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

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – November and December 2016. By Saverio Spera.

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 Russian State Doping Scandal and the crisis of the World Anti-Doping System

Russian doping and the state of the Anti-Doping System has been the dominant international sports law story in November and December. This is mainly due to the release of the second report of the McLaren’s investigation on 9 December 2016. The outcome of McLaren’s work showed a “well-oiled systemic cheating scheme” that reached to the highest level of Russian sports and government, involving the striking figure of 30 sports and more than 1000 athletes in doping practices over four years and two Olympic Games. The report detailed tampering with samples to swap out athletes’ dirty urine with clean urine.More...


FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 3: The compatibility of Article 19 with EU law. By Kester Mekenkamp.

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. This blog is, to a great extent, an excerpt of his forthcoming thesis, which he shall submit in order to complete his master’s degree.

This final blog aims to provide some broader perspective, by sketching first the grander scheme in which Article 19 RSTP – FIFA's provision on the protection of minors – operates. Thereafter, the focus will shift towards testing Article 19 RSTP, thereby keeping in mind the previous blogs (Part 1: The Early Years and Part 2: The 2009 reform and its aftermath), against EU free movement law.  


Putting Article 19 RSTP into perspective: The bigger picture

After having investigated the nuts and bolts of FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors in the first two parts of this blog, it might be useful to address its bigger picture.

Article 19 RSTP and its accompanying provisions regulate only a small share of the targeted activity. There is, unfortunately, also an illegal world. Circumvention of the prohibition is allegedly commonplace.[1] Visas and passports can be falsified.[2] Work permits can be obtained on the basis of jobs arranged by clubs.[3] More...


FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 2: The 2009 reform and its aftermath. By Kester Mekenkamp.

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. This blog is, to a great extent, an excerpt of his forthcoming thesis, which he shall submit in order to complete his master’s degree.


This is the second part of a three-piece blog on FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors, Article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. The contribution in its entirety aims to provide an encompassing overview of the rule’s lifespan since its inception in 2001. The previous (first) part has shed light on the “birth” and “first years” of the provision, and as such illustrated the relevant developments from 2001 till 2009. This second part covers the rule’s “adolescent years”, which span from 2009 to the present. The major changes put forward in the 2009, 2015 and 2016 versions of the RSTP will be addressed. Thereafter the important CAS decisions concerning Article 19, Muhic, Vada I and II, FC Barcelona, RFEF, and the FIFA decisions relating to Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, will be scrutinized. The third, and final, part will constitute a substantive assessment of the provision under EU Internal Market law.

Given that the version adopted in 2008 left Article 19 untouched, the 2009 RSTP represented the next significant step in the regulation of the protection of minors. It had become clear that the system as used up to that point was inadequate to achieve its goal,[1] most notably because several national associations still neglected to strictly apply the rules.[2] More...


FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 1: The Early Years. By Kester Mekenkamp.

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. This blog is, to a great extent, an excerpt of his forthcoming master thesis. 


On 24 November 2016, a claim was lodged before a Zurich commercial court against FIFA’s transfer regulations by a 17-year-old African football player.[1] The culprit, according to the allegation: The provision on the protection of minors, Article 19 of the Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players.[2] The claimant and his parents dispute the validity of this measure, based on the view that it discriminates between football players from the European Union and those from third countries. Besides to Swiss cartel law, the claim is substantiated on EU citizenship rights, free movement and competition law. Evidently, it is difficult to assess the claim’s chance of success based on the sparse information provided in the press.[3] Be that as it may, it does provide for an ideal (and unexpected) opportunity to delve into the fascinating subject of my master thesis on FIFA’s regulatory system aimed at enhancing the protection of young football players and its compatibility with EU law. This three-part blog shall therefore try to provide an encompassing overview of the rule’s lifespan since its inception in 2001. More...


The entitlement to Training Compensation of “previous” clubs under EU Competition Law. By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

Editor’s note: Josep F. Vandellos is an international sports lawyer associated to RH&C (Spain). He is also a member of the Editorial Board of the publication Football Legal and a guest lecturer in the ISDE-FC Barcelona Masters’ Degree in Sports Management and Legal Skills.


