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 Olympic Agenda 2020: The devil is in the implementation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Rights in Professional Basketball (Part I): The ‘in-n-out rimshot’ of the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal to enforce players’ image rights contracts. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

A warning addressed to fans of French teams featuring in the recently launched video game NBA 2K15: Hurry up! The last jump ball for Strasbourg and Nanterre in NBA 2K 15 may occur earlier than expected. The French Labour Union of Basketball (Syndicat National du Basket, SNB) is dissatisfied that Euroleague and 2K Games did not ask (nor paid) for its permission before including the two teams of Pro A in the NBA 2K15 edition. What is at issue? French basketball players’ image rights have been transferred to SNB, which intends to start proceedings before the US Courts against 2K Games requesting 120.000 euros for unauthorized use of the players’ image rights. SNB is clear: it is not about the money, but rather to defend the players’ rights.[1] Strasbourg and Nanterre risk to “warm up” the virtual bench if this litigation goes ahead. 

Source: More...

Sport and EU Competition Law: uncharted territories - (II) Mandatory player release systems with no compensation for clubs. By Ben Van Rompuy

The European Commission’s competition decisions in the area of sport, which set out broad principles regarding the interface between sports-related activities and EU competition law, are widely publicized. As a result of the decentralization of EU competition law enforcement, however, enforcement activity has largely shifted to the national level. Since 2004, national competition authorities (NCAs) and national courts are empowered to fully apply the EU competition rules on anti-competitive agreements (Article 101 TFEU) and abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 TFEU).

Even though NCAs and national courts have addressed a series of interesting competition cases (notably dealing with the regulatory aspects of sport) during the last ten years, the academic literature has largely overlooked these developments. This is unfortunate since all stakeholders (sports organisations, clubs, practitioners, etc.) increasingly need to learn from pressing issues arising in national cases and enforcement decisions. In a series of blog posts we will explore these unknown territories of the application of EU competition law to sport.

In this second installment of this blog series, we discuss a recent judgment of the regional court (Landgericht) of Dortmund finding that the International Handball Federation (IHF)’s mandatory release system of players for matches of national teams without compensation infringes EU and German competition law.[1] More...

The CAS Ad Hoc Division in 2014: Business as usual? – Part.1: The Jurisdiction quandary

The year is coming to an end and it has been a relatively busy one for the CAS Ad Hoc divisions. Indeed, the Ad Hoc division was, as usual now since the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996[1], settling  “Olympic” disputes during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, it was also, and this is a novelty, present at the Asian Games 2014 in Incheon.  Both divisions have had to deal with seven (published) cases in total (four in Sochi and three in Incheon). The early commentaries available on the web (here, here and there), have been relatively unmoved by this year’s case law. Was it then simply ‘business as usual’, or is there more to learn from the 2014 Ad Hoc awards? Two different dimensions of the 2014 decisions by the Ad Hoc Division seem relevant to elaborate on : the jurisdiction quandary (part. 1) and the selection drama (part. 2). More...

Sports Politics before the CAS II: Where does the freedom of speech of a Karate Official ends? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

On 6 October 2014, the CAS upheld the appeal filed by the former General Secretary of the World Karate Federation (WKF), George Yerolimpos, against the 6 February 2014 decision of the WKF Appeal Tribunal. With the award, the CAS confirmed a six-months membership suspension imposed upon the Appellant by the WKF Disciplinary Tribunal.[1] At a first glance, the case at issue seems to be an ordinary challenge of a disciplinary sanction imposed by a sports governing body. Nevertheless, this appeal lies at the heart of a highly acrimonious political fight for the leadership of the WKF, featuring two former ‘comrades’:  Mr Yerolimpos and Mr Espinos (current president of WKF). As the CAS puts it very lucidly, "this is a story about a power struggle within an international sporting body"[2], a story reminding the Saturn devouring his son myth.

This case, therefore, brings the dirty laundry of sports politics to the fore. Interestingly enough, this time the CAS does not hesitate to grapple with the political dimension of the case. More...

