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

New Event! Diversity at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: Time for a Changing of the Guard? - Zoom In Webinar - 14 October - 4pm

On Thursday 14 October 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret (University of Lausanne), will be launching the second season of the Zoom-In webinar series, with a first episode on Diversity at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: Time for a Changing of the Guard?

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is a well-known mainstay of global sport. It has the exclusive competence over challenges against decisions taken by most international sports governing bodies and its jurisprudence covers a wide range of issues (doping, corruption, match-fixing, financial fair play, transfer or selection disputes) including disciplinary sanctions and governance disputes. In recent years, the CAS has rendered numerous awards which triggered world-wide public interest, such as in the Semenya v World Athletics case or the case between WADA and RUSADA resulting from the Russian doping scandal (we discussed both cases in previous Zoom-In discussion available here and here). In short, the CAS has tremendous influence on the shape of global sport and its governance.

However, as we will discuss during this webinar, recent work has shown that the arbitrators active at the CAS are hardly reflective of the diversity of people its decisions ultimately affect. This in our view warrants raising the question of the (urgent) need to change the (arbitral) guard at the CAS. To address these issues with us, we have invited two speakers who have played an instrumental role in putting numbers on impressions widely shared by those in contact with the CAS: Prof. Johan Lindholm (Umea University) and attorney-at-law Lisa Lazarus (Morgan Sports Law). Johan recently published a ground-breaking monograph on The Court of Arbitration for Sport and Its Jurisprudence in which he applies empirical and quantitative methods to analyse the work of the CAS. This included studying the sociological characteristics of CAS arbitrators. Lisa and her colleagues at Morgan Sports Law very recently released a blog post on Arbitrator Diversity at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reveals a stunning lack of diversity (based on their calculations, 4,5% of appointed CAS arbitrators are female and 0,2% are black) at the institution ruling over global sport.

Guest speakers:


Register for free HERE.

Zoom In webinar series

In December 2020, The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret launched a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In. You can watch the video recordings of our past Zoom In webinars on the Asser Institute’s Youtube Channel.

Investment in Football as a Means to a Particular End – Part 2: The Multiple Layers of Multi-Club Ownership Regulation in Football - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor's note: Rhys was an intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. He now advises on investments and Notre acquisitions in sport (mainly football) via Lovelle Street Advisory. Following a career as a professional athlete, Rhys has spent much of his professional life as an international sports agent, predominantly operating in football. Rhys has a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and a Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) from the University of Dame, Sydney, Australia. He is currently completing an LL.M at the University of Zurich in International Business Law / International Sports Law.

Having looked at the different types of investors in football in part one of this two-part blog series, “A non-exhaustive Typology”, it is fitting to now consider the regulations that apply to investors who seek to build a portfolio of football clubs.

One way to measure the momentum of a particular practice and how serious it ought to be taken, might be when that practice earns its own initialism. Multi-club ownership or MCO as it is increasingly known today, is the name given to those entities that have an ownership stake in multiple clubs. Within the little research and writing that has been undertaken on the topic, some authors submit that investors with minority stakes in multiple clubs ought not to be captured by the MCO definition.  This position appears problematic given some of the regulations draw the line at influence rather than stake.

There are now approximately 50 MCO’s across the football world that own approximately 150 clubs.[1] Given the way MCO is trending, one might consider it important that the regulations keep up with the developing MCO practice, so as to ensure the integrity of football competitions, and to regulate any other potentially questionable benefit an MCO might derive that would be contrary to football’s best interests.

In this blog, I focus on the variety of ways (and levels at which) this practice is being regulated.  I will move through the football pyramid from member associations (MA’s) to FIFA, laying the foundations to support a proposition that FIFA and only FIFA is positioned to regulate MCO. More...

New Event! Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and the Right to Free Speech of Athletes - Zoom In Webinar - 14 July - 16:00 (CET)

On Wednesday 14 July 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret, is organizing a Zoom In webinar on Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and the right to free speech of athletes.