Article 6 of Annexe IV (Training compensation) of the FIFA-RSTP (Ed. 2016) contains the so-called “Special Provisions for the EU/EEA” applicable to players moving from one association to another inside the territory of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA).
The provisions regarding training compensation result from the understanding reached between FIFA and UEFA with the European Union in March 2001[1], and subsequent modifications introduced in the FIFA-RSTP revised version of 2005 to ensure the compatibility of the transfer system with EU law.[2]
This blog will focus on the exception contained in article 6(3) Annexe IV of the FIFA-RSTP. According to this article, when “the former club” fails to offer a contract to the player, it loses its right to claim training compensation from the players’ new club, unless it can justify that it is entitled to such compensation. Instead, the right of “previous clubs” to training compensation is fully preserved irrespective of their behaviour with the player.[3] From a legal standpoint, such discrimination between the “former club” and the “previous clubs” raises some questions that I will try to address in this paper. More...



The EU State aid and sport saga: The Real Madrid Decision (part 2)

This is the second and final part of the ‘Real Madrid Saga’. Where the first part outlined the background of the case and the role played by the Spanish national courts, the second part focuses on the EU Commission’s recovery decision of 4 July 2016 and dissects the arguments advanced by the Commission to reach it. As will be shown, the most important question the Commission had to answer was whether the settlement agreement of 29 July 2011 between the Council of Madrid and Real Madrid constituted a selective economic advantage for Real Madrid in the sense of Article 107(1) TFEU.[1] Before delving into that analysis, the blog will commence with the other pending question, namely whether the Commission also scrutinized the legality of the operation Bernabeú-Opañel under EU State aid law. By way of reminder, this operation consisted of Real Madrid receiving from the municipality the land adjacent to the Bernabéu stadium, while transferring in return €6.6 million, as well as plots of land in other areas of the city. More...

Resolution of Disputes Arising From Football Contracts in Turkey. By N. Emre Bilginoglu

Editor’s note: N. Emre Bilginoglu[1] is a lawyer based in Istanbul. His book entitled “Arbitration on Football Contracts” was published in 2015.


Introduction

With a total market value of approximately 911 million EUR, the Turkish Super League ranks as one of the prominent football leagues in Europe. Five of the eighteen teams that make up half of the total market value are based in Istanbul, a busy megalopolis that hosts a population of fifteen million inhabitants.[2] As might be expected, the elevated market value brings forth a myriad of disputes, mainly between the clubs and the players. However, other crucial actors such as coaches and agents are also involved in some of the disputes. These actors of the football industry are of all countries, coming from various countries with different legal systems.

One corollary of rapid globalisation is the development of transnational law, which is quite visible in the lex sportiva.[3] Like foreign investors, foreign actors of the sports industry look for some legal security before signing a contract. FIFA does protect these foreign actors in some way, providing players and coaches legal remedies for employment-related disputes of an international dimension. But what if the legal system of the FIFA member association does not provide a reasonable legal remedy for its national actors?[4] More...


The World Anti-Doping System at a Crossroads

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

Tomorrow the Foundation Board of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will gather in Glasgow for its most important meeting since the creation of the Agency. Since the broadcasting of a documentary alleging systematic doping in Russian athletics by the German public broadcaster in December 2014, the anti-doping world has been in disarray. The various independent investigations (the Pound Report and the McLaren Report) ordered by WADA into doping allegations against Russian athletes have confirmed the findings of the documentary and the truth of the accusations brought forward by Russian whistle-blowers. Undeniably, there is something very rotten in the world anti-doping system. The current system failed to register a widespread, and apparently relatively open, state-sponsored scheme aimed at manipulating any doping test conducted in Russian territory. Moreover, it was not WADA that uncovered it, but an independent journalist supported by courageous whistle-blowers. More...


The EU State aid and sport saga: The Real Madrid Decision (part 1)

Out of all the State aid investigations of recent years involving professional football clubs, the outcome of the Real Madrid case was probably the most eagerly awaited. Few football clubs have such a global impact as this Spanish giant, and any news item involving the club, whether positive or negative, is bound to make the headlines everywhere around the globe. But for many Spaniards, this case involves more than a simple measure by a public authority scrutinized by the European Commission. For them, it exemplifies the questionable relationship between the private and the public sector in a country sick of never-ending corruption scandals.[1] Moreover, Spain is only starting to recover from its worst financial crisis in decades, a crisis founded on real estate speculation, but whose effects were mostly felt by ordinary citizens.[2] Given that the Real Madrid case involves fluctuating values of land that are transferred from the municipality to the club, and vice versa, it represents a type of operation that used to be very common in the Spanish professional football sector, but has come under critical scrutiny in recent years.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp.