The new “Arrangement” between the European Commission and UEFA: A political capitulation of the EU

Yesterday, the European Commission stunned the European Sports Law world when it announced unexpectedly that it had signed a “partnership agreement with UEFA named (creatively): ‘The Arrangement for Cooperation between the European Commission and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)’. The press release indicates that this agreement is to “commit the two institutions to working together regularly in a tangible and constructive way on matters of shared interest”. The agreement was negotiated (as far as we know) secretly with UEFA. Despite recent meetings between EU Commissioner for sport Vassiliou and UEFA President Platini, the eventuality of such an outcome was never evoked. It is very unlikely that third-interested-parties (FIFPro, ECA, Supporters Direct etc.) were consulted in the process of drafting this Arrangement. This surprising move by an outgoing Commission will be analysed in a three-ponged approach. First, we will discuss the substance of the Arrangement (I). Thereafter, we will consider its potential legal value under EU law (II). Finally, and maybe more importantly, we will confront the political relevance of the agreement (III).  More...

Sports Politics before the CAS: Early signs of a ‘constitutional’ role for CAS? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

It took almost six months, a record of 26 witnesses and a 68 pages final award for the CAS to put an end to a long-delayed, continuously acrimonious and highly controversial presidential election for the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). Worawi Makudi can sit easy and safe on the throne of the FAT for his fourth consecutive term, since the CAS has dismissed the appeal filed by the other contender, Virach Chanpanich.[1]

Interestingly enough, it is one of the rare times that the CAS Appeal Division has been called to adjudicate on the fairness and regularity of the electoral process of a sports governing body. Having been established as the supreme judge of sports disputes, by reviewing the electoral process of international and national sports federations the CAS adds to its functions a role akin to the one played by a constitutional court in national legal systems. It seems that members of international and national federations increasingly see the CAS as an ultimate guardian of fairness and validity of internal electoral proceedings. Are these features - without prejudice to the CAS role as an arbitral body- the early sign of the emergence of a Constitutional Court for Sport? More...

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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

Olympic Agenda 2020: To bid, or not to bid, that is the question!

This post is an extended version of an article published in August on

The recent debacle among the candidate cities for the 2022 Winter Games has unveiled the depth of the bidding crisis faced by the Olympic Games. The reform process initiated in the guise of the Olympic Agenda 2020 must take this disenchantment seriously. The Olympic Agenda 2020 took off with a wide public consultation ending in April and is now at the end of the working groups phase. One of the working groups was specifically dedicated to the bidding process and was headed by IOC vice-president John Coates.  More...

The CAS jurisprudence on match-fixing in football: What can we learn from the Turkish cases? - Part 2: The procedural aspects. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

With this blog post, we continue the blog series on Turkish match-fixing cases and our attempt to map the still unchartered waters of the CAS’s match-fixing jurisprudence.

The first blog post addressed two issues related to the substance of match-fixing disputes, namely the legal characterization of the match-fixing related measure of ineligibility under Article 2.08 of the UEL Regulations as administrative or disciplinary measure and the scope of application of Article 2.08. In addition, The Turkish cases have raised procedural and evidentiary issues that need to be dealt with in the framework of match-fixing disputes.

The CAS panels have drawn a clear line between substantial and procedural matters. In this light, the Eskişehirspor panel declared the nature of Article 2.08 UEL Regulations to be administrative and rejected the application of UEFA Disciplinary Regulations to the substance. Nonetheless, it upheld that disciplinary rules and standards still apply to the procedure. This conclusion, however, can be considered puzzling in that disciplinary rules apply to the procedural matters arising by a pure administrative measure. To this extent, and despite the bifurcation of different applicable rules into substantial and procedural matters, the credibility of the qualification of Article 2.08 as administrative seems to be undermined. And here a question arises: How can the application of rules of different nature to substantial and procedural matters in an identical match-fixing dispute be explained?More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga – A blockade to Florentino Perez’ latest “galactic” ambitions (part 2)

This is the second part of a blog series on the Real Madrid State aid case. In the previous blog on this case, an outline of all the relevant facts was provided and I analysed the first criterion of Article 107(1) TFEU, namely the criterion that an advantage must be conferred upon the recipient for the measure to be considered State aid. Having determined that Real Madrid has indeed benefited from the land transactions, the alleged aid measure has to be scrutinized under the other criteria of Article 107(1): the measure must be granted by a Member State or through State resources; the aid granted must be selective; and it must distorts or threatens to distort competition. In continuation, this blog will also analyze whether the alleged aid measure could be justified and declared compatible with EU law under Article 107(3) TFEU.More...

