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

Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold: Dissecting the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s Semenya Decision - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.

 

On 25 August 2020, the Swiss Supreme Court (Swiss Federal Tribunal, SFT) rendered one of its most eagerly awaited decisions of 2020, in the matter of Caster Semenya versus World Athletics (formerly and as referenced in the decision: IAAF) following an award of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In short, the issue at stake before the CAS was the validity of the World Athletics eligibility rules for Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD Regulation). After the CAS upheld their validity in an award of 30 April 2019, Caster Semenya and the South African Athletics Federation (jointly: the appellants) filed an application to set aside the award before the Swiss Supreme Court.[1] The SFT decision, which rejects the application, was made public along with a press release on 8 September 2020.

There is no doubt that we can expect contrasted reactions to the decision. Whatever one’s opinion, however, the official press release in English does not do justice to the 28-page long decision in French and the judges’ reasoning. The goal of this short article is therefore primarily to highlight some key extracts of the SFT decision and some features of the case that will be relevant in its further assessment by scholars and the media.[2]

It is apparent from the decision that the SFT was very aware that its decision was going to be scrutinised by an international audience, part of whom may not be familiar with the mechanics of the legal regime applicable to setting aside an international arbitration award in Switzerland.

Thus, the decision includes long introductory statements regarding the status of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the role of the Swiss Federal Tribunal in reviewing award issued by panels in international arbitration proceedings. The SFT also referred extensively throughout its decision to jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), rendered in cases related to international sport and the CAS. More...

New Transnational Sports Law Articles Released on SSRN - Antoine Duval

I have just released on SSRN four of my most recent articles on Lex Sportiva/Transnational Sports Law. The articles are available open access in their final draft forms, the final published version might differ slightly depending on the feedback of the editors. If you wish to cite those articles I (obviously) recommend using the published version.

I hope they will trigger your attention and I look forward to any feedback you may have!

Antoine


Abstract: This chapter focuses on the emergence of a transnational sports law, also known as lex sportiva, ruling international sports. In the transnational law literature, the lex sportiva is often referred to as a key example or case study, but rarely studied in practice. Yet, it constitutes an important playground for transnational legal research and practice, and this chapter aims to show why. The focus of the chapter will first be on the rules of the lex sportiva. Law, even in its transnational form, is still very much connected to written rules against which a specific behaviour or action is measured as legal or illegal. As will be shown, this is also true of the lex sportiva, which is structured around an ensemble of rules produced through a variety of law-making procedures located within different institutions. The second section of this chapter will aim to look beyond the lex sportiva in books to narrate the lex sportiva in action. It asks, what are the institutional mechanisms used to concretize the lex sportiva in a particular context? The aim will be to go beyond the rules in order to identify the processes and institutions making the lex sportiva in its daily practice. Finally, the enmeshment of the lex sportiva with state-based laws and institutions is highlighted. While the lex sportiva is often presented as an autonomous transnational legal construct detached from territorialized legal and political contexts, it is shown that in practice it operates in intimate connection with them. Hence, its transnational operation is much less characterized by full autonomy than assemblage.


Abstract: This chapter aims to show that the work of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’), which is often identified as the institutional centre of the lex sportiva, can be understood as that of a seamstress weaving a plurality of legal inputs into authoritative awards. In other words, the CAS panels are assembling legal material to produce (almost) final decisions that, alongside the administrative practices of sports governing bodies (‘SGBs’), govern international sports. It is argued that, instead of purity and autonomy, the CAS’ judicial practice is best characterised by assemblage and hybridity. This argument will be supported by an empirical study of the use of different legal materials, in particular pertaining to Swiss law, EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), within the case law of the CAS. The chapter is a first attempt at looking at the hermeneutic practice of the CAS from the perspective of a transnational legal pluralism that goes beyond the identification of a plurality of autonomous orders to turn its sights towards the enmeshment and entanglement characterising contemporary legal practice.


