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

Balancing Athletes’ Interests and The Olympic Partner Programme: the Bundeskartellamt’s Rule 40 Decision - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1        Introduction

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), after many years of ineffective pushback (see here, here and here) over bye law 3 of rule 40[1] of the Olympic Charter (OC), which restricts the ability of athletes and their entourage to advertise themselves during the ‘blackout’ period’[2] (also known as the ‘frozen period’) of the Olympic Games, may have been gifted a silver bullet to address a major criticism of its rules. This (potentially) magic formula was handed down in a relatively recent decision of the Bundeskartellamt, the German competition law authority, which elucidated how restrictions to athletes’ advertisements during the frozen period may be scrutinized under EU competition law. The following blog begins by explaining the historical and economic context of rule 40 followed by the facts that led to the decision of the Bundeskartellamt. With this background, the decision of the Bundeskartellamt is analyzed to show to what extent it may serve as a model for EU competition law authorities. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – November and December 2019- By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 


The Headlines

WADA Conference and the Adoption of 2021 WADA Code Amid Calls for Reform

On November 5-7, WADA held its Fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport where it faced a busy schedule, including the adoption of the revised 2021 World Anti-Doping Code and the election of a new WADA President and Vice-President by the Foundation Board. Concerning the latter, Witold Bańka, Poland’s Minister of Sport and Tourism, was elected as WADA President and Yang Yang, a former Chinese speed skater, elected as Vice-President, replacing Sir Craig Reedie and Linda Helleland respectively.  As Helleland leaves her position, she has expressed some strong views on the state of sport governance, particularly that ‘there is an absence of good governance, openness and independence in the highest levels of international sports’. Helleland was not the only one to recently voice governance concerns, as Rob Koehler, Director General of Global Athlete, also called for a ‘wholesale structural change at WADA’, which includes giving ‘independent’ athletes a vote in WADA’s Foundation Board, ensuring a greater ‘separation of powers’ and ensuring greater protection of athletes’ rights.

In the midst of the calls for reform, the amended 2021 WADA Code and the amended International Standards were also adopted after a two year, three stage code review process. Furthermore, a major milestone in athletes’ rights was achieved with the adoption of the Athletes’ Anti-Doping Rights Acts (separate from the WADA Code), which enumerates certain basic rights to help ‘ensure that Athlete rights within anti-doping are clearly set out, accessible, and universally applicable’. On the other hand, the Act ‘is not a legal document’, which clearly circumscribes some of the potential effects the Act may have. Nonetheless, athlete representative groups have ‘cautiously welcomed’ some of the changes brought by the 2021 WADA Code, such as the ‘modified sanctions for substances of abuse violations’.

Sung Yang’s Historical Public Hearing at the CAS

After much anticipation, the second public hearing in CAS history occurred on November 15 in Montreux, Switzerland in the Sun Yang case (details of this case were discussed in August and September’s monthly report), which was livestreamed and can be seen in its totality in four different parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). This was an extremely unique opportunity, which hopefully will become a more common occurrence, to see just how CAS hearings are conducted and perhaps get a taste of some of the logistical issues that can emerge during live oral hearings. One of these problems, accurate translations, rapidly became apparent as soon as Sun Yang sat in the witness chair to give his opening statements. The translators in the box seemed to struggle to provide an intelligible English interpretation of Sun Yang and other witnesses’ statements, while Sun Yang also seemingly had trouble understanding the translated questions being posed to him. The situation degenerated to such an extent that ultimately one of WADA’s officials was called to replace the translators. However, the translation drama did not end there, since during Sun Yang’s closing statements an almost seemingly random person from the public appeared next to Sun Yang who claimed to have been requested from Sun Yang’s team to ‘facilitate’ the translation. Franco Frattini, president of the panel, questioned the identity of the ‘facilitator’ and explained that one could not just simply appear before the court without notice. Interestingly, Sun Yang’s legal team also rapidly intervened claiming that it had not been made of aware of the inclusion of the supporting translator, further complicating the matter. In the end, Sun Yang concluded his statements with the translation from the WADA official.

While it was Sun Yang’s legal team that had provided the original translators in the box, it still raises the question as to how translation at CAS could be improved to ensure a certain standard of translators. After all, quality translation is critical to the parties’ right to be heard under Article 6 (e) ECHR. Regardless, in the end, neither parties made an objection that their right to be heard was violated.

Russian Doping Saga Continues: WADA Compliance Review Committee Recommends Strong Sanctions

As was already discussed in August and September’s monthly report, WADA uncovered numerous inconsistencies concerning data taken from the Moscow Laboratory. After further investigation, WADA’s Compliance Review Committee has recommended that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) be found non-compliant with the WADA Code. Accompanying the recommendation, the Compliance Review Committee also suggested several sanctions, which include prohibiting Russian athletes from participating in major events like the Olympic Games and ‘any World Championships organized or sanctioned by any Signatory’ for the next four years unless they may ‘dmonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance’. It would also see an embargo on events hosted in Russia during the same period. However, these sanctions did not go far enough for some, like Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA, who wishes to prevent a repeat of Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 ‘in which a secretly-managed process permitting Russians to compete – did not work’. On the other hand, the IOC has advocated for a softer, individual based approach that pursues ‘the rules of natural justice and respect human rights’. In the midst of these developments, the Athletics Integrity Unit also decided to charge several members of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF), including its President Dmitry Shlyakhtin, after a 15 month investigation for ‘tampering and complicity’ concerning a Russian athlete’s whereabouts violations.

