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ASSER Exclusive! Interview with Charles “Chuck” Blazer by Piotr Drabik

Editor’s note: Chuck Blazer declined our official interview request but thanks to some trusted sources (the FIFA indictment and Chuck’s testimony) we have reconstructed his likely answers. This is a fictional interview. Any resemblance with real facts is purely coincidental.



Mr Blazer, thank you for agreeing to this interview, especially considering the circumstances. How are you doing?

I am facing ten charges concerning, among others, conspiracy to corrupt and money laundering. But apart from that, I am doing great (laughs)!

 

It is good to know that you have not lost your spirit. And since you’ve been involved in football, or as you call it soccer, for years could you please first tell us what was your career at FIFA and its affiliates like?

Let me see… Starting from the 1990s I was employed by and associated with FIFA and one of its constituent confederations, namely the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). At various times, I also served as a member of several FIFA standing committees, including the marketing and television committee. As CONCACAF’s general secretary, a position I proudly held for 21 years, I was responsible, among many other things, for negotiations concerning media and sponsorship rights. From 1997 to 2013 I also served at FIFA’s executive committee where I participated in the selection process of the host countries for the World Cup tournaments. Those years at the helm of world soccer were truly amazing years of travel and hard work mainly for the good of the beautiful game. I might add that I even managed to document some of my voyages on my blog. I initially called it “Travels with Chuck Blazer” but Vladimir (Putin) convinced me to change the name to “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends”. You should check it out.

 

Sure, but you ended up facing corruption and tax fraud charges in the US. What happened?

Concerning the charges I am currently facing, I pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to corrupt FIFA and its related constituent organizations through various bribery schemes. In addition, I acknowledged taking part in money laundering process, violation of certain financial reporting laws, and tax evasion. But please keep it quiet. My family was devastated when they heard about this. After all, they know me as a kind-hearted and giving type, especially if you consider that, given my appearance, I’m always Santa Claus when Christmas time is around.

Concretely, around 1992 and together with other representatives of the soccer world, I agreed to accept a bribe in connection with the selection of the host nation of the 1998 World Cup. Together with other FIFA executive committee members I also accepted illegal payments concerning the selection of South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host. Simultaneously, since approximately 1993, still with the same bunch of soccer executives, I accepted bribes connected to the award of broadcasting and other rights to the 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 Gold Cup, a tournament analogue to the Copa América, featuring member associations of CONCACAF.

I know it’s wrong. But at FIFA a lot of people were doing it and it was just a common practice at that time. Money was flowing in my bank accounts and it felt right. We were working so hard to organize those tournaments, you know.

 

How come the US authorities’ ended up investigating you and FIFA?

I am not completely sure. When I testified back in 2013 the judge indicated that FIFA and its attendant or related constituent organizations were identified as a RICO enterprise, that is, a Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization if I remember correctly. I was terrified, it sounded very intimidating at first. Now I guess I got used to the sound of it. I am even thinking about calling my next cat Rico (laughs). I also recall that the Department of Justice’s involvement in the case was due to the fact that we used the US financial system to funnel the money. In hindsight, it was a very bad idea.

 

Could you give us some more details on how the corruption mechanism actually worked in practice?

In general terms there were media and marketing rights to be sold. Those rights, and often their extensions, were awarded in exchange for bribes, sometimes via intermediaries. The sports marketing companies engaged in the schemes were then able not only to profit from the acquired rights themselves, but also to accept illegal payments for passing on some of those rights to sponsors.

(Long pause) Take for instance Copa Libertadores. The tournament developed and gained popularity which sparked sports marketing companies’ interest in acquiring marketing rights to the competition. Around 2000 an entity affiliated with one of the sports marketing companies was awarded sponsorship rights for the tournaments which took place between 2001 and 2007, with a subsequent renewal of the contract in 2007 and 2012. In the early 2000s Nicolás Leoz, acting as the president of Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) and a member of its executive committee, sold his support to award the rights to a specific company. What is more, not only did he receive the money, he also gave instructions to forward approximately $2 million to his personal bank accounts, a sum which was owed to CONMEBOL itself based on the awarded sponsorship rights’ contract. The Copa Libertadores was only one of the many affected soccer competitions.

 

And what were the other tournaments affected?

I am American so please excuse my accent, but besides Copa Libertadores, also Copa América, Copa do Brasil, Gold Cup, and the World Cup qualifiers games. I might also add that corruption affected at least the FIFA 2011 presidential elections, the voting process concerning the hosts of the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, and Brazil’s national team’s sponsorship.

 

Who would you identify as the main players in the corruption schemes?

