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 International Sports Law Digest – Issue II – July-December 2014

I. Literature

1. Antitrust/Competition Law and Sport

G Basnier, ‘Sports and competition law: the case of the salary cap in New Zealand rugby union’, (2014) 14 The International Sports Law Journal 3-4, p.155

R Craven, ‘Football and State aid: too important to fail?’ (2014) 14 The International Sports Law Journal 3-4, p.205

R Craven, ‘State Aid and Sports Stadiums: EU Sports Policy or Deference to Professional Football (2014) 35 European Competition Law Review Issue 9, 453

2. Intellectual Property Rights in Sports law / Betting rights/ Spectators’ rights/ Sponsorship Agreements


W T Champion and K DWillis, Intellectual property law in the sports and entertainment industries (Santa Barbara, California; Denver, Colorado; Oxford, England: Praeger 2014)

J-M Marmayou and F Rizzo, Les contrats de sponsoring sportif (Lextenso éditions 2014) 


Time to Cure FIFA’s Chronic Bad Governance Disease

 After Tuesday’s dismissal of Michael Garcia’s complaint against the now infamous Eckert statement synthetizing (misleadingly in his eyes) his Report on the bidding process for the World Cup 2018 and 2022, Garcia finally decided to resign from his position as FIFA Ethics Committee member. On his way out, he noted: “No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization”. It took Garcia a while to understand this, although others faced similar disappointments before. One needs only to remember the forgotten reform proposals of the Independent Governance Committee led by Prof. Dr. Mark Pieth. More...

The CAS Ad Hoc Division in 2014: Business As Usual? - Part. 2: The Selection Drama

In a first blog last month we discussed the problem of the scope of jurisdiction of the Ad Hoc Division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The key issue was whether an athlete could get his case heard in front of the CAS Ad Hoc Division or not. In this second part, we will also focus on whether an athlete can access a forum, but a different kind of forum: the Olympic Games as such. This is a dramatic moment in an athlete’s life, one that will decide the future path of an entire career and most likely a lifetime of opportunities. Thus, it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, nor in disregard of the athletes’ due process rights. In the past, several (non-)selection cases were referred to the Ad Hoc Divisions at the Olympic Games, and this was again the case in 2014, providing us with the opportunity for the present review.

Three out of four cases dealt with by the CAS Ad Hoc Division in Sochi involved an athlete contesting her eviction from the Games. Each case is specific in its factual and legal assessment and deserves an individual review. More...

Should the CAS ‘let Dutee run’? Gender policies in Sport under legal scrutiny. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

The rise of Dutee Chand, India’s 100 and 200-meter champion in the under 18-category, was astonishing. Her achievements were more than promising: after only two years, she broke the 100m and 200m national junior records, competed in the 100m final at the World Youth Athletics Championships in Donetsk and collected two gold medals in the Asian Junior Championships in Chinese Taipei. But, in July 2014, this steady rise was abruptly halted. Following a request from the Athletics Federation of India (AFI), the Sports Authority of India (SAI) conducted blood tests on the Indian sprinters. Dutee was detected with female hyperandrogenism, i.e a condition where the female body produces high levels of testosterone. As a result, a few days before the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the AFI declared Dutee ineligible to compete under the IAAF Regulations and prevented her from competing in future national and international events in the female category. Pursuant to the IAAF ‘Hyperandrogenism Policy’, the AFI would allow Dutee to return to competition only if she lowers her testosterone level beneath the male range by means of medical or surgical treatment.[1] On 25 September 2014, Dutee filed an appeal before the CAS, seeking to overturn the AFI’s decision and declare IAAF and IOC’s hyperandrogenism regulations null and void. She is defending her right to compete the way she actually is: a woman with high levels of testosterone. Interestingly enough, albeit a respondent, AFI supports her case.

IAAF and IOC rules set limits to female hyperandrogenism, which is deemed an unfair advantage that erodes female sports integrity. While these rules have been contested with regard to their scientific and ethical aspects, this is the first time that they will be debated in court. This appeal could have far-reaching ramifications for the sports world. It does not only seek to pave the way for a better ‘deal’ for female athletes with hyperandrogenism, who are coerced into hormonal treatment and even surgeries to ‘normalise’ themselves as women[2], but it rather brings the CAS, for the first time, before the thorny question:

How to strike a right balance between the core principle of ‘fair play’ and norms of non-discrimination, in cases where a determination of who qualifies as a ‘woman’ for the purposes of sport has to be made? More...

The O’Bannon Case: The end of the US college sport’s amateurism model? By Zygimantas Juska

On 8 August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favour of former UCLA basketball player O'Bannon and 19 others, declaring that NCAA's longstanding refusal to compensate athletes for the use of their name, image and likenesses (NILs) violates US antitrust laws. In particular, the long-held amateurism justification promoted by the NCAA was deemed unconvincing.