Following many calls for strong consequences, the WADA Executive Committee met on December 9th and adopted the recommendations of the Compliance Review Committee. Athlete representatives have expressed their disappointment with the sanctions, calling the decision ‘spineless’ since it did not pursue a complete ban on Russian participation at events such as Euro 2020 and the 2020 Olympics. At this point, RUSADA has sent notice to WADA that it will be disputing the decision of WADA’s Executive Committee’s decision at the CAS.More...

Is UCI the new ISU? Analysing Velon’s Competition Law Complaint to the European Commission - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1.     Introduction

The UCI may soon have to navigate treacherous legal waters after being the subject of two competition law based complaints (see here and here) to the European Commission in less than a month over rule changes and decisions made over the past year. One of these complaints stems from Velon, a private limited company owned by 11 out of the 18 World Tour Teams,[1] and the other comes from the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico, an entity based in Italy representing an amalgamation of stakeholders in Italian professional cycling. While each of the complaints differ on the actual substance, the essence is the same: both are challenging the way the UCI exercises its regulatory power over cycling because of a growing sense that the UCI is impeding the development of cycling as a sport. Albeit in different ways: Velon sees the UCI infringing on its ability to introduce new race structures and technologies; the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico believes the UCI is cutting opportunities for semi-professional cycling teams, the middle ground between the World Tour Teams and the amateur teams.

While some of the details remain vague, this blog will aim to unpack part of the claims made by Velon in light of previous case law from both the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to give a preliminary overview of the main legal issues at stake and some of the potential outcomes of the complaint. First, it will be crucial to understand just who/what Velon is before analyzing the substance of Velon’s complaint. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2019 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

The Headlines

International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference 2019

The T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Asser International Sports Law Centre held the third International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference on October 24-25. The Conference created a forum for academics and practitioners to discuss, debate and share knowledge on the latest developments of sports law. It featured six uniquely themed panels, which included topics such as ‘Transfer systems in international sports’ and ‘Revisiting the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS’ to ‘The future of sports: sports law of the future’. The ISLJ Conference was also honored to have two exceptional keynote speakers: Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas. To kick off the conference, Moya Dodd shared her experiences from an athlete’s perspective in the various boardrooms of FIFA. The second day was then launched by Ulrich Haas, who gave an incredibly thorough and insightful lecture on the importance, function and legal basis of association tribunals in international sport. For a detailed overview of this year’s ISLJ Conference, click here for the official conference report.

The Asser International Sports Law Centre was delighted to have been able to host another great edition of the ISLJ Conference and is thankful to all the participants and speakers who made this edition such a success.

Moving towards greater transparency: Launch of FIFA’s Legal Portal

On October 31, FIFA announced that it was introducing a new legal portal on its website that will give greater access to numerous documents that previously were kept private. FIFA explains that this is in order to help increase its transparency, which was one of the key ‘Guiding Principles’ highlighted in FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future released in 2016. This development comes as many sport governing bodies face increasing criticism for the opacity of its judicial bodies’ decisions, which can have tremendous economic and societal impacts. The newly available documents will include: ‘decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the FIFA Appeal Committee (notified as of 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Ethics Committee (notified since 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Players’ Status Committee and the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber; non-confidential CAS awards in proceedings to which FIFA is a party (notified since 1 January 2019); list of CAS arbitrators proposed by FIFA for appointment by ICAS, and the number of times they have been nominated in CAS proceedings’. The list of decisions from all the aforementioned bodies are updated every four months, according to their respective webpages. However, time will ultimately tell how consistently decisions are published. Nevertheless, this move is a major milestone in FIFA’s journey towards increasing its transparency.

Hong Kong Protests, Human Rights and (e)Sports Law: The Blizzard and NBA controversies

Both Blizzard, a major video game developer, and the NBA received a flurry of criticism for their responses to persons expressing support for the Hong Kong protests over the past month. On October 8, Blizzard sanctioned Blitzchung, a professional Hearthstone player who expressed support of the Hong Kong protest during a post-match interview, by eliminating the prize money he had won and suspending him for one year from any Hearthstone tournament. Additionally, Blizzard will cease to work with the casters who conducted the interview. With mounting disapproval over the sanctions,  J. Allen Brack, the president of Blizzard, restored the prize money and reduced the period of ineligibility to 6 months.

The NBA controversy started when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for the protests in Hong Kong. The tweet garnered much attention, especially in China where it received a lot of backlash, including an announcement from CCTV, the official state broadcaster in China, that it was suspending all broadcasts of the NBA preseason games. In attempts to appease its Chinese audience, which is a highly profitable market for the NBA, Morey deleted the tweet and posted an apology, and the NBA responded by saying that the initial tweet was ‘regrettable’. Many scolded these actions and accused the NBA of censorship to which the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, responded that the NBA remains committed to freedom of expression.

