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

Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

Editor's note: Björn Hessert is a research assistant at the University of Zurich and a lawyer admitted to the German bar.

 

The discussion revolving around the invalidity of arbitration clauses in organised sport in favour of national and international sports arbitral tribunals has been at the centre of the discussion in German courtrooms.[1] After the decisions of the German Federal Tribunal[2] (“BGH”) and the European Court of Human Rights[3] (“ECtHR”) in the infamous Pechstein case, this discussion seemed to have finally come to an end. Well…not according to the District Court (LG) of Frankfurt.[4] On 7 October 2020, the District Court rendered a press release in which the court confirmed its jurisdiction due to the invalidity of the arbitration clause contained in the contracts between two beach volleyball players and the German Volleyball Federation[5] (“DVV”) – but one step at a time. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – September - October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi


The Headlines


Human rights and sport  

Caster Semenya

Human rights issues are taking the headlines in the sporting world at present. A short time ago, Caster Semenya’s appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal against the CAS decision was dismissed, perhaps raising more questions than answering them. Within the last few days however, the message from the Semenya camp has been that this is not over (see here).  See the contributions from a range of authors at Asser International Sports Law Blog for a comprehensive analysis of the Semenya case(s) to date.

Navid Afkari

As the sporting world heard of the execution of Iranian Wrestler Navid Afkari, a multitude of legal and ethical questions bubbled to the surface. Not least of all and not a new question: what is the responsibility of sport and the governing bodies therein, in the space of human rights?  And, if an athlete is to acquire a high profile through sporting excellence, does that render athletes vulnerable to be made an example of and therefore in need of greater protection than is currently afforded to them? There are differing views on how to proceed. Consider the following from the World Players Association (Navid Afkari: How sport must respond) and that from the IOC (IOC Statement on the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari) which shows no indication through this press releases and other commentary, of undertaking the measures demanded by World Players Association and other socially active organisations. (See also, Benjamin Weinthal - Olympics refuses to discuss Iranian regime’s murder of wrestler).

Yelena Leuchanka

As this is written and relevant to the above, Yelena Leuchanka is behind bars for her participation in protests, resulting in several sporting bodies calling for her immediate release and for reform in the sporting world around how it ought to deal with these issues. As a member of the “Belarus women's national basketball team, a former player at several WNBA clubs in the United States and a two-time Olympian”, Leuchanka has quite the profile and it is alleged that she is being made an example of. (see here)

Uighur Muslims and Beijing Winter Olympics

British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab does not rule out Winter Olympics boycott over Uighur Muslims. ‘The foreign secretary said it was his "instinct to separate sport from diplomacy and politics" but that there "comes a point where that might not be possible".’ Though Raab’s comments are fresh, this issue is shaping as a “watch this space” scenario, as other governments might echo a similar sentiment as a result of mounting pressure from human rights activist groups and similar, in lead up to the Winter Games. More...



The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 2 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.


1. EU law and the CAS case-law

Bearing in mind these questions, it is possible to affirm that under EU law, the specificity of sport

i) refers to the inherent characteristics of sport that set it apart from other economic and social activities and which have to be taken into account in assessing the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law; and

ii) under EU law these inherent characteristics of sport must be  considered on a case by case  basis, per the Wouters test as developed by the ECJ in the Meca Medina ruling.

Both aspects can be found in the CAS case-law too, although the CAS case-law shows some remarkable differences and peculiarities. From a general point of view, the application of the principle of specificity of sport in the CAS case-law represents an aspect of the more general issue related to the application of EU law by the CAS. However, the purpose of this paper is not to fully examine if and to what extent the CAS arbitrators apply EU law rules on free movement and competition; rather, the aim is to analyse the way the CAS deals with the concept of the specificity of sport, highlighting similarities and differences compared to the ECJ.

