Asser International Sports Law Blog

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

SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Editor's note: Andy Brown is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the governance of sport for over 15 years. He is the editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative where this blog appeared first.


For the last three days, I have been struggling with what to write regarding the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) Decision to dismiss a challenge from Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) Decision to dismiss a challenge to the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development), otherwise known as the DSD Regulations. From reading World Athletics’ statement welcoming the ruling, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had won a major trial. Sports journalists, accustomed to covering events now curtailed by Covid-19, focus on the fact that Semenya has ‘lost’ her case against the DSD Regulations. Neither assertion is strictly accurate.

The SFT’s powers to review the CAS’s ruling are severely limited. It can only consider whether the CAS Decision violates ‘widely recognised principles of public order’ on Swiss public policy grounds. The SFT has only reversed a decision based on a a violation of Swiss public policy once in 30 years.

The SFT didn’t reconsider the evidence put forward to the CAS. ‘For there to be incompatibility with public policy, it is not enough that the evidence has been poorly assessed, that a finding of fact is manifestly false or that a rule of law has been clearly violated’, its Decision reads. ‘The only question to be resolved is in fact whether or not the verdict of the CAS renders the referred award incompatible with substantive public policy’. 

There were questions about whether the appeal from Semenya and ASA qualified to be reviewed by the SFT in the first place. World Athletics is a private organisation headquartered in Monaco, and the SFT was troubled as to whether such a complaint brought by a South African athlete against an overseas private organisation is capable of violating Swiss public policy.

‘It is doubtful whether the prohibition of discriminatory measures falls within the scope of the restrictive concept of public order when the discrimination is committed by a private person and occurs in relations between individuals’, the Decision quotes from its pervious 29 July 2019 Decision, which refused the ASA’s request to provisionally suspend the application of the DSD Regulations. ‘In any event, there is no need to examine this question further here since […] the award under appeal does not in any way establish discrimination which would be contrary to public order’

The SFT ruled that the CAS was correct to uphold conditions of participation for 46 XY DSD athletes in order to guarantee fair competition for certain disciplines in female athletics. In doing so, the SFT was ruling on whether the decision taken by the CAS violates public policy, based only on the complaints brought forward by Semenya and ASA. 

Semenya and the ASA had challenged the CAS Decision based around the idea that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory. The CAS held that they are discriminatory, but agreed with the IAAF (as World Athletics was then named) that such discrimination was necessary to protect its female category. The SFT ruled that even if the discriminatory rules of a private organisation such as the IAAF were considered able to pose a threat to public order, Semenya and the ASA had failed to demonstrate that the CAS Decision was so egregious that it posed such a threat.

‘Caster Semenya essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination’, reads the Swiss Federal Supreme Court statement. ‘The CAS has issued a binding decision based on the unanimous opinion of the experts who were consulted that testosterone is the main factor for the different performance levels of the sexes in athletics; according to the CAS, women with the “46 XY DSD” gene variant have a testosterone level comparable to men, which gives them an insurmountable competitive advantage and enables them to beat female athletes without the “46 XY DSD” variant. Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the “women” category.’

Such strong support for the principle behind its DSD Regulations was rightly welcomed by World Athletics. Its statement asserted that the SFT ‘acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions’. I would argue that the SFT ruling didn’t do this, but rather found that a CAS Decision asserting this didn’t violate Swiss public policy. Semantics, perhaps.

Likewise, when World Athletics quotes the SFT Decision as confirming that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’, it is paraphrasing two texts quoted in the SFT Decision. The first is ‘La qualification juridique des rules autonomes des organizations sportive’ by Jérôme Jaquier, 2004. ‘Inborn characteristics specific to athletes in a particular group can also distort the fairness of competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Jaquier. ‘When they enact regulations, the objective of sports federations is to ensure fair and equitable competition’.