On 14 November, the NCAA has appealed the judgment, claiming that federal judge erred in law by not applying a 1984 Supreme Court ruling. One week later, the NCAA received support from leading antitrust professors who are challenging the Judge Wilken’s reasoning in an amicus curiae. They are concerned that the judgment may jeopardize the proper regulation of college athletics. The professors argued that if Wilken’s judgment is upheld, it

would substantially expand the power of the federal courts to alter organizational rules that serve important social and academic interests…This approach expands the ‘less restrictive alternative prong’ of the antitrust rule of reason well beyond any appropriate boundaries and would install the judiciary as a regulatory agency for collegiate athletics”.   


Image Rights in Professional Basketball (Part II): Lessons from the American College Athletes cases. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

In the wake of the French Labour Union of Basketball (Syndicat National du Basket, SNB) image rights dispute with Euroleague and EA Games, we threw the “jump ball” to start a series on players’ image rights in international professional basketball. In our first blogpost, we discussed why image rights contracts in professional basketball became a fertile ground for disputes when it comes to the enforcement of these contracts by the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT). Indeed, we pointed out that clubs might take advantage of the BAT’s inconsistent jurisprudence to escape obligations deriving from image rights contracts.

In this second limb, we will open a second field of legal battles “around the rim”: the unauthorized use of players’ image rights by third parties. We will use as a point of reference the US College Athletes image rights cases before US Courts and we will thereby examine the legal nature of image rights and the precise circumstances in which such rights may be infringed. Then, coming back to where we started, we will discuss the French case through the lens of US case law on players’ image rights. 

Source: More...

The Olympic Agenda 2020: The devil is in the implementation!

The 40 recommendations of the Olympic Agenda 2020 are out! First thought: one should not underplay the 40 recommendations, they constitute (on paper at least) a potential leap forward for the IOC. The media will focus on the hot stuff: the Olympic channel, the pluri-localisation of the Games, or their dynamic format. More importantly, and to some extent surprisingly to us, however, the IOC has also fully embraced sustainability and good governance. Nonetheless, the long-term legacy of the Olympic Agenda 2020 will hinge on the IOC’s determination to be true to these fundamental commitments. Indeed, the devil is always in the implementation, and the laudable intents of some recommendations will depend on future political choices by Olympic bureaucrats. 

For those interested in human rights and democracy at (and around) the Olympics, two aspects are crucial: the IOC’s confession that the autonomy of sport is intimately linked to the quality of its governance standards and the central role the concept of sustainability is to play in the bidding process and the host city contract.  More...

UEFA’s tax-free Euro 2016 in France: State aid or no State aid?

Last week, the French newspaper Les Echos broke the story that UEFA (or better said its subsidiary) will be exempted from paying taxes in France on revenues derived from Euro 2016. At a time when International Sporting Federations, most notably FIFA, are facing heavy criticisms for their bidding procedures and the special treatment enjoyed by their officials, this tax exemption was not likely to go unnoticed. The French minister for sport, confronted with an angry public opinion, responded by stating that tax exemptions are common practice regarding international sporting events. The former French government agreed to this exemption. In fact, he stressed that without it “France would never have hosted the competition and the Euro 2016 would have gone elsewhere”. More...

The New Olympic Host City Contract: Human Rights à la carte? by Ryan Gauthier, PhD Researcher (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Three weeks ago, I gave a talk for a group of visiting researchers at Harvard Law School on the accountability of the IOC for human rights abuses caused by hosting Olympic Games. On the day of that talk, Human Rights Watch announced that the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) would insert new language into the Host City Contract presumably for the 2022 Olympic Games onwards. The new language apparently requires the parties to the contract to:

“take all necessary measures to ensure that development projects necessary for the organization of the Games comply with local, regional, and national legislation, and international agreements and protocols, applicable in the host country with regard to planning, construction, protection of the environment, health, safety, and labour laws.”More...

The UN and the IOC: Beautiful friendship or Liaison Dangereuse?

The IOC has trumpeted it worldwide as a « historical milestone »: the United Nations has recognised the sacrosanct autonomy of sport. Indeed, the Resolution A/69/L.5 (see the final draft) adopted by the General Assembly on 31 October states that it  “supports the independence and autonomy of sport as well as the mission of the International Olympic Committee in leading the Olympic movement”. This is a logical conclusion to a year that has brought the two organisations closer than ever. In April, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former IOC President, Jacques Rogge, Special Envoy for Youth Refugees and Sport. At this occasion, the current IOC President, Thomas Bach, made an eloquent speech celebrating a “historic step forward to better accomplish our common mission for humanity” and a memorandum understanding was signed between the UN and the IOC. This is all sweet and well, but is there something new under the sun?More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | 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

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 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.