Abstract: Has the time come for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to go public? This article argues that after the Pechstein decision of the European Court of Human Rights, CAS appeal arbitration must be understood as forced arbitration and therefore must fully comply with the due process guarantees enshrined in Article 6(1) ECHR. In particular, this entails a strong duty of transparency with regard to the hearings at the CAS and the publication of its awards. This duty is of particular importance since the rationale for supporting the validity of CAS arbitration, if not grounded in the consent of the parties, must be traced back to the public interest in providing for the equality before the (sports) law of international athletes. Thus, the legitimacy and existence of the CAS is linked to its public function, which ought to be matched with the procedural strings usually attached to judicial institutions. In short, if it is to avoid lengthy and costly challenges to its awards, going public is an urgent necessity for the CAS.


Abstract: In 1998 the FIFA welcomed the Palestinian Football Association as part of its members - allegedly, as an attempt by then FIFA President, the Brazilian João Havelange, to showcase football as an instrument of peace between Israeli and Palestinians. Ironically, almost 20 years after Palestine’s anointment into the FIFA family, instead of peace it is the conflict between Israeli and Palestinians that moved to FIFA. In recent years the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and the Israeli Football Association (IFA) have been at loggerheads inside FIFA over the fate - I will refer to it as the transnational legality – of five (and then six) football clubs affiliated to the IFA which are physically located in the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). This chapter chronicles the legal intricacies of this conflict, which will serve as a backdrop to discuss arguments raised regarding the legality of business activities of corporations connected to the Israeli settlements. Indeed, as will be shown in the first part of this chapter, the discussion on the legality of economic activities in the OPT has recently taken a business and human rights turn involving systematic targeting of corporations by activists. Interestingly, we will see that this business and human rights turn also played a role in the conflict between the IFA and the PFA. This case study is therefore an opportunity to examine how the strategy of naming and shaming private corporations, and in our case not-for-profit associations, for their direct or indirect business involvement in the settlements has fared. It is also an occasion to critically assess the strength of the human rights ‘punch’ added to the lex sportiva, by the UNGPs.

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June - August 2020 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

CAS Decision on Manchester City FC Case

After the UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control’s (CFCB) decision earlier this year to ban Manchester City FC for two seasons, observers waited impatiently to see the outcome of this high profile dispute. The CFCB’s decision had found that Manchester City FC overstated sponsorship revenues and in its break-even information given to UEFA. While some feared this showdown could lead to the demise of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the now publicized CAS panel’s decision is more nuanced. The panel’s decision turned on (see analysis here and here) (a) whether the ‘Leaked Emails’ were authentic and could be admissible evidence, (b) whether the ‘CFCB breached its obligations of due process’, (c) whether the conclusions of the 2014 Settlement Agreement prevents the CFCB from charging Manchester City FC, (d) whether the charges are time-barred, (e) the applicable standard of proof, (f) whether Manchester City FC masked equity funding as sponsorship contributions, and (g) whether Manchester City FC failed to cooperate with CFCB. In the end, among other findings, the Panel held that some of the alleged breaches were time-barred but maintained that Manchester City FC had failed to cooperate with CFCB’s investigation. In light of this, the Panel significantly reduced the sanction placed on Manchester City FC by removing the two-season suspension and reducing the sanction from 30 million euros to 10 million euros.

 

Qatar Labour Law Reforms Effectively Abolishes the Kafala System

Just a few days after Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report on abusive practices suffered by migrant workers in Qatar, Qatar adopted a series of laws that effectively gets rid of the Kafala system by no longer requiring migrant workers to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from their employer in order to start another job. The International Labour Organization declared that this development along with the elimination of the ‘exit permit requirements’ from earlier this year means that the kafala system has been effectively abolished. In addition to these changes, Qatar has also adopted a minimum wage that covers all workers and requires that employers who do not provide food or housing at least give a minimum allowance for both of these living costs. Lastly, the new laws better define the procedure for the termination of employment contracts.

In reaction to these changes, Amnesty International welcomed the reforms and called for them to be ‘swiftly and properly implemented’. Indeed, while these amendments to Qatar’s labour laws are a step in the right direction, Amnesty International also cautions that the minimum wage may still be too low, and in order to be effective, these new laws will have to be followed with ‘strong inspection and complaint mechanisms’.