The CAS jurisprudence on match-fixing in football: What can we learn from the Turkish cases? - Part 1 - By Thalia Diathesopoulou

The editor’s note:

Two weeks ago we received the unpublished CAS award rendered in the Eskişehirspor case and decided to comment on it. In this post Thalia Diathesopoulou (Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre) analyses the legal steps followed and interpretations adopted by CAS panels in this case and in a series of other Turkish match-fixing cases. The first part of the post will deal with the question of the legal nature of the ineligibility decision opposed by UEFA to clubs involved in one way or another into match-fixing and with the personal and material scope of UEFA’s rule on which this ineligibility is based. The second part is dedicated to the procedural rules applied in match-fixing cases.


The unpredictability of the outcome is a sine qua non feature of sports. It is this inherent uncertainty that draws the line between sports and entertainment and triggers the interest of spectators, broadcasters and sponsors. Thus, match-fixing by jeopardising the integrity and unpredictability of sporting outcomes has been described, along with doping, as one of the major threats to modern sport.[1] More...

Sport and EU Competition Law: uncharted territories - (I) The Swedish Bodybuilding case. By Ben Van Rompuy

The European Commission’s competition decisions in the area of sport, which set out broad principles regarding the interface between sports-related activities and EU competition law, are widely publicized. As a result of the decentralization of EU competition law enforcement, however, enforcement activity has largely shifted to the national level. Since 2004, national competition authorities (NCAs) and national courts are empowered to fully apply the EU competition rules on anti-competitive agreements (Article 101 TFEU) and abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 TFEU).

Even though NCAs have addressed a series of interesting competition cases (notably dealing with the regulatory aspects of sport) during the last ten years, the academic literature has largely overlooked these developments. This is unfortunate since all stakeholders (sports organisations, clubs, practitioners, etc.) increasingly need to learn from pressing issues arising in national cases and enforcement decisions. In a series of blog posts we will explore these unknown territories of the application of EU competition law to sport.More...

The Legia Warszawa case: The ‘Draconian’ effect of the forfeiture sanction in the light of the proportionality principle. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

The CAS denial of the urgent request for provisional measures filed by the Legia Warszawa SA in the course of its appeal against the UEFA Appeals Body Decision of 13 August 2014 put a premature end to Legia’s participation in the play-offs of the UEFA Champion’s League (CL) 2014/2015. Legia’s fans- and fans of Polish football - will now have to wait at least one more year to watch a Polish team playing in the CL group stage for the first time since 1996. More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga – A blockade to Florentino Perez’ latest “galactic” ambitions (part 1)

This is the first part of a blog series involving the Real Madrid State aid case.

Apart from being favoured by many of Spain’s most important politicians, there have always been suspicions surrounding the world’s richest football club regarding possible financial aid by the Madrid City Council. Indeed, in the late 90’s a terrain qualification change by the Madrid City Council proved to be tremendously favourable to the king’s club. The change allowed Real Madrid to sell its old training grounds for a huge sum. Though the exact price for the grounds remains unknown, Real Madrid was suddenly capable of buying players like Figo and Zidane for record fees. However, the European Commission, even though agreeing that an advantage was conferred to the club, simply stated that the new qualification of the terrain in question does not appear to involve any transfer of resources by the State and could therefore not be regarded as State aid within the meaning of article 107 TFEU.

Agreements between the club and the Council have been a regularity for the last 25 years.  A more recent example concerns an agreement signed on 29 July 2011 (Convenio29-07-2011.pdf (8MB). More...

UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations Put PSG and Manchester City on a Transfer Diet

The main lesson of this year’s transfer window is that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules have a true bite (no pun intended). Surely, the transfer fees have reached usual highs with Suarez’s move to FC Barcelona and Rodriguez’s transfer from AS Monaco to Real Madrid and overall spending are roughly equal to 2013 (or go beyond as in the UK). But clubs sanctioned under the FFP rules (prominently PSG and Manchester City) have seemingly complied with the settlements reached with UEFA capping their transfer spending and wages. More...