2. The specificity of sport under EU law.

The concept of the specificity of sport is mentioned in several documents issued by the EU institutions. In the Helsinki Report on Sport (1999), it is affirmed that ‘the application of the Treaty's competition rules to the sporting sector must take account of the specific characteristics of sport, especially the interdependence between sporting activity and the economic activity that it generates, the principle of equal opportunities and the uncertainty of the result’. According to the Declaration of Nice, (2000) ‘even though not having any direct powers in this area, the Community must, in its action under the various Treaty provisions, take account of the social, educational and cultural functions inherent in sport and making it special, in order that the code of ethics and the solidarity essential to the preservation of its social role may be respected and nurtured’.

However, neither the Nice Declaration nor the Helsinki Report contains a clear definition of the specificity of sport: the Helsinki Report simply lists some specific characteristics of sports activities that are particularly important in the field of antitrust law, whereas the Nice Declaration identifies the specificity of sport with the social, educational and cultural functions inherent in sport. The same applies to the White Paper on Sport (2007), where it is stated that ‘sport has certain specific characteristics, which are often referred to as the “specificity of sport”’. According to the White Paper, the specificity of sport can be approached through two prisms: ‘the specificity of sporting activities and of sporting rules, such as separate competitions for men and women, limitations on the number of participants in competitions, or the need to ensure uncertainty concerning outcomes and to preserve a competitive balance between clubs taking part in the same competitions; the specificity of the sport structure, including the autonomy and diversity of sport organisations, a pyramid structure of competitions from grassroots to elite level and organised solidarity mechanisms between the different levels and operators, the organisation of sport on a national basis, and the principle of a single federation per sport’.

Axiomatically, the White Paper tried to draw a distinction between the specificity of sporting rules  and the specificity of sporting structure The Commission’s effort is certainly commendable, except for two aspects:

a) on the one hand, the Commission does not offer a clear definition of the specificity of sport and instead has just highlighted some features of the specificity of sport in the EU context;

b) on the other hand, some of these features are rather questionable and deserve to be discussed in more detail. For example, separate competitions for men and women. What is the EU legal basis for not allowing Serena Williams to play the final of Wimbledon against Novak Djokovic? Similarly, as regards the competitive balance argument, we can all agree that it is good, but no one can truly define a ‘balanced’ competition. So, if we do not know how much competitive balance is needed, how can we say that it is always good?

More recently, Art. 165 TFEU states that ‘the Union shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues, while taking account of the specific nature of sport’. Again, the specificity of sport is only mentioned, but not defined. Lastly, the report Mapping the specificity of sport by the European Commission – Directorate-General for Education and Culture (2016) says that ‘the specificity of sport refers to the inherent characteristics of sport which set it apart from other economic and social activities’.

It follows from the foregoing that under EU sports policy, all the institutions agree on the fact that sport is special, in the sense that it is different from any other activity because of its social and educational dimension. That said, if one tries to translate this concept into a definition to be applied in concrete cases it is impossible to find a common benchmark.


3. The specificity of sport in the case law of the ECJ

In terms of EU case-law, the situation is even more difficult, given the ECJ has never defined the notion of specificity of sport. Rather, the Court of Justice has always indirectly dealt with the specificity of sport in terms of a general rule and its (even more general and not defined) exceptions. Since the Walrave ruling, the ECJ has always stated that ‘the practice of sport is subject to Community [now European] law only in so far as it constitutes an economic activity’ (the rule); however at the same time is has also stated that the prohibition of any discrimination based on nationality ‘does not affect the composition of sport teams, in particular national teams, the formation of which is a question of purely sporting interest and as such has nothing to do with economic activity’ (the exception). The Walrave judgment (and subsequent ECJ case-law) shows that from the very beginning the common idea had been that sporting rules relating to purely sporting issues were as such, not subject to EU law and were known as purely sporting rules.

From a legal point of view, the notion of purely sporting rules is unclear. Through case law however, the ECJ managed to translate the concept of purely sporting rules into a workable tool to distinguish which rules are subject to EU law and which were not. In this context, it was possible to say that the purely sporting rules and the specificity of sport were two sides of the same coin. In other words, sport was not special because it was subject to EU law, but at the same time, it was special because some sporting rules were outside the scope of the Treaty.

This situation totally changed after the Meca Medina judgment by the ECJ. In order to contextualise the relevance of the Meca Medina case, it is worth recalling that the case was about the allegedly anticompetitive nature of the antidoping rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

During the first round before the General Court, the judges stated that purely sporting rules may have nothing to do with economic activity, such that they do not fall within the scope of provisions on the free movement of people. Consequently, they have nothing to do with the economic relationships of competition, with the result that they also do not fall within the scope of Arts. 81 and 82 EC [now Arts. 101 and 102 TFEU]. Since the prohibition of doping is based on purely sporting considerations, it follows that it has nothing to do with any economic considerations. Thus, antidoping rules cannot come within the scope of the Treaty provisions on the economic freedoms and, in particular, of provisions on the free movement of people and competition.

