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 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...


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

New Transnational Sports Law Articles Released on SSRN - Antoine Duval

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

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

Antoine


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


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


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


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

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The limits to multiple representation by football intermediaries under FIFA rules and Swiss Law - By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

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 limits to multiple representation by football intermediaries under FIFA rules and Swiss Law - By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

Editor’s note: Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla is an international sports lawyer and academic based in Valencia (Spain) and a member of the Editorial Board of the publication Football Legal. Since 2017 he is the Director of  the Global Master in Sports Management and Legal Skills FC Barcelona – ISDE.

I think we would all agree that the reputation of players’ agents, nowadays called intermediaries, has never been a good one for plenty of reasons. But the truth is their presence in the football industry is much needed and probably most of the transfers would never take place if these outcast members of the self-proclaimed football family were not there to ensure a fluid and smooth communication between all parties involved.

For us, sports lawyers, intermediaries are also important clients as they often need our advice to structure the deals in which they take part. One of the most recurrent situations faced by intermediaries and agents operating off-the-radar (i.e. not registered in any football association member of FIFA) is the risk of entering in a so-called multiparty or dual representation and the potential risks associated with such a situation.

The representation of the interests of multiple parties in football intermediation can take place for instance when the agent represents the selling club, the buying club and/or the player in the same transfer, or when the agent is remunerated by multiple parties, and in general when the agent incurs the risk of jeopardizing the trust deposited upon him/her by the principal. The situations are multiple and can manifest in different manners.

This article will briefly outline the regulatory framework regarding multiparty representation applicable to registered intermediaries. It will then focus on provisions of Swiss law and the identification of the limits of dual representation in the light of the CAS jurisprudence and some relevant decisions of the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

 

A)   Regulatory framework:

Those agents acting in the market as registered intermediaries will necessarily be subjected to the specific football regulations enacted by FIFA and the national associations in which they operate. The answer as to the possibility to represent more than one party to a deal will therefore, be necessarily found in internal rules of each association. 

As opposed to the obsolete FIFA Players’ Agent Regulations[1], the FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (RWWI) allow intermediaries to represent more than one party in a transaction. Pursuant to the definition of intermediary[2] in combination with Article 8 RWWI, the only substantive requirement to intermediaries willing to act for multiple parties is that they obtain prior written consent and confirmation in writing on which party (i.e. the player and/or the club) will remunerate the services of the intermediary. The regulations, therefore, prioritize transparency over the question of who pays for the services of the intermediary. Consequently, it is not forbidden for an intermediary to represent and be paid by multiple parties to a transaction, as long as they all know and agree to it in advance.  

At a national level, most FIFA member associations[3] have followed the solution adopted in the RWWI and have transposed ad literam the right of intermediaries to multiparty representation as long as the transparency and information requirements are met (i.e. any potential conflict of interest is disclosed to the parties in advance, and subject to the prior written consent of the parties to the transaction).

However, there are still many agents that prefer to operate off-the-radar of organized football and its regulations. For these ‘rogue’ agents, the scenario is different and the question of the legality of multiparty representation will ultimately depend on the applicable law chosen by the parties[4]. Based on my personal experience, off-the-radar agents often end up acting through very rudimentary authorizations subject to the ordinary jurisdiction of the CAS. For this reason, I chose to dissect in this paper the limits of multiparty representation according to Swiss law, for based on article XY of the CAS Code of Sports Arbitration it represents the applicable law to ordinary disputes before the CAS when parties fail to make a particular choice of law.

The provisions of the contract of brokerage (“contrat de courtage”) in Articles 412-418 of the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO) are of relevance in this regard. The cornerstone provision concerning conflict of interest is found in Article 415 CO[5] whose English translation reads as follows:

Where the broker acts in the interests of a third party in breach of the contract or procures a promise of remuneration from such party in circumstances tantamount to bad faith, he forfeits his right to a fee and to any reimbursement of expenses”.

The article differentiates between two non-cumulative hypothetical situations where the broker (i.e. agent) may be in a position of conflict of interests.

  • First: the broker “Acts in the interest of a third party in breach of the contract”.
  • Second: the broker “Procures a promise of remuneration from such party in bad faith”.

The first hypothesis establishes the prohibition of the broker to act in the interest of a third party if the obligations towards his client are breached. Accordingly, an agent representing a player is prevented from assisting the players’ contracting club to negotiate the terms of his employment contract, as he would be defending irreconcilable interests (i.e. the interest of the club to pay the lowest salary possible v/ the interest of the player to obtain the highest possible salary). Conversely, the same agent could be hired by the club in a different transaction without incurring a conflict of interest with the player. The condition triggering this first hypothesis will be thus, whether the agent acting for the third party is in breach of his contractual obligations.