Except myself you mean (laughs)? Well, definitely a number of FIFA officials that you hear a lot about in the news lately. I can easily mention a few of my colleagues, like Rafael Esquivel who served as the president of the Venezuelan soccer association and a vice president on the CONMEBOL executive committee. There was also my good friend Eugenio Figueredo, a former president of the Uruguayan soccer association who was a member of FIFA’s executive committee, a vice president at FIFA, a member of various FIFA standing committees, and a vice and then president of CONMEBOL. Surely you know of José Maria Marin and Jeffrey Webb. The former was the president of the Brazilian soccer association, and sat on several FIFA standing committees. The latter was the president of Cayman Islands Football Association and a member of the Caribbean Football Union’s (CFU) executive committee. He was also appointed as the president of CONCACAF and a FIFA vice president. The funny thing is that Webb took these positions in order to clean up after the corruption scandal which led to the resignation of Jack Warner.

 

Jack Warner, you mean the former president of CONCACAF and the vice president of FIFA?

Correct. But do not forget that he was also the secretary and then a special advisor to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), and the president of the CFU. Jack is probably the most corrupt soccer official I ever met.  Personally I did not like him, he just couldn’t get enough. Already in the early 1990s he began exploiting his position for personal gains. In this regard, he did not only treat the assets of the organizations he served as his own, but also actively solicited bribes in connection with for example the 1998 World Cup. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes were also paid to him with regard to the award of commercial rights to several editions of the Gold Cup. Moreover, acting as the president of the CFU and a special advisor to the TTFF he orchestrated the sale of media rights to World Cup qualifying matches which the national members of the CFU decided to sale as a bundle. Following negotiations Traffic, a sports marketing company, acquired the rights to 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 World Cup qualifier matches. A substantial part of the value of the contracts concluded by Warner on behalf of the CFU was automatically transferred to accounts under his personal control. He was also involved in a $10 million bribe related to the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. I could go on and on.

 

You mentioned Traffic. Could you tell us more about it?

Of course. Several of these sports marketing companies were involved, but to my knowledge Traffic was one of the biggest players. This multinational company was based in Brazil and comprised of subsidiaries operating around the globe including the US where it commenced its operations around 1990. The US branch alone was engaged in a number of bribery and fraud schemes in connection with their efforts to obtain various rights from soccer organization and federations in the region. The beneficiaries of these schemes included, among others, Jack Warner, Nicolás Leoz, and Rafael Esquivel. Traffic’s main goal was to expand its operations through developing ties with soccer governing bodies. I remember that in 1991 during Nicolás’ term as CONMEBOL’s president Traffic acquired exclusive commercial rights to three editions of Copa América. Nicolás then threatened to walk away. He claimed that Traffic was about to make a lot of money out of the deal and that it was only fair for him to get his share of the pie. With each of the new editions of the Copa América, Nicolás would demand fresh bribes, a personal business of his which, to my knowledge, went on until 2011. Additional payments were made by Traffic based on their subsequent profits. Esquivel also benefited by requesting bribes in exchange for his ongoing support for Traffic’s position. As I said, bribery at FIFA was often the result of the initiative on the part of its officials. But coming back to Traffic, their involvement is best described in numbers. Out of the twelve bribery schemes I know of, Traffic was involved in nine of them. However, if we disregard the schemes concerning FIFA elections and the voting process for the World Cup hosts the share is nine out of ten. You also need to keep in mind that a former employee of the US branch of Traffic involved in the corruption scheme went on to serve as a general secretary of CONCACAF. On a side note, I think I was a much better general secretary than he ever was. I still receive birthday cards from my former colleagues at CONCACAF.

 

You stated that several companies were involved. How did they share the rights acquisition between themselves?

I’m not entirely sure about the exact mechanisms involved. What I know, however, is that sometimes conflicts emerged between the different companies seeking to secure contracts for themselves. On other occasions they were able to join forces, for example with the media and marketing rights to Copa América. At first, CONMEBOL entered into a contract with Traffic on the basis of which the latter was awarded the exclusive rights to, among others, the 2015 edition of the tournament, and an option to retain those rights for the next three editions. But in 2010 CONMEBOL signed another agreement, this time with Full Play, on the basis of which Full Play was granted media and marketing rights to several editions of the tournament, including the 2015 edition already sold to Traffic. As you can imagine, Traffic was not happy. They decided to sue CONMEBOL and Full Play. In the end the companies came to an understanding and formed Datisa, a new entity which was to obtain and exploit the commercial rights to the Copa América. In return, Traffic was to shoulder a share of the bribes offered to CONMEBOL officials.

I also recall that there were tensions between Traffic and another company established by a former employee of Traffic who, after bribing Brazilian federation’s officials in order to acquire a contract for the rights to Copa do Brasil, was accused by Traffic’s owner of stealing his business. But they also managed to solve the issue by combining their “efforts” and by sharing the financial burden of the “investments” made to acquire the rights.

 

And what sums are we talking about?

Not so much, really (laughs). Concerning Datisa the company agreed to pay between $100 and $110 million in bribes to CONMEBOL officials all of whom worked also at FIFA. The FBI told me that they estimated that the “business” generated approximately $150 million in bribes, an amount which may increase if new information come to light. In the end, I did not get so much out of it compared to some of my dear colleagues. Sometimes I think that I should have been more firm during the “negotiations”. For a long time I have been dreaming about having an additional apartment in the Trump Tower. I remember that when I got the first one it almost seemed as it came from some divine intervention.