Taking for granted that ‘a CAS panel is not only allowed, but also obliged to deal with the issues involving the application of [EU] law’,[1] as far as the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law is concerned the CAS case-law shows different degrees of engagement. For instance, in the ENIC award concerning the so-called UEFA integrity rule, the CAS panel went through a complete competition-law analysis in perfect harmony with the Wouters et al. ruling by the ECJ.[2] On the contrary, in the above-quoted Mutu case, the issue of compatibility of the FIFA’s transfer regulations with EU competition law was analysed in a rather simple way, merely stating that the FIFA rules at stake were not anti-competitive under EU competition law without giving any reason to support this conclusion. More recently, in the Galatasaray and Milan A.C. awards, concerning the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations, the CAS  applied a detailed analysis of EU competition law. However, in both cases, according to the CAS the proportionate character of sanctions listed in the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations cannot affect the evaluation of the legitimacy of these regulations under Art. 101 TFEU. This conclusion represents a clear breaking point with respect to the ECJ case-law, according to which the evaluation of the restrictive effects of a rule necessarily presupposes the analysis of the proportionate character of the sanction imposed in the event of a violation of that rule as well.[3]   In regard to EU free movement, the CAS case-law tends to be less analytical in terms of the principle of proportionality. For instance, in the RFC Seraing award  which concerned both EU free movement and competition law, the CAS panel mainly focused on the legitimate objectives of the contested rule (FIFA’s ban on Third-Party Ownership – TPO), merely affirming that the restrictive measures under EU free movement were justified and inherent in the pursuit of those objectives.More...



The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 1 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.*

 

1. Introduction.

The so-called specificity of sport represents one of the most debated, if not the most debated, but still undefined issue under European Union (EU) law. A noteworthy peculiarity is that the specificity of sport is frequently mentioned in several legislative and political documents issued by EU institutions, however it is not expressly referred to in any judgment by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).Conversely, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) case-law on Art. 17 of FIFA Regulations on status and transfer of players (RSTP) has repeatedly and expressly referred to the specificity of sport.[1] Apparently, the concept of specificity of sport has different meanings and purposes in the ECJ and CAS jurisprudence. In this blog (divided in two parts), I will try to analyse those two different meanings and to what extent the CAS case-law is consistent with the concept of specificity of sport as elaborated under EU law. More...

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...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | Blog Symposium: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football. By Ariel N. Reck

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

Blog Symposium: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football. By Ariel N. Reck

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor’s note: Ariel N. Reck is an Argentine lawyer specialized in the football industry. He is a guest professor at ISDE’s Global Executive Master in International Sports Law, at the FIFA CIES Sports law & Management course (Universidad Católica Argentina) and the Universidad Austral Sports Law diploma (Argentina) among other prestigious courses. He is a regular conference speaker and author in the field of sports law.

Being an Argentine lawyer, Ariel will focus on the impact FIFA’s TPO ban will have (and is already having) on South American football.


Introduction

Before discussing the impact of the TPO ban, it is important to highlight that the purposes of TPO in South America are somehow different than in Europe. Here “economic rights” (that’s how we call it) are basically assigned in four different moments and/or situations:

First, when a youth player is first registered for the club at amateur level. This is a recognition to the person or entity that brings the player to the club and is usually between 10% and 20% of a future transfer. This practice widens the club’s scouting net and attracts promising young players from the small clubs to the big ones. The percentage can be assigned to the former club of the player, a third person who brings the player (a scout / intermediary) or to the player’s family if he comes as a free or unregistered player. In these cases the position of the beneficiary is really passive and the assigned rights are fragile and dependent of many factors (the player is not even a professional yet).

