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 EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – May 2016. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.   

The Headlines

Challenged membership put a lot of emphasis on football federations in May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) has rendered an award, on 27 April 2016, ordering the FIFA Council to submit the application of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) for FIFA membership to the FIFA Congress (the body authorised to admit new members to FIFA). The GFA has sought since 1999 to become a member of UEFA and FIFA. In May 2013, it became a member of the UEFA and went on to seek membership of FIFA. More...

Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

Forget the European Championship currently held in France or the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. Doping scandals are making the headlines more than ever in 2016. From tennis star Sharapova receiving a two-year ban for her use of the controversial ‘meldonium’, to the seemingly never-ending doping scandals in athletics. As if this was not enough, a new chapter was added on 14 June to one of the most infamous and obscure doping sagas in history: the Operación Puerto.

The special criminal appeal chamber,  the Audiencia Provincial, has held that the more than 200 blood bags of professional athletes that have been at the center of the investigations since 2006 can be delivered to the relevant sporting authorities, such as the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD), WADA, the UCI and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In other words, there is now a good chance that the identities of the involved athletes might eventually be revealed.


This case note will analyze the court’s ruling and summarize its most important findings. Given the amount of time passed since the scandal first came to light (2004), the blog will commence with a short background summary of the relevant facts. More...

FIBA/Euroleague: Basketball’s EU Competition Law Champions League- first leg in the Landgericht München. By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 3 June 2016, the Landgericht München (“Munich Regional Court”) ordered temporary injunctions against the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) and FIBA Europe, prohibiting them from sanctioning clubs who want to participate in competitions organized by Euroleague Commercial Assets (“ECA”). The reasoning of the Court is based on breaches of German and EU competition law provisions. FIBA and FIBA Europe are, according to the judge, abusing their dominant position by excluding or threatening to exclude national teams from their international competitions because of the participation of their clubs in the Euroleague. This decision is the first judicial step taken in the ongoing legal battle between FIBA and ECA over the organization of European basketball competitions.

This judgment raises several interesting points with regard to how the national judge deals with the alleged abuse of a dominant position by European and international federations. A few questions arise regarding the competence of the Munich Regional Court that may be interesting to first look at in the wake of an appeal before examining the substance of the case. More...

The Müller case: Revisiting the compatibility of fixed term contracts in football with EU Law. By Kester Mekenkamp

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 17 February 2016, the Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz delivered its highly anticipated decision in the appeal proceedings between German goalkeeper Heinz Müller and his former employer, German Bundesliga club Mainz 05.[1] The main legal debate revolved around the question (in general terms) whether the use of a fixed term contract in professional football is compatible with German and EU law. 

In first instance (see our earlier blog posts, here and here), the Arbeitsgericht Mainz had ruled that the ‘objective reasons’ provided in Section 14 (1) of the German Part-time and Fixed-term Employment Act (Gesetz über Teilzeitarbeit und befristete Arbeitsverträge, “TzBfG”), the national law implementing EU Directive 1999/70/EC on fixed-term work, were not applicable to the contract between Müller and Mainz 05 and therefore could not justify the definite nature of that contract.[2] In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.[3] Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like implications, if held up by higher courts.[4] More...

The BGH’s Pechstein Decision: A Surrealist Ruling

The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Highest Civil Court in Germany, in the Pechstein case was eagerly awaited. At the hearing in March, the Court decided it would pronounce itself on 7 June, and so it did. Let’s cut things short: it is a striking victory for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and a bitter (provisory?) ending for Claudia Pechstein. The BGH’s press release is abundantly clear that the German judges endorsed the CAS uncritically on the two main legal questions: validity of forced CAS arbitration and the independence of the CAS. The CAS and ISU are surely right to rejoice and celebrate the ruling in their respective press releases that quickly ensued (here and here). At first glance, this ruling will be comforting the CAS’ jurisdiction for years to come. Claudia Pechstein’s dire financial fate - she faces up to 300 000€ in legal fees – will serve as a powerful repellent for any athlete willing to challenge the CAS.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary revisited? (Part 2)

On 18 May 2016, the day the first part of this blog was published, the Commission said in response to the Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller’s question, that it had “not specifically monitored the tax relief (…) but would consider doing so. The Commission cannot prejudge the steps that it might take following such monitoring. However, the Commission thanks (Niedermüller) for drawing its attention to the report of Transparency International.”