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
We are looking for an International Sports Law Intern (with a particular interest in the CAS)! More information can be found here.


The (terrible) State of the World Anti-Doping System

The fight against doping is still on top of the agenda after the Russian doping scandal. The national anti-doping organizations (NADOs) have reiterated their call for an in depth reform of the World Anti-Doping Agency at a special summit in Bonn, Germany. These reforms are deemed urgent and necessary to “restore confidence of clean athletes and those who value the integrity of sport” and secure “the public’s desire for a fair and level playing field”. The NADOs propose, amongst others things, to separate the investigatory, testing and results management functions from sports organizations, and to remove sports administrators from crucial anti-doping executive functions. More...




Asser International Sports Law Blog | Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals – Sporting Lisbon’s rebellion in the Rojo case. By Antoine Duval and Oskar van Maren

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

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals – Sporting Lisbon’s rebellion in the Rojo case. By Antoine Duval and Oskar van Maren

In this blog we continue unpacking Doyen’s TPO deals based on the documents obtained via footballleaks. This time we focus on the battle between Doyen and Sporting over the Rojo case, which raises different legal issues as the FC Twente deals dealt with in our first blog.

 

I.              The context: The free-fall of Sporting

Sporting Lisbon, or Sporting Club de Portugal as the club is officially known, is a Portuguese club active in 44 different sports. Although the club has the legal status of Sociedade Anónima Desportiva, a specific form of public limited company, it also has over 130.000 club members, making it one of the biggest sports clubs in the world.

The professional football branch of Sporting is by far the most important and famous part of the club, and with its 19 league titles in total, it is a proud member of the big three cartel, with FC Porto and Benfica, dominating Portuguese football. Yet, it has not won a league title since 2002.

The members of Sporting get to elect the club’s president. A typical election campaign is akin to a political one with regard to status, media coverage and campaign funds. In fact, former Sporting president Pedro Santana Lopes went on to become the Prime Minister of Portugal in 2004-2005. In 2011, the elections were hotly disputed with Godinho Lopes defeating his main rival Bruno de Carvalho by only 300 votes. A request by De Carvalho to recount the votes was later dismissed, causing local unrests and police intervention.

Under Godinho Lopes’ presidency, Sporting obtained very poor sporting results, including a seventh place in the 2012/13 season, the worst ranking in the club’s history. New elections were held in 2013 and won by Bruno de Carvalho in a landslide. In addition to underwhelming results on the field, it turned out that the financial health of the club off the field was also at risk. Bruno de Carvalho faced a loss of €43 million in the 2012/13 season alone. This large financial debt was one of the reasons why on 1 October 2014, the General Assembly approved the proposal by the new Board of Directors to press liability charges against Godinho Lopes for breaching due diligence duties.

In the midst of the financial and managerial chaos surrounding Sporting, one dispute stands out as being relevant to our series of blogs on Doyen’s TPO deals. Faced with financial difficulties, Godinho Lopes had recourse to Doyen Sport to finance the recruitment of a number of players, amongst them Marco Rojo, an Argentine defender coming from Spartak Moscow in 2012. After two years at the club, the player was transferred against a healthy €20 million fee to Manchester United in 2014. However, the club staunchly refused to pay out the share of the economic rights owned by Doyen. Thus, giving way to a legal dispute on which we will put the spotlight in this blog. Although the case is still pending in front of CAS, several documents related to it were published on the footballleaks website.[1]

 