A second stage in which rights are assigned to third parties is when the club needs money to cover other obligations, unrelated to that particular player. Every club has one or more starlets and investors are willing to take the risk and acquire a percentage of the player’s economic rights. For the club, the sale of portions of the economic rights helps to balance its books and provides an alternative source of credit. In this case there’s no “standard” percentage, it depends on the money the investor is willing to pay, the potential value of the player and the needs of the club. The influence, or the ability to “force” a transfer of the player, of the third party is also subject to each particular agreement, with a direct correlation between percentage owned and influence.[1]

The third situation is when a club wants to hire a player but does not have the financial resources to do it. The rights of such a player might be owned by a company or a company might be willing to acquire the player’s rights from the former club and bring him to the new club. Consequently, the new club is used as showcase only. Under this situation, the player is usually hired for a single season with an option for the purchase of a percentage in favor of the new club, triggering –if executed- a long term employment contract. Sometimes, even if the option is not executed the TP owner recognizes the club a small percentage (around 10%) as “showcase rights” in case the player is immediately hired with a long term contract by another club after the termination of his one season contract. Under these circumstances, the influence of the TP owner is clearly strong, irrespective of how the relevant documents are drafted. 

Clubs could also turn to selling economic rights to third parties in order to cancel debts or to seduce a player for a contractual renewal. A club accepts to assign a share to the player against previous salary debts or in order to convince him to renew the contract without a mayor salary raise. If the club cannot pay the amounts wanted by the player to renew, it offers to assign the player a percentage of his own transfer. In most South American countries, the law or a collective bargaining agreement grants players a minimum percentage of the proceeds of his own transfer (between 10% and 20% depending the country)[2], but this additional assignment is heavily used to satisfy a player’s demands at a renewal of the employment contract.

With so many purposes, and taking into account the financial needs of clubs, the lack of alternative sources of financing and the number of South American players transferred each year, it is obvious that the use of TPO in South America is definitively widespread. Therefore, the impact of the ban will be certainly important, especially in the first years when clubs have not yet found alternative forms of financing.  


The impact of the FIFA Ban

The situation is aggravated by the short transitional period established by FIFA. While previous statements of FIFA officials suggested a period of 3 to 4 seasons[3], the FIFA Circular letter 1264 reduced it to just four months.

It is hard to predict the effectiveness of the prohibition. The current scenario shows many parties looking for forms or mechanisms to circumvent the prohibition, while others are trying to challenge it before the courts. If we consider the experience of art.18bis of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) (an article included in the FIFA rules right after the Tévez affair as an attempt to protect the independence of clubs in its transfers decisions limiting the power to force a transfer, third parties usually had in TPO agreements), the forecast for the effectiveness of art.18ter is not good. But, as we will show, in the case of art.18ter there’s a clear new impulse and moreover, UEFA stands strongly behind the prohibition. Therefore, in my opinion, we can expect a different outcome. I think the ban will be especially effective in cases of players involved in transfers from South America to the European leagues. Transfers to Portugal, Spain or Greece (countries that relied on TPO in the recent past) will be heavily scrutinized. Nonetheless, it is unclear whether at domestic level, especially in South America, the practice will be banned with similar efficiency or if it will continue secretly with limited or no control by the national Associations. Some federations already implemented their own form of TPO ban (even when art.18ter RSTP is mandatory at national level). Brazil was one of the pioneers[4] and in Argentina, the fiscal authorities, passed a regulation banning TPO agreements.[5]

As to the ways to try to circumvent the TPO ban, I think we will see a raise in the use of “bridge transfers”, which is basically the registration of a player in a club just to cover the TPO with a federative “shell”. With this maneuver, the TP owner artificially enjoys all the benefits of being a club, like retaining a percentage of the player’s future transfer or controlling the player’s career by signing a long term contract with a huge buyout clause loaning the player to different clubs each year.[6] According to the FIFA regulations any club that had ever registered the player is not a “third party” (see definition 14[7]). There is no further requirement, no “sporting interest” in the registration or playing time, the simple act of registration allows a club to have a share of the player’s future transfers. To this regard, while it is true that FIFA already sanctioned clubs for “bridge transfers”[8], it was only an isolated case (still pending at CAS) and we can see examples of patent “bridge transfers” in every transfer window and in the top-5 leagues, not just in minor competitions. 

