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

RFC Seraing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: How FIFA’s TPO ban Survived (Again) EU Law Scrutiny

Doyen (aka Doyen Sports Investment Limited) is nothing short of heroic in its fight against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has (sometimes indirectly through RFC Seraing) attacked the ban in front of the French courts, the Belgium courts, the European Commission and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This costly, and until now fruitless, legal battle has been chronicled in numerous of our blogs (here and here). It is coordinated by Jean-Louis Dupont, a lawyer who is, to say the least, not afraid of fighting the windmills of sport’s private regulators. Yet, this time around he might have hit the limits of his stubbornness and legal ‘maestria’. As illustrated by the most recent decision of the saga, rendered in March by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a case opposing the Belgium club RFC Seraing (or Seraing) to FIFA. The arguments in favour of the ban might override those against it. At least this is the view espoused by the CAS, and until tested in front of another court (preferably the CJEU) it will remain an influential one. The French text of the CAS award has just been published and I will take the opportunity of having for once an award in my native language to offer a first assessment of the CAS’s reasoning in the case, especially with regard to its application of EU law. More...

The Validity of Unilateral Extension Options in Football – Part 1: A European Legal Mess. By Saverio Spera

Editor’s Note: Saverio Spera is an Italian lawyer and LL.M. graduate in International Business Law at King’s College London. He is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

                 

In the football world the use of unilateral extension options (hereafter UEOs) in favour of the clubs is common practice. Clubs in Europe and, especially, South America make extensive use of this type of contractual clauses, since it gives them the exclusive possibility to prolong the employment relationship with players whose contracts are about to come to an end. This option gives to a club the right to extend the duration of a player’s contract for a certain agreed period after its initial expiry, provided that some previously negotiated conditions are met. In particular, these clauses allow clubs to sign young promising players for short-term contracts, in order to ascertain their potential, and then extend the length of their contracts.[1] Here lies the great value of UEOs for clubs: they can let the player go if he is not performing as expected, or unilaterally retain him if he is deemed valuable. Although an indisputably beneficial contractual tool for any football club, these clauses are especially useful to clubs specialized in the development of young players.[2] After the Bosman case, clubs have increasingly used these clauses in order to prevent players from leaving their clubs for free at the end of their contracts.[3] The FIFA Regulations do not contain any provisions regulating this practice, consequently the duty of clarifying the scope and validity of the options lied with the national courts, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) and the CAS. This two-part blog will attempt to provide the first general overview on the issue.[4] My first blog will be dedicated to the validity of UEOs clauses in light of national laws and of the jurisprudence of numerous European jurisdictions. In a second blog, I will review the jurisprudence of the DRC and the CAS on this matter. More...

Call for papers: ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law - 26-27 October 2017

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is very pleased to invite you to submit abstracts for its first Annual Conference on International Sports Law. The ISLJ, published by Springer in collaboration with ASSER Press, is the leading publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes both academics and many practitioners active in the field. On 26-27 October 2017, the International Sports Law Centre of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and the editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal will host in The Hague the first ever ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law. The conference will feature panels on the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the world anti-doping system, the global governance of sports, the FIFA transfer regulations, comparative sports law, and much more.

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International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March 2017. By Tomáš Grell

 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.

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The legality of surety undertakings in relation to minor football players: the Lokilo case. By Adriaan Wijckmans

Editor's note: Adriaan Wijckmans is an associate specialized in sports law at the Belgium law firm Altius.

In a recent judgment, the Brussels Court of First Instance confirmed the legality of a so-called surety undertaking, i.e. an agreement in which the parents of a minor playing football guarantee that their child will sign a professional contract with a football club as soon as the child reaches the legal age of majority.

This long-awaited ruling was hailed, on the one hand, by clubs as a much needed and eagerly anticipated confirmation of a long-standing practice in Belgian football[1] and, on the other hand, criticised by FIFPro, the international player’s trade union, in a scathing press release. More...



Kosovo at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – Constructing Statehood Through Sport? By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

Editor's Note: Ryan is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, he defended his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in December 2015. His dissertation examined human rights violations caused by international sporting events, and how international sporting organisations may be held accountable for these violations. 


“Serious sport…is war minus the shooting.” – George Orwell

 

In May 2016, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) admitted the Football Federation of Kosovo (Kosovo) as a member. The voting was close, with 28 member federations in favour, 24 opposed, and 2 whose votes were declared invalid. The practical outcome of this decision is that Kosovo would be able participate in the UEFA Euro championship, and that Kosovo teams could qualify for the UEFA Champions’ League or Europa League. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2017. By Tomáš Grell

 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. More...

FIFA's Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses in Qatar – Part II: The Zurich Court's Ruling - By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell comes from Slovakia and is currently an LL.M. student in Public International Law at Leiden University. He contributes also to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a part-time intern.

