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

Time to focus on freedom of expression: Rainbows, armbands, and FIFA’s commitment to human rights - By Prof. Mark James (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Editor's note: Mark James is Professor of Sports Law at Manchester Metropolitan University and the author of a leading Sports Law textbook.


The opening days of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 have already resulted in a number of issues of interest to sports lawyers and human rights lawyers, with FARE’s Piara Powar claiming that this is the most political major sporting event that he has attended. Both FIFA and the local organisers have been active in their suppression of expressions of support for LGBTQIA+ rights by players, fans and journalists alike, calling into question once again the legality of restricting free speech by sporting rules and regulations.

There have been two major flashpoints to date. First, seven European federations had asked FIFA for permission for their captains to wear armbands supporting the ‘OneLove’ campaign. FIFA’s response was to refuse, resulting in the German players covering their mouths for their pre-match photographs in protest at their being silenced. There are several grounds on which FIFA would seek to support its position:

  •  Law 4.5 of the Laws of the Game prohibits any playing equipment from carrying any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.
  • Regulation 4.3.1 of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations and Regulation 27.1 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Regulations prohibits clothing or equipment that includes political, religious, or personal slogans, statements, or images, or otherwise does not comply in full with the Laws of the Game.
  • Regulation 33.3 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Regulations prohibits the display of political, religious or personal messages or slogans of any nature in any language or form by players and officials.
  • Regulation 13.8.1 of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations states that for FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each Team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA (all Regulations available in the FIFA Legal Handbook 2022).

Although the DFB is considering a challenge to FIFA’s refusal to allow its captain to wear the OneLove armband, which would ultimately be heard before CAS, it is unlikely to succeed in the face of the strict requirements of the above Laws and Regulations. However, what could cause more difficulty for both FIFA and CAS is if the DFB frames its case as a challenge to the compliance of the rules that restrict players’ freedom of expression with Article 3 of FIFA’s Statutes, which states that ‘FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights.’ Article 3, together with the additional detail provided by FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, ensures that freedom of expression as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights are limitative rules that can be applied directly to FIFA’s activities, as has been argued by Bützler and Schöddert. Further, if the affected players and associations can define themselves as human rights defenders, then Article 11 of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy states that, ‘FIFA will respect and not interfere with the work of … human rights defenders who voice concerns about adverse human rights impacts relating to FIFA.’ Any challenge using this approach would be the first real test of the enforceability of the human rights protections to which FIFA claims to be committed. It would also be a test of CAS’s ability to require adherence to the human rights commitments made by ISFs and to prove that they are more than simple window-dressing.

Secondly, members of The Rainbow Wall, a contingent of LGBTQIA+ rights-supporting Welsh fans, were prevented from entering the Ahmed bin Ali stadium whilst wearing bucket hats incorporating a rainbow into its design. No explanation for why was given, however, FIFA and the local organisers would argue that openly supporting LGBTQIA+ rights with the aim of promoting legal change in a country where homosexuality is illegal is a political statement on apparel and therefore entry into the stadium wearing the rainbow hat is in breach of the Regulation 3.1.23 of the Stadium Code of Conduct. A similar argument could be used to justify preventing US journalist Grant Wahl from entering the stadium wearing a t-shirt incorporating a rainbow into its design and Danish journalist Jon Pagh from wearing the OneLove armband. However, it must be stressed that no such explanation for the prohibitions applied to these garments was provided to any of the affected fans or journalists. It must also be recognised that the opinion that promoting LGBTQIA+ rights is a political expression is highly contested. In a statement from FIFPRO, the opposing view was stated succinctly: ‘We maintain that a rainbow flag is not a political statement but an endorsement of equality and thus a universal human right.’

It is clear that, as with Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, the chilling effect that FIFA’s Regulations have on players’ and fans’ freedom of expression is likely to be unlawful, as has been discussed at length both on this blog and on the Verfassungsblog Debate on Freedom of Expression in the Olympic Movement. Instead of revisiting these arguments, which are taken to apply to FIFA’s actions at Qatar 2022, two additional issues related to the FIFA Statutes are explored here.

Articles 3 and 4 of FIFA’s Statutes state that:

3 Human rights

FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.