As the Tokyo Olympics are drawing closer, the International Olympic Committee just released new Guidelines on the implementation of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. The latter Rule provides that ‘no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas’. The latest IOC Guidelines did open up some space for athletes to express their political views, but at the same time continue to ban any manifestation from the Olympic Village or the Podium. In effect, Rule 50 imposes private restrictions on the freedom of expression of athletes in the name of the political neutrality of international sport. This limitation on the rights of athletes is far from uncontroversial and raises intricate questions regarding its legitimacy, proportionality and ultimately compatibility with human rights standards (such as with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

This webinar aims at critically engaging with Rule 50 and its compatibility with the fundamental rights of athletes. We will discuss the content of the latest IOC Guidelines regarding Rule 50, the potential justifications for such a Rule, and the alternatives to its restrictions. To do so, we will be joined by three speakers, Professor Mark James from Manchester Metropolitan University, who has widely published on the Olympic Games and transnational law; Chui Ling Goh, a Doctoral Researcher at Melbourne Law School, who has recently released an (open access) draft of an article on Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter; and David Grevemberg, Chief Innovation and Partnerships Officer at the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, and former Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). 

Guest speakers:

  • Prof. Mark James (Metropolitan Manchester University)
  • Chui Ling Goh (PhD candidate, University of Melbourne)
  • David Grevemberg (Centre for Sport and Human Rights)


Free Registration HERE

Investment in Football as a Means to a Particular End – Part 1: A non-exhaustive Typology - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor's note: Rhys is currently making research and writing contributions under Dr Antoine Duval at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law. Additionally, Rhys is the ‘Head of Advisory’ of Athlon CIF, a global fund and capital advisory firm specialising in the investment in global sports organisations and sports assets.

Rhys has a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) from the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. Rhys is an LL.M candidate at the University of Zurich, in International Sports Law. Following a career as a professional athlete, Rhys has spent much of his professional life as an international sports agent, predominantly operating in football.

Rhys is also the host of the podcast “Sportonomic”.


In the following two-part blog series, I will start by outlining a short typology of investors in football in recent years, in order to show the emergence of different varieties of investors who seek to use football as a means to a particular end. I will then in a second blog, explore the regulatory landscape across different countries, with a particular focus on the regulatory approach to multi-club ownership. Before moving forward, I must offer a disclaimer of sorts.  In addition to my research and writing contributions with the Asser Institute, I am the ‘Head of Advisory’ for Athlon CIF, a global fund and capital advisory firm specialising in the investment in global sports organisations and sports assets. I appreciate and hence must flag that I will possess a bias when it comes to investment in football.

It might also be noteworthy to point out that this new wave of investment in sport, is not exclusive to football. I have recently written elsewhere about CVC Capital Partners’ US$300 million investment in Volleyball, and perhaps the message that lingers behind such a deal.  CVC has also shown an interest in rugby and recently acquired a 14.3 per cent stake in the ‘Six Nations Championship’, to the tune of £365 million.  New Zealand’s 26 provincial rugby unions recently voted unanimously in favour of a proposal to sell 12.5 per cent of NZ Rugby’s commercial rights to Silver Lake Partners for NZ$387.5 million.  Consider also the apparent partnership between star footballer’s investment group, Gerard Pique’s Kosmos, and the International Tennis Federation.  Kosmos is further backed by Hiroshi Mikitani’s ecommerce institution, Rakuten, and all involved claim to desire an overhaul of the Davis Cup that will apparently transform it into the ‘World Cup of Tennis’. Grassroots projects, prizemoney for tennis players and extra funding for member nations are other areas the partnership claims to be concerned with. As is the case with all investment plays of this flavour, one can be certain that a return on the capital injection is also of interest.