II.            The facts: the Rojo case

Before analysing the fine prints of the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA) between Doyen and Sporting concerning the economic rights of Rojo, a bit of background on the player and his career is needed. Marcos Rojo is an Argentine professional football player who appeared on the elite football scene at a young age. In 2009, by the age of 19, he won the Copa Libertadores with his side Estudiantes de la Plata, and in 2011, aged 21, he was a regular starter for the Argentinian national team during the Copa America. Sporting, under Godinho’s presidency, signed Rojo from Spartak Moscow for €5.43 million in July 2012.[2] In order to finance the signing of Rojo, Sporting needed fresh money, thus it turned to Doyen as a “last resort initiative”.[3] As provided by the ERPA, the Maltese investment company paid € 3 million and obtained in return 75% of Rojo’s Economic rights. The agreement includes similar provisions to the ones outlined in detail in our FC Twente blog. Notably, in the case Sporting would receive a transfer offer for Rojo of more than €8 million, Doyen could request that the club accept the offer or pay an amount equivalent to 75% of the offer to buy back the rights of the player from the fund. Moreover, in the case the club was to renew the contract of the player or failed to avoid that his contract runs out, it was bound to pay a minimum fee of €4.2 million (in case of renewal, Doyen could also chose to keep its share of the player’s economic rights).

Rojo’s outstanding 2014 World Cup (he was selected for the World Cup All-Star Team) triggered interest from English Premier League clubs, most notably Southampton and Manchester United. Both sides were keen on signing him in the summer of 2014, but Sporting president De Carvalho had no intention of selling him. According to De Carvalho, Rojo was key to the club’s ambition of becoming Portuguese champion. Sporting claimed that Doyen, via its director Nelio Lucas, was “promoting and forcing this transfer” and, thus, “violating his duty to respect Sporting’s independence in transfer related matters”.[4] De Carvalho maintained that Doyen’s influence breached then art.18bis of the FIFA RSTP. In retaliation against Doyen’s perceived influence, Sporting refused to pay to Doyen the agreed 75% share of the proceeds from the transfer of Rojo to Manchester United. Instead, it argued that Doyen had breached its contractual duties and declared the ERPA (and the guarantees attached to it) null and void. Nonetheless, the club did transfer back to Doyen the €3 million it invested at the outset. Hence, Sporting put Doyen’s contractual edifice to the test and Doyen was forced to go to court (and more precisely to the Court of Arbitration for Sport) to try to enforce its rights under the ERPA agreement.

 

III.         The showdown: The CAS as ultimate arbiter of the legality of Doyen’s TPO contracts

The ERPA signed by Doyen and Sporting contains both a clause defining Swiss law as the law applicable to the contract and the CAS as the jurisdiction competent to deal with disputes arising out of the contract.[5] Henceforth, it was mandatory for Doyen to turn to the CAS as soon as it became obvious that it would not recoup the 75% it believes it was owed on Rojo’s transfer. The dispute was finally heard by a CAS panel in June of this year and the final decision is still, as far as we know, pending (see the outstanding coverage of the issue by Tariq Panja from Bloomberg, here and here). The case is of great importance to Doyen, if the CAS finds that Doyen’s ERPA is contrary to Swiss law, this finding will most likely apply to each of Doyen’s TPO deals that are based on a similar model and dramatically weaken its contractual position. The good news for Doyen is that it probably has only relatively few ERPA’s still in place (for example FC Twente and Doyen agreed to put an end to their agreement), as the FIFA ban should have blocked it from entering into new agreements.

This case is not about former article 18bis of the FIFA RSTP, as is often misunderstood. This would come only into play if FIFA were to sanction Sporting for having had recourse to an ERPA with Doyen, an issue that might still arise and a configuration potentially already at play in the FC Twente case. The Rojo dispute between Sporting and Doyen, however, is of a purely contractual nature. It is only about whether Doyen’s TPO deals are compatible with Swiss civil law. In this regard, footballleaks has recently published a very interesting document: a confidential report by a Swiss law firm on the legality of Doyen’s Model ERPA in light of Swiss law. This report raises a number of thorny legal issues that the CAS will have to weigh on.

The ERPA between Doyen and Sporting must abide by the requirements of Swiss civil law. In general, the Swiss Civil Code is favourable to contractual autonomy, yet there are some restrictions to the freedom of the parties. To be valid, an agreement should not be contrary to the bonos mores. In other words, the moral values or ethical principles supported by the Swiss legal system. Indeed, as foreseen by Art. 20.1 of the Swiss Code of Obligations, a “contract is void if its terms are impossible, unlawful or immoral”.