With the actual implementation in Hungary appearing to deviate from the original objectives and conditions of the aid scheme, as discussed in part 1 of this blog, a possible monitoring exercise by the Commission of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme seems appropriate. The question remains, however, whether the Commission follows up on the intent of monitoring, or whether the intent should be regarded as empty words. This second part of the blog will outline the rules on reviewing and monitoring (existing) aid, both substantively and procedurally. It will determine, inter alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission to act and, if so, in what way. More...

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)

The tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 9 November 2011 marked a turning point as regards the Commission’s decisional practice in the field of State aid and sport. Between this date and early 2014, the Commission reached a total of ten decisions on State aid to sport infrastructure and opened four formal investigations into alleged State aid to professional football clubs like Real Madrid and Valencia CF.[1] As a result of the experience gained from the decision making, it was decided to include a Section on State aid to sport infrastructure in the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation. Moreover, many people, including myself, held that Commission scrutiny in this sector would serve to achieve better accountability and transparency in sport governance.[2]

Yet, a recent report by Transparency International (TI), published in October 2015, raises questions about the efficiency of State aid enforcement in the sport sector. The report analyzes the results and effects of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme and concludes that:

“(T)he sports financing system suffers from transparency issues and corruption risks. (…) The lack of transparency poses a serious risk of collusion between politics and business which leads to opaque lobbying. This might be a reason for the disproportionateness found in the distribution of the subsidies, which is most apparent in the case of (football) and (the football club) Felcsút.”[3]

In other words, according to TI, selective economic advantages from public resources are being granted to professional football clubs, irrespective of the tax benefit scheme greenlighted by the Commission or, in fact, because of the tax benefit scheme. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2016. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.  

The Headlines

This month saw the conflict between FIBA Europe and the Euroleague (more precisely its private club-supported organizing body, Euroleague Commercial Assets or ‘ECA’) becoming further entrenched. This dispute commenced with FIBA creating a rival Basketball Champions League, starting from the 2016-2017 season with the hope to reinstate their hold over the organization of European championships. The ECA, a private body that oversees the Euroleague and Eurocup, not only decided to maintain its competitions but also announced it would reduce them to a closed, franchise-based league following a joint-venture with IMG. In retaliation, FIBA Europe suspended fourteen federations of its competition (with the support of FIBA) due to their support for the Euroleague project.More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | 20 Years After Bosman - The New Frontiers of EU Law and Sport - Special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law

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

20 Years After Bosman - The New Frontiers of EU Law and Sport - Special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law

Editor's note: This is a short introduction written for the special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law celebrating the 20 years of the Bosman ruling and dedicated to the new frontiers of EU law and Sport (the articles are available here). For those willing to gain a deeper insight into the content of the Issue we organize (in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Maastricht Journal) a launching event with many of the authors in Brussels tomorrow (More info here).

 20 Years After Bosman - The New Frontiers of EU Law and Sport

By Antoine Duval

The Bosman ruling is not just another ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), it is by far the most well-known decision of the Court outside of the Euro-bubble.[1] In the UK the phrase ‘a Bosman’ is commonly used to qualify the free move of a football player to a new club at the end of his contract. Beyond its anchoring in the English idiom, Bosman stands out as a shared European reference. However, it is often – misleadingly - credited for all the ills and wrongs of football. In any case, it is part and parcel of the European (even worldwide) public debate on football and its regulation. If a European public sphere is to emerge at some point, the heated public discussion that was triggered in Europe by Bosman is probably an avant-goût of it. Therefore, 20 years after the ruling, the least a European sports lawyer and academic can do, is to acknowledge ones indebtedness and, to some extent, gratitude for this ruling.