Right to Privacy 1:0 Whereabouts Requirement - A Case Note on a Recent Decision by the Spanish Audiencia Nacional

On the 24th June 2014 the Spanish Audiencia Nacional issued its ruling on a hotly debated sports law topic: The whereabouts requirements imposed to athletes in the fight against doping. This blog aims to go beyond the existing commentaries (here and here) of the case, by putting it in the wider context of a discussion on the legality of the whereabouts requirements. More...

The Rules of the Electoral Game for the FIFA 2015 Presidential Elections

After the success of this year’s World Cup in Brazil, FIFA President Sepp Blatter can start concentrating on his Presidential campaign for next June’s FIFA elections. Even though the 78-year old Swiss is not officially a candidate yet, he is still very popular in large parts of the world, and therefore the favourite to win the race. Nonetheless, even for the highly experienced Mr. Blatter these elections will be different. All candidates will have to respect the newly introduced Electoral Regulations for the FIFA PresidencyMore...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Balancing Athletes’ Interests and The Olympic Partner Programme: the Bundeskartellamt’s Rule 40 Decision - By Thomas Terraz

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.


2        Rule 40 in Context

Before dissecting the decision, the considerable impact of the IOC’s rule 40 and its implementation by national Olympic committees (NOCs) must be emphasized. Many athletes look to the Olympic Games as a unique opportunity to gain exposure and benefit financially from their accomplishments, especially considering that many athletes who qualify for the Olympic Games struggle to make a living from their sport. Athletes are greatly reliant on external funding, particularly from sponsors, to fund their career.[3] To further complicate matters, many sports only enjoy a meaningful spotlight during the Olympic Games. Hence, athletes in those sports view the Games as an unparalleled occasion to become known to a wider public and gain new sponsors. So, why does the IOC restrict these opportunities?

Rule 40’s existence is principally due to The Olympic Partner Programme (TOP), a closed group of thirteen sponsors, which was created in 1985 with the aim of diversifying and securing greater means of funding for the Olympic Games.  It was the brainchild of Michael Payne who has defended the importance of preserving the ‘value of the Olympic sponsorship program’ to prevent a return to the days where the funding of the Games was highly dependent on ticket sales.[4] For the IOC, preserving the value of TOP has meant taking aggressive actions against ambush marketing, which according to Payne is ‘any communication or activity that implies, or from which one could reasonably infer, that an organisation is associated with an event, when in fact it is not’. Payne describes the ways in which the IOC has attempted to tackle ambush marketing, which includes educating the public about ambush marketing, preventing ambush marketing through prohibiting non-sponsor association and controlling Olympic imagery among other methods, and finally legal action, which according to Payne, ‘the mere threat of this is often enough to bring the offending party into line’. In this view, rule 40 can mainly be categorized as a preventative measure.

Rule 40 has also experienced an evolution ever since it was first introduced in 1991 into the OC, which has also meant that ‘defining the scope of rule 40 and understanding its nuances is a process that evolves with each iteration of the games’.[5] Although rule 40 has recently moved from a general ban on advertising with limited exceptions into allowing it under severe restrictions, it remains to be seen whether the IOC will fundamentally rethink the conditions applied to athlete advertising. Meanwhile, athletes, who were partly the initiators of the complaint to the Bundeskartellamt, have perhaps realized that public awareness campaigns have not brought about the drastic change they had hoped for. In the present case, the Bundeskartellamt’s attention was drawn to rule 40 OC after a complaint from Athleten Deutschland (German Athlete Commission) and Bundesverband der Deutschen Sportartikelindustrie (Federal Association of the German Sports Goods Industry).


3        Background to the Decision

Before examining the substance of the Bundeskartellamt’s decision, it is important to understand that rule 40, as it was analyzed in the decision, was the one that was in place in the lead up to the Rio 2016 Games.[6] It states:

 “Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, team official or other team personnel who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture, or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.”