The whole Rojo case in front of the CAS is likely to hang on the determination whether Doyen’s ERPA model is immoral or not from the Swiss perspective. Immorality is constituted especially if the contract introduces a serious imbalance between the obligations of the parties. The Swiss law firm mandated by Doyen doubted the signature of an ERPA would create such imbalance, simply because “both the FUND [Doyen] and the Club have rights and obligations according to the Agreement”.[6] This falls a bit short. As we have seen, Doyen uses the leverage offered by the financial difficulties of clubs (FC Twente or Sporting) to impose very harsh contractual conditions and high interest rates. This harshness is clearly acknowledged in the ERPA. For example, clause 10.6 indicates that Sporting “is conscious of the harshness and the severity of the consequences of clauses 10.4 and 10.5”. Whether the embedded contractual imbalance in the ERPA is sufficient to be deemed immoral under Swiss law is for the CAS to decide, but it is not a possibility that should be discarded lightly. Moreover, this potential immorality is also supported by the willingness of FIFA to ban TPO as it points at the conflicts of interest and integrity risks arising out of its use.

The ERPA could also be contrary to art. 27.2 of the Swiss Civil Code, which provides that: “No person may surrender his or her freedom or restrict the use of it to a degree which violates the law or public morals”. According to the Swiss law firm contracted by Doyen, this is especially the case if a legal entity’s “economic freedom is restricted in such a way that its economic existence is in danger”.[7] It also argued that, “the undertakings of the Club cannot in principle be considered excessive”, as “there is no obvious disparity between the considerations of the Parties”.[8] Here again, the arguments provided by Doyen’s law firm are feeble at best. In fact, the contractual imbalance is openly acknowledged in Doyen’s own contract. The economic freedom of Sporting (or FC Twente for that matter) is so drastically reduced that a club is forced into selling its best players at Doyen’s will.[9] Those players are at the heart of the “economic existence” of a club. In fact, the fate of FC Twente illustrates how the loss of its best players led to the club facing financial and sporting bankruptcy.

Finally, Sporting is also likely to have argued that Doyen was in breach of its contractual duties. Clause 14 of the ERPA stipulates that Doyen “recognizes that the Club is an independent entity in so far as the Club’s employment and transfer-related matters are concerned and [Doyen] shall not, either though this Agreement or otherwise, seek to exert influence over these matters […]”. The Club claimed in its termination letter of the ERPA that “Doyen has seriously and irremediably violated its obligations of non-influence in Sporting transfer policy […] which constitutes a material breach of the agreement”. Swiss contract law may entail the right for Sporting to refuse to execute its part of the deal in case of breach of contract by Doyen. In that regard, Sporting would have had to factually demonstrate the faulty character of Doyen’s intervention in Rojo’s transfer.

It is certainly not a given that the CAS will consider Doyen’s ERPA contrary to Swiss law or for Doyen to be in breach of its contractual duties, but there are credible legal arguments that point in both directions. Surely, the hubris of the management of Sporting and FC Twente is chiefly responsible for the terrible deals closed with Doyen. Yet, Doyen leveraged their dire financial situations and irrational ambitions to strong-arm them into one-sided agreements that are imposing unfair terms on the clubs. Doyen takes on very little risk: If a player fails to become a star, the fund will recoup its investment plus very reasonable interests (unless the club is bankrupt); if a player breaks through, it will pocket the jackpot. The fund is a true vulture fund geared to the football industry. It buys under-priced assets (economic rights attached to players) in fire sales and hopes for a huge profit.

We will hear soon from the CAS whether it deems this practice legal under Swiss law. In any event, FIFA has decided to ban TPO outright, raising the opposite question of the compatibility of the ban with EU law. This will be the subject of our final blog.

 


[1] The documents used, especially the ERPA applicable to Rojo and the termination letter send out by Sporting, might be blocked or unavailable due to complaints lodged by Doyen. They are on file with the authors.

[2] http://www.transfermarkt.nl/marcos-rojo/profil/spieler/93176.

[3] Rojo ERPA, 23 August 2012, p.2.

[4] Letter of termination of the ERPA, 14 August 2014, para.15. See also paras 17-20.

[5] Rojo ERPA, 23 August 2012, clause 22 and 23.

[6] FRORIEP, ‘Memorandum on certain questions of Swiss law in relation to a draft ERPA’, para.16.

[7] Ibid, para.23.

[8] Ibid, para.25.

[9] Doyen could not ignore the fact that those clubs were in such financial difficulties, that they would be unable to pay on their own the share of a transfer offer above the agreed amount and thus retain their player.

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