Both cases highlighted how (e)sport organizations may be faced with competing interests to either guarantee greater protection of human rights or to pursue interests that perhaps have certain financial motivations. More...

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - By Thomas Terraz

On October 24th and 25th 2019, the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the International Sports Law Centre hosted the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference for a third year in a row, bringing together a group of academics and practitioners from around the world. This year’s conference celebrated the 20th year of the International Sports Law Journal, which was originally started by Robert Siekmann. Over the past 20 years, the ISLJ has aimed to be a truly international journal that addresses global topics in sports law while keeping the highest academic standards.

With this background, the conference facilitated discussions and exchanges over six differently themed panels on international sports law’s most pertinent issues and gave participants wide opportunities to engage with one another. Additionally, this year’s edition also had the great honor of hosting two distinguished keynote speakers, Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas, who were able to share their wealth of experience and knowledge with the conference participants.

The following report aims to give an overview of the ISLJ Conference 2019 to extract and underline the fundamental ideas raised by the different speakers.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – August and September 2019 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines

Another Russian Doping Crisis? Inconsistencies Uncovered in the Data from the Moscow Lab

Storm clouds are brewing once more in the Russian Doping Saga, after several inconsistencies were uncovered by WADA from data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory. More specifically, a certain number of positive tests had been removed from the data WADA retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory compared to the one received from the original whistleblower. WADA launched a formal compliance procedure on 23 September, giving three weeks for Russian authorities to respond and provide their explanations. WADA’s Compliance Review Committee is set to meet on 23 October in order to determine whether to recommend declaring Russia non-compliant.

Russian authorities are not the only ones now facing questions in light of these new revelations. Criticism of WADA’s decision to declare Russia compliant back in September 2018 have been reignited by stakeholders. That original decision had been vehemently criticized (see also Edwin Moses’ response), particularly by athlete representative groups.

The fallout of these data discrepancies may be far reaching if Russian authorities are unable to provide a satisfying response. There are already whispers of another impending Olympic Games ban and the possibility of a ban extending to other sports signed to the WADA Code. In the meantime, the IAAF has already confirmed that the Russian Athletes would compete as ‘authorised neutral athletes’ at the World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar.

Legal Challenges Ahead to Changes to the FIFA Football Transfer Market

FIFA is set to make amendments to its player transfer market that take aim at setting new boundaries for football agents. These changes will prohibit individuals from representing both the buying and selling club in the same transaction and set new limits on agent commissions (3 percent for the buying club and player representative and 10 percent for the selling team). FIFA is already in the process of creating a central clearinghouse through which all transfer payments would have to pass through, including agent commissions. FIFA will be making a final decision on these proposed changes at the FIFA Council meeting on 24 October.

If these proposed changes are confirmed, they will almost certainly be challenged in court. The British trade organization representing football agents, Association of Football Agents, has already begun its preparations for a costly legal battle by sending a plea to its members for donations. It claims that it had not been properly consulted by FIFA before this decision had been made. On the other hand, FIFA claims that ‘there has been a consultation process with a representative group of agents’ and that FIFA kept ‘an open dialogue with agents’. Regardless, if these proposed changes go through, FIFA will be on course to a looming legal showdown.

CAS Public Hearing in the Sun Yang Case: One Step Forward for Transparency?

On 20 August, 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the hearing in the appeal procedure of the Sun Yang case will be held publicly. It will be only the second time in its history that a public hearing has been held (the last one being in 1999, Michelle Smith De Bruin v. FINA). WADA has appealed the original decision of the FINA Doping Panel which had cleared Sun Yang from an alleged anti-doping rule violation. The decision to make the hearing public was at the request of both parties. The hearing is set to take place November 15th and is likely to be an important milestone in improving the CAS’ transparency.

Sun Yang, who has already served a doping ban for a previous violation in 2014, has also been at the center of another controversy, where Mack Horton, an Australian swimmer, refused to shake hands and stand on the podium with Sun Yang at the world championships in Gwangju. More...

Caster Semenya’s Legal Battle Against Gender Stereotypes: On Nature, Law and Identity - By Sofia Balzaretti (University of Fribourg)

Editor's note: Sofia Balzaretti is a Graduate research assistant and a PhD candidate at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) where she is writing a thesis on the Protection against Gender Stereotypes in International Law. In addition to research in human rights and feminist legal theory, she has also carried out some research in legal philosophy and on the relationship between gender and the law.


The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the monitoring body of track and field athletics, regularly submitted South African middle distance runner and Olympic gold medalist Mokgadi Caster Semenya to sex verification tests when it began questioning her sexual characteristics and speculating whether her body belonged on the Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) spectrum. DSD Syndrome is often defined as an “intersex condition” which affects the clear development of either/or genitalia, gonads and chromosomes into one distinctive sex or another. The spectrum of the intersex condition is particularly wide, and the disorder can sometimes be minimal - some cases of female infertility can actually be explained by an intersex condition.