4 Non-discrimination, equality and neutrality

4.1 Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

FIFA is a long-time supporter of pride events and in its press release for Pride Month 2022 stated:

[The] FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be a celebration of unity and diversity – a joining of people from all walks of life – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – everybody will be welcome.

Claims that all staff involved in the Qatar 2022 including public and private security forces, would be trained on how to accomplish their tasks in a non-discriminatory manner, seem not to have been operationalised effectively.

This begs the question whether FIFA is in breach of its own Statutes by refusing to allow players to express themselves freely on armbands and failing to protect fans’ freedom of expression by wearing rainbows. At the very least, FIFA should have ensured that a protective LGBTQIA+ regime in the stadiums and the fan zones during the World Cup was implemented to enable the ‘celebration of unity and diversity’ it claims that Qatar 2022 should be. FIFA’s actions in Qatar call into question its claims to be an inclusive and supportive leader on anti-discrimination and human rights, and is likely to see a backlash from the LGBTQIA+ community that it claims to support when it engages with Pride 2023; accusations of hypocrisy and virtue signalling are guaranteed.

With no resolution to the debate at the time of writing, Articles 3 and 4 could provide players and fans with the opportunity to demonstrate their support for human rights and anti-discrimination causes. At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Athlete Ally developed the ‘Principle 6 Campaign.’ Instead of criticising directly Russia's so called anti-gay laws, which are currently in the process of being extended, athletes promoted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which at the time stated that, ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ The eventual outcome of this campaign was the addition of sexual orientation to the list of characteristics protected by Principle 6. Unlike at Sochi 2014, there is no need to campaign for a change to either of Articles 3 or 4 of the FIFA Statutes; instead, activists want to ensure that they are being applied. An immediate response for both players and fans would be for them to quote specifically from Articles 3 and 4, as it would be extremely difficult for FIFA to claim that they are making political or personal statements when promoting FIFA’s own foundational values. A creative reminder of what FIFA claims to stand for could enable player and fan activism to continue throughout the tournament, and beyond, whilst affected players and associations can develop a compelling case for the restrictions on freedom of expression to be struck out by CAS, the Swiss Federal Tribunal and/or the European Court of Human Rights.

Reactions of International Sport Organisations to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: An Overview - By Daniela Heerdt & Guido Battaglia

Editor's note:

Daniela is a researcher at the Asser Institute in the field of sport and human rights. She has a background in public international law and human rights law and defended her PhD project entitled “Blurred Lines of Responsibility and Accountability – Human Rights Abuses at Mega-Sporting Events” in April 2021 at Tilburg University. She also works as independent consultant in the field of sport and human rights for the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, or the European Parliament among other clients from the sports ecosystem

As Head of Policy and Outreach, Guido is in charge of the Centre for Sport & Human Rights engagement with governments, international and intergovernmental organisations and sports organisations. He represents the Centre at conferences, events and bilateral dialogues to reach new audiences and partners and raise public awareness and understanding of the Centre’s work .



On February 24, 2022, the Russian military invaded Ukrainian territory. What followed was an escalation of the war, day by day, causing thousands of victims and forcing millions of people to flee. On March 2, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution deploring "in the strongest possible terms" Russia's aggression against Ukraine by a vote of 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions. On March 29, Russian and Ukrainian representatives met in Istanbul for another round of negotiations. No ceasefire has been agreed and hostilities continue.

Many states, international organizations and corporations quickly took measures in response to this invasion. Hundreds of companies decided to withdraw from Russia. Some countries decided to strengthen economic sanctions against Russia and Belarus and to provide military and economic help to Ukraine. Many civil society actors mobilised to organize and provide humanitarian support for Ukraine. Interestingly, international sports organisations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), World Athletics and many other international federations, issued statements condemning the invasion and imposed bans and sanctions on Russian and Belarussian sports bodies and athletes.

This blog post provides an overview of the measures adopted by a number of international sports federations (IFs) that are part of the Olympic Movement since the beginning of the war and analyses how they relate to the statements issued by the IOC and other sanctions and measures taken by international sports organisations in reaction to (geo)political tensions and conflict.

More...