The context of the second quote, from ‘Sportrecht – Berücksichtigung der Interessen des Sports in der Rechtsordnung’ by Martin Kaiser, 2011, is even more interesting. It is preceded with a statement from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which reads: ‘It is not for the Federal Court to make, abstractly, comparisons between the disciplines to assess whether a particular athlete has an advantage that makes sporting competition meaningless’

‘It is above all for the sporting federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is liable to distort competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Kaiser. ‘And, if so, to establish legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’. 

Again, such details might be considered as semantics. But – I would argue – important semantics. Reading the media maelstrom that has resulted from the SFT Decision, one could be forgiven for assuming that Semenya has lost her case, and has no chance of ever defending her 800m title. However, a statement issued by her lawyers reveals that she intends to challenge the ruling in European and domestic courts.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am”, the statement continues. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.” More...



The Semenya Decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal: Human Rights on the Bench - By Faraz Shahlaei

Editor's note: Faraz Shahlaei is a JSD Candidate at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. His research and teaching interests are public international law, international sports law, international human rights and dispute resolution.

 

The issue of international human rights was a central contention in Caster Semenya case ever since the start of her legal battle against the regulations of the IAAF. However, the human rights arguments were poorly considered in the two proceedings related to this case. To put it in perspective, it is like having a key player nailed to the bench throughout the whole game; no coach ever tried to give it a chance while it had the potential to be the game changer for all parties.

In 2019, the Human Rights Council, the inter-governmental human rights body of the UN, expressed concern over issues of discrimination in sports in particular regarding IAAF female classification regulations. In June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the “Intersection of Race and Gender Discrimination in Sport”. The report draws a detailed picture of how human rights in the Semenya case have been violated and also elaborates on the inherent problem of addressing human rights issues in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms favored by the sport governing bodies. However, despite an in-depth discussion of Caster Semenya’s case at both the CAS and then the SFT, the question of human rights, a key concern and a fundamental pillar of the case, hasn’t been adequately answered yet! More...


The SFT’s Semenya Decision under European human rights standards: Conflicting considerations and why a recourse could be successful at Strasbourg - By Kevin Gerenni

Editor's note: Kevin Gerenni is Assistant Professor in Public International Law (Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Buenos Aires) and LLM Candidate 2021 in Public International Law at the London School of Economics.


Even though the decision rendered by the SFT in the Semenya Case was foreseeable, the Tribunal did put forward some concerning reasoning in terms of public policy (“ordre public”) and human rights. In case Semenya decides to challenge the Swiss state before the ECtHR, one can expect the case to shake some grounds at the ECtHR, which would be faced with the question of the application to sport not of fair trial guarantees (as in Mutu & Pechstein) but of substantial human rights provisions such as the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex (Article 14 ECHR) and the right to private life (Article 8 ECHR).

Under Swiss law, the reasons that may lead to the annulment of an arbitral award are enumerated in art. 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act (PILA). Semenya’s strongest case relied on art. 190(2)(e): the award’s incompatibility with public policy. Naturally, this point concentrated most of the SFT’s attention. In order to analyze the compatibility of the CAS award with Swiss public policy, the SFT focused on three main potential breaches of human rights: prohibition of discrimination, personality rights, and human dignity. In doing so, it put forward certain observations that differ with European human rights standards and the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. The purpose of this short article is to analyze those discrepancies and, consequently, Semenya’s prospects of success before the Strasbourg Tribunal.More...


Selected procedural issues –and questions– arising out the Caster Semenya Judgment of the Swiss Federal Tribunal - By Despina Mavromati

Editor's note: Dr Despina Mavromati is an attorney specializing in international sports law and arbitration (Sportlegis Lausanne) and a UEFA Appeals Body Member. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland

 

As the title indicates, this short note only deals with selected procedural issues and questions arising out of the very lengthy Semenya Judgment. In a nutshell, the SFT dismissed Semenya’s appeal to set aside the CAS Award, which had denied the request of Caster Semenya (Semenya, the Athlete) to declare unlawful the Differences of Sex Development (DSD) Regulations of World Athletics (formerly IAAF).[1]

At the outset, it has to be reminded that the CAS Award dealt with the merits of the Semenya case in a final and binding way by rendering an arbitral award according to Article R59 of the CAS Code (and Article 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act – PILA). Therefore, the SFT did not act as an appellate court but rather as a cassatory court, entitled to review only whether the exhaustively enumerated grounds for annulment set out in Article 190 (2) PILA were met (and provided that they were properly invoked and substantiated in the motion to set aside said award).More...