It is important to note that the published English translation of the CO differs slightly from the original text of the code[6]. While the English translation refers to the breach of the “contract”, the original French version refers instead to a breach of the “obligations” which has obviously a broader scope, covering a wider range of situations than a contract might include.

This linguistic difference can be misleading as the obligations emanating from the CO may go beyond the obligations set forth in a simple authorization or a brokerage contract. By way of example, think of a very simple “Authorization” that does not explicitly prohibit the agent of the player to simultaneously act for the club. Sticking to literal text of the English translation, one could be tempted to believe that the agent was not acting in breach of the contract. However, the same situation seen under the lens of the legal obligations would imply that the agent could still be infringing the obligation of loyalty and trust stemming from the CO.

In view of the above, a correct evaluation of the first hypothesis will necessarily account for the legal obligations inherent to the brokerage contract, the scope of which might go beyond the obligations stipulated in the contract. Amongst these, the obligation of loyalty, the obligation to safeguard the interest of the client by not entering into conflictive situations, and the obligation of transparency and information.

The second hypothesis covers the prohibition in Swiss law of dual representation by procuring a promise of payment from third parties to the relationship broker/principal, if such a promise amounts to bad faith.

It needs to be underlined that this provision does not exclude dual payment, but subjects it to a certain limit, i.e. not incurring in bad faith. Delineating bad faith can turn out to be a difficult task as the concept itself has an inevitable component of subjectivity and, as opposed to good faith which is legally presumed (cf. Article 3 of the Swiss Civil Code), bad faith must always be proven by the party claiming it, who ultimately bears the burden of proof[7]

Applied to football agents, it can be safely assumed that an agent acting in good faith towards his client would necessarily act in a transparent way and inform his client that he is simultaneously acting for the other contracting party. Not disclosing such information in the context of negotiations can serve as indication of bad faith when combined with other elements. However, to prove the presence of bad faith will still require sufficient material evidence in order to discharge the burden of proof, since the simple negligence of the broker would not be sufficient to fall under the scope of the article.

The consequence for a broker (i.e. football agent) infringing the prohibition of dual representation in he hypotheses described in article 415 CO is the nullity of the contract and the forfeiture of the right to be remunerated, or the obligation to reimburse the amounts received if the infringement is ascertained after the realization of the contract and payment of the fee (“quod nullum est nullum producit effectum”).  

With the above premises in mind, a detailed look into the CAS and the Swiss Federal Tribunal jurisprudence regarding Article 415 CO will help identifying the scope of the legal obligations of a football agent towards his client (i.e. club and/or player), as well as the mechanisms used by the decision-making bodies to determine the existence of bad faith.

 

B)   Jurisprudence:

One of the very few CAS cases dealing with Article 415 CO in the context of football agents' relationships with clubs is the CAS award  2012/A/2988 PFC CSKA Sofia v. Loic Bensaid.

In short, the dispute opposed the flagship Bulgarian football club CSKA Sofia against a French football agent and revolved around the right of the latter to be remunerated by the club, considering he had acted simultaneously in representation of the player in the signature of the employment contract.

One of the many arguments used by the club in support of its alleged right not to pay the agent was based on Article 415 CO. The club asserted that the agent acted in violation of his obligations for having represented both parties. On the merits, the Sole Arbitrator concluded, nevertheless, that the agent had fulfilled the obligations of transparency and information as the Club was aware at all times that the agent also acted for the player and knew about the existence of the representation contract with the player[8]. The full knowledge and acceptance of the situation impeded the club to contend, at a later stage, the violation of the duty of loyalty and transparency.

Secondly, adhering to the grounds of the supporting FIFA decision, the Sole Arbitrator also remarked that the mandate between the Agent and the player did not contain any obligation to remunerate the services of the agent. The prohibition of agents to be remunerated twice for their services has been traditionally a key element in previous FIFA decisions where dual representation was at the center of the dispute[9]. This fact possibly led the Sole Arbitrator to also highlight this circumstance when assessing the behavior of the agent. However, the Sole Arbitrator further stated that, even if the mandate would have provided for a remuneration in favor of the agent (quod non), Article 415 CO would still not have been violated as the club failed to discharge the burden of proof as to the existence of bad faith, reinforcing with it that dual representation is only forbidden to the extent the agent acts in bad faith[10].