 

Wow, that’s a lot. How did they manage to conceal it?

As I already mentioned the “business” was sometimes conducted via intermediaries. Jose Margulies was one of the prominent ones. He was the brother of an old friend of the owner of Traffic, and often used accounts in the names of offshore corporations in order to makes payments on his behalf. In addition, he tried to conceal the bribes by using accounts at Swiss banks, made recourse to currency dealers, destroyed documentation, and discouraged the corrupt soccer officials from using accounts in their own name in order to avoid detection from law enforcement bodies, an advice which was not always taken seriously. People like Nicolás Leoz for example did not hesitate to have sums being paid to their personal bank accounts on the basis of “consulting contracts”. As I already mentioned, Jack (Warner), for his part, concluded a double agreement in the name of the TTFF concerning rights to World Cup qualifier games. He first sold the TTFF’s rights as part of a bundle, and later on sold them again, but this time separately. There was also the famous $10 million paid by South Africa’s authorities to the CFU in order to “support the African diaspora”, a payment which was in fact made in exchange for votes regarding the 2010 World Cup host. This money was diverted back into Jack’s pockets via a number of tricks. Using family members’ accounts was another way of deception. Lately, the business of taking bribes was getting more and more complicated, prompting officials to look for new complex schemes. In fact, the attempts to conceal illegal payments made in connection with the rights to the World Cup 2018 and 2022 qualifiers caused a lot of headache to Jeffrey Webb in his capacity as a high level CFU official. One of the companies with whom Traffic was to make payment to Webb had difficulties finding the right way to discretely transfer the money to him. This led to long negotiations between Webb’s associate and the company’s executives in order to find a clean method to make the outstanding payment.

 

Thank you so much Mr Blazer for your time and your invaluable insights!

You’re welcome. I am a big fan of the ASSER International Sports Law Blog so anything for you guys.

 



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Asser International Sports Law Blog | Multi-Club Ownership in European Football – Part I: General Introduction and the ENIC Saga – By Tomáš Grell

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

Multi-Club Ownership in European Football – Part I: General Introduction and the ENIC Saga – By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell holds an LL.M. in Public International Law from Leiden University. He contributes to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a research intern.

 

Introduction

On 13 September 2017, more than 40,000 people witnessed the successful debut of the football club RasenBallsport Leipzig (RB Leipzig) in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) against AS Monaco. In the eyes of many supporters of the German club, the mere fact of being able to participate in the UEFA's flagship club competition was probably more important than the result of the game itself. This is because, on the pitch, RB Leipzig secured their place in the 2017/18 UCL group stage already on 6 May 2017 after an away win against Hertha Berlin. However, it was not until 16 June 2017 that the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) officially allowed RB Leipzig to participate in the 2017/18 UCL alongside its sister club, Austrian giants FC Red Bull Salzburg (RB Salzburg).[1] As is well known, both clubs have (had) ownership links to the beverage company Red Bull GmbH (Red Bull), and therefore it came as no surprise that the idea of two commonly owned clubs participating in the same UCL season raised concerns with respect to the competition's integrity.

The phenomenon of multi-club ownership is nothing new in the world of football. As will be seen below, the English company ENIC plc. (ENIC)[2] established itself as a pioneer in this type of business activity, having acquired in the late 1990s, through subsidiaries, controlling interests in several European clubs, including SK Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic (Slavia), AEK Football Club in Greece (AEK) or Vicenza Calcio in Italy (Vicenza). Apart from ENIC and Red Bull, a more recent example of a global corporation investing in multiple football clubs worldwide is the City Football Group owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. In August 2017, the City Football Group acquired 44.3% stake in Girona FC, a Spanish club that had just been promoted to La Liga for the first time in their history, thereby adding a sixth club to its portfolio consisting of Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City, Yokohama Marinos[3] (Japan) and Club Atlético Torque (Uruguay).[4] Private individuals may also become owners of two or more football clubs, the most prominent examples being Giampaolo Pozzo and his son Gino who are in possession of the Italy's second oldest club Udinese Calcio and the English top-flight club Watford FC respectively,[5] or Roland Duchâtelet, a Belgian millionaire whose dubious management of his five clubs, namely Charlton Athletic (England), Carl Zeiss Jena (Germany), AD Alcorcón (Spain), Sint-Truiden (Belgium) and Újpest FC (Hungary), has been met with considerable opposition. Moreover, clubs themselves have acquired stakes in other clubs, including, for instance, Atlético Madrid's investment in RC Lens (France) and Club Atlético de San Luis (Mexico), or AS Monaco's recent takeover of the Belgian second-division club Cercle Brugge.

