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

I’m A Loser Baby, So Let’s Kill Transparency – Recent Changes to the Olympic Games Host City Selection Process - By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

Editor's Note: Ryan Gauthier is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University in Canada. Ryan’s research addresses the governance of sports organisations, with a particular focus on international sports organisations. His PhD research examined the accountability of the International Olympic Committee for human rights violations caused by the organisation of the Olympic Games.

Big June 2019 for Olympic Hosting

On June 24, 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected Milano-Cortina to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. Milano-Cortina’s victory came despite a declaration that the bid was “dead” just months prior when the Italian government refused to support the bid. Things looked even more dire for the Italians when 2006 Winter Games host Turin balked at a three-city host proposal. But, when the bid was presented to the members of the IOC Session, it was selected over Stockholm-Åre by 47 votes to 34. 

Just two days later, the IOC killed the host selection process as we know it. The IOC did this by amending two sections of the Olympic Charter in two key ways. First, the IOC amended Rule 33.2, eliminating the requirement that the Games be selected by an election seven years prior to the Games. While an election by the IOC Session is still required, the seven-years-out requirement is gone.

Second, the IOC amended Rule 32.2 to allow for a broader scope of hosts to be selected for the Olympic Games. Prior to the amendment, only cities could host the Games, with the odd event being held in another location. Now, while cities are the hosts “in principle”, the IOC had made it so: “where deemed appropriate, the IOC may elect several cities, or other entities, such as regions, states or countries, as host of the Olympic Games.”

The change to rule 33.2 risks undoing the public host selection process. The prior process included bids (generally publicly available), evaluation committee reports, and other mechanisms to make the bidding process transparent. Now, it is entirely possible that the IOC may pre-select a host, and present just that host to the IOC for an up-or-down vote. This vote may be seven years out from the Games, ten years out, or two years out. More...

A New Chapter for EU Sports Law and European Citizenship Rights? The TopFit Decision - 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

Christmas has come very early this year for the EU sports law world in the form of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) judgment in TopFit eV, Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband eV by exclusively analyzing the case on the basis of European citizenship rights and its application to rules of sports governing bodies that limit their exercise. The case concerned an Italian national, Daniele Biffi, who has been residing in Germany for over 15 years and participates in athletic competitions in the senior category, including the German national championships. In 2016, the Deutscher Leichtathletikverband (DLV), the German Athletics Federation, decided to omit a paragraph in its rules that allowed the participation of EU nationals in national championships on the same footing as German citizens. As a result, participation in the national championship was subject to prior authorization of the organizers of the event, and even if participation was granted, the athlete may only compete outside of classification and may not participate in the final heat of the competition. After having been required to compete out of classification for one national championship and even dismissed from participating in another, Mr. Biffi and TopFit, his athletics club based in Berlin, brought proceedings to a German national court. The national court submitted a request for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU in which it asked essentially whether the rules of the DLV, which may preclude or at least require a non-national to compete outside classification and the final heat, are contrary to Articles 18, 21 and 165 TFEU. Articles 18 and 21 TFEU, read together, preclude discrimination on the basis of nationality against European citizens exercising their free movement. The underlying (massive) question here is whether these provisions can be relied on by an amateur athlete against a private body, the DLV.

Covered in a previous blog, the Advocate General’s (AG) opinion addressed the case from an entirely different angle. Instead of tackling the potentially sensitive questions attached with interpreting the scope of European citizenship rights, the opinion focused on the application of the freedom of establishment because the AG found that participation in the national championships was sufficiently connected to the fact Mr. Biffi was a professional trainer who advertised his achievements in those competitions on his website. Thus, according to the AG, there was a sufficient economic factor to review the case under a market freedom. The CJEU, in its decision, sidelined this approach and took the application of European citizenship rights head on.