So, what are we to conclude from the trends of investment in sport and more specifically for this blog series, in football? A typology elucidates that a multiplicity of investors have in recent years identified football as a means to achieve different ends. This blog considers three particular objectives pursued; direct financial return, branding in the case of company investment, or the branding and soft power strategies of nations.More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter: the wind of changes or a new commercial race - By Rusa Agafonova

Editor's note: Rusa Agafonova is a PhD Candidate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland   

The Olympic Games are the cornerstone event of the Olympic Movement as a socio-cultural phenomenon as well as the engine of its economic model. Having worldwide exposure,[1] the Olympic Games guarantee the International Olympic Committee (IOC) exclusive nine-digit sponsorship deals. The revenue generated by the Games is later redistributed by the IOC down the sports pyramid to the International Federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and other participants of the Olympic Movement through a so-called "solidarity mechanism". In other words, the Games constitute a vital source of financing for the Olympic Movement.

Because of the money involved, the IOC is protective when it comes to staging the Olympics. This is notably so with respect to ambush marketing which can have detrimental economic impact for sports governing bodies (SGBs) running mega-events. The IOC's definition of ambush marketing covers any intentional and non-intentional use of intellectual property associated with the Olympic Games as well as the misappropriation of images associated with them without authorisation from the IOC and the organising committee.[2] This definition is broad as are the IOC's anti-ambush rules.More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Why the existing athletes' Olympic entering system does not comply with the fundamental principles of Olympism enshrined in the Olympic Charter - By Anna Antseliovich

Editor's note: Anna Antseliovich heads the sports practice at the Moscow-based legal group Clever Consult. She also works as a senior researcher at the Federal Science Center for Physical Culture and Sport (Russia).

The Olympic Games have always been a source of genuine interest for spectators as Olympians have repeatedly demonstrated astounding capacity of the human body and mind in winning Olympic gold, or by achieving success despite all odds.

At the ancient and even the first modern Olympic Games, there was no concept of a national team; each Olympian represented only himself/herself. However, at the 1906 Intercalated Games[1] for the first time, athletes were nominated by the National Olympic Committees (‘NOCs’) and competed as members of national teams representing their respective countries. At the opening ceremony, the athletes walked under the flags of their countries. This was a major shift, which meant that not only the athletes themselves competed against each other, but so too did the nations in unofficial medal standings.  

The nomination and selection of athletes by their NOCs to compete under their national flag and represent their country is a matter of pride for the vast majority of athletes. However, to what extent does such a scheme correspond to the ideals which the Olympic Games were based on in ancient times? Is it possible to separate sport and politics in the modern world? More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Legal and other issues in Japan arising from the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games due to COVID-19 - By Yuri Yagi

Editor's note: Yuri Yagi is a sports lawyer involved in Sports Federations and Japanese Sports Organizations including the Japan Equestrian Federation (JEF), the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), the Japan Sports Council (JSC) and the All-Japan High School Equestrian Federation.

1. Introduction

Japan has held three Olympic Games since the inception of the modern Olympics;Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in 1964, Sapporo Winter Olympic Games in 1972, and Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998. Therefore, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Tokyo 2020) are supposed to be the fourth to be held in Japan, the second for Tokyo. Tokyo 2020 were originally scheduled for 24 July 2020 to 9 August 2020. Interestingly, the word ‘postpone’ or ‘postponement’ does not appear in the Host City Contract (HCC).

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) decided on 24 March 2020 that Tokyo 2020 would be postponed because of the pandemic of COVID-19. Later on, the exact dates were fixed ‘from 23 July 2021 (date of the Opening Ceremony) to 8 August 2021 (date of the Closing Ceremony).

The process of the decision is stipulated in the ‘ADDENDUM N° 4’ signed by IOC, TMG, JOC and TOCOG.

This paper provides an overview of the current situation, along with legal and other issues in Japan that have arisen due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to COVID-19. The overview is offered from the perspective of a citizen of the host city and includes a consideration of national polls, the torch relay, vaccination, training camps, ever increasing costs, and the related provisions in the Candidature File and the Host City Contract. More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Freedom of Expression in Article 10 of the ECHR and Rule 50 of the IOC Charter: Are these polar opposites? - By Nuray Ekşi

Editor's note: Prof. Dr. Ekşi is a full-time lecturer and chair of Department of Private International Law at Özyeğin University Faculty of Law. Prof. Ekşi is the founder and also editor in chief of the Istanbul Journal of Sports Law which has been in publication since 2019.

While Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) secures the right to freedom of expression, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter of 17 July 2020 (‘Olympic Charter’) restricts this freedom. Following the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) relating to sports, national and international sports federations have incorporated human rights-related provisions into their statutes and regulations. They also emphasized respect for human rights. For example, Article 3 of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (‘FIFA’) Statutes, September 2020 edition, provides that “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights”. Likewise, the Fundamental Principles of Olympism which are listed after the Preamble of the of the Olympic Charter 2020 also contains human rights related provisions. Paragraph 4 of Fundamental Principles of Olympism provides that the practice of sport is a human right. Paragraph 6 forbids discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. In addition, the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’) inserted human rights obligations in the 2024 and 2028 Host City Contract.[1] The IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration even goes further and aspires to promote the ability and opportunity of athletes to practise sport and compete without being subject to discrimination. Fair and equal gender representation, privacy including protection of personal information, freedom of expression, due process including the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial panel, the right to request a public hearing and the right to an effective remedy are the other human rights and principles stated in the IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration. Despite sports federations’ clear commitment to the protection of human rights, it is arguable that their statutes and regulations contain restrictions on athletes and sports governing bodies exercising their human rights during competitions or in the field. In this regard, particular attention should be given to the right to freedom of expression on which certain restrictions are imposed by the federations even if it done with good intentions and with the aim of raising awareness. More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Stick to Sports: The Impact of Rule 50 on American Athletes at the Olympic Games - By Lindsay Brandon

Editor's note: Lindsay Brandon is Associate Attorney at Law Offices of Howard L. Jacobs

“Tell the white people of America and all over the world that if they don’t seem to care for the things black people do, they should not go to see black people perform.” – American sprinter and Olympic Medalist John Carlos

On 21 April 2021, the Athletes’ Commission (AC) of the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) received the “full support of the IOC Executive Board for a set of recommendations in regard to the Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and Athlete Expression at the Olympic Games.” This came over a year after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and almost a year after the IOC and AC embarked on an “extensive qualitative and quantitative” consultation process to reform Rule 50 involving over 3,500 athletes from around the globe.

Since its introduction of the new guidelines in January 2020, Rule 50 has been touted by the IOC as a means to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games, stating that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or radical propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.”  In other words, the Olympics are a time to celebrate sport, and any political act or demonstration might ruin their “moment of glory”.

In fact, the Rule 50 Guidelines say that a fundamental principle of sport is that it is neutral, and “must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.” But this separation is not necessarily rooted in totality in modern sports culture[1], particularly in the United States (“U.S.”).  This is evidenced by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (“USOPC”) committing to not sanctioning Team USA athletes for protesting at the Olympics. The USOPC Athletes stated “Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values.” More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games - Introduction

Women In Sports Law (WISLaw) is an international, non-profit association based in Switzerland and aimed at promoting women in the sports law sector, through scientific and networking events, annual meetings and annual reports. WISLaw’s objectives are to raise awareness of the presence, role and contribution of women in the sports law sector, enhance their cooperation, and empower its global membership through various initiatives.

This year, WISLaw has partnered with the Asser International Sports Law Blog to organise a special blog symposium featuring WISLaw members. The  symposium will entail both the publication of a series of blog posts authored by WISLaw members, and a virtual webinar (accessible at with the Passcode 211433) to promote discussion on the selected topics. Article contributions were invited on the topic of legal issues surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the midst of a pandemic and the rise of social justice movements around the world, the Games and their organisation gave rise to a number of interesting legal issues and challenges, which will be explored through a variety of lenses. 

We hope that you enjoy and participate in the discussion.