The IAAF deemed the controversial sex verification tests necessary on the grounds that it was required to prove Semenya did not have a “medical condition” which could give her an “unfair advantage”. It was eventually found that, because of an intersex trait, Semenya did have abnormally high levels of testosterone for a woman, which, in the IAAF’s opinion, justified a need for regulatory hormonal adjustments in order for her to keep competing in the women’s category. The IAAF also funded research to determine how ‘hyperandrogenism’ affects athletic performance. In 2018, it issued Eligibility Regulations on Female Classification (“Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development”) for events from 400m to the mile, including 400m, hurdles races, 800m and 1’500m. The IAAF rules indicated that in case of an existing high level of testosterone, suppression or regulation by chemotherapy, hormonal castration, and/or iatrogenic irradiation was mandatory in order to take part in these events.

Semenya and her lawyers challenged the IAAF Regulations in front of the CAS, who, in a very controversial decision, deemed the Regulations a necessary, reasonable and proportionate mean “of achieving the aim of what is described as the integrity of female athletics and for the upholding of the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in certain events” (§626). More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June and July 2019 - By Tomáš Grell

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.


The Headlines

The European Court of Justice finds that rule of a sports association excluding nationals of other Member States from domestic amateur athletics championships may be contrary to EU law

On 13 June 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a preliminary ruling at the request of the Amtsgericht Darmstadt (Local Court Darmstadt, Germany) filed in the course of the proceedings involving Mr Daniele Biffi, an Italian amateur athlete residing in Germany, and his athletics club TopFit based in Berlin, on the one hand, and the German athletics association Deutscher Leichtathletikverband, on the other. The case concerned a rule adopted by the German athletics association under which nationals of other Member States are not allowed to be awarded the title of national champion in senior amateur athletics events as they may only participate in such events outside/without classification. The ECJ’s task was to decide whether or not the rule in question adheres to EU law.

The ECJ took the view that the two justifications for the rule in question put forward by the German athletics association did not appear to be founded on objective considerations and called upon the Amtsgericht Darmstadt to look for other considerations that would pursue a legitimate objective. In its judgment, the ECJ analysed several important legal questions, including amongst others the applicability of EU law to amateur sport or the horizontal applicability of European citizenship rights (for detailed analysis of the judgment, please see our blog written by Thomas Terraz).

Milan not featuring in this season’s edition of Europa League following a settlement with UEFA

On 28 June 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rendered a consent award giving effect to a settlement agreement between UEFA and the Milan Football Club, under which the Italian club agreed to serve a one-year ban from participation in UEFA club competitions as a result of its breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations over the 2015/2016/2017 and the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring periods, while the European football’s governing body agreed to set aside previous decisions of the Investigatory and Adjudicatory Chamber of its Club Financial Control Body which had found Milan guilty of the respective breaches.   

This was not the first intervention of the CAS related to Milan’s (non-)compliance with UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. In July 2018, the CAS annulled the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body of 19 June 2018 which was supposed to lead to the exclusion of the Italian club from UEFA club competitions for which it would otherwise qualify in the next two seasons (i.e. 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 seasons). Following such intervention of the CAS – which concerned the 2015/2016/2017 monitoring period – it may have appeared that Milan would eventually manage to escape a ban from participation in UEFA club competitions for breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. However, Milan’s case was again referred to the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body in April 2019 – this time its alleged breaches of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations concerned the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring period – and such referral apparently forced Milan into negotiations with UEFA which led to the settlement agreement ratified by the CAS.      

Swiss Federal Tribunal gives Caster Semenya a glimmer of hope at first but then stops her from running at the IAAF World Championships in Doha

Caster Semenya’s legal team brought an appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal in late May against the landmark ruling of the CAS which gave the IAAF the green light to apply its highly contentious Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Difference of Sexual Development) preventing female athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone from participating in certain athletic events unless they take medication to supress such levels of testosterone below the threshold of five nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months. The appeal yielded some positive partial results for Caster Semenya early on as the Swiss Federal Tribunal ordered the IAAF on 3 June 2019 to suspend the implementation of the contested regulations. However, the Swiss Federal Tribunal overturned its decision at the end of July which means that Caster Semenya is no longer able to run medication-free and this will most likely be the case also when the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships kick off in Doha in less than one month’s time. The procedural decisions adopted by the Swiss Federal Tribunal thus far have no impact on the merits of Caster Semenya’s appeal.More...

Can a closed league in e-Sports survive EU competition law scrutiny? The case of LEC - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

1.     Introduction

The organizational structure of sports in Europe is distinguished by its pyramid structure which is marked by an open promotion and relegation system. A truly closed system, without promotion and relegation, is unknown to Europe, while it is the main structure found in North American professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and the NHL. Recently, top European football clubs along with certain members of UEFA have been debating different possibilities of introducing a more closed league system to European football. Some football clubs have even wielded the threat of forming an elite closed breakaway league. Piercing through these intimidations and rumors, the question of whether a closed league system could even survive the scrutiny of EU competition law remains. It could be argued that an agreement between clubs to create a completely closed league stifles competition and would most likely trigger the application of Article 101 and 102 TFEU.[1] Interestingly, a completely closed league franchise system has already permeated the European continent. As outlined in my previous blog, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) is a European e-sports competition that has recently rebranded and restructured this year from an open promotion and relegation system to a completely closed franchise league to model its sister competition from North America, the League Championship Series. This case is an enticing opportunity to test how EU competition law could apply to such a competition structure.