Though according to the ECJ, the reasoning of the General Court amounted to a mistake in law. In its judgement, the ECJ underlined that ‘the mere fact that a rule is purely sporting in nature does not have the effect of removing from the scope of the Treaty the person engaging in the activity governed by that rule or the body which has laid it down. If the sporting activity in question falls within the scope of the Treaty, the conditions for engaging in it are then subject to all the obligations which result from the various provisions of the Treaty. It follows that the rules which govern that activity must satisfy the requirements of those provisions, which, in particular, seek to ensure freedom of movement for workers, freedom of establishment, freedom to provide services, or competition. Therefore, even if those rules do not constitute restrictions on freedom of movement because they concern questions of purely sporting interest and, as such, have nothing to do with economic activity, that fact means neither that the sporting activity in question necessarily falls outside the scope of Articles 81 EC and 82 EC nor that the rules do not satisfy the specific requirements of those articles. In such a context, account must first of all be taken of the overall context in which the decision of the association of undertakings was taken or produces its effects and, more specifically, of its objectives. It has then to be considered whether the consequential effects restrictive of competition are inherent in the pursuit of those objectives and are proportionate to them’.

Though not explicitly stated in the ruling, the traditional approach based on the distinction between purely sporting rules and economic rules was openly denied by the ECJ and the notion of purely sporting rules expelled from EU law. Moreover, the new solution adopted by the ECJ does not simply amount to a terminological change; Consequently, any sporting rule is now subject to EU law per the Meca Medina judgment. Further, in cases where a sporting rule is challenged based on competition law, we must apply the Wouters test to assess the compatibility of the rule with EU law.Then in cases where a sporting rule is challenged on the basis of free movement principles, we must apply the Gebhard test to assess the compatibility of the rule with EU law. Although slightly different, these two tests require assessing the overall context of the rule, the objectives of the rule, if and to what extent the rule is able to attain each objective, and the proportionality of the rule.

The Meca Medina jurisprudence was later also endorsed by the Commission: in the White Paper on Sport, it stated that ‘in respect of the regulatory aspects of sport, the assessment whether a certain sporting rule is compatible with EU competition law can only be made on a case-by-case basis, as recently confirmed by the European Court of Justice in its Meca-Medina ruling. The Court provided a clarification regarding the impact of EU law on sporting rules. It dismissed the notion of “purely sporting rules” as irrelevant for the question of the applicability of EU competition rules to the sport sector. The Court recognised that the specificity of sport has to be taken into consideration in the sense that restrictive effects on competition that are inherent in the organisation and proper conduct of competitive sport are not in breach of EU competition rules, provided that these effects are proportionate to the legitimate genuine sporting interest pursued. The necessity of a proportionality test implies the need to take into account the individual features of each case. It does not allow for the formulation of general guidelines on the application of competition law to the sport sector.’

The new approach raises two fundamental problems:

a) the Wouters test as well as the Gebhard test apply to all sectors of the economy: they apply to goods as well as to services, to lawyers as well to sportspeople. Consequently, if the specificity of sport is taken into account based on the same rules and the same exceptions provided for any other type of economic activity, it follows that sport is no less special under EU law than one may think. Sport is deemed to be special, but sports matters are governed by the same legal tests applied in other economic sectors.

b) according to the Meca Medina judgment, the Court of Justice has the right to assess the proportionate character of any sporting rule allegedly in contrast with EU law. For example, rules relating to penalties in doping cases, rules of the game and rules relating to nationality requirements to be selected for national teams. Undoubtedly, in such cases the ECJ will state that the objectives of these rules are legitimate.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for whether these rules are proportionate. In other words, the simple idea that the ECJ has the right to assess the proportionality of a rule fixing the number of players on the field of play means that sport is no longer special under EU law.  It is important to  remember that in the Meca Medina case, the ECJ ruled that the anti-doping rules at issue were not disproportionate only because the plaintiffs did not plead that the penalties were excessive. What may have happened if the plaintiffs had contested the proportionality of these penalties? Can one be certain that the ECJ has the competence to  decide whether a two-year penalty for doping is/is not proportionate? Does the specificity of sport really require this?

* Associate Professor of EU law and EU sports law, University of Bergamo (Italy); Attorney-at-law; CAS arbitrator. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author.

[1] See M. Colucci, The specificity of sport and the employment relationship of athletes, R. Blanpain, F. Hendrickx (eds.), Labour Law between Change and Tradition: Liber Amicorum Antoine Jacobs, 2011, Kluwer Law International BV, The Netherlands.


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