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The Legia Warszawa case: The ‘Draconian’ effect of the forfeiture sanction in the light of the proportionality principle. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

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

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

While the CAS proceedings for the appeal filed by Legia against UEFA and Celtic FC are pending and the grounds of dismissal by the CAS of the application for provisional measures have not been publicly known, the CAS is called to rule on the interpretation of the proportionality principle with regard to the application of the 3-0 defeat sanction against a club that fielded an ineligible player. The cornerstone question is whether the final award on the merits will be in line with UEFA and CAS jurisprudence suggesting a literal interpretation of Article 21.2 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations (UEFA DR) or whether the CAS will allow for a broader interpretation of the proportionality principle in case of mere technical administrative errors. 

Background and facts of the case

Legia’s adventures began when Legia’s player, Bartosz Bereszynski, was sent off in their final Europa League tie of last season against Apollon Limassol FC and was sanctioned by the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body decision of 13 February 2014 with three-match suspension.  UEFA regulations are clear in that a ban applies to a player if he is listed in a club’s squad for matches. Bereszynski did not play in Legia’s games with St Patrick’s Athletics and in the first leg against Celtics FC. However, due to a technical error of Legia’s administrator, which was to prove fatal, the player was not registered in the squad list for the St Patrick’s tie and the first two games of his suspension were never properly recognized. As a result of the player’s failure to serve the suspension, Bereszynski’s participation in the second leg against Celtics FC as a 86th minute substitute triggered the application of Article 18 of the Regulations of the UEFA Champions League 2012-2015 and Article 21.2 of the UEFA DR and Legia was to be sanctioned for fielding a suspended player. Therefore, the match was declared forfeited; for UEFA’s purposes, Legia lost the game 3-0 and the initial 6-1 aggregate defeat for Celtic was reversed to a 4-4 aggregate score, opening the door for Celtic to progress in UEFA CL play-offs on away goals.  

The Legia case in the light of UEFA jurisprudence

At a first glance, the case at issue seems to present several factual similarities with the Bowyer and Matoukou cases brought before UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body, which, however, have never been appealed before the CAS.

In the first case, similarly to the Legia case, due to an administrative error of Newcastle United FC, Bowyer had not been registered as ‘eligible to play’ in the six UEFA matches in 2004. As a result, UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary body, applying UEFA Regulations, decided that Bowyer had not served the suspension carried over from his days as a Leeds United player and was banned for the next six European matches. This decision was challenged by Newcastle and the English Football Association (FA) before the UEFA’s Appeal Body, which upheld the initial decision. It is remarkable that the FA supported Newcastle’s appeal, expressing its concerns with regard to the ambiguous language of the rules on players’ eligibility.

In the second case, Matoukou while playing for KRC Genk against FC Porto on 19 August 2010 in a UEFA Europa League qualifier, received a red card and as a consequence was sanctioned with a two-match suspension. Matoukou sat out the second leg of that tie and, after Genk’s elimination, played no further European games for Genk. On 2 August 2012, Matoukou, as a player of Arsenal Kiev FC, scored against ND Mura 05. However, Matoukou had not served the second part of his suspension before taking part to this game. As a result of his ineligibility, UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body declared the match forfeited. Although there is no doubt that the player did not serve the two-match suspension, this case illustrates the most recent example of the clear-cut application of Disciplinary Regulations by UEFA.

A similar example is the harsh sanction of 3-0 defeat applied against PAOK Saloniki in 2004 for fielding the suspended player, Laisis Louca, in the first leg of the CL third qualifying round against Maccabi Tel Aviv. NK Zepce was also punished with the same severity in 2005 for fielding a suspended player in the first half of their match against FK Baskimi. The inevitable conclusion of this brief overview of UEFA jurisprudence is that UEFA’s practice has been consistent; UEFA Regulations on players’ eligibility are sufficiently clear and they give no room for a different interpretation. However, it should be noted that the UEFA decisions can be appealed before the CAS. Therefore, the CAS jurisprudence needs to be examined in order to assess whether the CAS in interpreting UEFA Regulations has deviated from this rather simplistic clear-cut approach of UEFA.  