12th round of Caster Semenya’s legal fight: too close to call? - By Jeremy Abel

Editor's note: Jeremy Abel is a recent graduate of the LL.M in International Business Law and Sports of the University of Lausanne.

 

1.     Introduction

The famous South African athlete Caster Semenya is in the last lap of her long legal battle for her right to run without changing the natural testosterone in her body. After losing her cases before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Swiss Federal Tribunal, she filed an application before the European Court of Human Rights (Court). In the meantime, the Court has released a summary of her complaint and a series of questions addressed to the parties of the case.

As is well known, she is challenging the World Athletics’ Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Regulations) defining the conditions under which female and intersex athletes with certain types of differences of sex development (DSDs) can compete in international athletics events. Despite the Regulations emanating from World Athletics, the last round of her legal battle is against a new opponent: Switzerland.

The purpose of this article is to revisit the Semenya case from a European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) perspective while considering certain excellent points made by previous contributors (see here, here and here) to this blog. Therefore, the blog will follow the basic structure of an ECHR case. The following issues raised by Semenya shall be analysed: the applicability of the ECHR, Semenya’s right to private life (Article 8 ECHR) and to non discrimination (Article 14 ECHR), as well as the proportionality of the Regulations. More...


Investment in Football as a Means to a Particular End – Part 2: The Multiple Layers of Multi-Club Ownership Regulation in Football - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor's note: Rhys was an intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. He now advises on investments and Notre acquisitions in sport (mainly football) via Lovelle Street Advisory. Following a career as a professional athlete, Rhys has spent much of his professional life as an international sports agent, predominantly operating in football. Rhys has a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and a Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) from the University of Dame, Sydney, Australia. He is currently completing an LL.M at the University of Zurich in International Business Law / International Sports Law.


Having looked at the different types of investors in football in part one of this two-part blog series, “A non-exhaustive Typology”, it is fitting to now consider the regulations that apply to investors who seek to build a portfolio of football clubs.

One way to measure the momentum of a particular practice and how serious it ought to be taken, might be when that practice earns its own initialism. Multi-club ownership or MCO as it is increasingly known today, is the name given to those entities that have an ownership stake in multiple clubs. Within the little research and writing that has been undertaken on the topic, some authors submit that investors with minority stakes in multiple clubs ought not to be captured by the MCO definition.  This position appears problematic given some of the regulations draw the line at influence rather than stake.

There are now approximately 50 MCO’s across the football world that own approximately 150 clubs.[1] Given the way MCO is trending, one might consider it important that the regulations keep up with the developing MCO practice, so as to ensure the integrity of football competitions, and to regulate any other potentially questionable benefit an MCO might derive that would be contrary to football’s best interests.

In this blog, I focus on the variety of ways (and levels at which) this practice is being regulated.  I will move through the football pyramid from member associations (MA’s) to FIFA, laying the foundations to support a proposition that FIFA and only FIFA is positioned to regulate MCO. More...


WISLaw Blog Symposium - Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter: the wind of changes or a new commercial race - By Rusa Agafonova

Editor's note: Rusa Agafonova is a PhD Candidate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland   

The Olympic Games are the cornerstone event of the Olympic Movement as a socio-cultural phenomenon as well as the engine of its economic model. Having worldwide exposure,[1] the Olympic Games guarantee the International Olympic Committee (IOC) exclusive nine-digit sponsorship deals. The revenue generated by the Games is later redistributed by the IOC down the sports pyramid to the International Federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and other participants of the Olympic Movement through a so-called "solidarity mechanism". In other words, the Games constitute a vital source of financing for the Olympic Movement.

Because of the money involved, the IOC is protective when it comes to staging the Olympics. This is notably so with respect to ambush marketing which can have detrimental economic impact for sports governing bodies (SGBs) running mega-events. The IOC's definition of ambush marketing covers any intentional and non-intentional use of intellectual property associated with the Olympic Games as well as the misappropriation of images associated with them without authorisation from the IOC and the organising committee.[2] This definition is broad as are the IOC's anti-ambush rules.More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Legal and other issues in Japan arising from the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games due to COVID-19 - By Yuri Yagi

Editor's note: Yuri Yagi is a sports lawyer involved in Sports Federations and Japanese Sports Organizations including the Japan Equestrian Federation (JEF), the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), the Japan Sports Council (JSC) and the All-Japan High School Equestrian Federation.