 

CAS Decision Concerning Keramuddin Karim Abuse Case

In June of last year, Keramuddin Karim, former president of Afghanistan’s soccer federation, was banned by FIFA for life (see the decision of the adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee) after reports of sexual and physical abuse that emerged in late 2018. Following a lengthy and tumultuous investigation in Afghanistan, Afghan officials came forward with an arrest warrant for Mr. Karim. Nevertheless, despite attempts to apprehend Mr. Karim, Mr. Karim has still avoided arrest over a year later. Most recently in August, Afghan Special Operation officers attempted to apprehend him but he was not at the residence when they arrived.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karim had appealed FIFA’s lifetime ban to the CAS and the CAS Panel’s decision has recently been released. In its decision, the Panel upheld both the lifetime ban and the 1,000,000 CHF fine, finding that due to the particular egregious nature of Karim’s acts, ‘they warrant the most severe sanction possible available under the FCE’. Since both Karim and his witnesses were unable to be heard, the case raises questions connected to the respect of fundamental procedural rights at the CAS.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March-May 2020 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

Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Over Sports

Since the last monthly report, the coronavirus pandemic has completely taken over the headlines and has had enormous impacts on the sports field. The most significant of these impacts so far was the rather slow (see here and here) decision by the IOC to move the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to 2021 after a widespread push among athlete stakeholders to do so. Concerns were raised that besides the wellbeing of the participants, athletes under lockdowns would not have the access to the training facilities, meaning preparations for the Games would suffer. The IOC has already started its new planning for Tokyo 2021 and sees this new opportunity to be ‘an Olympic flame’ at the end of a ‘dark tunnel’ for the entire world.

Besides the Olympics, football has also experienced colossal effects as this crisis landed right as leagues were approaching the end of their season. In this context, FIFA has released specific guidelines on player contracts and transfer windows, which has included extending player contracts to the new postponed end of season dates. It has also organized a working group on COVID-19, which has already made recommendations to postpone all men and women’s international matches that were to be played during the June 2020 window. Earlier in March, UEFA had already announced that the EURO 2020 was also postponed by 12 months and has also recently approved guidelines on domestic competitions. These guidelines place emphasis on ‘sporting merit’ and urge ‘National Associations and Leagues to explore all possible options to play all top domestic competitions giving access to UEFA club competitions to their natural conclusion’. Nevertheless, UEFA also emphasizes that the health of all stakeholders must remain the top priority.

In the end, numerous sport federations have also had to amend their calendars due to the pandemic (see UCI and FIBA) and a variety of sport stakeholders have been confronted with immense financial strain (e.g. football, tennis and cycling). For example, UEFA has acted preemptively in releasing club benefit payments to try to alleviate the economic pressure faced by clubs. There have also been efforts to support athletes directly (e.g. FIG and ITF). All in all, the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on sport have been unprecedented and will require creative solutions while continuing to place public health as the top priority.

Platini’s ECtHR Appeal Falls Flat

There have also been a few other stories that have (understandably) been overshadowed by the pandemic. One of these include Michel Platini’s unsuccessful appeal to the ECtHR challenging his 2015 football ban. The ECtHR’s decision concerned the admissibility of his appeal and in the end found it to be ‘manifestly ill-founded’. This is because he failed to raise his procedural rights concerns under Article 6 (1) ECHR in his proceedings at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Besides rejecting his other claims based on Article 7 and 8 ECHR, the ECtHR decision also touched upon the issue of CAS’ procedural and institutional independence. In doing so, it referred to its Pechstein decision and once more affirmed that the CAS is sufficiently independent and impartial (see para 65), further giving credence to this notion from its case law. However, there are still concerns on this matter as was highlighted in the Pechstein dissent. Overall, the decision indicates that the ECtHR is willing to give the CAS the benefit of the doubt so long as it sufficiently takes into account the ECHR in its awards.