Leaving commercial and marketing aspects aside, the investment in multiple football clubs is often driven by the vision of recruiting talented players at low cost, preferably in Latin American or African countries, and subsequently facilitating their development in smaller European clubs to prepare them for the level required at the lead club. Hence, should Manchester City discover in Uruguay a 'new Luis Suárez', it will not take much effort (and money) to convince such a player to join the academy of Club Atlético Torque, especially if he is promised further development at language-barrier-free Girona and sees himself wearing the Citizens' sky blue shirt one day. Along these lines, it could well be argued that the phenomenon of multi-club ownership in fact creates a supply chain for talent.

For reasons suggested above, qualification for a UEFA club competition is normally not the primary objective of clubs like Girona, which find themselves somewhere in the middle of this supply chain. This at least partially explains why, to the best of my knowledge, only twice the prospect of two or more commonly owned clubs participating in the same UEFA club competition became so imminent that it required UEFA's direct intervention. The first intervention dates back to May 1998 when the UEFA Executive Committee adopted a landmark rule entitled 'Integrity of the UEFA Club Competitions: Independence of the Clubs' (Original Rule) in response to Slavia and AEK, both under ENIC's control, having qualified for the 1998/99 UEFA Cup. The Red Bull case, for its part, revolved around the interpretation of 'decisive influence in the decision-making of a club', a concept that could not be found in the Original Rule.

Against this background, this two-part blog will focus on the UEFA rule(s) aimed at ensuring the integrity of its club competitions. The first part will take a closer look at how the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the European Commission (Commission) dealt with ENIC's complaints alleging that the Original Rule was incompatible, inter alia, with EU competition law. The second part will then examine the relevant rule as it is currently enshrined in Article 5 of the UCL Regulations 2015-18 Cycle, 2017/18 Season (Current Rule) and describe how the CFCB Adjudicatory Chamber interpreted the aforementioned concept of decisive influence[6] in the Red Bull case. Finally, in light of the conclusions reached by the CFCB Adjudicatory Chamber, the second part of this two-part blog will discuss whether any modification of the Current Rule is desirable.

 

The ENIC saga: How the Original Rule survived EU competition law scrutiny

Background

It has already been noted that the adoption of the Original Rule was prompted, first and foremost, by the fact that ENIC-controlled Slavia and AEK qualified on sporting merit for the 1998/99 UEFA Cup. However, what needs to be added is that the initial impulse came a season before, when Slavia, AEK and Vicenza all reached the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. Although UEFA was fortunate that time as the clubs were not drawn to play against each other and only Vicenza advanced to the semi-final, it learnt its lesson and as a result of this situation adopted robust rules aimed at ensuring the integrity of its club competitions.

The Original Rule

The Original Rule made admission to the UEFA club competitions conditional upon fulfilment of three specific criteria. First, a club participating in a UEFA club competition must have refrained from (i) holding or dealing in the securities or shares; (ii) being a member; (iii) being involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration, and/or sporting performance; and (iv) having any power whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in the same UEFA club competition. Second, the Original Rule stipulated that no person could be simultaneously involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of more than one club participating in the same UEFA club competition. Third, an individual or legal entity was prohibited from exercising control over more than one club participating in the same UEFA club competition. The Original Rule further clarified that an individual or legal entity was deemed to have control over a club, and thus the third criterion was not satisfied, where he/she/it (i) held a majority of the shareholders' voting rights; (ii) was authorized to appoint or remove a majority of the members of the administrative, management or supervisory body; or (iii) was a shareholder and single-handedly controlled a majority of the shareholders' voting rights. In principle, under this third criterion, it was permissible for an individual or legal entity to hold up to 49% of the shareholders' voting rights in multiple clubs participating in the same UEFA club competition.

Proceedings before the CAS

It was the third criterion that was applicable to ENIC, a company listed on the London Stock Exchange. Given that both Slavia and AEK were owned as to more than 50% by ENIC, the respective criterion was not satisfied. Consequently, the Committee for the UEFA Club Competitions, a body responsible for monitoring fulfilment of the aforementioned criteria, ruled that only Slavia was eligible to take part in the 1998/99 UEFA Cup on account of its higher club coefficient. Not content with this decision, Slavia and AEK filed a request for arbitration with the CAS on 15 June 1998, challenging the validity of the Original Rule, inter alia, under Articles 81 and 82 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (TEC) (now Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)). On the same day, the clubs also lodged a request for interim relief which was eventually granted on 16 July 1998.[7] As a result, UEFA was barred from giving effect to the Original Rule for the duration of the arbitration procedure and both Slavia and AEK were given the green light to participate in the 1998/99 UEFA Cup. On 20 August 1999, the CAS rendered its award in which it upheld the validity of the Original Rule and allowed UEFA to apply the rule in question as of the 2000/01 season.

