in the monitoring period 2015/16,” and that the club must not increase its aggregate wage bill, which stood at €90m.

Galatasaray hopelessly failed to meet either stipulation, increasing their wage bill by €5.5m and exceeding the acceptable deviation figure in Break Even Requirement by €134.2m. These figures were audited and verified by independent consultants.

In view of this egregious breach of the settlement agreement, the Investigatory Chamber referred Galatasaray to the Adjudicatory Chamber, who, on 2 March 2016, issued a decision ordering, inter alia, that Galatasaray reduce their wage bill to a maximum of €65m over the next two FFP reporting periods, and banning the club from any European competitions for which they otherwise qualified on sporting merit for the next two seasons.

Galatasaray appealed this decision to the CAS, arguing that the sanctions levied by UEFA were illegal because the rules on which they were based, i.e. the FFP rules, were illegal.

If the basis of Galatasaray’s appeal (breach of competition law, breach of fundamental freedoms) is familiar to those with a knowledge of the legal issues FFP presents, so too will be UEFA’s defence of the Break Even Requirement. UEFA argued that the Break Even Requirement constitutes rules that “are prudential rules necessary for the proper functioning of football clubs,” and “Any restriction they may cause pursues legitimate governance objectives and is proportionate to their achievement.[5] (Emphasis added.) 

UEFA’s view is clearly intended to align FFP with the legal tests identified in Part One of this series; namely that FFP must be:

  1. Necessary (for the proper conduct of the sport);
  2.  Suitable (as a means to pursue that necessary objective); and
  3. Proportionate (to the aims pursued).

Applicability of EU Law

The non-application of EU law by the CAS has previously been called ‘an absurdity’ by this blogin light of the Bosman (and prior Walrave) case law of the CJEU, which made clear that EU law is applicable to the regulations of Sports Governing Bodies”.

In this case, UEFA postulated that EU law was “irrelevant” to the dispute – the parties both being from Turkey and Switzerland respectively, i.e. nations outside of the EU – but “did not argue” that FFP is “not subject to the invoked provisions of EU law or can be applicable even if contrary to these provisions.”[6] Galatasaray argued that EU law applied as FFP constitutes mandatory rules in EU territory. The parties agreed that Swiss law applied.

The CAS panel of arbitrators (the Panel) found that EU law, being a foreign mandatory rule, applied pursuant to Article 19 of the Swiss Federal Act on Private International Law, under which arbitral tribunals must consider foreign mandatory rules where:

i.       such rules belong to a special category of norms which need to be applied irrespective of the law applicable to the merits of the case;

ii.      there is a close connection between the subject matter of the dispute and the territory where the mandatory rules are in force; and

iii.    in view of Swiss legal theory and practice, the mandatory rules must aim to protect legitimate interest and crucial values and their application must lead to a decision which is appropriate.


The Panel found that this test had been met on the facts in this instance. As an interesting side note, the CAS also followed this line of reasoning in the subsequent Third Party Ownership case discussed by Antoine Duval here.

Article 101 TFEU

The first hurdle for Galatasaray in establishing the illegality of the Break Even Requirement is to show that it fits within the boundaries of the prohibition laid down in Article 101 TFEU, i.e. that it has as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the European internal market.

The Panel found that FFP did not have anti-competitive intent as its object. On its face, this seems a reasonable conclusion; after all, FFP is not intended to stymie inter-club competition. However, it should not be treated as axiomatic. As Weatherill has highlighted, “UEFA’s own website (though not the FFP Regulations themselves) identify as one of the principal objectives to decrease pressure on salaries and transfer fees and limit inflationary effect”. Whether such effect was an independent goal of UEFA in instituting FFP rather than mere political bluster is open to question, but the objectives of UEFA should be subject to further interrogation.

In this instance, the Panel found that Galatasaray “failed to demonstrate that the object of [FFP] would not be stated in its Article 2 [dealing with FFP objects]”. Having considered the question, the Panel “did not find convincing evidence that the object of [FFP] would be to distort competition, i.e. to favour of disfavour certain clubs rather than to prevent clubs from trading at levels above their resources”.