Caster Semenya Case Exposes Design Flaws in International Sports Governance - By Roger Pielke Jr.

Editor's note: Roger Pielke Jr. is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder

 

The decision this week by the Swiss Federal Tribunal not to revisit the arbitral decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the case of Caster Semenya was not unexpected, but it does help to expose a major design flaw in international sports governance. Specifically, the institutions that collectively comprise, create and enforce “sports law” appear incapable of addressing flawed science and violations of basic principles of medical ethics.

While different people will have different, and legitimate, views on how male-female competition classifications might be regulated, the issues highlighted involving science and ethics are not subjective, and are empirically undeniable. In normal systems of jurisprudence, procedures are in place to right such wrongs, but in sports governance processes in place prevent such course corrections. And that is a problem.

The empirical flaws in the science underpinning the IAAF (now World Athletics) Semenya regulations are by now well understood, and have been accepted by WA in print and before CAS (I was an expert witness for Semenya, and was present when IAAF accepted responsibility for the flawed research). You can read all the details here and in the CAS Semenya decision. I won’t rehash the flawed science here, but the errors are fatal to the research and obvious to see.

One key part of the comprehensive institutional failures here is that the journal which originally published the flawed IAAF research (the British Journal of Sports Medicine, BJSM) has, inexplicably, acted to protect that work from scrutiny, correction and retraction. Normally in the scientific community, when errors of this magnitude are found, the research is retracted. In this case, the BJSM refused to retract the paper, to require its authors to share their data or to publish a critique of the IAAF analysis. Instead, upon learning of the major errors, the BJSM published a rushed, non-peer reviewed letter by IAAF seeking to cover-up the errors. All of this is non-standard, and a scandal in its own right.

The violation of basic principles of medical ethics required by the implementation of the WA Semenya regulations is also not contested. Both WA and the IOC have claimed to uphold the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration on medical and research ethics. Yet, the WMA has openly criticized the WA regulations as unethical and asked doctors not to implement them. In response, WA has stated that it will help athletes who wish to follow the regulations to identify doctors willing to ignore medical ethics guidelines.

Flawed science and ethical violations are obviously issues that go far beyond the case of Caster Semenya, and far beyond sport. In any normal system of jurisprudence such issues would prove readily fatal to regulatory action, either in the first instance of proposed implementation or via review and reconsideration.

Sport governance lacks such processes. At CAS, the panel claimed that matters of scientific integrity and medical ethics were outside their remit. The SFT is allowed to reconsider a CAS decision only on narrow procedural grounds, and thus also cannot consider matters of scientific integrity or medical ethics. So far then, the flaws in the WA regulations – sitting in plain sight and obvious to anyone who looks, have not been correctable.

This leaves the world of sport governance in a compromised position. Some may look past the scientific and ethical issues here, perhaps judging that barring Semenya from sport is far more important that correcting such wrongs. 

Regardless of one’s views on sex and gender classification in sport, the WA regulations and the processes that produced and have challenged them reveal that sports governance has not yet entered the 21st century. Science and ethics matter, and they should matter in sport jurisprudence as well.  It is time to correct this basic design flaw in international sport governance.