In other words, a general ban on advertisement with limited exceptions. The applicable conditions meant that only athletes with TOP sponsors could launch an advertising campaign during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and ongoing campaigns from non-TOP sponsors were subject to authorization. Further complicating the matter, NOCs could introduce additional restrictions or opt-out completely from allowing their athletes to advertise during the frozen period.[7] The German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB), in its 2016 guidelines[AD1]  (page 78), distinguished between DOSB sponsors, Olympic sponsors and non-Olympic sponsors.[8] In the case of non-Olympic sponsors, ‘only advertising activities which had started at least three months prior to the Olympic Games had a chance of being approved’, which means potential sponsors needed to have early concepts ready before that date (early April). It should also be noted that at that time, the DOSB had not yet nominated any athletes for the Olympic Games. In addition to the deadlines, references to the Olympic Movement were strictly forbidden, which included an incredibly broad list of words and phrases.[9] If they wanted to participate in the Games, athletes were forced to subscribe to these rules via the athlete agreement (page 83) [AD2] and any breach could imply sanctions, which included removal from the Olympic Team.[10]

The conditions that these rules impose is succinctly summarized by Grady who explains that though the IOC claimed it had relaxed its rules, it ‘did not create the kinds of opportunities that the IOC may have envisioned’, which in effect ‘precluded almost all but the most powerful global brands from taking full advantage of the ability to feature Olympic athletes during the Games’, a view that was acknowledged by the Bundeskartellamt.[11]


4        The Bundeskartellamt’s Decision

Although the present case was resolved through the commitments made by the IOC, the Bundeskartellamt still provided a preliminary assessment concerning the relevant market, the abuse of a dominant position, possible justifications, and proportionality, which are analyzed below.

4.1       Relevant Market

Having decided to resolve the case on the basis of Article 102 TFEU,[12] the Bundeskartellamt identified the relevant market on the basis of a ‘modified concept of demand-side substitutability’ and defined the market as the ‘market for the organisation and marketing of the Olympic Games’.[13] It considered that the Olympic Games was an event that differed from other major sport events from the consumers’ point of view because of the wide variety of sports that are covered and because certain sports which perhaps are not normally broadcasted in a particular country receive extensive media coverage during the Games.[14] The Bundeskartellamt supported its analysis of the relevant market by referring to MOTOE in which the CJEU also defined the ‘relevant product market for the organisation (and marketing) of sports events according to the type of sport’.[15] Lastly, it found that the athletes participating in the Games to be ‘customers of the organisation and marketing of sport events’.[16] ‘Other well-known competitions’ could be considered as an alternative for certain athletes, however, many athletes practice sports that receive very little media attention outside the Games, meaning that overall the substitutability between the Olympic Games and other major sports events is limited.[17]

4.2       An Abuse of a Dominant Position

Next, the Bundeskartellamt considered the members of the Olympic Movement to be in a collectively dominant position in the aforementioned market and deemed them to be undertakings regardless of the fact that they do not make a profit.[18] It also asserted that the members of the Olympic Movement were abusing their dominant position, hindering effective competition, for several reasons. First, the registration deadlines to request authorization were set too early since athletes did not know whether they were even going to the Olympics in the first place. Moreover, the Bundeskartellamt ruled that the very use of registration and authorization criteria could have a prohibitive effect for certain kinds of advertisements. Even though ‘ongoing’ advertisement could be approved, it was still subject to restrictions since it could not use any ‘designations and symbols as well as images and videos’ connected to the Olympic Games.[19] As stated earlier, these are very extensive and make it ‘difficult to market an athlete’s participation in the Olympic Games’.[20] In the end, the sanctions that athletes could face exacerbated the restriction on competition, especially since the sanctions had no proportionality requirements and an appeal could only be made to the CAS.[21]

4.3       Justifications

At this point the Bundeskartellamt moved to make a preliminary assessment as to whether the abuse of the dominant position inherently pursued legitimate objectives and whether the restriction is proportionate to its claimed objective (the Wouters test[22]).  It is interesting to note that the Bundeskartellamt decided to apply the Wouters test to an Article 102 TFEU case and expressly stated that ‘it is to be assumed that the criteria are also meant to apply with regard to the applicability of Art. 82 EC’ (now Article 102 TFEU) in referring to the CJEU’s Meca-Medina case.[23]  Only one of the pursued objectives of the IOC was considered legitimate, while all the others, including ‘preserving the financial stability and sustainability of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games’, ‘preserving the value of the Olympic brand to finance the Olympic solidarity model’, and ‘preventing the excessive commercialisation of the Olympic Games’, were not found to be legitimate.[24] The three rejected objectives reflects the decisional practice of the Commission and the CJEU that ‘economic aims cannot justify restrictions’, which the Bundeskartellamt directly acknowledges.[25] This is why it is interesting that the Bundeskartellamt then found that the ‘prevention of ambush marketing during the frozen period in order to safeguard the funding of the Olympic Games, facilitated in part by Olympic sponsorship programmes, and thus to ensure that the Games can be held on a regular basis’ as the only legitimate objective.[26]