As a preliminary note, this blog does not aim to argue whether the LEC is a ‘real’ sport competition and makes the assumption that the LEC could be considered as a sports competition.[2]


Book Review - Football and the Law, Edited by Nick De Marco - By Despina Mavromati (SportLegis/University of Lausanne)

 Editor's Note: Dr. Despina Mavromati, LL.M., M.B.A., FCIArb is an Attorney-at-law specialized in international sports law and arbitration (SportLegis) and a Member of the UEFA Appeals Body. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and is a former Managing Counsel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

This comprehensive book of more than 500 pages with contributions by 53 authors and edited by Nick De Marco QC “aims to embody the main legal principles and procedures that arise in football law”. It is comprised of 29 chapters and includes an index, a table of football regulations and a helpful table of cases including CAS awards, UEFA & FIFA Disciplinary Committee decisions and Football Association, Premier League and Football League decisions. 

The 29 chapters cover a wide range of regulatory and legal issues in football, predominantly from the angle of English law. This is logical since both the editor and the vast majority of contributing authors are practitioners from England.

Apart from being of evident use to anyone involved in English football, the book offers additional basic principles that are likely to be of use also to those involved in football worldwide, including several chapters entirely dedicated to the European and International regulatory framework on football: chapter 3 (on International Federations) gives an overview of the pyramidal structure of football internationally and delineates the scope of jurisdiction among FIFA and the confederations; chapter 4 explains European law and its application on football deals mostly with competition issues and the free movement of workers; and chapter 29 deals with international football-related disputes and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In addition to the chapters exclusively dealing with international football matters, international perspectives and the international regulatory landscape is systematically discussed – in more or less depth, as the need might be – in several other chapters of the book, including: chapter 2 on the “Institutions” (from governing bodies to stakeholders groups in football); chapter 6 on the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP); chapter 8 dealing with (national and international) player transfers; chapter 11 (on Third Party Investment) and chapter 16 on Financial Fair Play (mostly discussing the UEFA FFP Regulations); chapter 23  on disciplinary matters (very briefly discussing the disciplinary procedures under FIFA and UEFA Disciplinary rules); chapter 24 on domestic and international doping-related cases in football, with an overview of the CAS jurisprudence in this respect; and finally chapter 23 on corruption and match-fixing (with a very short description of the FIFA and UEFA regulations).

Furthermore, the book offers extensive chapters in less discussed – yet of high importance – football topics, including: chapter 13 on image rights and key clauses in image rights agreements; chapter 14 on taxation (referring also to taxation issues in image rights and intermediary fees); chapter 15 on sponsoring and commercial rights, with a guide on the principal provisions in a football sponsoring contract and various types of disputes arising out of sponsorship rights; chapter 17 on personal injury, discussing the duty of care in football cases (from the U.K.); and chapter 18 on copyright law and broadcasting (with short references to the European law and the freedom to supply football broadcasting services).

Some chapters seem to have a more general approach to the subject matter at issue without necessarily focusing on football. These include chapters 27 (on mediation) and 22 (on privacy and defamation), and even though they were drafted by reputable experts in their fields, I would still like to see chapter 27 discuss in more detail the specific aspects, constraints and potential of mediation in football-related disputes as opposed to a general overview of mediation as a dispute-resolution mechanism. The same goes for chapter 22, but this could be explained by the fact that there are not necessarily numerous football-specific cases that are publicly available. 

As is internationally known, “football law” is male-dominated. This is also demonstrated in the fact that of the 53 contributing authors, all of them good colleagues and most of them renowned in their field, only eight are female (15%). Their opinions, however, are of great importance to the book due to the subject matter on which these women have contributed, such as player contracts (Jane Mulcahy QC), player transfers (Liz Coley), immigration issues in football (Emma Mason), broadcasting (Anita Davies) or disciplinary issues (Alice Bricogne).

The book is a success not only due to the great good work done by its editor, Nick De Marco QC but first and foremost due to its content, masterfully prepared by all 53 authors. On the one hand, the editor carefully delimited and structured the scope of each topic in a logical order and in order to avoid overlaps (a daunting task in case of edited volumes with numerous contributors like this one!), while on the other hand, all 53 authors followed a logical and consistent structure in their chapters and ensured an expert analysis that would have not been possible had this book been authored by one single person.  

Overall, I found this book to be a great initiative and a very useful and comprehensive guide written by some of the most reputable experts. The chapters are drafted in a clear and understandable way and the editor did a great job putting together some of the most relevant and topical legal and regulatory issues from the football field, thus filling a much-needed gap in the “football law” literature.

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The “Victory” of the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights: The End of the Beginning for the CAS

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 “Victory” of the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights: The End of the Beginning for the CAS

My favourite speed skater (Full disclosure: I have a thing for speed skaters bothering the ISU), Claudia Pechstein, is back in the news! And not from the place I expected. While all my attention was absorbed by the Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe (BVerfG or German Constitutional Court), I should have looked to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR). The Pechstein and Mutu joint cases were pending for a long time (since 2010) and I did not anticipate that the ECtHR would render its decision before the BVerfG. The decision released last week (only available in French at this stage) looked at first like a renewed vindication of the CAS (similar to the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH) ruling in the Pechstein case), and is being presented like that by the CAS, but after careful reading of the judgment I believe this is rather a pyrrhic victory for the status quo at the CAS. As I will show, this ruling puts to rest an important debate surrounding CAS arbitration since 20 years: CAS arbitration is (at least in its much-used appeal format in disciplinary cases) forced arbitration. Furthermore, stemming from this important acknowledgment is the recognition that CAS proceedings must comply with Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), in particular hearings must in principle be held in public and decisions freely available to all. Finally, I will criticise the Court’s finding that CAS complies with the requirements of independence and impartiality imposed by Article 6 § 1 ECHR. I will not rehash the  well-known facts of both cases, in order to focus on the core findings of the decision.