Thus in order to be caught within the prohibition under Article 101 TFEU, Galatasaray would need to show that FFP had an anti-competitive effect. As FFP did not fall within the examples given in the Commission’s guidance on anti-competitive agreements (horizontal/vertical), the burden of proof fell on Galatasaray to demonstrate FFP’s anti-competitive effects.

They did not do so. However – and frustratingly for those with an interest in the topic – Galatasaray did not actually adduce any detailed empirical analysis as to the effects of FFP on competition (para. 74).

Irrespective of the lack of empirical evidence put forward, the Panel expressed a view that “competition is not distorted by ‘overspending’” (para. 76); nor does FFP ossify the structure of the market as “dominant clubs have always existed and will continue to exist”. The latter point is superficially correct; however, it fails to address the fact that the Break Even Requirement may have prevented clubs from entry to the ‘dominant club’ position of superiority. 

The Panel went on to cite with approval the applicability of the carve-out for regulatory rules developed in Wouters, as discussed in more detail in Part One of this series.

Article 102 TFEU

Galatasaray produced evidence that UEFA was a dominant undertaking (which, given UEFA is a governing body with total authority over the rules of elite European football, is a case easily made), but it did not show how it was abusing its position in the case of FFP. Thus the Panel found that Galatasaray did not demonstrate an abuse of dominance by UEFA.

Fundamental Freedoms

Galatasaray argued that the Break Even Requirement violated fundamental freedoms of the EU as to the free movement of workers, the free movement of capital, and the free movement of services. However, it submitted “very little argumentation” in support of these claims (para. 85).

The Panel highlighted the fact that FFP does not discriminate based on nationality, as the rules apply equally to all clubs participating in UEFA competitions; that the rules apply equally to “domestic operations” (para. 86); and “do not restrict fundamental freedoms: players can be transferred (or offer services cross-border without limitations; capitals can move from a EU country to another without any limit.

Ergo, the Panel found Galatasaray had not shown any breach of a fundamental freedom of the EU.

Swiss Law

Galatasaray did not invoke the relevant provisions of Swiss competition law in detail; however, the Panel noted that the substantive nature of Swiss competition law was analogous to EU competition law, diverging only in respect of reference to the domestic market. Accordingly, the Panel’s reasoning “would be the same” (para. 89). 

The CAS’s Finding

Galatasaray did not establish its case and as such its appeal was not upheld by the CAS and the CFCB’s decision was confirmed. UEFA successfully defended the first hearing on the substantive legal issues of the Break Even Requirement. 


An Illusory Victory for UEFA?

UEFA may have successfully fended off a binding determination of the legal issues at play in challenges brought in domestic and European courts, albeit on procedural grounds; and it may have won the first serious challenge to the substantive legal issues at play in the CAS, albeit aided by a lack of proper particularisation of some of the issues by Galatasaray; but it is debatable whether it was able to altogether insulate FFP from the effect of these challenges. In the years since its inception, the nature and content of the rules has gradually shifted towards a more liberal approach to external investment, and in all probability this was influenced by the vehemence of the legal challenges to the rules.

At the outset of Mr Striani’s challenge to FFP, his lawyer, Mr Dupont, said "What my client hopes is that Uefa will be forced to review this rule and go for more proportionate alternatives”.  He may not have achieved this through a favourable determination of the courts; however, as will be examined in greater detail in Part Three of this series, he may have ultimately been successful in his objectives to some extent.


[1] See, for example, Kuper, S and Szymanski, S 2012 Soccernomics 2nd ed. London: HarperSport at p14

[2] See Kuper, S and Szymanski, S 2012 Soccernomics 2nd ed. London: HarperSport

[3] It should be noted, however, that Mr Dupont has argued that a flat salary cap – in many ways more restrictive than the Break Even Requirement – would be preferable, see Stefano Bastianon, 'The Striani Challenge to UEFA Financial Fair-Play A New Era after Bosman or Just a Washout?' [2015] 11(1) The Competition Law Review 7-39 at p18

[4] Daniel Geey, LawInSport and BASL Sport Law Year Book 2015 - 2016 (Sean Cottrell ed, LawInSport 2016) at p108

[5] Para 50

[6] Para 39

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