Another way to deceive TPO is to assign a share to the player and a further (hidden) assignment from the player to a third party. At this point, a big question arises: is the player a third party according to the FIFA regulations? Can a club assign a percentage of the player’s future transfers to the player himself?
As said, the opportunity for a player to profit from his own transfer is a labour right in many South American countries. While South American employment laws, statutes and/or CBAs tend to fix a minimum percentage of the transfer fee for the player, there is no cap and in theory a player can receive up to 100% of the transfer price. 

The FIFA regulations only exclude the two clubs involved in a transfer and the previous clubs where the player was registered from being a third party. Hence, in principle, the player seems to be a “third party” too.

But art.18ter provides that no club or player shall enter into an agreement with a third party, based on the wording of this provision it is clear that a player should not be considered a “third party”. Moreover, the player is a necessary party in every transfer agreement and he is also subject to sanctions if he violates the aforementioned FIFA prohibition on TPO according to paragraph 6 of art.18ter.

In addition, the fact that in many South American countries the player’s entitlement to a share of his own transfer is a labour right, a systematic interpretation of art.18ter makes it plausible to sustain the validity of the assignment of a percentage of the transfer fee to the player. In that regard, it is important to recall that FIFA’s prohibition has in principle effect only at federative level. This means that at civil level, any assignment will still be valid and enforceable.

Furthermore, the jurisprudence of the majority of the South American countries holds that federative rules have only effect within the framework of the federation and cannot contradict the civil legislation, of a higher hierarchy.

Argentina is an exception in South America. Ordinary Argentine courts settled that Federative rules are the “lex specialis” in relation to the general rules of the civil code. Therefore, if the regulations of FIFA and/or the Argentine Federation prohibit TPO, any contract in that sense will be null and void, even when under our civil code the assignment of a future transfer is perfectly valid.

Saved for this exception, the result of this is that FIFA’s remedy might be worse than the disease. Since FIFA can only sanction its own members (meaning clubs and players), if a club or a player enters into a TPO agreement, such player or club might be subject to disciplinary sanctions and the contract will still be valid and enforceable.

It is not unthinkable that a player or a club surrendering to the need of funds and signing a TPO agreement despite FIFA’s ban, thereby placing himself in a difficult position. The counterpart (the third party) might force the compliance of the agreement by threatening with reporting the deal to FIFA. In the end, the ban will have the opposite effect to what was sought: Players and clubs will be more vulnerable in their relationship with the third-party than before the introduction of art.18ter RSTP.

As said, it is hard to think that clubs will immediately find an alternative source of funding or will be able to live within their own means. Therefore, it is probable that clubs will try to circumvent or challenge the rule.

Again, the final consequences are hard to predict, but will of an important magnitude. TPO is not just a financing method ‎to bring players to clubs, sharing the risk with the investor, it is also a way to get cash-flow without the need to transfer the player to another club. Furthermore, it is an essential part of the scouting method that widens the club’s network, attracts young talents to the clubs and is also a way to cancel debts towards the player or to achieve a renewal of his contract.  


Conclusion

To conclude, I don’t think the TPO ban is the best way to achieve the –alleged- objectives declared by FIFA. Obligation to disclose, controlled payments (via TMS for example) and other regulatory approaches would have been better options. The pressure from an investor could have been diluted by setting a limit (maximum percentage or maximum number of players under TPO) and the reality is that the pressure to “force” a transfer comes in general from other actors, mainly the player and/or his agent. 

Now the new “pushers” will be the European clubs. How will it be possible for an Argentine club to refuse a -say- € 5 million transfer for a 19 year old player even if the club knows his value will double or triple if he stays at the club? With the TPO ban the club cannot rely on an investor paying, for example, € 3 million for 50% of the player's economic rights to “hold on” a few years. It is worth remembering that Chelsea tried to seal the transfer of Neymar for € 20 million when he was 18. However, Santos managed to reject such offer relying on TPO.

South American players account already for approximately 25% of all the international transfers worldwide[9], after the TPO ban this percentage will certainly raise.