The following will dissect the Court’s decision by examining the three central legal moves of the ruling: the general applicability of EU law to amateur sport, the horizontal applicability of European citizenship rights, and justifications and proportionality requirements of access restrictions to national competitions. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April and May 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 

Caster Semenya learns that it is not always easy for victims of discrimination to prevail in court

The world of sport held its breath as the Secretary General of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) Matthieu Reeb stood before the microphones on 1 May 2019 to announce the verdict reached by three arbitrators (one of them dissenting) in the landmark case involving the South African Olympic and world champion Caster Semenya. Somewhat surprisingly, the panel of arbitrators came to the conclusion that the IAAF’s regulations requiring female athletes with differences of sexual development to reduce their natural testosterone level below the limit of 5 nmol/L and maintain that reduced level for a continuous period of at least six months in order to be eligible to compete internationally at events between 400 metres and a mile, were necessary, reasonable and proportionate to attain the legitimate aim of ensuring fair competition in female athletics, even though the panel recognised that the regulations were clearly discriminatory. Ms Semenya’s legal team decided to file an appeal against the ruling at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. For the time being, this appears to be a good move since the tribunal ordered the IAAF at the beginning of June to suspend the application of the challenged regulations to Ms Semenya with immediate effect, which means that Ms Semenya for now continues to run medication-free.


Champions League ban looms on Manchester City

On 18 May 2019, Manchester City completed a historic domestic treble after defeating Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup Final. And yet there is a good reason to believe that the club’s executives did not celebrate as much as they would under normal circumstances. This is because only two days before the FA Cup Final the news broke that the chief investigator of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) had decided to refer Manchester City’s case concerning allegations of financial fair play irregularities to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber for a final decision. Thus, the chief investigator most likely found that Manchester City had indeed misled UEFA over the real value of its sponsorship income from the state-owned airline Etihad and other companies based in Abu Dhabi, as the leaked internal emails and other documents published by the German magazine Der Spiegel suggested. The chief investigator is also thought to have recommended that a ban on participation in the Champions League for at least one season be imposed on the English club. The club’s representatives responded to the news with fury and disbelief, insisting that the CFCB investigatory chamber had failed to take into account a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence it had been provided with. They eventually decided not to wait for the decision of the CFCB adjudicatory chamber, which is yet to be adopted, and meanwhile took the case to the CAS, filing an appeal against the chief investigator’s referral.


The Brussels Court of Appeal dismisses Striani’s appeal on jurisdictional grounds

The player agent Daniele Striani failed to convince the Brussels Court of Appeal that it had jurisdiction to entertain his case targeting UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. On 11 April 2019, the respective court dismissed his appeal against the judgment of the first-instance court without pronouncing itself on the question of compatibility of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations with EU law. The court held that it was not competent to hear the case because the link between the regulations and their effect on Mr Striani as a player agent, as well as the link between the regulations and the role of the Royal Belgian Football Association in their adoption and enforcement, was too remote (for a more detailed analysis of the decision, see Antoine’s blog here). The Brussels Court of Appeal thus joined the European Court of Justice and the European Commission as both these institutions had likewise rejected to assess the case on its merits in the past.


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League of Legends European Championships - Challenging the Boundaries of Sport in EU Law - 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 surge of e-sports has stimulated a lively discussion on the essential characteristics of sport and whether e-sports, in general, can be considered a sport. However, one should not overlook the fact that e-sports encompass a broad range of video games that fundamentally differ from one another. Thus, as one commentator recently underlined, “the position of video games and the e-sport competitions based on them should be analysed on a case-by-case basis.”[1] In this spirit, this blog aims to provide a concise analysis of one of these e-sports, League of Legends (LoL), and one of its main competitions, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), to assess whether it could be considered a sport in the sense of EU law. The LEC offers a fascinating opportunity to examine this issue especially since the previous European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) was rebranded and restructured this year into the LEC. More...

Will the World Cup 2022 Expansion Mark the Beginning of the End of FIFA’s Human Rights Journey? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games.

About three years ago, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) adopted a new version of its Statutes, including a statutory commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. Since then, FIFA undertook a human rights journey that has been praised by various stakeholders in the sports and human rights field. In early June, the FIFA Congress is scheduled to take a decision that could potentially undo all positive efforts taken thus far.