I.               CAS arbitration is recognised as forced arbitration: Hallelujah!

As many of you will know, longstanding doctrinal debates have been raging on the question whether athletes freely consent to CAS arbitration.[1] I have argued at length that CAS arbitration is fundamentally post-consensual arbitration and I am obviously quite happy to see the ECtHR endorsing this view today. However, this is not true in all CAS cases: ordinary arbitration often involving commercial disputes will most likely be consented to by both parties. Moreover, as will be discussed below, the ECtHR choose to distinguish between Pechstein and Mutu in its assessment of the free consent to CAS arbitration.

Regarding Pechstein, the key paragraphs of the decision are found between §109 and §115. The Court finds that the International Skating Union (ISU)’s regulations were imposing CAS’ jurisdiction for disciplinary matters (§109) and that Pechstein was forced to accept the arbitral clause if she was to participate in ISU competitions (§110). In this context, it refers to the famous holding of the Swiss Federal tribunal in the Cañas decision acknowledging the forced nature of arbitration in sport (§111) and to the ISU decision of the European Commission finding that the ISU is in a quasi-monopolistic position on the market for the organisation of speed skating competitions (§112). This leads to the key deduction by the Court, that Pechstein’s choice in the present case “was not to participate in one competition instead of another, depending on her acquiescence or not to the arbitral clause” (§113). Thus, her case is not deemed analogous to the commercial arbitration cases handled previously by the ECtHR. Instead, the Court holds that “[i]n light of the effects that a non-acceptance of the arbitral clause would have on the professional life of the claimant, one cannot assert that the latter has accepted the clause in a free and non-equivocal fashion.” (§115) Hence, the Court concludes, “even though the clause was not imposed by law but by the regulations of the ISU, the acceptance of the jurisdiction of the CAS by the claimant must be understood as a “forced” arbitration in the sense of [the Court’s] jurisprudence”. (§115) Thus came to an end a never-ending doctrinal debate on the consensual nature of CAS arbitration, at least when the CAS clause is imposed by a dominant SGB as a condition to participate in sports competitions.

Interestingly, the Court distinguished Mutu from Pechstein. Indeed, the Court notes “the situation of [Mutu] is different from [Pechstein’s] because the applicable regulation of the sporting federation [FIFA] involved did not impose arbitration but left the choice of dispute resolution mechanism to the contractual freedom of clubs and players” (§116). Mutu invoked the imbalanced between clubs and players to argue that he was forced to accept the clause. Yet, the Court rejects this line of arguments on the basis that he failed to provide evidence supporting the fact that all the players at Chelsea had accepted an arbitration clause or that no other club would have recruited him without the insertion of an arbitration clause into his employment contract (§117-119). The Court concludes that contrary to Pechstein, Mutu “has not demonstrated that the only choice available to him was to accept the arbitration clause to be able to earn a living through the professional practice of his sport, or to refuse it and renounce altogether his professional career.” Hence, the Court considers that Mutu’s situation is not a case of ”forced” arbitration (§120). Nonetheless, the Court’s assessment of the consent to arbitration is quite strict: not only should the consent be free, it must also be unequivocal. In other words, Mutu by freely opting for the jurisdiction of CAS instead of the national courts must “have renounced in full awareness the right to have his dispute with Chelsea decided by an independent and impartial tribunal” (§121). In the present case, as Mutu challenged the independence and impartiality of the CAS arbitrator nominated by Chelsea, the Court considered that one cannot take for granted that he had renounced unequivocally to contest the independence and impartiality of the CAS in a dispute involving Chelsea (§122). This part of the judgment has potentially extremely wide implications beyond sports arbitration, as the Court seems to indicate that any challenge to the independence or impartiality of an arbitrator could harm the validity of an arbitration clause freely consented to by the parties.

In conclusion, after this decision it will be very difficult to argue that disciplinary cases (e.g. doping cases) submitted to the CAS through the appeal procedure are grounded in free consent. Nonetheless, as pointed out by the Court in § 98 of the ruling, there are good post-consensual foundations to justify forced CAS arbitration. This post-consensual arbitration might come as a surprise to some, but law is fundamentally a pragmatic practice of social ordering, which is flexible enough to adapt to specific realities. The fact that in the world of sport a type of transnational authority is exercised by a network of (mainly) Swiss associations, which submit their final disciplinary decisions to the mandatory review of the CAS, might be necessary to ensure that international sporting competitions take place on a level playing field. However, and this is the great virtue of the present judgment, CAS will not be allowed to hide behind a fictitious arbitration label to escape full compliance with the procedural rights enshrined in Article 6 § 1 ECHR. 