Caster Semenya at the SFT – in 10 points - By Jack Anderson

Editor's note: Jack Anderson is Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne

 

1.     Caster Semenya appealed to the Swiss Federal Court (SFT) arguing that World Athletics’ regulations violated human rights principles relating to gender discrimination and human dignity. The Swiss Federal Tribunal (as at CAS) held that World Athletics’ regulations may prima facie breach such human rights principles but were “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to maintain fairness in women's athletics;


2.     Although in part addressed at the SFT, expect further legal argument on this in the domestic courts of South Africa or at the ECtHR, and in the following ways:

  • Necessity - is the athletic advantage that Caster Semenya has of such a scientifically-measurable extent that it is necessary for World Athletics to intervene in such an invasive manner? In a broader ethical sense, is the incidence of what the World Athletics’ regulations call “difference of sex development” of such prevalence in the general population, and specifically in middle-distance athletics, that, by way of the principle of “sporting beneficence”, intervention is justified. Or, in contrast, is the incidence of DSD not at a level which justifies a departure from the ethical principle of primum non nocere – first, do no harm?
  • Reasonableness - if World Athletics’ regulations are necessary, is the manner of implementation reasonable and in line with the principle of human and bodily integrity? In answering such a question, the focus must be on the fact that in order to continue to compete in her favourite events (such as the 800 metres) Caster Semenya will have to lower her testosterone level through medication;
  • Proportionate - if World Athletics’ regulations are necessary and reasonable is the manner of implementation proportionate? In answering such a question, the focus must be on whether the regulations disproportionately discriminate against a certain, limited group of athletes in a certain, limited number of events and in a certain, limited manner.More...


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...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The Impact of the new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries: A comparative analysis of Brazil, Spain and England. By Luis Torres

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 Impact of the new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries: A comparative analysis of Brazil, Spain and England. By Luis Torres

INTRODUCTION

Almost a year after their announcement, the new FIFA Regulations on working with Intermediaries (“FIFA Regulations”) came into force on 1 April 2015. Their purpose is to create a more simple and transparent system of regulation of football agents. It should be noted, however, that the new FIFA rules enable every national football association to regulate their own system on players’ intermediaries, provided they respect the compulsory minimum requirements adopted. In an industry that is already cutthroat, it thus remains to be seen whether FIFA’s “deregulation” indeed creates transparency, or whether it is a Pandora’s Box to future regulatory confusion.

This blog post will provide an overview of the new FIFA Regulations on working with intermediaries and especially its minimum requirements. Provided that national associations are encouraged to “draw up regulations that shall incorporate the principles established in these provisions”[1], three different national regulations have been taken as case-studies: the English FA Regulations, the Spanish RFEF Regulations and the Brazilian CBF Regulations. After mapping their main points of convergence and principal differences, the issues that could arise from these regulatory differences shall be analyzed.  


FIFA REGULATIONS ON WORKING WITH INTERMEDIARIES

The objective of the new Regulations, as explained in a blog dated from 3 July 2014, is no longer to regulate access to the activity of players’ agents (now ‘intermediaries’), but to provide a framework for a better control of the activity itself by establishing minimum standards and requirements and by installing a transparent registration system.[2]

The most significant change is that FIFA introduced a provision recommending to cap the maximum remuneration an intermediaries should derive from an individual transfer. Article 7(3) holds that the maximum commission payable to an intermediary should be 3% of the player’s basic gross income (regarding an employment contract) or 3% of an eventual transfer fee (transfer agreement). Additionally, FIFA prohibits any payment when the player concerned is a minor. These two restrictions have triggered a complaint of the AFA (UK Association of Football Agents) before the European Commission. Moreover, in Germany, the company Rogon Sport Management challenged the new DFB regulations for intermediaries and won a partial victory in a preliminary ruling of the Regional Court of Frankfurt.[3] They argue that these regulations could lead to an infringement of the competition law. This issue will be developed in a different blog post later this week.

Another minimum requirement set by FIFA is the obligation for all intermediaries to submit an Intermediary Declaration (Annex 1 and 2 FIFA Regulations) to the relevant association. This is due each time an individual or a company wishes to be registered as an intermediary with a national association, and also in order to register a transaction in which he acts on behalf of a player or a club. By signing the Declaration, the intermediary is supposed to be bound to the FIFA Regulations, in addition to the regulations of every confederation and association to which he is contractually related.

Furthermore it is stipulated that legal persons can also be considered ‘intermediaries’ under the new Regulations.[4] However, they do not provide any criteria defining how the national associations are required to register the legal persons acting as intermediaries.