FIFA already decided in January 2017 to increase the number of teams participating in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48. Shortly after, discussions began on the possibility to also expand the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar. Subsequently, FIFA conducted a feasibility study, which revealed that the expansion would be feasible but require a number of matches to be hosted in neighbouring countries, explicitly mentioning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One does not have to be a human rights expert to be highly alarmed by this list of potential co-hosting countries. Nevertheless, the FIFA Council approved of the possibility to expand in March 2019, paving the way for the FIFA Congress to take a decision on the matter. Obviously, the advancement of the expansion decision raises serious doubts over the sincerity of FIFA’s reforms and human rights commitments. More...

How Data Protection Crystallises Key Legal Challenges in Anti-Doping - 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. Her interests focus on interdisciplinary approaches as a way of designing effective solutions in the field of anti-doping and other science-based domains. Her book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law” was published through T.M.C Asser Press / Springer in late 2015. She participates as a co-author on a project hosted by the University of Neuchâtel to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. In her practice, she regularly advises international federations and other sports organisations on doping and other regulatory matters, in particular on aspects of scientific evidence, privacy or research regulation. She also has experience assisting clients in arbitration proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport or other sport tribunals.

Since the spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) has loomed over the sports sector,[1] a new wind seems to be blowing on anti-doping, with a palpable growing interest for stakes involved in data processing. Nothing that would quite qualify as a wind of change yet, but a gentle breeze of awareness at the very least.

Though the GDPR does mention the fight against doping in sport as a potential matter of public health in its recitals,[2] EU authorities have not gone so far as to create a standalone ground on which anti-doping organisations could rely to legitimise their data processing. Whether or not anti-doping organisations have a basis to process personal data – and specifically sensitive data – as part of their anti-doping activities, thus remains dependent on the peculiarities of each national law. Even anti-doping organisations that are incorporated outside the EU are affected to the extent they process data about athletes in the EU.[3] This includes international sports federations, many of which are organised as private associations under Swiss law. Moreover, the Swiss Data Protection Act (‘DPA’) is currently under review, and the revised legal framework should largely mirror the GDPR, subject to a few Swiss peculiarities. All anti-doping organisations undertake at a minimum to abide by the WADA International Standard for Privacy and the Protection of Personal Information (‘ISPPPI’), which has been adapted with effect to 1 June 2018 and enshrines requirements similar to those of the GDPR. However, the ISPPPI stops short of actually referring to the GDPR and leaves discretion for anti-doping organisations to adapt to other legislative environments.

The purpose of this blog is not to offer a detailed analysis of the requirements that anti-doping organisations must abide by under data protection laws, but to highlight how issues around data processing have come to crystallise key challenges that anti-doping organisations face globally. Some of these challenges have been on the table since the adoption of the first edition of the World Anti-Doping Code (‘WADC’) but are now exposed in the unforgiving light of data protection requirements. More...

What happens in Switzerland stays in Switzerland: The Striani Judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeals

In the last five years, the Striani case has been the main sword of Damocles hanging over UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. At the very least, the only real judicial threat they have faced (apart from the relatively harmless challenge mounted in the Galatasaray case at the CAS). Indeed, a Belgian player agent, Daniele Striani, represented by Bosman’s former lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, attempted, in various fora, to challenge the compatibility of UEFA’s CL&FFP Regulations with EU law. Striani lodged a complaint with the European Commission (which was quickly rejected in October 2014) and initiated a private action for damages before the Brussels Court of First Instance. The latter deemed itself not competent to decide on the matter, but nevertheless accepted to order a provisory stay of the enforcement of the UEFA FFP Regulations pending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (see Ben van Rompuy’s blog on the case here). The CJEU unsurprisingly rejected to enter into the matter, but UEFA and Striani decided to appeal the first instance ruling to the Court of Appeal, which rendered its decision on 11 April. It is unclear at this stage whether Striani will attempt to challenge it at the Belgian Cour de Cassation (Highest Civil Court), however this would entail considerable risks and costs and his lawyers to date have not indicated that they would do so (see here). 