A literal reading of this aim seemingly exposes an economic dimension since the IOC wishes to protect TOP and as a consequence, its own budget. However, the Bundeskartellamt was convinced by the IOC’s contention that this was no economic objective,[27] since the ultimate aim of the objective is to ensure the Olympic Games’ consistent occurrence. It could be argued that there are in fact two objectives mangled into one: (1) the prevention of ambush marketing to protect TOP (an economically motivated objective) and (2) ensuring the regular occurrence of the Games (a non-economically motivated objective). The Bundeskartellamt decided to not disentangle the two and accepted that they were in fact one inseparable objective, whereby the latter sub-objective ultimately sidelines the economic dimension of the first. On the other hand, the CJEU’s case law on economic justifications has not been entirely consistent and there has been occasions where it has accepted economic justifications.[28] Furthermore, an efficiency defense could also allow for economic justifications in which the IOC could argue that preventing ambush marketing in order to protect TOP benefits consumers, outweighing any negative effects to competition.[29] In the end, it might be desirable that any future analysis of this dual objective at least acknowledge that there is an underlying economic interest. [TT3] 

4.4       Proportionality

Before analyzing the proportionality of the measure in terms of the prevention of ambush marketing, the Bundeskartellamt defined ambush marketing as ‘the planned endeavour of a company, which is not an official sponsor of a major (sports) event, to attract public attention to its own business by means of marketing activities related to the event, and thus to profit from the communication performance of the event (e.g. high profile, image) without making a financial contribution’.[30] In the corresponding footnote, the Bundeskartellamt makes reference to the definitions of ambush marketing on Wikipedia, which upon closer inspection is taken from Manuela Sachse’s book Negative Kommunikationseffekte von Sponsoring und Ambush-Marketing bei Sportgroßveranstaltungen. It is rather unfortunate that the Bundeskartellamt did not elaborate on why it chose this particular definition of ambush marketing.

Nonetheless, on the formal aspects, the Bundeskartellamt held that the DOSB’s pre-authorization scheme for individual advertisements was disproportionate, especially due to the deadlines. Moving to substantive aspects, it maintained that individual advertisement could only be prohibited if it violated specific legal provisions such as intellectual property rights or specific contractual obligations.[31] Violations of property rights ‘only exist in cases where the public perception is that there are economic and organisation relations between the owner of the property rights and the company which uses Olympic designations’, referring to the jurisprudence of the German Federal Court of Justice.[32] The Bundeskartellamt makes reference to the reasonably well-informed consumer standard, which is also recognized in EU law,[33] to explain that consumers are able to differentiate between ‘a sponsor’s advertising and a reference to the Olympic Games in a promotional context’ and that simply a positive association or temporal connection with the Olympic Games and Olympic Movement is not a violation of intellectual property rights.[34] In this regard, the Bundeskartellamt only found prohibiting the use of ‘Team Deutschland’ during the Olympic Games and the use of ‘a combination of the respective location and the year’, e.g. Rio 2016, during the frozen period to be proportionate, while finding the other restrictions to be disproportionate.[35] In terms of the restrictions on photos and social media posts, the Bundeskartellamt held that the general prohibition of taking photos at Olympic venues for individual advertising measures and posts on social media accounts that do not have any protected ‘designations or symbols’ to be disproportionate.[36]

Ultimately, the sanctions, in particular sporting sanctions, were judged to be disproportionate because of their potential impact on athletes’ careers, since they could affect the athletes existing and future sponsorship opportunities and a competition ban could also, depending on the athlete’s age and the ban’s length, end an athlete’s career. The very existence of sporting sanctions could have a ‘deterrent effect’.[37] Additionally, the CAS’ exclusive jurisdiction over disputes could jeopardize the effectiveness of competition law since ‘there is no guarantee that the parties’ action against an athlete will also be subject to judicial review under European antitrust law’, especially when considering that neither the Swiss or German courts would conduct such a review in an action against the enforcement of the award.[38]  Sports sanctions are also typically carried out by the sport bodies themselves, without intervention of public bodies. Interestingly, the Bundeskartellamt acknowledged the German athletes’ position that the CAS proceedings were longer and more costly than proceedings in front of German courts, which directly contradicts the IOC’s claimed benefits of sports arbitration.[39]