One aspect that needs to be emphasized is that Bosman is not an instrument with the paramount objective to deregulate the football market or the world of sport in general. It is not, as many on the side of the Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs), and FIFA and UEFA in particular, have portrayed it, a decision aimed at destroying the transnational legal system (also known as lex sportiva) they had put in place to coordinate the organization and unfolding of transnational sporting competitions. On the contrary, SGBs have the possibility to justify their rules and regulations. As Stephen Weatherill rightly pointed out long ago, the only requirement SGBs have to fulfil to ensure that their regulations comply with EU law is to explain convincingly why they are needed.[2] Thus, a constructive (and positive) perspective on Bosman stresses its constitutional over its deregulatory function. Private regulations adopted by private powers, which are not particularly renowned for the quality of their governance, need to be subject to checks and balances. After Bosman, the EU free movement rights and competition law have impersonated such a check on (or counter-power to) the rules privately adopted and enforced by SGBs. In fact, it is here that the true, long-lasting legacy of Bosman lies.

This issue brings together a mixed line-up of both young and established scholars, sports law experts and EU law specialists, to discuss the legacy of Bosman and the future of the relationship between EU law and sport. Besides the synthetic and comprehensive introductory piece of Stefaan Van Den Bogaert that brings us back to the original crusade of Mr Bosman, all the contributions are geared towards the recent and future legacies of the ruling. A broad range of legal problems raised by the interaction of EU law and sport is touched upon. 

In the first article, Ben Van Rompuy builds on Advocate General Lenz’s conclusions in Bosman, the following practice adopted by the EU Commission as well as on the case law of the CJEU on competition law and sport to argue that competition law can be a powerful tool to impose a legal check on the regulatory practices of SGBs.

In the second piece, Phedon Nicolaides analyses a relatively new front line between EU law and sport: state aid. Although not directly connected to Bosman, state aid cases are taking a prominent place in the practice of the EU Commission in the field of sport. In fact, state aid law has become a useful legal proxy to control the way public authorities decide to support economically sporting organizations and their events.

The third piece by the editor of this issue is dedicated to the interaction between the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and EU law. Indeed, the emergence of the CAS is probably the most important institutional legacy of Bosman, and EU law now has a role to play in exercising a form of ‘Solange’ control over CAS’s judicial activity.

In the fourth article, which follows most clearly into the footpath of Bosman, Richard Parrish discusses the compatibility of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players (RSTP) with EU law. He suggests that the RSTP as it stands can be deemed contrary to EU law.

The fifth article of the issue by Jacob Kornbeck, a former member of the sports unit of the European Commission, analyses the role of the Commission in the drafting process of the new World Anti-Doping Code recently adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency. He highlights that the ethos of Bosman spread to other spheres of action of the EU in sport and shows concretely in what way it influenced the position of the EU in the negotiations over the new Code that entered into force in January 2015. Finally, Anna Sabrina Wollmann, Olivier Vonk and Gerard-René de Groot look at the growing problem of nationality requirements in sports. If Bosman stands more particularly for an Europeanization of football, globalization and the ease of cross-border movement for professional sportspeople have heightened the question of the sporting nationality of athletes worldwide. This contribution critically analyses the many calls for a separate sporting nationality and proposes an alternative path.

[1] Case C-415/93 Union royale belge des sociétés de football association ASBL v. Jean-Marc Bosman, Royal club liégeois SA v. Jean-Marc Bosman and others and Union des associations européennes de football (UEFA) v. Jean-Marc Bosman, EU:C:1995:463.

[2] ‘The ECJ has collapsed the idea that there are purely sporting practices unaffected by EC law despite their economic effect, but it has not refused to accept that sport is special. Its message to governing bodies – explain how!’, S. Weatherill, European Sports Law (T.M.C. Asser Press, 2007), p. 353.

Comments are closed