Before embarking on a comprehensive analysis of the compatibility of the Original Rule with EU competition law, the Panel recognized that participation of two or more commonly owned clubs in the same UEFA club competition creates fertile ground for conflicts of interest, and thus ''represents a justified concern for a sports regulator and organizer''.[8] The Panel then confirmed that EU law was applicable to the case before it as the Original Rule could not benefit from any 'sporting exception'.[9] That being clarified, the Panel moved on to examine the relevant market potentially affected by the Original Rule. It defined the relevant product market as the ''market for ownership interests in football clubs capable of taking part in UEFA competitions'' which would include, on the supply side, ''all the owners of European football clubs which can potentially qualify for a UEFA competition'', and, on the demand side, ''any individual or corporation potentially interested in an investment opportunity in a football club which could qualify for a UEFA competition''.[10] The relevant geographic market, for its part, was confined to the territories of national football federations affiliated to UEFA.[11]

Analysis under Article 81 TEC

Article 81 TEC (now Article 101 TFEU) prohibits ''all agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations of undertakings and concerted practices which […] have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the internal market''. While it is evident that UEFA could be classified as an undertaking[12] or an association of undertakings (representing national football federations) within the meaning of Article 81 TEC, it is less clear whether UEFA could also be regarded, through national football federations representing both professional and amateur clubs, as an association of 'club undertakings'. This question is of crucial importance because if UEFA was not to be regarded as an association of 'club undertakings', the Original Rule would not be considered as the product of a horizontal collusion between clubs and, as a result, would fall outside the scope of Article 81 TEC.[13] The role of UEFA in such a case would not go beyond a mere sports regulator.[14] In this context, Advocate General Lenz insisted in the Bosman case that even though national football federations encompass a sheer number of amateur clubs not engaged in economic activities, this does not alter the conclusion that (i) national football federations are to be regarded as associations of undertakings in accordance with Article 81 TEC; and consequently that (ii) UEFA, through these national football federations, is to be regarded as an association of 'club undertakings'.[15] Although not entirely persuaded by the respective argument, the Panel assumed for the purposes of conducting an analysis under Article 81 TEC that the Original Rule represented a decision by an association of 'club undertakings' and, as such, did not fall outside the scope of Article 81 TEC.[16]

The Panel then turned to the question lying at the heart of the dispute, that is, whether the Original Rule had as its object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the internal market. It found that the Original Rule was only designed to ''prevent the conflict of interest inherent in commonly owned clubs taking part in the same competition and to ensure a genuine athletic event with truly uncertain results'', thereby excluding any anti-competitive object of the Original Rule.[17] With respect to the effect of the Original Rule, the Panel asserted that even though the rule in question may have discouraged an owner who had already been in possession of a high-level European club from acquiring controlling interest in another such club, its overall effect was pro-competitive in that it enabled more undertakings to enter the relevant market, and thus stimulated investment in professional football.[18] Moreover, the Panel was concerned that, in the absence of the Original Rule, high-level European clubs would potentially be concentrated in few hands which would, in turn, lead to an increase in prices for ownership interests in those clubs.[19]

Having found that neither the object nor the effect of the Original Rule was anti-competitive, the Panel was further not required to pronounce itself on whether the Original Rule was necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Yet, it held that the Original Rule was ''an essential feature for the organization of a professional football competition and [was] not more extensive than necessary to serve the fundamental goal of preventing conflicts of interest''.[20] In a similar vein, the Panel could not identify any plausible less restrictive alternative to the Original Rule, and therefore it declared that the Original Rule was proportionate to the stated aim of preventing conflicts of interest.[21]

Based on the above considerations, the Panel ultimately concluded that the Original Rule was compatible with Article 81 TEC.       

Analysis under Article 82 TEC 

Article 82 TEC (now Article 102 TFEU) prohibits abusive conduct by companies that have a dominant position on a relevant market. Since UEFA cannot become an owner of a football club, the Panel maintained that it was not present on the relevant market for 'ownership interests in football clubs capable of taking part in UEFA competitions', and for that reason UEFA could not be held to enjoy a dominant position.[22] Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the Original Rule did not violate Article 82 TEC.  

Proceedings before the Commission

In the wake of the CAS award, ENIC's business strategy suffered a blow. However, the English company was not yet ready to give up and lodged a complaint with the Commission on 18 February 2000, again claiming that the Original Rule infringed Articles 81 and 82 TEC.