1. Introduction

Japan has held three Olympic Games since the inception of the modern Olympics;Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in 1964, Sapporo Winter Olympic Games in 1972, and Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998. Therefore, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Tokyo 2020) are supposed to be the fourth to be held in Japan, the second for Tokyo. Tokyo 2020 were originally scheduled for 24 July 2020 to 9 August 2020. Interestingly, the word ‘postpone’ or ‘postponement’ does not appear in the Host City Contract (HCC).

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) decided on 24 March 2020 that Tokyo 2020 would be postponed because of the pandemic of COVID-19. Later on, the exact dates were fixed ‘from 23 July 2021 (date of the Opening Ceremony) to 8 August 2021 (date of the Closing Ceremony).

The process of the decision is stipulated in the ‘ADDENDUM N° 4’ signed by IOC, TMG, JOC and TOCOG.

This paper provides an overview of the current situation, along with legal and other issues in Japan that have arisen due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to COVID-19. The overview is offered from the perspective of a citizen of the host city and includes a consideration of national polls, the torch relay, vaccination, training camps, ever increasing costs, and the related provisions in the Candidature File and the Host City Contract. More...



WISLaw Blog Symposium - Stick to Sports: The Impact of Rule 50 on American Athletes at the Olympic Games - By Lindsay Brandon

Editor's note: Lindsay Brandon is Associate Attorney at Law Offices of Howard L. Jacobs


“Tell the white people of America and all over the world that if they don’t seem to care for the things black people do, they should not go to see black people perform.” – American sprinter and Olympic Medalist John Carlos

On 21 April 2021, the Athletes’ Commission (AC) of the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) received the “full support of the IOC Executive Board for a set of recommendations in regard to the Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and Athlete Expression at the Olympic Games.” This came over a year after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and almost a year after the IOC and AC embarked on an “extensive qualitative and quantitative” consultation process to reform Rule 50 involving over 3,500 athletes from around the globe.

Since its introduction of the new guidelines in January 2020, Rule 50 has been touted by the IOC as a means to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games, stating that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or radical propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.”  In other words, the Olympics are a time to celebrate sport, and any political act or demonstration might ruin their “moment of glory”.

In fact, the Rule 50 Guidelines say that a fundamental principle of sport is that it is neutral, and “must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.” But this separation is not necessarily rooted in totality in modern sports culture[1], particularly in the United States (“U.S.”).  This is evidenced by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (“USOPC”) committing to not sanctioning Team USA athletes for protesting at the Olympics. The USOPC Athletes stated “Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values.” More...



WISLaw Blog Symposium - Freedom of Expression in Article 10 of the ECHR and Rule 50 of the IOC Charter: Are these polar opposites? - By Nuray Ekşi

Editor's note: Prof. Dr. Ekşi is a full-time lecturer and chair of Department of Private International Law at Özyeğin University Faculty of Law. Prof. Ekşi is the founder and also editor in chief of the Istanbul Journal of Sports Law which has been in publication since 2019.


While Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) secures the right to freedom of expression, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter of 17 July 2020 (‘Olympic Charter’) restricts this freedom. Following the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECtHR’) relating to sports, national and international sports federations have incorporated human rights-related provisions into their statutes and regulations. They also emphasized respect for human rights. For example, Article 3 of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (‘FIFA’) Statutes, September 2020 edition, provides that “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights”. Likewise, the Fundamental Principles of Olympism which are listed after the Preamble of the of the Olympic Charter 2020 also contains human rights related provisions. Paragraph 4 of Fundamental Principles of Olympism provides that the practice of sport is a human right. Paragraph 6 forbids discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. In addition, the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’) inserted human rights obligations in the 2024 and 2028 Host City Contract.[1] The IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration even goes further and aspires to promote the ability and opportunity of athletes to practise sport and compete without being subject to discrimination. Fair and equal gender representation, privacy including protection of personal information, freedom of expression, due process including the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial panel, the right to request a public hearing and the right to an effective remedy are the other human rights and principles stated in the IOC Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration. Despite sports federations’ clear commitment to the protection of human rights, it is arguable that their statutes and regulations contain restrictions on athletes and sports governing bodies exercising their human rights during competitions or in the field. In this regard, particular attention should be given to the right to freedom of expression on which certain restrictions are imposed by the federations even if it done with good intentions and with the aim of raising awareness. More...


