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

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 3: The Curious Non-Application of Training Compensation to Women’s Football – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.

 

As recently as September 2020, questions were raised in the European Parliament on the non-application of training compensation to women’s football. Whilst this blog will predominantly consider potential inconsistencies in reasoning for and against training compensation in men’s and women’s football, the questions before the Commission were largely on the theme of disrespect and discrimination. Somewhat unfortunately, the questions raised were side-stepped, with Ms Gabriel (Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth) simply stating that: “The TFEU does not give the Commission the competence to interfere in the internal organisation of an independent international organisation such as FIFA.” This might be true in theory, though one might feel some degree of uneasiness if privy to the Commission’s role in the 2001 FIFA regulatory overhaul.

It is currently explicit in the regulations and the commentary, that in women’s football, signing clubs are not required to compensate training clubs for developing players, through the training compensation mechanism that exists in men’s football. Though it is a contentious comment and as will be expanded below, this may not have always been the case.

At Article 20 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), one will find that the principles of training compensation shall not apply to women’s football. Further, in FIFA’s recently released Women’s Football Administrator Handbook (the handbook), it states that disputes relating to training compensation are limited for the moment to male players only.[1]

Regulations on solidarity contributions on the other hand do apply to women’s football, but given transfer fees are not so common, the use of the mechanism is not either. As an indication of how uncommon the activation of the solidarity contribution mechanism in women’s football might be, FIFA reported in the handbook just four claims with the Players’ Status Department in 2016 (three claims involving the same player), and zero since.[2] That is in comparison to hundreds of claims made per season in men’s football, where signing and owing clubs had not fulfilled their obligation to pay the solidarity contribution.

Given the aforementioned, this blog will largely focus on training compensation and how it came to be the case that this mechanism, often presented as critical in the context of men’s football, does not apply in women’s football. To do so, I will first discuss the reasoning advanced in an unpublished CAS award, which one may reasonably suspect played a fundamental role in shaping the current exemption. I will then turn to FIFA’s timely response to the award and the adoption of its Circular No. 1603. Finally, I will point out the disconnect in FIFA’s decision to adopt two radically different approaches to the issue of training compensation in male and female professional football. More...


New Event! Zoom In on Transnational Sports Law - Blake Leeper v. IAAF - 4 December at 4pm (CET)

The Asser International Sports Law Centre in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret is launching a new series of zoom webinars on transnational sports law: Zoom In. The first discussion (4 December at 16.00) will zoom in on the recent arbitral award delivered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the Blake Leeper v. International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) case.

In this decision, reminiscent of the famous Pistorius award rendered a decade ago, the CAS panel ruled on the validity of an IAAF rule that places the burden on a disabled athlete to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give them an overall competitive advantage. While siding with the athlete, Blake Leeper, on the burden of proof, the CAS panel did conclude that Leeper’s prosthesis provided him an undue advantage over other athletes and hence that the IAAF could bar him from competing in its events.

To reflect on the key aspects of the decision and its implications, we have invited scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds to join the zoom discussion. 

Confirmed guests

 Moderators


The webinar is freely available, but registration here is necessary.

Last call to register to the 2021 edition of the Sports Law Arbitration Moot - Deadline 1 December

Dear all,

Our Slovenian friends (and former colleague) Tine Misic and Blaž Bolcar are organising the second edition of the Sports Law Arbitration Moot (SLAM).

The best four teams of the SLAM competition will compete in the finals, which will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 30th and 31st March, 2021.

This is a great opportunity for students to familiarise themselves with the world of sports arbitration, to meet top lawyers and arbitrators in the field, and to visit beautiful Ljubljana.

Go for it!

You'll find more information and can register at https://sportlex.si/slam/en

Pistorius revisited: A comment on the CAS award in Blake Leeper v. IAAF - By Marjolaine Viret

On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).[1] The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall competitive advantage.

The award is remarkable in that it declared the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the underlying rules.

This article focuses on some key aspects of the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of sports regulations such as anti-doping.