While the ruling of the Court of Appeal does not touch upon the much-discussed question of the compatibility of UEFA’s FFP Regulations with EU law (see our many blogs on the question here, here and here), it remains an interesting decision to discuss broader questions related to the procedural ease in challenging regulatory decisions passed by sports governing bodies (SGBs) based in Switzerland. Competition law constitutes the main legal tool available to sports stakeholders looking to challenge existing regulatory arrangements from the outside (e.g. not going through the internal political systems of the SGBs or the CAS route). Recent cases, such as the ISU decision of the European Commission, the Pechstein case in front of the German courts or the Rule 40 decision of the German competition authority, have demonstrated the potency of competition law to question the legality of the rules and decisions of the SGBs.[1] In this regard, the decision of the Brussels Court of Appeal narrows the range of parties allowed to challenge in European courts the SGBs’ rules and decisions on the basis of competition law. More...

Can European Citizens Participate in National Championships? An Analysis of AG Tanchev’s Opinion in TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. - 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

To many it may seem obvious that athletes in a national championship should only be able to participate if they have the nationality of the relevant state. The Dutch Road Cycling National Championships should have Dutch cyclists, and the German Athletics Championships should have German athletes and so forth. However, in reality, foreign competitors are allowed to participate in many national championships in the EU, and there is a wide discrepancy between the rules of national sport governing bodies on this issue. There is no unified practice when investigating this point by country or by sport, and rules on participation range from a complete ban on foreign competitors to absolutely no mention of foreign athletes.[1] Thus, the question arises: should foreign athletes be able to participate in national sport championships?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will soon be required to provide an, at least partial, answer to this dilemma as a result of an application for a preliminary ruling.  A German Court has referred three questions to the CJEU on the case TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. (DLV) which in essence ask whether EU citizenship rights and in particular, the requirement of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, should be applied to non-nationals wishing to participate in an athletics national championship in Germany. In the meantime, the Advocate General (AG), who provides a non-binding opinion to the Court before a decision is delivered, Evgeni Tanchev has delivered an interesting opinion on the case. It addresses the claims from the applicants based on EU citizenship rights and urges the CJEU to instead review the case on the basis of the freedom of establishment.

This blog will dissect the AG’s opinion to assess the main arguments put forward in relation to freedom of establishment and EU citizenship. Furthermore, it will weigh the ramifications this case may have on the boundaries of EU law in relation to sport. To fully appreciate the AG’s opinion, it is necessary to first discuss the intriguing factual and legal background colouring this case. After all, this will not be the first time the CJEU faces thorny issues concerning discrimination on the basis of nationality and sport. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February and March 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 Court of Arbitration for Sport bans 12 Russian track and field athletes

On 1 February 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) communicated that it had rendered another 12 decisions in the seemingly endless saga concerning the state-sponsored doping programme in Russia. These first-instance decisions of the CAS involve 12 Russian track and field athletes who were all found guilty of anti-doping rule violations based on the evidence underlying the reports published by professor Richard McLaren and suspended from participating in sports competitions for periods ranging from two to eight years. Arguably the most prominent name that appears on the list of banned athletes is Ivan Ukhov, the 32-year-old high jump champion from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The case was brought by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) that sought to convince the arbitrators that the athletes in question had participated in and/or benefited from anabolic steroid doping programmes and benefited from specific protective methods (washout schedules) in the period between the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow. The CAS was acting in lieau of the Russian Athletics Federation that remains suspended and thus unable to conduct any disciplinary procedures. The athletes have had the opportunity to appeal the decisions to the CAS Appeals Arbitration Division.

Federal Cartel Office in Germany finds Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter disproportionately restrictive

At the end of February, the German competition authority Bundeskartellamt announced that it had entered into a commitment agreement with the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in which these two organisations had agreed to considerably enhance advertising opportunities for German athletes and their sponsors during the Olympic Games. The respective agreement is a direct consequence of the Bundeskartellamt’s finding that the IOC and the DOSB had abused their dominant position on the market for organising and marketing the Olympic Games by demanding that the athletes refrain from promoting their own sponsors while the Games are ongoing, as well as shortly before and after the Games. This restriction stems from Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter under which no competitor who participates in the Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes, unless the IOC Executive Board allows him/her to do so.