In its decision, the Commission relied to some extent on the CAS award, adopting the definition of the relevant market or confirming that the Original Rule could not benefit from any 'sporting exception'. As far as the object of the Original Rule was concerned, the Commission articulated that the rule was not intended to distort competition, but rather to ''avoid conflicts of interest that may arise from the fact that more than one club controlled by the same owner […] play in the same competition''.[23] With respect to the Original Rule's effect, the Commission referred to the Wouters case in which the European Court of Justice held that an agreement between undertakings or a decision of an association of undertakings restricting the freedom to act may nevertheless fall outside the scope of Article 81 TEC, provided that its restrictive effects are inherent in the pursuit of a legitimate objective.[24] Applied to the case before it, the Commission ruled that the restrictive effects of the Original Rule were ''inherent in the pursuit of the very existence of credible pan-European football competitions''.[25] Consequently, the Commission found no violation of Article 81 TEC. Turning to Article 82 TEC, the Commission briefly noted that ''if one were to assume that UEFA enjoys a dominant position in whatever market, the fact that UEFA has adopted such a rule does not appear to constitute in itself an abuse of dominant position''.[26]


Conclusion

It is quite intuitive that the aim of preserving the integrity of the UEFA club competitions should outweigh the restriction introduced by the Original Rule which essentially rendered owners of high-level European clubs unable to acquire controlling interests in similar clubs. However, the fact that the Original Rule appeared bullet-proof under EU competition law does not mean that it was entirely without flaws. As will be seen in the second part of this blog, UEFA later decided to make the Original Rule more stringent since it realized that even if an individual or legal entity does not have de jure control over a club, it may still be able to exercise de facto control over such club.


[1]   RB Salzburg were eliminated by HNK Rijeka in the third qualifying round.

[2]   ENIC is currently a majority shareholder of the English top-flight club Tottenham Hotspur.

[3]   Among the clubs listed, Yokohama Marinos is the only club in which the City Football Group holds a minority stake (20%).

[4]   Furthermore, Manchester City have a formal cooperation agreement with Dutch side NAC Breda.

[5]   The Pozzo family also owned Spanish side Granada FC, before selling the club to a Chinese firm in 2016.

[6]   UCL Regulations 2015-18 Cycle, 2017/18 Season, Article 5.01(c)(iv).

[7]   According to the CAS, the fact that UEFA enacted the Original Rule shortly before the start of the 1998/99 season contravened the principles of good faith, procedural fairness and legitimate expectations. See CAS 98/200 AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / UEFA, Award of 20 August 1999, p. 5.

[8]   CAS 98/200 AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / UEFA, Award of 20 August 1999, para. 48.

[9]   Ibid. para. 83. According to the well-established jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice, ''the practice of sport is subject to [EU] law only in so far as it constitutes an economic activity''. See Case 36/74 Walrave [1974] ECR 1405, Judgment of 12 December 1974, para. 4. See also Case C-415/93 Bosman [1995] ECR I-4921, Judgment of 15 December 1995, para. 73. On the 'sporting exception', see also Richard Parrish and Samuli Miettinen, The Sporting Exception in European Union Law (T.M.C. Asser Press 2008).

[10] AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / UEFA (n 8) paras 101-104.

[11] Ibid. para. 108.

[12] According to the European Court of Justice, ''the concept of an undertaking encompasses every entity engaged in an economic activity, regardless of the legal status of the entity and the way in which it is financed''. See Case C-41/90 Höfner [1991] ECR I-1979, Judgment of 23 April 1991, para. 21.

[13] AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / UEFA (n 8) para. 88.

[14] Ibid.           

[15] Bosman, Opinion of Advocate General Lenz delivered on 20 September 1995, para. 256.

[16] AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / UEFA (n 8) para. 94.

[17] Ibid. para. 113.

[18] Ibid. paras 114-119.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. para. 136.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. para. 141. It should be noted, however, that this assertion was later challenged, albeit in the context of FIFA, by the Court of First Instance in the Piau case. The Court held in this case that the fact that FIFA is not itself an economic operator on the market for the services provided by players' agents was ''irrelevant as regards the application of Article 82 TEC, since FIFA is the emanation of the national associations and the clubs, the actual buyers of the services of players' agents''. See Case T-193/02 Piau [2005] ECLI:EU:T:2005:22, Judgment of 26 January 2005, para. 116.

[23] Case COMP/37 806: ENIC / UEFA [2002] Commission, para. 28.

[24] Case C-309/99 Wouters [2002] ECR I-1577, Judgment of 19 February 2002, para. 97.

[25] See Commission decision (n 23) para. 32.

[26] Ibid. para. 45.

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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

Why the European Commission will not star in the Spanish TV rights Telenovela. By Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren

The selling of media rights is currently a hot topic in European football. Last week, the English Premier League cashed in around 7 billion Euros for the sale of its live domestic media rights (2016 to 2019) – once again a 70 percent increase in comparison to the previous tender. This means that even the bottom club in the Premier League will receive approximately €130 million while the champions can expect well over €200 million per season.

The Premier League’s new deal has already led the President of the Spanish National Professional Football League (LNFP), Javier Tebas, to express his concerns that this could see La Liga lose its position as one of Europe’s leading leagues. He reiterated that establishing a centralised sales model in Spain is of utmost importance, if not long overdue.