The FIFA Regulations prohibit any payment to the intermediary in connection with a transfer compensation (other than the commission established in the Article 7(3)), training compensation and solidarity contributions. Moreover, in accordance with provision 7(4) of the FIFA Regulations, no compensation can be based on the future transfer value of a player.

Another compulsory prerequisite at stake is that the intermediary ought to be registered with the association where he desires to provide his services prior to initiate any activity (Article 3(1) FIFA Regulations). As will be highlighted below, this provision has important practical consequences. Finally, FIFA no longer claims jurisdiction over disputes that could arise between intermediaries and their clients or other intermediaries. It entrusted the national associations to deal with these kind of disputes. The national associations shall establish proper dispute resolution mechanisms to hear these disputes.   


NATIONAL REGULATIONS ON WORKING WITH INTERMEDIARIES

With the objective of analysing how the different associations have implemented the new intermediaries’ system, three different national regulations will be compared: The FA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries, the RFEF (Spain) Regulations and the CBF (Brazil) Regulations. 


1. The FA (England)

The FA was the first association to publish new provisions regulating intermediaries (”FA Regulations”). It should be pointed out that the new FA Regulations are to a large extent similar to the former FA Agents Regulations. For example, the assignment or subcontracting services or duties, the definition of interest, the dual representation standards and the payment to the intermediary by the club on the player’s behalf as a taxable benefit were already included in the former FA Agents Regulations. 

Nevertheless, it is surprising that the FA Regulations do not require the intermediary to submit an Intermediary Declaration, even though it is a mandatory requirement imposed by the FIFA regulations. As stated above, national associations, such as the FA, are required to implement and enforce these minimum standards/requirements. It is not excluded that FIFA, based on Article 10 FIFA Regulations, will “take appropriate measures if the relevant principles are not complied with”.

The FA prescribes that all intermediaries are to undertake the so-called ‘Test of Good Character and Reputation for Intermediaries’. By undertaking this ‘Test’, the intermediary is asked to demonstrate his impeccable reputation and declares that he has not been convicted for any offence related to his services as an intermediary.

The individual who wishes to register himself as intermediary with the FA will have to pay a registration fee of £500 (around 690 €) for the first registration. However, this fee is waived to those who were already ‘FA Registered Agents’ on 31 March 2015. Instead, in order to remain registered as an intermediary, an annual renewal fee of £250 (around 345 €) will de be due.

Additionally, if the intermediary wishes to act on behalf of minors, he must obtain a specific authorisation from the FA. He will need to provide the FA with the ‘Disclosure and Barring Service check’ (CRB check), which enables in the UK to make better informed recruitment decisions by identifying candidates who may be unsuitable for certain work, especially involving children, or an equivalent for non-English intermediaries. Moreover, regulation B8 FA Regulations prohibits any approach to, or enter into an agreement with, a player before the start of the calendar year in which he turns 16.

Out of the three national associations analysed, the FA is the only association that has provisions regarding the existing representation contracts lodged with the FA before 1 April 2015. These contracts have to be resubmitted to the FA within 10 days of the intermediary registering with the FA.

For the purpose of the representation contracts between a player and an intermediary the maximum length will be two years (regulation B10).

With respect to legal persons, the FA Regulations impose the obligation to register the company/partnership by an individual already registered as an intermediary. Moreover, any individual carrying out intermediary activities on behalf of a legal person must be registered as well.[5]  

Lastly, the FA adopted the same wording as FIFA in relation to the 3% recommendation (C11 FA Regulations). However, the English football association also published a statement (‘Intermediaries Guidance Notes’) indicating that this ‘recommendation’ is non-binding and that clubs and players are free to remunerate intermediaries as they wish. It is clear that this provision could generate doubts regarding the amount of the compensation that the intermediary is entitled to. In fact, the 3% recommendation is significantly lower than the 5-10% commission rates that licensed agents tended to receive[6]. However, with this statement, the FA is not precluding an intermediary and his client to agree on a percentage higher than 3%.