As part of fulfilling its obligations under the commitment agreement, the DOSB has relaxed its guidelines on promotional activities of German athletes during the Olympic Games. For its part, the IOC has declared that these new guidelines would take precedence over Rule 40(3) of the Olympic Charter. However, it still remains to be seen whether in response to the conclusions of the German competition authority the IOC will finally change the contentious rule.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights refuses to pronounce itself on Claudia Pechstein’s case

Claudia Pechstein’s challenge against the CAS brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has not yielded the desired result for the German athlete. On 5 February 2019, a Panel of the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR decided that the Grand Chamber would not entertain the case. This means that the judgment handed down by the 3rd Chamber of the ECtHR on 2 October 2018, in which the ECtHR confirmed that except for the lack of publicity of oral hearings the procedures of the CAS are compatible with the right to a fair trial under Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, has now become final and binding. However, the protracted legal battle between the five-time Olympic champion in speed skating and the CAS is not over yet since there is one more challenge against the CAS and its independence pending before the German Constitutional Court.  More...

New Event! FIFA and Human Rights: Impacts, Policies, Responsibilities - 8 May 2019 - Asser Institute

In the past few years, FIFA underwent intense public scrutiny for human rights violations surrounding the organisation of the World Cup 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. This led to a reform process at FIFA, which involved a number of policy changes, such as:

  • Embracing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • The inclusion of human rights in the FIFA Statutes;
  • Adopting new bidding rules including human rights requirements;
  • And introducing a Human Rights Advisory Board.

To take stock of these changes, the Asser Institute and the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research (NNHRR), are organising a conference on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and human rights, which will take place at the Asser Institute in The Hague on 8 May 2019.

This one-day conference aims to take a deeper look at FIFA’s impacts on human rights and critically investigate the measures it has adopted to deal with them. Finally, we will also address FIFA’s potential legal responsibilities under a variety of human rights laws/instruments.

Preliminary Programme

9:00 Registration & Coffee

9:45 Welcome by Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) & Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

10:00 Opening Remarks by Andreas Graf (Human Rights Officer, FIFA)

10:30 Panel 1: FIFA & Human Rights: Impacts

  • Zoher Shabbir (University of York) – The correlation between forced evictions and developing nations hosting the FIFA World Cup
  • Roman Kiselyov (European Human Rights Advocacy Centre) - FIFA World Cup as a Pretext for a Crackdown on Human Rights
  • Eleanor Drywood (Liverpool University) - FIFA and children’s rights: theory, methodology and practice 

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Panel 2: FIFA & Human Rights: Policies

  • Lisa Schöddert & Bodo Bützler (University of Cologne) – FIFA’s eigen-constitutionalisation and its limits
  • Gigi Alford (World Players Association) - Power Play: FIFA’s voluntary human rights playbook does not diminish Switzerland’s state power to protect against corporate harms
  • Brendan Schwab (World Players Association) & Craig Foster - FIFA, human rights and the threatened refoulement of Hakeem Al Araibi 

14:30 Break

15:00 Panel 3: FIFA & Human Rights: Responsibilities

  • Daniel Rietiker (ECtHR and University of Lausanne) - The European Court of Human Rights and Football: Current Issues and Potential
  • Jan Lukomski (Łukomski Niklewicz law firm) - FIFA and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights : Obligations, duties and remedies regarding the labour rights         protected under the ICESCR
  • Raquel Regueiro Dubra (Complutense University of Madrid) - Shared international responsibility for human rights violations in global events. The case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
  • Wojciech Lewandowski (Polish Academy of Sciences/University of Warsaw) - Is Bauer the new Bosman? – The implications of the newest CJEU jurisprudence for FIFA and other sport governing bodies

17:00 Closing Remarks by Mary Harvey (Chief Executive, Centre for Sports and Human Rights)

More information and registration at

Asser International Sports Law Blog | UEFA’s tax-free Euro 2016 in France: State aid or no State aid?