The Legia case in the light of CAS jurisprudence

The Sion[1] case has been the CAS landmark case with regard to the proportionality of the sanction of forfeiture for clubs fielding ineligible players. In this case, the CAS confirmed that FC Sion was banned from registering five new players in the summer transfer period of 2011/12 pursuant to the FIFA decision and was excluded from UEFA Europa League. Funnily enough, Celtic was also back then the lucky club, which enjoyed a ‘second bite of the cherry’. While this case presents only few factual similarities with the Legia case, its importance lies in that the CAS had to rule whether a club’s exclusion mandated by UEFA Regulations is in conformity with Swiss antitrust law and the proportionality principle.

The CAS confirmed that UEFA is an undertaking enjoying a dominant position on the market of international football competitions.[2] However, according to the CAS,  Article 18 of the UEFA Regulations authorizing UEFA to sanction clubs which field ineligible players does not constitute an abuse of its dominant position, but rather ‘guarantees the efficiency and equal treatment of the clubs[3]. Relying on its mandate to establish uniform regulations applicable equally to all clubs and to guarantee legal certainty in sports competitions, the CAS found that the sanction of forfeiture for clubs fielding ineligible players is an appropriate, necessary and proportionate measure.[4] To reach this conclusion, the CAS applied a twofold test for the proportionality principle to be enforced: (1) the capacity of the sanction of forfeiture to achieve the aim it pursues, i.e. to ensure the equal treatment of the clubs; and (2) the necessity of the sanction, i.e. the absence of alternative measures, since during the qualification phase of the tournament other sanctions such as the deduction of points are not possible.

In this case, the CAS deviated from the strict literal interpretation of Article 21.2 of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations and elaborated an interpretation of the forfeiture sanction in the light of the proportionality principle, applying the twofold test. It is highly likely that the CAS in the Legia case will follow this interpretation, relying on the necessity of the sanction, i.e. because of the absence of alternative measures, and its mandate to protect the equal treatment of the clubs and will confirm, therefore, the conformity of the UEFA decision with Article 21.2. However, it is the suggestion of this case commentary that a different interpretation of Article 21.2 in the light of the proportionality principle could also be elaborated on.  

Mapping an alternative interpretation of Article 21.2 of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations

In this attempt to elaborate a different interpretation of Article 21.2 in the light of the proportionality principle, this article will use as a benchmark the CAS finding that ‘other elements such as the systematic context, the purpose and history of the rule may contribute to the correct understanding of the meaning of the rule[5]. Although the wording of Article 21.2 is clear and seems to create a lex specialis rule with regard to the forfeiture sanction in case of a player’s ineligibility, it is suggested that a different interpretation of Article 21 can be envisaged if it is examined in conjunction with the General Principles laid down in Article 17.1 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulation.

Specifically, Article 17.1 states that the disciplinary body determines the type and extent of the disciplinary measures to be imposed in accordance with the objective and subjective elements of the offence, taking account of both aggravating and mitigating circumstances.[6] This means that a sanction may be scaled down when proper consideration is given to the specific circumstances. This provision is in line with the well-established in Swiss law, EU law and CAS jurisprudence[7] proportionality principle, namely that in disciplinary matters a reasonable balance must be struck between the violation and the sanction.

Therefore, in the case at issue the question could be articulated as such: Could an interpretation of Article 21.2 in the context of Article17.1 and the proportionality principle result in a different sanction than forfeiture?

In the light of Article 17.1, an argument deriving from the specific ‘aggravating and mitigating’ circumstances of Article 17.1 could be that the ineligible player did actually abstain from three matches and it was due to a mere technical error that the player did not serve his suspension correctly. It could be suggested, therefore, that the forfeiture sanction is too harsh, since Legia acted in good faith and it was only because of this administrative error that the player was considered ineligible.