2. RFEF (Spain)

As far as the RFEF (Spanish association) Regulations on working with Intermediaries (“RFEF Regulations”) are concerned, they are the most in line with the FIFA Regulations as compared to the FA and CBF Regulations. The Intermediary Declarations are attached as Annex 1 and 2 at the end of the Regulations.  The registration fee for the first registration as an intermediary in Spain is 861 €. Registration has to be renewed on a yearly basis. However, it is yet unknown what the exact costs will be for renewing the registration. Similar to the FA’s ‘Test of Good Character and Reputation’, the RFEF provides a ‘Code of Ethics’ (Annex 3), which has to be signed by the applicant. Furthermore, the maximum length of a representation contract between a player or a club and an intermediary is two years.[7] Although the maximum length of contracts in England is also two years, it should be kept in mind that the FA Regulations only refer to contracts between intermediaries and players, not between intermediaries and clubs.

The most controversial aspect of the Spanish Regulations is the way that the Registration Procedure (Article 4) is designed. The steps for becoming a RFEF Intermediary are summarized as follows:

  1. The potential intermediary has to provide a written request addressed to the RFEF General Secretariat (“Secretaría General”).

  2. After the application is declared admissible, the RFEF will grant the individual the status of “Applicant”. Subsequently, the RFEF will convoke the applicant for an interview and decides whether the Applicant is ‘suitable to advice’ clients on the football market.   

  3. If the outcome of the interview is positive, the Applicant must provide the following documents: ID, VAT number (for legal persons), two pictures, CV, Intermediary Declaration, the payment of the Registration Fee, return the former agent license (if any) and the Code of Ethics. 

Another interesting point is that the Spanish Regulations do not provide any information on the intermediary’s remuneration. Bearing in mind that FIFA recommends the remuneration to be 3%, it will be interesting to see the consequences of the RFEF’s decision to disregard this recommendation.

This could be understood as an implicit challenge to the ‘3% recommendation’. In practice, this omission has similar consequences than the solution adopted by the English FA. In short, FIFA’s recommendation is treated as a soft advise rather than a binding legal standard.


3. CBF (Brazil)

The CBF (Brazilian association) Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (“CBF Regulations”), were approved on 24 April 2015. In order to be registered as an intermediary, the individual must provide the Intermediary Declaration attached in Annexes 1 and 2 to the Regulations. The registration fee has not been published yet. The applicant should also deliver a declaration stating that he has neither conflicts of interest nor a criminal record. Moreover, the potential CBF intermediary is required to take out a professional liability insurance for the amount of 200,000 ‘reais’ (around 60,000 €). Thus, the CBF, taking advantage of its right to ‘go beyond’ the minimum requirements imposed by FIFA, has introduced a feature of the former Agents Regulations that the new FIFA Regulations had abandoned, i.e. the professional liability insurance.[8]

Following the line of the FA and the RFEF, the Representation Contract shall not last more than “24 months” (Article 11(3)). Given that the Regulations do not state whether it refers to contracts with players or clubs, it can be inferred that all parties are subject to this restriction. On the other hand, the CBF prohibits in article 11(2) to extend the Representation Contract tacitly, a renewal in writing is necessary.

The remuneration of the intermediary is regulated in the same way as in the FIFA Regulations, except for one detail concerning the transfer fee: in Brazil, the remuneration, which should not exceed 3%, amount must be calculated on the basis of the “possible basic gross income for the entire duration of the relevant employment contract” (article 19.III), instead of a share of the transfer fee as envisaged by the FIFA, RFEF or FA Regulations.

Finally, Article 4 expands the scope of application of these regulations to ‘international activities’, specifically “operations regarding the negotiation of an employment contract or players’ transfer which have effect in a different national association”. By means of this Article, an operation which takes place out of the CBF jurisdiction has to be registered by the ‘CBF Intermediary’ with the CBF. As a consequence, the CBF Intermediary must register the operation with two federations: first, the national association where the operation takes place, and second, the CBF, where the only connection is the intermediary. 