Never let a good fiasco go to waste: why and how the governance of European football should be reformed after the demise of the ‘SuperLeague’ - By Stephen Weatherill

Editor’s note: Stephen Weatherill is the Jacques Delors Professor of European Law at Oxford University. He also serves as Deputy Director for European Law in the Institute of European and Comparative Law, and is a Fellow of Somerville College. This blog appeared first on eulawanalysis.blogspot.com and is reproduced here with the agreement of the author. 

 


The crumbling of the ‘SuperLeague’ is a source of joy to many football fans, but the very fact that such an idea could be advanced reveals something troublingly weak about the internal governance of football in Europe – UEFA’s most of all – and about the inadequacies of legal regulation practised by the EU and/ or by states. This note explains why a SuperLeague is difficult to stop under the current pattern of legal regulation and why accordingly reform is required in order to defend the European model of sport with more muscularity. More...



(A)Political Games? Ubiquitous Nationalism and the IOC’s Hypocrisy

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a L.LM. candidate in the European Law programme at Utrecht University and a former intern of the Asser International Sports Law Centre

 

1.     Sport Nationalism is Politics

Despite all efforts, the Olympic Games has been and will be immersed in politics. Attempts to shield the Games from social and political realities are almost sure to miss their mark and potentially risk being disproportionate. Moreover, history has laid bare the shortcomings of the attempts to create a sanitized and impenetrable bubble around the Games. The first blog of this series examined the idea of the Games as a sanitized space and dived into the history of political neutrality within the Olympic Movement to unravel the irony that while the IOC aims to keep the Olympic Games ‘clean’ of any politics within its ‘sacred enclosure’, the IOC and the Games itself are largely enveloped in politics. Politics seep into the cracks of this ‘sanitized’ space through: (1) public protests (and their suppression by authoritarian regimes hosting the Games), (2) athletes who use their public image to take a political stand, (3) the IOC who takes decisions on recognizing national Olympic Committees (NOCs) and awarding the Games to countries,[1] and (4) states that use the Games for geo-political posturing.[2] With this background in mind, the aim now is to illustrate the disparity between the IOC’s stance on political neutrality when it concerns athlete protest versus sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics.

As was mentioned in part one of this series, the very first explicit mention of politics in the Olympic Charter was in its 1946 version and aimed to combat ‘the nationalization of sports for political aims’ by preventing ‘a national exultation of success achieved rather than the realization of the common and harmonious objective which is the essential Olympic law’ (emphasis added). This sentiment was further echoed some years later by Avery Brundage (IOC President (1952-1972)) when he declared: ‘The Games are not, and must not become, a contest between nations, which would be entirely contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Movement and would surely lead to disaster’.[3] Regardless of this vision to prevent sport nationalism engulfing the Games and its codification in the Olympic Charter, the current reality paints quite a different picture. One simply has to look at the mass obsession with medal tables during the Olympic Games and its amplification not only by the media but even by members of the Olympic Movement.[4] This is further exacerbated when the achievements of athletes are used for domestic political gain[5] or when they are used to glorify a nation’s prowess on the global stage or to stir nationalism within a populace[6]. Sport nationalism is politics. Arguably, even the worship of national imagery during the Games from the opening ceremony to the medal ceremonies cannot be depoliticized.[7] In many ways, the IOC has turned a blind eye to the politics rooted in these expressions of sport nationalism and instead has focused its energy to sterilize its Olympic spaces and stifle political expression from athletes. One of the ways the IOC has ignored sport nationalism is through its tacit acceptance of medal tables although they are expressly banned by the Olympic Charter.

At this point, the rules restricting athletes’ political protest and those concerning sport nationalism, particularly in terms of medal tables, will be scrutinized in order to highlight the enforcement gap between the two. More...