This final remark of the Sole Arbitrator is crucial as it evidences, in my view, that whether the player and the agent agreed upon a remuneration, remains in the end irrelevant for the evaluation of a possible violation of Article 415 CO. Indeed, pursuant to the CAS arbitrator’s interpretation of the article, the agent can be remunerated twice, as it is the disregard of the obligations inherent to the contract and in particular for the second hypothesis acting in bad faith that determines compliance with Article 415 CO.

To better illustrate the irrelevance of the “double remuneration” discussion, think for a moment of a brokerage contract where there is no explicit reference to the remuneration. Does such a lacuna in the contract imply that the brokerage is necessarily, pro bono? The answer is no, for as a general rule, mandates given in the context of professional relationships are presumed to be lucrative (see Art. 394(3) CO). That is precisely the case of football agents when they contract with players or clubs. This circumstance renders the reference to a remuneration in the contract a secondary element, or at least not an essential one. The former FIFA PAR (Ed. 2008[11]) followed this ratio legis when explicitly providing for a default remuneration of 3% of the players’ basic income where the parties cannot agree on the remuneration.

Beyond the specific CAS awards, some decisions of the Swiss Tribunal Federal help getting the full perspective on dual representation in the context of disputes subject to Swiss law. Although these do not refer to football agents, the similarities that exist with real estate and/or corporate brokers allow to derive important conclusions that can be applied to football agents.

A first decision worth mentioning is no. 4A_214/2014 of 15 December 2014. The case concerned a classic real estate intermediation where the agent agreed a commission from both the seller and the buyer involved in the transaction. The agent also failed to inform the seller of the existence of a better buying offer from a third potential buyer. In this context, after concluding the deal, the buyer refused to pay the agent, invoking Article 415 CO.

This case is important because it reveals the existence of two types of brokerage contracts under Swiss law (i.e. “courtage de negotiation” and the “courtage d’indication”). Whereas in a brokerage of negotiation the broker is entrusted by his client to negotiate the conditions of the transaction, in a brokerage of indication, the broker is simply called to indicate the possibility to conclude a transaction, with no negotiation duties involved. Furthermore, according to the doctrine cited in the decision, both types of contract are treated differently under Article 415 CO.

In casu, the Federal Tribunal qualified the contracts signed by the agent with the buyer and the seller as “courtage de negotiation” as he was entrusted with conducting all aspects related to the transaction. The agent was required to obtain the best possible conditions for his clients (e.g. the best buying and selling price respectively) and this circumstance directly generated an irremediable conflict of interest (i.e. the negotiation was either benefitting the financial interests of seller or the buyer) infringing the obligation of loyalty inherent to the brokerage contracts with the parties.

All in all, the Federal Tribunal rejected the appeal submitted by the real estate agent and confirmed the nullity of both contracts for violating Article 415 CO. The Federal Tribunal followed a strict interpretation of Article 415 CO according to which “no one can serve two masters” and thus, dual representation would only be possible (if so) in simple intermediations where no negotiation from the broker is required[12], in other words in “courtage d’indication”. In addition, in this case the agent also acted in bad faith for failing to disclose the existence of a more favorable offer to the detriment of the seller.

The main lesson that can be learnt from this decision is that Article 415 CO must be interpreted restrictively and that it has to be distinguished between those intermediation contracts that imply an active involvement of the agent (i.e. the agent is contractually required to negotiate the terms of a transaction for the player and/or the club) and those contracts of intermediation where the agent is called to simply indicate the possible opportunity for his client to conclude a deal with no other involvement in the transaction. In this last case, dual representation could be allowed for there would be no conflict of interests, and therefore, no infringement of the obligations under the brokerage contract. The specific contractual clauses are therefore crucial as they ultimately reveal the extent of the role assumed by the agent.

The second important decision by the SFT is more recent, no. 4A_529/2015 of 4 March 2016. The factual background of this dispute is extremely complex. In brief, the case revolved around the selling and buying of the shares of a company exploiting a luxurious Hotel located in Switzerland. The seller and the broker entered into a negotiation brokerage contract whereby the latter was entrusted to find a buyer of the company against the payment of remuneration. The principal had to agree with the final potential buyer. In the end, it was proved that the broker misled the principal about the true identity of the final buyer (to whom the principal expressly refused to sell), with whom the broker had also agreed remuneration. On the basis of these facts, the principal refused to pay the broker. 

The Federal Tribunal confirmed again that Article 415 CO is always interpreted strictly, and considered that by allowing the banned buyer to indirectly acquire the company, the broker acted in the interest of a third party against the obligation of loyalty. What is most significant about this decision is that the court delimitates very clearly the scope of the obligation of loyalty. It is described as a double-edged sword, implying on the one side: a positive obligation consisting of actively safeguarding and defending the interest of the principal; and on the other side: a negative obligation, consisting of abstaining from any conduct that could harm the interests of the client.  