Concrete plans to reintroduce a system of joint selling for the media rights of the Primera División, Segunda División A, and la Copa del Rey by means of a Royal Decree were already announced two years ago. The road has surely been long and bumpy. The draft Decree is finally on the table, but now it misses political approval. All the parties involved are blaming each other for the current failure: the LNFP blames the Sport Governmental Council for Sport (CSD) for not taking the lead; the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) is arguing that the Federation and non-professional football entities should receive more money and that it should have a stronger say in the matter in accordance with the FIFA Statutes;  and there are widespread rumours that the two big earners, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, are actively lobbying to prevent the Royal Decree of actually being adopted.

To keep the soap opera drama flowing,  on 30 December 2014, FASFE (an organisation consisting of groups of fans, club members, and minority shareholders of several Spanish professional football clubs) and the International Soccer Centre (a movement that aims to obtain more balanced and transparent football and basketball competitions in Spain) filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission against the LNFP. They argue that the current system of individual selling of LNFP media rights, with unequal shares of revenue widening the gap between clubs, violates EU competition law.


Source:http://www.gopixpic.com/600/buscar%C3%A1n-el-amor-verdadero-nueva-novela-de-televisa/http:%7C%7Cassets*zocalo*com*mx%7Cuploads%7Carticles%7C5%7C134666912427*jpg/

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The 2014 Dortmund judgment: what potential for a follow-on class action? By Zygimantas Juska

Class actions are among the most powerful legal tools available in the US to enforce competition rules. With more than 75 years of experience, the American system offers valuable lessons about the benefits and drawbacks of class actions for private enforcement in competition law. Once believed of as only a US phenomenon, class actions are slowly becoming reality in the EU. After the adoption of the Directive on damages actions in November 2014, the legislative initiative in collective redress (which could prescribe a form of class actions) is expected in 2017.[1] Some pro-active Member States have already taken steps to introduce class actions in some fashion, like, for example, Germany.

What is a class action? It is a lawsuit that allows many similar legal claims with a common interest to be bundled into a single court action. Class actions facilitate access to justice for potential claimants, strengthen the negotiating power and contribute to the efficient administration of justice. This legal mechanism ensures a possibility to claim cessation of illegal behavior (injunctive relief) or to claim compensation for damage suffered (compensatory relief).  More...

The Pechstein ruling of the OLG München - A Rough Translation

The Pechstein decision of the Oberlandesgericht of Munich is “ground-breaking”, “earth-shaking”, “revolutionary”, name it. It was the outmost duty of a “German-reading” sports lawyer to translate it as fast as possible in order to make it available for the sports law community at large (Disclaimer: This is not an official translation and I am no certified legal translator). Below you will find the rough translation of the ruling (the full German text is available here), it is omitting solely the parts, which are of no direct interest to international sports law.

The future of CAS is in the balance and this ruling should trigger some serious rethinking of the institutional set-up that underpins it. As you will see, the ruling is not destructive, the Court is rather favourable to the function of CAS in the sporting context, but it requires a fundamental institutional reshuffling. It also offers a fruitful legal strategy to challenge CAS awards that could be used in front of any national court of the EU as it is based on reasoning analogically applicable to article 102 TFEU (on abuse of a dominant position), which is valid across the EU’s territory.

Enjoy the read! 

Antoine

PS: The translation can also be downloaded at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2561297

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From Veerpalu to Lalluka: ‘one step forward, two steps back’ for CAS in dealing with Human Growth Hormone tests (by Thalia Diathesopoulou)

In autumn 2011, the Finnish cross-country skier Juha Lalluka, known as a “lone-wolf” because of his training habit, showed an adverse analytical finding with regard to human growth hormone (hGH). The timing was ideal. As the FINADA Supervisory Body in view of the A and B positive samples initiated disciplinary proceedings against Lalluka for violation of anti-doping rules, the Veerpalu case was pending before the CAS. At the athlete’s request, the Supervisory Board postponed the proceedings until the CAS rendered the award in the Veerpalu case. Indeed, on 25 March 2013, the CAS shook the anti-doping order: it cleared Andrus Veerpalu of an anti-doping rule violation for recombinant hGH (rhGH) on the grounds that the decision limits set by WADA to define the ratio beyond which the laboratories should report the presence of rhGH had not proven scientifically reliable.

The Veerpalu precedent has become a rallying flag for athletes suspected of use of hGH and confirmed some concerns raised about the application of the hGH test. Not surprisingly, Sinkewitz and Lallukka followed the road that Veerpalu paved and sought to overturn their doping ban by alleging the scientific unreliability of the hGH decisions limits. Without success, however. With the full text of the CAS award on the Lallukka case released a few weeks ago[1] and the new rules of the 2015 WADA Code coming into force, we grasp the opportunity to outline the ambiguous approach of CAS on the validity of the hGH test. In short: Should the Veerpalu case and its claim that doping sanctions should rely on scientifically well founded assessments be considered as a fundamental precedent or as a mere exception? More...

State Aid and Sport: does anyone really care about rugby? By Beverley Williamson

There has been a lot of Commission interest in potential state aid to professional football clubs in various Member States.  The huge sums of money involved are arguably an important factor in this interest and conversely, is perhaps the reason why state aid in rugby union is not such a concern. But whilst the sums of money may pale into comparison to those of professional football, the implications for the sport are potentially no less serious.