5        The Commitments and Potential for Further Intervention Under EU law

After two rounds of negotiations, the DOSB was able to put an end to its infringements by making several commitments that brought its policy on athlete advertisement into line with the Bundeskartellamt’s findings. The commitments submitted after the first round did not go far enough to quell the competition concerns and most sponsors and athletes found ‘little or no improvement in the modified guidelines’. The original commitments were deemed to be too restrictive on the protected Olympic related terms, not provide sufficient opportunities for advertising on social media, not sufficiently delineate the responsibilities of the different parties, and the exclusive jurisdiction of the CAS coupled with sporting sanctions continued to have ‘a strong deterrent effect’.[40] After the second round of negotiations, the most important  commitments included: (1) no more authorization required for advertisements during the frozen period and instead athletes can request that the DOSB review planned advertisements beforehand to confirm if it meets the admissibility criteria; (2) advertisement campaigns may now be launched during the frozen period; (3) pictures of athletes during Olympic competitions may be used for advertisement so long as it does not include protected Olympic logos, symbols or designations; (4) videos[41] are restricted only to the German House, the Olympic village or the back of house areas and (5) sports related sanctions are no longer available (only economic sanctions are possible) and athletes may have recourse to German courts. All in all, the new Guidelines will allow athletes to advertise during the Games provided that they observe certain restrictions that mainly relate to intellectual property rights.[42] This compromise fosters a far better balance between the IOC’s interests to protect the value of the Games and TOP and the athletes’ wish to expand their financial opportunities during perhaps the most important time of their careers.

The analysis undertaken by the Bundeskartelamt is likely to influence any future intervention of the European Commission on this issue. After all, it is quite possible that the Commission may have to take action since the Bundeskartellamt’s decision ‘is enforceable only as regards individual advertising and marketing activities of German Olympic athletes on the German market’. In doing so, the Commission may have to elaborate whether a pre-authorization scheme for advertisements with reasonable deadlines could be compatible with EU law and perhaps further scrutinize the definition of ambush marketing and potential objective justifications that are completely void of an economic motive. The Commission would likely evaluate any advertisement pre-authorization regime in light of the ISU criteria.[43] From a pure competition law perspective, it could also be an opportunity for the Commission and ultimately the CJEU to expressly confirm whether the Wouters test extends to Article 102 TFEU.

Regardless, Commissioner Verstager explained that this is ‘an example of the way the network operates, with the Commission and the German competition authority working closely together’. She also underlined that the Bundeskartellamt’s decision could ‘create incentives for a change of the relevant rules at national and international level, with the Commission following closely any developments in this direction’. Thus, the possibility that the Commission will at some point intervene seems dependent on how seriously the IOC takes this decision. In the meantime, British athletes have also threatened legal action on the basis of EU competition law against the British Olympic Association over its implementation of rule 40, which demonstrates the ongoing nature of this saga.


6        Conclusion

The Bundeskartellamt’s narrow interpretation of ambush marketing and emphasis on the protection of intellectual property rights will most likely influence the IOC’s strategy to protect the value of TOP. For example, it could prompt the IOC to place greater efforts into expanding its protected properties. Nevertheless, the IOC’s war against ambush marketing has widened from its original concept and even Michael Payne has been one to express his concern about the extent to which the IOC has gone in order to protect TOP and has expressed the need to apply the rules with ‘balance and common sense’. Albeit these comments were made concerning the rules for ‘clean’ venues at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, there is a certain resonance to the present situation and begs the question whether drastically restricting athletes in their often one-time chance to earn decent money through sponsoring is absolutely necessary to protect the economic viability of the Olympics as a whole.

[1] When the blog refers to rule 40, it refers specifically to bye law 3 of rule 40 OC.

[2] The ‘blackout’ period starts 9 days before the Olympic Game’s opening ceremony to 3 days after the closing ceremony.

[3] Nicholas Gary Schlereth and Evan Frederick, ‘Going for Gold: Social Media and the USOC’ [2017] 27 Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport 19.

[4] Michael Payne, ‘Ambush Marketing: The Undeserved Advantage’ [1998] 15 Psychology and Marketing 323.