II.             CAS arbitration must comply with Article 6 § 1 ECHR

The most important consequence of the Court’s recognition that CAS arbitration was forced in the case of Pechstein and equivocal in the case of Mutu is that CAS has to fully comply with the fundamental procedural rights guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 ECHR (in particular its civil limb, see the ECHR guide on Article 6). Specifically, the Court focused on the publicity of hearings and the independence of the CAS. Regarding the former it concluded, rightly in my view, that the lack of publicity of Pechstein’s hearing violated the ECHR. However, I (and more importantly two judges of the ECtHR) do dissent from the Court’s finding that the CAS is sufficiently independent vis-à-vis the SGBs. 

A.    The day CAS went public: Towards transparency in CAS proceedings and beyond

The CAS is at the same time one of the globe’s most famous and secretive transnational courts. Every sports fan around the world knows it and many journalists follow its press releases and skim through its awards (when published). Based on citations in the media, it is probably one of the (if not the) most covered and publicly discussed international courts, and yet it is also the most secretive. The publicity of hearings and judgments of national and international courts is the norm around the world, and confidentiality an exception reserved to cases in which the security and/or the privacy of an individual might call for it. In scholarship, the transparency of the CAS is often favourably compared to commercial arbitration as it publishes some (systematically less than 30%) of its awards. Yet, as is readily acknowledged by this judgment, the true comparison should be made with national and international courts, as the jurisdiction of the CAS is not grounded on free consent.

In practice, the Court found that in the Pechstein case, the CAS should have organised a public hearing as Pechstein expressly requested. Indeed, the Court points out that “the questions discussed in the framework of the challenged procedure – which related to the question whether the claimant was rightly sanctioned for doping, and for which the CAS heard numerous experts – necessitated the organisation of a hearing under the control of the public” (§182). The Court notes in support of its finding that “there was a controversy over the facts and that the sanction imposed on the claimant had a ignominious nature, which was susceptible to damage her professional reputation and credibility” (§182). And concludes that the lack of publicity of the debates before the CAS violates Article 6 §1 ECHR.

This is a first important step towards imposing more transparency at the CAS (I have argued for radical transparency in a presentation at the Play The Game conference last year). Yet, the decision of the Court is not without ambiguity: will the CAS have to hold public hearings only when requested by the parties or should it systematically hold public hearings and revert to confidentiality only in exceptional circumstances? The existing case law of the ECHR points, in my view, to the latter alternative, but even the former would be a big leap forward for the CAS. Indeed, the a minima reading (read also on this issue the outstanding blog by Nick de Marco) of the judgment implies that the CAS will have to organise a public hearing if requested by one of the parties. In any case, a waiver of such a hearing will need to be freely consented to. Furthermore, and this was not touched upon in the present decision, Article 6 §1 ECHR also obliges to publicise judgments once adopted, with only the narrowest of exceptions. Currently, CAS is clearly in contravention with this obligation, as it does not systematically publish its (appeal) awards. This fundamental lack of transparency will have to be remedied quickly if the CAS is to operate in conformity with the present judgment.

B.    A fundamental dissent on CAS independence

The final, key, aspect of the judgment concerns the Court’s findings related to the independence and impartiality of the CAS. Under Article 6 § 1 ECHR, a case must be heard by an independent and impartial tribunal. It is, at least in my eyes, highly doubtful whether the CAS should be considered as such, yet the Court decided otherwise. This decision was strongly challenged in a dissent by two judges (including quite ironically the Swiss judge). I will first present the key parts of the analysis of the Court and then provide a critique of my own to the Court’s holdings. I believe the most important question is not related to the independence or impartiality of the individual arbitrators involved in the Mutu and Pechstein case, but concerns the structural independence of the CAS from the SGBs, and I will thus focus only on the latter.

The key holdings of the Court are found at §§151-158 and concern only the Pechstein leg of the ruling, as only she challenged the structural independence of the CAS. The Court holds first that the CAS’s financial dependence on the Olympic movement is not problematic because analogically the State finances national courts (§151). It reminds then that, back when the Pechstein case was heard in 2009, the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) was nominating one fifth of the arbitrators having the interest of the athletes in mind, while being itself composed mainly of individuals affiliated with SGBs susceptible to face proceedings against athletes at the CAS (§154). Moreover, the Court stresses that arbitrators were nominated for a term of four years renewable, without limits on the number of terms, and the ICAS had the power to revoke an arbitrator by a summarily motivated decision on the basis of article R35 of the CAS Code (§155). Nonetheless, the Court finds that Pechstein did not provide concrete elements challenging the independence and impartiality of any of the 300 arbitrators on the CAS list at the time (§157). In the crucial part of the decision, the Court acknowledges that while “it is ready to recognise that the organisations susceptible to face the athletes in the framework of the disputes brought before the CAS were exercising a real influence on the mechanism of nomination of the arbitrators in place at the time, it cannot conclude that, only on the basis of this influence, the list of arbitrators was composed, even in majority, of arbitrators who could not be deemed independent or impartial, individually, objectively or subjectively, from the said organisations” (§157). Henceforth, the Court decides that it has no reason to diverge from the assessment of the Swiss Federal tribunal regarding the independence of the CAS.