Mark Dry – UKAD Dispute

In February, Mark Dry was suspended by UKAD after a decision of the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) Appeal Tribunal  for four years after having given a ‘false account’ in order to ‘subvert the Doping Control process’. Specifically, Dry had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing after he had missed a test at his residence. After further investigation, Dry admitted that he had forgotten to update his whereabouts while he was actually visiting his parents in Scotland and in panic, had told anti-doping authorities that he had been out fishing. Following the decision of the NADP Appeal Tribunal, athlete stakeholders have argued the four-year ban was disproportionate in this case. In particular, Global Athlete contended that Whereabouts Anti-Doping Rule Violations only occur in cases where an athlete misses three tests or filing failures within a year. Furthermore, even if Dry had ‘tampered or attempted to tamper’, a four-year sanction is too harsh. Subsequently, UKAD responded with a statement, arguing that ‘deliberately providing false information’ is ‘a serious breach of the rules’ and that the UKAD NADP Appeal Tribunal ‘operates independently’. In light of the mounting pressure, Witold Bańka, WADA President, also responded on Twitter that he is ‘committed to ensuring that athletes’ rights are upheld under the World Anti-Doping Code’. More...

Anti-Doping in Times of COVID-19: A Difficult Balancing Exercise for WADA - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences.


I.               Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the manner in which we approach human interactions that suppose close and prolonged physical contact. Across the world, authorities are having to design ways to resume essential activities without jeopardising participants’ health, all the while guaranteeing that other fundamental rights are paid due respect. The fight against doping is no exception. Anti-doping organizations – whether public or private – have to be held to the same standards, including respect for physical integrity and privacy, and considerate application of the cornerstone principle of proportionality.

Throughout this global crisis, the World Anti-Doping Agency (‘WADA’) has carefully monitored the situation, providing anti-doping organizations and athletes with updates and advice. On 6 May 2020, WADA issued the document called ‘ADO Guidance for Resuming Testing’ (‘COVID Guidance’). A COVID-19 ‘Q&A’ for athletes (‘Athlete Q&A’) is also available on WADA’s website, and has been last updated on 25 May 2020. This article focuses on these two latest documents, and analyses the solutions proposed therein, and their impact on athletes.

Like many public or private recommendations issued for other societal activities, the WADA COVID Guidance is primarily aimed at conducting doping control while limiting the risk of transmission of the virus and ensuing harm to individuals. More specifically, one can identify two situations of interest for athletes that are notified for testing:

  1. The athlete has or suspects that they may have been infected with COVID-19, or has come in close contact with someone having COVID-19;
  2. The athlete fears to be in touch with doping control personnel that may be infected with COVID-19.

Quite obviously, either situation has the potential to create significant challenges when it comes to balancing the interests of anti-doping, with individual rights and data protection concerns. This article summarises how the latest WADA COVID Guidance and Athlete Q&A address both situations. It explores how the solutions suggested fit in with the WADA regulatory framework and how these might be assessed from a legal perspective.

The focus will be on the hypothesis in which international sports federations – i.e. private entities usually organised as associations or similar structures – are asked to implement the COVID Guidance within their sport. National anti-doping organizations are strongly embedded in their national legal system and their status and obligations as public or semi-public organisations are likely to be much more dependent on the legislative landscape put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in each country. Nevertheless, the general principles described in this article would apply to all anti-doping organizations alike, whether at international or national level. More...



(A)Political Games: A Critical History of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter - 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.

 

Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’ have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g. professionalism in sport),[1] while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g. protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space.  For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’ ability to represent their personal sponsors[2]). Nowadays, the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security operations created to protect the Olympic sites.

Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people together’.[3] In this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set aside’?[4] Should one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible to separate politics and sport?  

Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.[5] However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression during the Games (see here, here and here). Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless, what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal.[6] Sport nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to validate its global prowess and stature.

To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively. The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2020 - 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

Manchester City sanctioned by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play

Manchester City has been sanctioned under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations for two seasons for ‘overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information’ it had provided UEFA. The February 14 decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) likely heralds the start of a long and bitter legal war between Manchester City and UEFA, which may end up settling many of the questions surrounding the legality of FFP rules. Since its introduction in 2010, the compatibility of FFP with EU law, especially in terms of free movement and competition law, has been a continued point of contention amongst the parties concerned and commentators (see discussion here, here and here). It was only a matter of time that a case would arise to test this issue and the present circumstances seem to indicate that this may go all the way.                                 