[5] John Grady, ‘Analyzing Rule 40’s Restrictions on Using Atheletes in Olympic Sponsorship at Rio 2016’ [2017] 15 Entertainment and Sports Law Journal 1.

[6] Bundeskartellamt, Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (February 25, 2019) para 3.

[7] ibid para 5.

[8] ibid para 7.

[9] See ibid para 8 for examples.

[10] ibid para 11 and 65.

[11] Grady (n 7) and ibid para 69.

[12] Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (n 3) para 41.

[13] ibid para 44 and 56.

[14] ibid para 46-47.

[15] ibid para 46.

[16] ibid para 53.

[17] ibid para 54.

[18] ibid para 58-63.

[19] ibid para 71.

[20] ibid.

[21] ibid para 75-76.

[22] Case C-309/99 Wouters and Others [2002] ECLI:EU:C:2002:98, para 97.

[23] See Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (n 3) footnote 52.

[24] ibid para 102-105.

[25] See International Skating Union’s Eligibility rules (CASE AT. 40208) [2017] C(2017) 8240, footnote 350 and ibid para 95.

[26] Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (n 3) para 96.

[27] ibid para 27.

[28] For an exploration of accepted economic objectives see Sue Arrowsmith, ‘Rethinking the Approach to Economic Justifications under the EU's Free Movement Rules’ [2015] 69 Current Legal Problems 307.

[29] See for example, Case C-209/10 Post Danmark A/S v Konkurrencerådet [2012] ECLI:EU:C:2012:172, para 41-42.

[30] ibid para 97.

[31] ibid para 108-109.

[32] ibid para 110, referring to Federal Court of Justice, judgment of 15 May 2014 – I ZR 131/13, Olympia-Rabatt.

[33] Case C-210/96 Gut Springenheide and Tusky v Oberkreisdirektor des Kreises Steinfurt [1998] ECLI:EU:C:1998:369, para 31.

[34] Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (n 3) para 110-111.

[35] ibid para 115-118.

[36] ibid 119-120.

[37] ibid para 122.

[38] ibid para 124.

[39] ibid para 124.

[40] ibid para 128.

[41] Protected Olympic logos, symbols or designations are also not allowed in videos.

[42] Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (n 3) para 136-148.

[43] A pre-authorization scheme must (a) ‘provide for sanctions and authorization criteria that are inherent in the pursuit of legitimate objectives’, (b) ‘provide for objective, transparent and non-discriminatory sanctions and authorization criteria’ that are proportionate to its objectives, and (c) ‘provide for an objective, transparent and non-discriminatory procedure for the adoption and effective review of decisions’.

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Not comfortably satisfied? The upcoming Court of Arbitration for Sport case of the thirty-four current and former players of the Essendon football club. By James Kitching

Editor's note: James Kitching is Legal Counsel and Secretary to the AFC judicial bodies at the Asian Football Confederation. James is an Australian and Italian citizen and one of the few Australians working in international sports law. He is admitted as barrister and solicitor in the Supreme Court of South Australia. James graduated from the International Master in the Management, Law, and Humanities of Sport offered by the Centre International d'Etude du Sport in July 2012.


On 12 May 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had filed an appeal against the decision issued by the Australian Football League (AFL) Anti-Doping Tribunal (AADT) that thirty-four current and former players of Essendon Football Club (Essendon) had not committed any anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) identified within the AFL Anti-Doping Code (AADC). The players had each been charged with using Thymosin-Beta 4 (TB4) during the 2012 AFL season.

On 1 June 2015, WADA announced that it had filed an appeal against the decision by the AADT to clear Mr. Stephen Dank (Dank), a sports scientist employed at Essendon during the relevant period, of twenty-one charges of violating the AADC. Dank was, however, found guilty of ten charges and banned for life.

This blog will solely discuss the likelihood of the first AADT decision (the Decision) being overturned by the CAS. It will briefly summarise the facts, discuss the applicable rules and decision of the AADT, review similar cases involving ‘non-analytical positive’ ADRVs relating to the use of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method, and examine whether the Code of Sports-related Arbitration (CAS Code) is able to assist WADA in its appeal.

This blog will not examine the soap opera that was the two years leading-up to the Decision. Readers seeking a comprehensive factual background should view the excellent up-to-date timeline published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. More...