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

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”.

This is not the first time that UEFA is exempted from paying taxes in a host country. For example, for the Euro 2012, UEFA was not subject to direct taxation in Poland.[1] Similar conditions were also part of the application procedures for Euro 2004 and Euro 2008, but is up to the host country to decide how it fulfils the tax exemption requirement of UEFA.

On 12 November 2014 the French council of ministers approved a draft legislation that would provide a fiscally advantageous solution for organisers of international sporting events. The law still needs to be approved by the parliament where it is facing strong political opposition. The organisers of the 2015 European basketball Championships, the 2018 Ryder Cup (golf), and of the football Euro 2016 would be fully exempted from paying direct taxes. However, it is unlikely that the French organisers of the yearly held Tour de France (cycling) and Roland Garros (tennis) will enjoy the same privilege. Even though the legislation is not specific to the Euro 2016, many critics hold that the main reason for introducing this legislation was to satisfy UEFA’s demands.

Regarding the Euro 2016, a special joint-stock company has been created called Euro 2016 SAS. 95% of the shares of this company are owned by UEFA, the remaining 5% by the French Football Federation (FFF). Euro 2016 SAS is responsible for organising the competition itself, related events, and the promotion of the events.[2] The board includes UEFA officials, FFF officials, and French government officials. According to the French minister, Euro 2016 SAS will be exempted from direct and related taxes (corporate tax, income tax, payroll tax, etc.). VAT, however, must still be paid. Allowing Euro 2016 SAS to be exempted from paying direct taxes comes at a time when most EU Member States, including France, are forced to introduce austerity measures. Interestingly, it also comes at a time when the European Commission is becoming increasingly active in dealing with matters related to State aid and taxation. In February 2014, former taxation and customs union Commissioner, Algirdas Šemeta, stated that competition policy in general and State aid law in particular could “greatly reinforce our tax policy work.” He also said that pursuing cases under competition rules could make a real difference as they can be enforced directly on the basis of the EU Treaty. Since this statement, the Commission has opened numerous investigations into alleged State aid received through tax schemes.[3] These cases include alleged aid provided by Ireland to Apple, aid provided by the Netherlands to Starbucks and aid provided by Luxembourg to Amazon. Last week’s LuxLeaks scandal, concerning specific tax deals offered to multinationals by the Luxembourg State, has put State aid and tax policy high on the political agenda. Our analysis is embedded into this broader context, which is decisive in understanding the potential readiness of the Commission to tackle selective fiscal State aid measures. In the following paragraphs we will engage in a substantial analysis of a hypothetical State aid investigation by the EU Commission into the suggested tax exemption offered to UEFA by the French State.

In order for a measure to be considered unlawful State aid it has to fulfil the criteria stipulated in Article 107 (1) TFEU.[4] However, with respect to tax measures, the key question will generally be whether the tax measure is selective.[5] In this regard, when considering whether a measure is selective, and consequently constitutes State aid, the effects on the market are taken into account and not the causes or aim of that measure.[6]

According to settled case-law, the material selectivity of tax measures should normally be assessed by following a three-step analysis.[7] Firstly, the system of reference has to be identified. The system of reference constitutes the framework against which the selectivity of a measure is assessed. It is a consistent set of rules generally applicable to all undertakings falling within its scope as defined by its guiding principle.[8] Secondly, it should be determined whether the given measure constitutes a derogation from the system of reference insofar as it differentiates between economic operators who, in light of the objective intrinsic to that system, are in a comparable factual and legal situation. In the case at hand one can think of other sporting or cultural events held in France. If the measure in question indeed derogates, it still needs to be verified in the last step of the test whether the derogatory measure is justified by the nature or the general scheme of the system.[9] If a prima facie selective measure is justified by the nature or the general scheme of the system, it will not be considered selective and thus fall outside the scope of Article 107(1) TFEU.[10]  

1. System of reference

The French corporate tax (impôt sur les sociétiés) is a standard tax with a rate of approximately 33% that applies to all resident companies in France and that affects all profits made in France by the resident companies. The guiding principle of the corporate tax system would consist in levying taxes on all undertakings generating profit in France.  