As to the “morals” arguments, recently reiterated by UEFA’s president Platini who said TPO is “a form of slavery”[10], I believe they are just a fallacy. Every transfer needs the player’s consent and the investor owns a share of the profit of a potential future transfer, not a part of the human being. Otherwise, for clubs, owning 100% of a human being would be equally immoral.

Moreover, other types of assignments, like third party litigation funding, are legal in many countries, including the UK and France. The similarities and analogies than can be made with TPO are immense and nobody is claiming third party litigation funding is a way of “owning a person’s justice”.

With the introduction of the Financial Fair Play Regulations European clubs and federations are looking into ways to reduce expenditures and also scrutinizing what the “neighbors” are doing. Clubs want cheaper players and clubs from countries were TPO was long ago banned had a handicap for UEFA spots against clubs from countries were TPO was allowed and relied on TPO to acquire players.[11] The TPO ban serves both objectives: A reduction in the player’s transfer price and an end to the Spanish and Portuguese transfer “tactics” that relied heavily on TPO. 

Also, the inclusion or exclusion of the player in the definition of “third party” triggers conflictive issues. In most South American countries national labour laws or CBAs allow the player to obtain a percentage of the proceeds of his own transfer. If FIFA tries to extend the definition of “third party” to include players, this might certainly prevent a complete implementation of FIFA´s TPO ban in South America. 

As a conclusion I can say that, for South American clubs, the TPO ban just changed the “predator” in the transfer market. Our clubs can now stand stronger against investors, but as counter-effect they are in a much weaker position against European clubs‎.



[1] For a discussion on “buy-sell” clauses (the core of any TPO agreement) and whether they constitute prohibited influence see my opinion: Do “Buy-Sell” Clauses In Third Party Ownership Agreements Constitute Undue Influence Under FIFA’s Art 18bis?

 http://www.lawinsport.com/blog/argentine-sports-law-blog/item/do-buy-sell-clauses-in-third-party-ownership-agreements-constitute-undue-influence-under-fifa-s-art-18bis

[2] Brazil, Peru and Bolivia are exceptions to this rule; no such right is established in their regulations. In Argentina the minimum percentage is 15% according to art.8 of the CBA 557/2009 http://infoleg.mecon.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/155000-159999/158453/norma.htm , in Paraguay 20% for international transfers, art.12 law 5322 from 29th  October 2014 http://www.escritosdederecho.com/2014/11/ley-5322-del-29-10-2014-estatuto-del-futbolista-profesional.html , in Uruguay 20%, art.34 of the Professional Footballers Statute http://www.mutual.com.uy/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=83 , in Ecuador 15%, Chile 10% law 20.178 http://www.sifup.cl/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Ley-20178-Estatuto-Laboral-del-Futbolista-Profesional-Chileno.pdf , and Colombia 8% art.14 Colombian Players Status Regulations http://fcf.com.co/index.php/la-federacion-inferior/normatividad-y-reglamento/158-estatuto-del-jugador

[3] http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/footballgovernance/news/newsid=2463828/

[4] http://www.insideworldfootball.com/world-football/south-america/16188-brazil-conforms-and-sets-date-for-ending-tpo-funding-practices

[5] General Resolution 3740/2015 http://eco-nomicas.com.ar/7183-rg-3740-afip-ganancias-transferencia-de-jugadores

[6] For more on “Bridge Tranfers” http://www.lawinsport.com/sports/football/item/what-is-a-bridge-transfer-in-football

[7] Third party: a party other than the two clubs transferring a player from one to the other, or any previous club, with which the player has been registered.”

[8] http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/news/newsid=2292724/index.html

[9] Source: FIFA TMS Global Transfer Market Report 2015, page 78.

[10] http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/03/16/soccer-platini-tpo-idINKBN0MC1B220150316

[11] http://www.e-comlaw.com/world-sports-law-report/article_template.asp?Contents=Yes&from=wslr&ID=1388

 

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