At the end of the 2012/2013 season, Biarritz Olympique (Biarritz) were relegated from the elite of French Rugby Union, the Top 14 to the Pro D2.  By the skin of their teeth, and as a result of an injection of cash from the local council (which amounted to 400,000€), they were spared administrative relegation to the amateur league below, the Fédérale 1, which would have occurred as a result of the financial state of the club.More...

State aid in Croatia and the Dinamo Zagreb case

Introduction

The year 2015 promises to be crucial, and possibly revolutionary, for State aid in football. The European Commission is taking its time in concluding its formal investigations into alleged State aid granted to five Dutch clubs and several Spanish clubs, including Valencia CF and Real Madrid, but the final decisions are due for 2015.

A few months ago, the Commission also received a set of fresh State aid complaints originating from the EU’s newest Member State Croatia. The complaints were launched by a group of minority shareholders of the Croatian football club Hajduk Split, who call themselves Naš Hajduk. According to Naš Hajduk, Hajduk Split’s eternal rival, GNK Dinamo Zagreb, has received more than 30 million Euros in unlawful aid by the city of Zagreb since 2006.More...

“The Odds of Match Fixing – Facts & Figures on the integrity risk of certain sports bets”. By Ben Van Rompuy

Media reports and interested stakeholders often suggest that certain types of sports bets would significantly increase the risks of match fixing occurring. These concerns also surface in policy discussions at both the national and European level. Frequently calls are made to prohibit the supply of “risky” sports bets as a means to preserve the integrity of sports competitions.

Questions about the appropriateness of imposing such limitations on the regulated sports betting, however, still linger. The lack of access to systematic empirical evidence on betting-related match fixing has so far limited the capacity of academic research to make a proper risk assessment of certain types of sports bets. 

The ASSER International Sports Law Centre has conducted the first-ever study that assesses the integrity risks of certain sports bets on the basis of quantitative empirical evidence. 

We uniquely obtained access to key statistics from Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System (FDS). A five-year dataset of football matches worldwide, which the FDS identified as likely to have been targeted by match fixers, enabled us to observe patterns and correlations with certain types of sports bets. In addition, representative samples of football bets placed with sports betting operator Betfair were collected and analysed. 

The results presented in this report, which challenge several claims about the alleged risks generated by certain types of sports bets, hope to inform policy makers about the cost-effectiveness of imposing limits on the regulated sports betting offer.More...

The Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München - Time for a new reform of CAS?

Editor's note (13 July 2015): We (Ben Van Rompuy and I) have just published on SSRN an article on the Pechstein ruling of the OLG. It is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2621983. Feel free to download it and to share any feedback with us!


On 15 January 2015, the earth must have been shaking under the offices of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne when the Oberlandesgericht München announced its decision in the Pechstein case. If not entirely unpredictable, the decision went very far (further than the first instance) in eroding the legal foundations on which sports arbitration rests. It is improbable (though not impossible) that the highest German civil court, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), which will most likely be called to pronounce itself in the matter, will entirely dismiss the reasoning of the Oberlandesgericht. This blogpost is a first examination of the legal arguments used (Disclaimer: it is based only on the official press release, the full text of the ruling will be published in the coming months).More...



In blood we trust? The Kreuziger Biological Passport Case. By Thalia Diathesopoulou

Over the last twenty years, professional cycling has developed the reputation of one of the “most drug soaked sports in the world”.[1] This should not come as a surprise. The sport’s integrity has plummeted down due to an unprecedented succession of doping scandals. La crème de la crème of professional cyclists has been involved in doping incidents including Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Alejandro Valverde and Lance Armstrong. The once prestigious Tour de France has been stigmatized as a race of “pharmacological feat, not a physical one”.[2]

In view of these overwhelming shadows, in 2008, the International Cycling Union (UCI), in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took a leap in the fight against doping. It became the first International Sports Federation to implement a radical new anti-doping program known as the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).[3] More...

A Question of (dis)Proportion: The CAS Award in the Luis Suarez Biting Saga

The summer saga surrounding Luis Suarez’s vampire instincts is long forgotten, even though it might still play a role in his surprisingly muted football debut in FC Barcelona’s magic triangle. However, the full text of the CAS award in the Suarez case has recently be made available on CAS’s website and we want to grasp this opportunity to offer a close reading of its holdings. In this regard, one has to keep in mind that “the object of the appeal is not to request the complete annulment of the sanction imposed on the Player” (par.33). Instead, Suarez and Barcelona were seeking to reduce the sanction imposed by FIFA. In their eyes, the four-month ban handed out by FIFA extending to all football-related activities and to the access to football stadiums was excessive and disproportionate. Accordingly, the case offered a great opportunity for CAS to discuss and analyse the proportionality of disciplinary sanctions based on the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FIFA DC).  More...