2. Is the measure a derogation from the system of reference?

In principle, all undertakings based in France that make a profit are liable to pay the French corporate tax. Similarly, workers and employers based in France are liable to pay the French payroll tax. The sole fact that a new legislation would allow undertakings such as Euro 2016 SAS to be exempted from paying corporate tax and payroll tax derogates from the abovementioned system of reference. Even if one were to assume that international sporting events are subject to a specific system of reference, exonerating their organisers from all direct taxes, this would still be at odds with the fact that undertakings such as Amaury Sport Organisation (the French organiser of the Tour de France) would not be exempted from paying taxes.  In short, at this stage, the measure seems to be prima facie selective.  

3. Is the measure justifiable by the nature or the general scheme of the reference system?

 A prima facie selective aid measure can still be found justified in light of the logic of the system of reference.[11] It has to be borne in mind that a Member State is free to shape the fundamental aspects of its tax system by determining the taxable situations, the tax rate and tax base. Art. 107 (1) TFEU does not prevent the Member State from introducing, reducing or abolishing a tax in order to further its economic aims.[12] It is, however, for the Member State, which has introduced a prima facie selective measure, to show that it is actually justified by the nature and general scheme of the system in question.[13]

It is likely that the French authorities will argue that the measure was introduced to facilitate the organisation of international sporting events to be held on French territory. Organisations responsible for the choice of the host of an international sporting event, such as UEFA or the IOC, need incentives to select France as a host nation. Yet it is doubtful that this could constitute an acceptable justification for the whole scheme. It would imply accepting targeted fiscal dumping as a viable strategy to raise competitiveness, opening the door to a ‘beggar thy neighbour’ policy. Moreover, this tax policy is not aimed at targeting all sports events, i.e. to encourage the practice of sport or any other objective of general interest. Therefore, the Commission is unlikely to accept that it fits into the nature and general scheme of the reference system.

Nonetheless, the French government still believes that the measure is justifiable for a number of reasons. The former French minister for sport, Jean-François Lamour, admitted that hosting mega sporting events always cost more than they generate, and that those who say the opposite are mistaken. However, he also stated that hosting Euro 2016 would serve as an “economic accelerator that can boost the French economy.”[14] “This tax exemption may shock”, admits another former minister for sport, David Douillet, “but it should be considered as an investment, since nearly 3 million visitors are to be expected”. Moreover, “hosting the tournament creates about 20.000 jobs in the construction sector alone. The measure will allow France to host major international tournaments and ensures that they are not organised only in countries that have the means to afford them. In the case of Euro 2016, UEFA will donate €20 million to the host cities, pay €23 million rental money for stadiums and will participate for an amount of €20 million in shares of the French Football Federation regarding amateur football”[15], says the French minister for sport Patrick Kanner. Lastly, as stated in the introduction, Mr. Kanner also held that “France would never have hosted the competition and the Euro 2016 would have gone elsewhere”, had it not agreed to the conditions set by UEFA. Justifications, such as the ones listed here, may be compatible with EU law if it facilitates the development of certain economic activities where such aid does not adversely affect trading conditions to an extent contrary to common interest. Furthermore, the measures must have a clear objective of common interest in order for them to be justified.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, France has already invested nearly €1.6 billion in the construction and renovation of stadiums and has spent €400 million in access and transport infrastructures for Euro 2016.[16] In Commission Decision SA.35501 Financement de la construction et de la rénovation des stades pour l’Euro 2016, the Commission assessed the public money spent on infrastructure and declared the spending compatible with EU law under Article 107 (3)c) TFEU.[17] The Commission took into account Article 165 TFEU and concluded that the public spending was aimed at a well-defined objective of common interest. It also accepted that there was a public need for the modernisation and enlargement of the stadiums, and that this would not occur without State intervention.