Furthermore, in the same spirit, Legia could claim that the sanction should be scaled down given that the player in question played for only four minutes as a substitute with the aggregate score of 6-1 in Legia’s favour. Considering that the ineligible player did not have any considerable impact on the tie[8], Legia could claim that the forfeiture sanction is too harsh as compared to the violation committed by the club. In a similar case, in 2010, UEFA fined Debrecen VSC for fielding in a good faith an ineligible player, instead of declaring the match forfeit: UEFA considered that Debrecen ‘had no interest in fielding this player for the three last minutes of additional time, when the score was so clearly in its favour’. It should be pointed out that in the Debrecen case the ineligible player was free to play if registered and, as a result, Article 21.3 applied. By contrast, in the Legia case the player was suspended and therefore excluded from the competition.

However, it could be argued that UEFA’s decision in the Debrecen case could serve as a guideline for a more flexible interpretation of Article 21.2. While the wording of Article 21.3 itself gives enough room for discretion to UEFA to declare a match forfeit (‘a match may be declared forfeit’), an interpretation of Article 21.2 in the light and purpose of Articles 17.1 and 21.3 could lead to a less draconian sanction, taking into consideration the specific circumstances of the case. Although the difference in the wording between Articles 21.2 (‘a match is declared’) and 21.3 draws a clear distinction between the consequences of fielding a suspended player and an ineligible player, it is the suggestion of this commentary that this distinction is at odds with the proportionality principle. Considering the proportionality’s principle status as a ‘general principle of law governing the imposition of sanctions of any disciplinary body[9], it is surprising that Article 21.2 imposes the forfeiture sanction, without any reference to the proportionality of the sanction as compared to the violation committed. In this sense, the sanction of forfeiture leading to Legia’s exclusion from UEFA CL – and to the enormous economic loss for the club that this exclusion entails- seems disproportionate in the light of the specific circumstances of the case. In other words, a literal interpretation of Article 21.2, even in cases where the violation is the result of a mere technical error and the fact that the Club had no interest in fielding the suspended player, seems to overturn the reasonable balance between the violation and the sanction. 

Conclusive remarks

Until today, in the name of legal certainty, UEFA and the CAS have applied in a consistent way a literal interpretation of Article 21.2 of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations. While legal certainty is the ratio legis and justification of the sanctions imposed by UEFA[10], this commentary argued that the ‘without-exemption’ application of the forfeiture sanction can undermine the proportionality principle, which is also a fundamental principle recognized by the CAS jurisprudence. In this light, it has been demonstrated that a flexible interpretation of Article 21.2 in the context of the general provisions of Article 17.1, i.e. an interpretation which would render the act of fielding a suspended player subject to the full scale of disciplinary measures and would leave sufficient room for discretion to UEFA disciplinary body and to the CAS, would be in compliance with the proportionality principle. To this extent, construing a method for interpretation of Article 21.2 in conjunction with Articles17.1 and 21.3 is an important step to arrive at a better evaluation of the existing regime and to clarify the complex and still unsettled interplay between the intensity of the violation and the sanction.

Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the CAS will follow the path -strikingly consistent until now- of a literal interpretation of Article 21.2 or whether it will opt for a tailored sanction, which would be in compliance with the proportionality principle.

[1] CAS 2011/O/2574 UEFA v. Olympique des Alpes SA/FC Sion

[2] CAS 2011/O/2574 (n 5), para 115.

[3] Ibid, paras 124 & 130.

[4] Ibid, para 135.

[5] CAS 2007/A/1363 TTF Liebherr Ochsenhausen v/ETTU, award of 5 October 2007, para 12

[6] Article 17.1 (n 1).

[7] CAS 2001/A/330 R. v. Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron (FISA), Award of 23 Nov 2001

[8] By contrast, see Sion case (n5) where Pascal Feindouno, one of Sion’s ineligible players, scored against Celtic.

[9] G. Kaufmann-Kohler and A. Rigozzi, ‘Legal Opinion on the Conformity of Article 10.6 of the 2007 Draft WADA Code with the Fundamental Rights of Athletes’, 42.

[10] CAS 2007/A/1278&1279,  para 131.

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