In particular, the fact that the principal had not objected to a previous e-mail sent by the broker where he expressly indicated that the potential buyer was “C or any company indicated by it” was also irrelevant for the principal could not expect in ‘good faith’ that the buyer would make use of this substitution prerogative in favor of the real buyer. The arguments of the broker according to which it was not important for the principal to know who the buyer was and that he suffered no damage, were also dismissed.   

Finally, the argument of the broker according to which the remuneration to be received from the buyer was agreed after the transaction took place was also irrelevant in the eyes of the court.

With these cases in mind, when applying the holding of the SFT above to football agents' professional relationships, it follows that the scope of the obligation of loyalty will be significantly wider for football agents entrusted with negotiations than for agents simply tasked with identifying possible opportunities to close a deal.

Likewise, in order to determine the existence of a violation of the obligations assumed by the agent, it will not be enough to demonstrate that there has been no threat to the interests of the client or that the agent has not actively engaged in a conduct against those interests. Indeed, a simple passive conduct with the potential of jeopardizing the interests of the principal, such as failing to disclose relevant information, can be sufficient to violate the obligation of loyalty and deprive the agent from the right to be remunerated.

To this effect, the correct identification of the interest pursued by the client will ultimately determine the infringement by the agent of his obligations under the representation contract. In the end, the agent will only violate his obligation of loyalty as long as his behavior damages the interests of his client. These interests will vary depending on whether the principal is a football club or a player. If a club is trying to transfer or recruit a player, the interests will in most cases be of a financial nature. If instead, the principal is a football player terminating or signing a contract with a club, he might have non-economic interests (e.g. willing to play in a different championship, lack of integration of the family in the country etc.). Furthermore, the moment in which the remuneration is agreed is not relevant to establish the violation of the obligation of loyalty.


In conclusion, the contract of representation and its clauses in combination with the particular circumstances of each case will be fundamental to establish compliance with Article 415 CO when multiple representation takes place.   Football agents pretending to be remunerated by both contracting parties simultaneously without risking to violate their obligations must either enter into simple brokerage contracts with no negotiation attributions, or, when acting through a negotiation brokerage, always inform all parties in complete transparency. 

 



[1] See Article 19.8 FIFA PAR.

[2] “Definition of an intermediary

A natural or legal person who, for a fee or free of charge, represents players and/or clubs in negotiations with a view to concluding an employment contract or represents clubs in negotiations with a view to concluding a transfer agreement.” [Emphasis added]

[3] Only the FFF (France), the RFU (RUSSIA), the BFU (Bulgaria) the JFA (Japan) have explicitly adopted stricter rules prohibiting any conflict of interest. See Comparative Table of “The FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries Implementation at a national level” (Ed. Michele Colucci).

[4] E.g. Arbitrage TAS 2007/O/1310 Bruno Heiderscheid c. Franck Ribéry.

[5] See article R45 of the CAS Code (ed. 2017).

[6] Art. 415. III. Déchéance:

“Le courtier perd son droit au salaire et au remboursement de ses dépenses, s'il agit dans l'intérêt du tiers contractant au mépris de ses obligations, ou s'il se fait promettre par lui une rémunération dans des circonstances où les règles de la bonne foi s'y opposaient.”

https://www.admin.ch/opc/fr/classified-compilation/19110009/index.html

[7] See. Decision of the SFT 131 III 511 para. 3.2.2 of  http://relevancy.bger.ch/php/clir/http/index.php?highlight_docid=atf%3A%2F%2F131-III-511%3Ade&lang=de&type=show_document

[8] See para. 118.

[9] E.g. Decision of the Single Judge of the PSC of 12 January 2012:12. In view of the above, the Single Judge formed the view that, although the Claimant appears to have represented the Respondent and the player in the same transaction, the documentary evidence contained in the file clearly demonstrates that the Claimant could not have possibly been remunerated twice for his services. Consequently, and in accordance with the general principles of bona fide and pacta sunt servanda the Single Judge decided that the Respondent must fulfill the obligation it voluntarily entered into with the Claimant by means of the representation agreement concluded between the parties, and therefore, the Respondent must pay the Claimant for the services he rendered in connection with the transfer of the player to the Respondent.”

[10] See also para. 118.

[11] See i.c. article 20 para. 4 FIFA PAR (ed. 2008).

[12] See para. 1.1.3 of the SFT decision. An example of a courtage d’indication would be the brokerage of insurances, where the broker, acting for the policy-holder, is paid instead, by the insurance company.

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