Table providing an overview of the main requirements stipulated by the FIFA, FA, RFEF and CBF Regulations

 

FIFA

FA

RFEF

CBF

Intermediary Declaration

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

 

Test of Good Character (or similar)

No

Yes

Test of Good Character and Reputation for Intermediaries (FA form)

Yes

Code of ethics (Annex 3)

No

 

Registration Fee

No

Yes

-£500 (690 €)

-£250 (345 €): the following renewals

Yes

-861 €: 1st year

-Could change the following years

 

-unknown-

Interview and other additional documents

No

Yes

‘Declarations, Acknowledgments and Consents’ Form

Yes

Written request, Interview, 2 photos, CV.

Yes

Criminal record, copy professional liability insurance.

Maximum years Representation Contract with Player

No

Yes

2 years

Yes

2 years

Yes

2 years

3% remuneration recommendation

Yes

Yes

No

Yes, but on the future wage of the player


 CONCLUSION

The mandatory registration requirement for intermediaries with the relevant national association, as stipulated by the FIFA Regulations, the FA Regulations, the RFEF regulations and the CBF Regulations, leave room for a wealth of legal uncertainties that will need to be clarified by football’s governing bodies and the various courts (and also the EU Commission) called to pronounce themselves on those regulations.  Specifically, should an intermediary register himself with every single association where he is supposed to act on behalf of his clients? What would happen if on 31 August (summer transfer window deadline) a Spanish club calls him to sign one of his players and he is not registered in Spain as an intermediary?

Furthermore, every association has a registration fee to satisfy prior to the registration of around 500 €. Taking into account the international dimension of football and its transfer market, it could well be necessary for an intermediary to register himself with a dozen of associations simply to carry out his profession effectively. As a result, he would have to spend roughly 6.000 € in registration fees on a yearly basis.  

Subsequently, this could lead to an increase of the number of corporations, which provide intermediary services. Indeed, the recourse to a transnational agency employing a number of intermediaries registered with different national associations would be a very efficient way to tackle this problem. Thus, at medium long-term, at least at the international level, the new system will probably not generate the chaos that some authors are predicting. In fact, rather than opening the market to everyone, these requirements could well be a barrier of entry for many intermediaries and might trigger a consolidation of the market in a smaller number of bigger players. This has bad sides, less competition, and good sides, more sophisticated players more likely to provide quality services and to care about their long-term reputation. In short, we predict that only the main ‘cowboys’ in the ‘wild west’ will be able to play by the new rules of the game for football intermediaries.



[1] Nick de Marco, “The new FA Intermediaries Regulations & disputes likely to arise”, available at lawinsport.com, 31 March 2015.

[2] Daniel Lowen, ‘A Guide To The FA’s Regulations on Working with Intermediaries’ www.lawinsport.com, 17 February 2015.

[3] Handelsblatt, “Gericht gibt Spielervermittler teils recht”, 30 April 2015.

[4] See FIFA Regulations on Working with intermediaries: Definition of an intermediary, page 4

[5] Appendix II FA Regulations

[6] UEFA ‘Club Licensing Benchmarking Report 2012’, page 54. http://www.uefa.org/MultimediaFiles/Download/Tech/uefaorg/General/02/09/18/26/2091826_DOWNLOAD.pdf

[7] Article 8(4) RFEF Regulations

[8] Article 5(e) CBF Regulations

Comments (2) -

  • Marc Peltier

    5/11/2015 4:03:54 PM |

    Interesting article on the new rules. In France, we have a national legislation which is different from FIFA rules. You still have to pass an exam to get a license in order to be authorized to work as an agent.
    Marc Peltier
    Associate professor
    University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis

  • Gerald Ibeh.

    2/28/2017 10:48:30 AM |

    please how much is required to register a company to act as intermediary in Netherland,Germany,Italy,france,portugal & England.if possible i need a breakdown & requirements of registering a company to act as intermediary in all Uefa member associations.

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