It is important to note, however, that the case at hand describes a different State intervention, namely a specific tax exemption for Euro 2016 SAS. Can arguments raised to justify public spending on infrastructure (i.e. job creation, promotion of France, market failure, cultural, and recreational considerations, etc.) be used analogically to justify a tax exemption? Indeed, there is a direct link between the State’s decision to spend public money in constructing infrastructure and the creation of 20.000 jobs in the construction sector, but not between the legislation allowing tax exemptions and the same job creation. The foregone tax money is not going to be directly re-invested in France, not even in the EU, but is ultimately going to go to a Swiss association: UEFA. The link between the need for the tax exemption and the benefits derived from the EURO2016 can only be made relying on the need to bow to UEFA’s illegitimate blackmail: ‘you’ll get the EURO (and the jobs and exposure hereto tied) only against a fiscal gift’. It is therefore unlikely that the measure at hand fulfils an objective of common interest and would be compatible with Article 107 (3)c) TFEU. 

Usually a negative state aid decision is seen as a backlash for a Member State. However, in UEFA’s tax exemption case, it might be a benediction. It would have positive effects not only for France, but also for all EU Member States, putting a definitive end to UEFA’s blackmailing. A clear precedent would be set and all the organisers of international sporting events taking place in the EU, whether FIFA World Cups, Olympic Games or else, would finally have to comply with tax laws just like anyone else.

[1] Karolina Tetlak and Dick Molenaar, “Tax Exemptions for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine”, European Taxation, June 2012, page 328

[2] The French government and local authorities, on the other hand, are to provide the sites, infrastructure, public services and transportation. They are also responsible for public safety, and for promoting the country and host cities

[3] Timothy Lyons, “The modernisation of EU state aid law and taxation”, British Tax Review, 2014, 2, pages 113-114

[4] (1) The measure has to be selective; (2) granted through State resources; (3) it has to confer an economic advantage upon the recipient; and; (4) it must distort or threaten to distort competition and must have the potential to affect trade between Member States.

[5]  OJ C 384 of 10 December 1998, Commission Notice on the Application of the State Aid Rules to Measures relating to Direct Business Taxation, para. 3

[6] Case C-279/08 P, para. 51; Commission Decision SA.34914, para. 29

[7] See e.g. Joined Cases C-78/08 to C-80/08, Paint Graphos and others [2011], para. 49; Commission Decision SA.34914 - Alleged aid granted to offshore companies – Gibraltar Income Tax Act 2010, para. 28

[8] Commission Decision SA.34914, para. 31

[9] See e.g. Case C-279/08 P, Commission v Netherlands (NOx) [2011], para.62

[10] Joined Cases C-106/09 P and C-107/09 P, Commission and Spain v Government of Gibraltar and United Kingdom [2011], para. 36

[11] Commission Decision SA.29769, State aid to certain Spanish football clubs, para. 15

[12] Conor Quigley, “The notion of State aid in the EEC” [1988] European Law Review, pages 242 and 245

[13] Case T-211/05, Italy v Commisison, para.125

[14] Euro 2016: pourquoi offrir un cadeau fiscal à l’UEFA? Le Monde, 5 November 2014

[15] La France n’aurait pas eu l’Euro 2016 si elle n’avait pas défiscalisé l’UEFA, Le Monde, 5 November 2014

[16] Ibid

[17] Article 107 (3)c):Aid to facilitate the development of certain economic activities or of certain economic areas, where such aid does not adversely affect trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest may be considered to be compatible with the internal market.

Comments (1) -

  • The Complainant

    11/20/2014 12:21:59 PM |

    Great article and analysis. Vestager has just answered a question on this issue during her first press conference. No position yet but she is likely to be looking into it. Let's see whether the previous Commission's cosy relationship with UEFA will continue or come to an end. If it continues, the European Commission will be walking on very thing ice and could have a nasty legal surprise.  

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