The award also analyses broader questions regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 2: The African Reality – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


Having considered the history and justifications for the FIFA training compensation and solidarity mechanisms in my previous blog, I will now consider these systems in the African context. This appears to be a worthwhile undertaking given these global mechanisms were largely a result of European influence, so understanding their (extraterritorial) impact beyond the EU seems particularly important. Moreover, much has been written about the “muscle drain” affecting African football and the need for such drain to either be brought to a halt, or, more likely and perhaps more practical, to put in place an adequate system of redistribution to ensure the flourishing of African football that has essentially acted as a nursery for European football for at least a century. In the present blog, I intend to draw on my experiences as a football agent to expand on how FIFA’s redistributive mechanisms function in practice when an African player signs in Europe via one of the many kinds of entities that develop or purport to develop talent in Africa. I will throughout address the question of whether these mechanisms are effective in a general sense and more specifically in relation to their operation in Africa.More...



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

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


The Headlines

Aguero and Massey-Ellis incident: An Opportunity for Change and Education?

In mid-October a clip went viral of Argentinian star Sergio Aguero putting his hands on sideline referee, Sian Massey-Ellis. A heated debate ensued in many circles, some claiming that Aguero’s conduct was commonplace, others taking aim at the appropriateness of the action, around players touching official and a male touching a female with an unsolicited arm around the back, the squeeze and pull in. Putting the normative arguments aside for a moment, the irony of the debate was that all sides had a point. Football, almost exclusively, has grown a culture of acceptance for touching officials despite the regulations. Male officials who have let such conduct slide, have arguably let their female colleague down in this instance.

Whilst a partial defence of Aguero might be that this kind of conduct takes place regularly, the incident could serve as a learning experience. If Massey-Ellis’ reaction was not enough, the backlash from some of the public might provide Aguero and other players the lesson, that touching a woman in this way is not acceptable.

Returning to football, the respect and protection of officials in sport, the key here appears to be cracking down on touching officials entirely. This is not a foreign concept and football need only look at the rugby codes. Under no circumstances does the regulations or the culture permit that a player from the rugby codes touch a referee. It is likely the case that the obvious extra level of respect for officials in these sports derives from a firm culture of no touching, no crowding officials, communicating with officials through the team captain only, with harsh sanctions if one does not comply.

The Football Association of England has decided no action was necessary, raising questions of how seriously they take the safety of officials, and gender issues. This is ultimately a global football issue though, so the confederations or international bodies may need step in to ensure the protections that appear at best fragile.  


Rugby Trans issue

The World Rugby Transgender guideline has been released and contains a comprehensive unpacking of the science behind much of the regulatory framework. Despite many experts applauding World Rugby on the guidelines and the extensive project to reach them, the England Rugby Football Union is the first to defy the World Rugby ruling and transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future. This clash between national bodies and the international body on an important issue is concerning and will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on.

 

CAS rejects the appeal of Munir El Haddadi and the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football (FRMF)

The refusal to authorise a footballer to change national federation is in the headlines with the CAS dismissing the appeal of the player and Moroccan federation, confirming the original determination of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.

This has been given considerable recent attention and seemingly worth following, perhaps best summed up by FIFA Director of Football Regulatory, James Kitching, where in a tweet he notes: “The new eligibility rules adopted by the FIFA Congress on 18 September 2020 have passed their first test. We will be publishing our commentary on the rules in the next fortnight. Watch this space.” More...



Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part.1: The historical, legal and political foundations - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


In 2019, training compensation and solidarity contributions based on FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) amounted to US$ 75,5 million. This transfer of wealth from the clubs in the core of the football hierarchy to the clubs where the professional players originated is a peculiar arrangement unknown in other global industries. Beyond briefly pointing out or reminding the reader of how these systems work and the history behind them, this blog series aims to revisit the justifications for FIFA-imposed training compensation and the solidarity mechanism, assess their efficacy and effects through a case study of their operation in the African context, and finally analyse the potential impact of upcoming reforms of the FIFA RSTP in this context.

First, it is important to go back to the roots of this, arguably, strange practice. The current transfer system and the legal mechanisms constituting it were largely the result of a complex negotiation between European football’s main stakeholders and the European Commission dating back to 2001. The conclusion of these negotiations led to a new regulatory system enshrined in Article 20 and Annex 4 of the RSTP in the case of training compensation, and at Article 21 and Annex 5 in the case of the solidarity mechanism. Before paying some attention to the historical influences and how we arrived at these changes, as well as the justifications from the relevant bodies for their existence, let us briefly recall what training compensation and the solidarity mechanisms actually are. More...



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...



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.

Comments are closed