In my view, the Court is right on one point. The financing of the CAS by the SGBs is not per se threatening the independence of the CAS and should actually be welcomed as an adequate form of quasi-public financing of sporting justice. However, this is true only if the ICAS and the CAS administration are stringently separated from the bodies that are supposed to be checked by the CAS and whose decisions it is reviewing. Quite paradoxically the Court recognises the influence of the SGBs on the ICAS, which was evident at the time the Pechstein case was heard and is still apparent nowadays (the SGBs nominate 12 individuals out of the 20 members of the ICAS and the ICAS is headed by an IOC Vice-president), but it does not deem it sufficiently problematic to challenge the independence and impartiality of the CAS. This is a strange conclusion for a Court specialised in procedural justice (for a similar perplexity see §§ 7-10 of the dissent). The ICAS does not only control who gets to be appointed as a CAS arbitrator, it also controls who gets to preside over the Appeal and Ordinary Divisions of the CAS, and who gets to be appointed as CAS Secretary General. All of this happens without any minutes of the ICAS meetings being published, thus without any transparency on the reasons that led to the appointment of X over Y. This alone should have pushed the ECtHR to have some serious concerns over the appearance of control by the SGBs over the ICAS and, therefore, over the CAS. Moreover, and what I feel is the major argument speaking against CAS’s independence from the SGBs, even if one accepts the Court’s point that an athlete will be able to find a CAS arbitrator on the list who is not biased, in appeal cases the president of the panel will be ultimately nominated by the President of the Appeals Division. Thomas Bach, now President of the IOC, was the President of the Appeals Division from 1994 to 2013, since then Corinne Schmidhauser, who is the President of AntiDoping Switzerland and a member of the Head of the Legal Committee of Swiss Ski has taken over his former position. While it is often argued that if the parties agree on a president, the President of the Division will merely ratify their choice (§ 127), the issue is that one side (the SGBs) will be in a strong position to impose a name to the other (the athletes). Indeed, the SGBs bargain in the shadow of a final decision by the president of the Appeal Division, who be it Thomas Bach or Corinne Schmidhauser was and still is clearly biased in their favour. This simple institutional set-up, easy to reform but still in place, is the Gordian knot of the control of SGBs over the CAS.  The Court simply ignored this argument (as did the BGH in 2016, triggering an attempt at a revision of the judgment), which was raised by Pechstein’s lawyers (§ 124). In doing so, it decided to side with a system that is at odds with the core of its own jurisprudence on the independence and impartiality of tribunals, as powerfully outlined by the dissent. Maybe, the Court felt it had already done enough and it did not want to destabilise the CAS further, but it certainly missed a great opportunity to provide a fairer judicial process to thousands of athletes worldwide.


Conclusion: The end of the beginning for the CAS

A few years ago, in a presentation on the Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München, I wondered whether the case was the beginning of the end for the CAS or (more optimistically) the end of the beginning. By the latter, I meant that the CAS would enter into a new dimension with the decision. This new era was, unfortunately, delayed by the surrealist judgment of the BGH, which the ECtHR has in my view partially corrected with this ruling. As from this decision, the CAS will not be able anymore to claim that it is an arbitral tribunal legitimated through the free consent of the parties. The ECtHR has shattered, forever, this fiction. It did not replace it with a clear alternative foundation, however. In fact, the CAS is not a product of national law or of an international treaty. It is, instead, simply the artefact of transnational power and of the necessities of global sports governance. At the same time as the ECtHR recognised its usefulness and existence, it also held that it ought to be tamed too. This is the meaning of the Court’s finding that CAS must comply (like any national court in Europe) with the requirements of procedural justice enshrined in article 6 § 1 ECHR. In other words, never again will the CAS be the same, as it will have to become a proper court. Surely, the ECtHR betrayed its good intentions by denying the undeniable lack of independence of the CAS. Yet, this duty will be left to the German judges in Karlsruhe or to the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR if, as you would expect from Pechstein, she decides to appeal the decision. In this regard, the rigorously argued dissent will prove a strong basis to put a final nail in the coffin of CAS’s current institutional structure.

To conclude, after seemingly winning this case, the CAS will have to undergo a radical change. The new CAS will be open to the public (both hearings and awards), it will need to shore up its independence from the SGBs if it desires to fends off future challenges based on the dissent, and more generally it will have to ensure that all of its procedures are rigorously kept in line with the constantly evolving jurisprudence of the ECtHR on article 6 §1 ECHR. The CAS can embrace these changes or wait for diligent lawyers to drag its awards through national courts in Europe, which will not be as timid as before in assessing the compatibility of CAS procedures with the ECHR. Nonetheless, there is also a lot to celebrate in this judgment for those, like me, who believe that the CAS is a necessary institution. It is now fully recognised as a judicial body sui generis, which is more than the emanation of the parties to a dispute. In fact, it is officially and finally recognised as the Supreme Court of World Sport, but with great powers comes also great responsibility…

[1] You will find many references to these debates in Duval, Antoine, Not in My Name! Claudia Pechstein and the Post-Consensual Foundations of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (February 20, 2017). Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law & International Law (MPIL) Research Paper No. 2017-01.

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