Regardless, the ban will not be enforced this season and in light of the appeal process, it is hard to predict when the CFCB’s decision will have any effect. Indeed, Manchester City has shown an incredible willingness to fighting this out in the courts and shows no signs of backing down. The next stop will be the CAS and perhaps followed by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. It should also be recalled that the CAS has already examined FFP in its Galatasaray award, where it found FFP compatible with EU law (see commentary here). There is even a decent chance that this emerging saga may end up in front of the European Commission and eventually the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Sun Yang CAS award published

After a much-anticipated public hearing, the Panel’s award in the Sun Yang case has finally been published, sanctioning Sun Yang with an eight-year period of ineligibility (see here for a detailed commentary). The decision does not reveal anything groundbreaking in terms of its legal reasoning and in many ways the case will most likely be remembered for its historical significance: the case that jumpstarted a new era of increased public hearings at the CAS.

Perhaps of some interest is the extent to which the panel took into account Sun Yang’s behavior during the proceedings in order to support its assessment of the case. For example, the panel describes how Sun Yang had ignored the procedural rules of the hearing by inviting ‘an unknown and unannounced person from the public gallery to join him at his table and act as an impromptu interpreter’. The Panel interpreted this as Sun Yang attempting ‘to take matters into his own hands’ which it found resembled the athlete’s behavior in the case (see para 358). The Panel also found it ‘striking’ that Sun Yang did not express any remorse concerning his actions during the proceedings. Since the proceedings were held publicly and have been recorded, it is possible to verify the Panel’s assessment in this regard.

In the end, it is possible that Sun Yang may seek to reduce the period of ineligibility once the 2021 WADA Code comes into force (see para 368). For now, Sung Yang may also try to appeal the award to the Swiss Federal Tribunal on procedural grounds, and has already indicated his wish to do so. More...

Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – 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

 On March 05, the T.M.C. Asser Institute hosted ‘Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play?’ a Multiplier Sporting Event organized in the framework of a European research project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. This project funded by the European Commission through its Erasmus+ program aims to help the EU adopt a strategic approach to sports diplomacy and to provide evidence of instances where sport can help amplify EU diplomatic messages and forge better relations with third countries. In particular, Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute is focusing on the role of EU sports diplomacy to strengthen human rights in the context of mega sporting events (MSE) both in Europe and abroad. To this end, he organized the two panels of the day focusing, on the one hand, on the ability of sport governing bodies (SGB) to leverage their diplomatic power to promote human rights, particularly in the context of MSEs and, on the other, on the EU’s role and capacity to strengthened human rights around MSEs. The following report summarizes the main points raised during the discussions. More...

Special Issue Call for Papers: Legal Aspects of Fantasy Sports - International Sports Law Journal

The International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invites submissions to a special issue focusing on legal aspects of fantasy sports. For some time, fantasy sports has been a major phenomena in North America and this has been reflected in the sports law literature. Fantasy sports have more recently grown in popularity in the rest of world, raising a number of novel legal questions. The ISLJ wants to support fruitful global discussions about these questions through a special issue. We welcome contributions from different jurisdictions analyzing fantasy sports from the perspective of various areas of law including, but not limited to, intellectual property law, gambling law, and competition law.

Please submit proposed papers through the ISLJ submission system (http://islj.edmgr.com/) no later than November 15, 2020. Submissions should have a reccomended length of 8,000–12,000 words and be prepared in accordance with the ISLJ's house style guidelines (https://www.springer.com/journal/40318/submission-guidelines). All submissions will be subject to double-blind peer review.

Question about the special issue can be directed to the Editor–in-Chief, Johan Lindholm (johan.lindholm@umu.se).

How 2019 Will Shape the International Sports Law of the 2020s - 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

As we begin plunging into a new decade, it can be helpful to look back and reflect on some of the most influential developments and trends from 2019 that may continue to shape international sports law in 2020 and beyond. Hence, this piece will not attempt to recount every single sports law news item but rather identify a few key sports law stories of 2019 that may have a continued impact in the 2020s. The following sections are not in a particular order.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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