This is a follow-up contribution to my previous blog on FIFA's responsibility for human rights abuses in Qatar published last week. Whereas the previous part has examined the lawsuit filed with the Commercial Court of the Canton of Zurich ('Court') jointly by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam ('Plaintiffs') against FIFA, this second part will focus on the Court's ruling dated 3 January 2017 ('Ruling').[1]  More...



FIFA's Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses in Qatar - Part I: The Claims Against FIFA - By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell comes from Slovakia and is currently an LL.M. student in Public International Law at Leiden University. He contributes also to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a part-time intern.

On 2 December 2010, the FIFA Executive Committee elected Qatar as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup ('World Cup'), thereby triggering a wave of controversies which underlined, for the most part, the country's modest size, lack of football history, local climate, disproportionate costs or corruption that accompanied the selection procedure. Furthermore, opponents of the decision to award the World Cup to the tiny oil-rich Gulf country also emphasized the country's negative human rights record.

More than six years later, on 3 January 2017, the Commercial Court of the Canton of Zurich ('Court') dismissed the lawsuit filed against FIFA[1] jointly by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam ('Plaintiffs').[2] The Plaintiffs requested the Court to find FIFA responsible for alleged human rights violations of migrant workers in connection with the World Cup in Qatar. Had the Plaintiffs' claims been upheld by the Court, such decision would have had far-reaching consequences on the fate of thousands of migrants, mostly from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, who are currently working on the construction of sporting facilities and other infrastructure associated with organization of the World Cup. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | A Question of (dis)Proportion: The CAS Award in the Luis Suarez Biting Saga

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

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). 


I.               Admissibility: Can FC Barcelona join the appeal?

As a preliminary matter, FIFA was contesting the right of FC Barcelona to take part in the appeal against the decision. The Panel judged that “in light of the specific circumstances of the case, taking into account the impact of the specific sanction imposed, the Panel finds that the Club is sufficiently affected by the Appealed Decision and that the Club has a tangible interest of financial and sporting nature at stake” (par. 47). In other words, “in a case where the FIFA authorities are issuing a sanction against a player and such sanction affects direct financial interests of a club, such club must have the possibility to appeal (within the applicable deadline) such decision in order to be able to protect its legal interests, even if this interests became actual after the challenged decision was issued” (par.48). In short, the right to appeal to CAS is extended to the club of the player, even when he is not party to the original proceedings.

 

II.             Merits: Is it the right sanction?

a.     The applicability of Art. 57 FIFA DC

The first problem raised was “whether the actions of the Player at the Match constitute […] an unsporting behaviour to be sanctioned […] under art. 57 FIFA DC” (par.69). The club and the player were invoking various well-known principles of criminal law (ne bis in idem and nulla poena sine lege certa) against it, but the arbitrators decided to reject these objections (par.70-74). Interestingly, the Panel held that “it is not necessary for the principles of predictability and legality to be respected that the football player should know, in advance of his infringement, the exact rule he may infringe, as well as the measure and kind of sanction he is liable to incur because of the infringement”. Furthermore, “[t]he fact that the competent body applying the FIFA DC has the discretion to adjust the sanction mentioned in the rules deemed applicable to the individual behaviour of a player breaching such rules is not inconsistent with those principles” (par.73). Yet, the Panel was also of the opinion that “the wording of art. 57 FIFA DC shows that this provision contains a mere general clause, trying to cover all possible conducts against fair play, which are not yet covered by other articles, or “consumed” by the application of any other provision, of the FIFA DC”. Hence, “to the extent the action of biting (in the circumstances in which it occurred at the Match) falls within the scope of art. 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC (as all the parties concede), since the kinds of “assaulting” therein described (“elbowing, punching, kicking”) are expressly not exhaustive (“... etc.”), the same action could not be comprised in the scope of art. 57 FIFA DC, even though the Player’s assaulting in the case at hand, being a misconduct, is also against fair play”. Thus, “the punishment of the Player is already and fully covered by the application of art. 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC – with no room left for art. 57 FIFA DC, wrongly applied by the FIFA disciplinary bodies” (par.77). In short, article 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC is deemed the lex specialis to art. 57 FIFA DC. Therefore, “any sanction going beyond those allowed by art. 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC would be inappropriate to the peculiarities of the case and would be disproportionate” (par.78).

b.     The existence of mitigating factors and aggravating circumstances

The claimants argued that the FIFA disciplinary bodies did not take in account the mitigating factors and wrongfully assumed aggravating circumstances. The Panel rebuts this line of thinking. Indeed, regarding “the question of the relevance to be given to the Player’s remorse as a mitigating factor, the Panel, looking at the non-contested facts and the Parties’ allegations, finds that the margin of discretion the FIFA Appeal Committee had to judge this case was not exceeded, and that it was correctly exercised” (par.81). The arbitrators find that “the remorse of an offender can hardly be given any weight when the same offender had in precedent occasions committed the same infringement and in those occasions had already expressed its remorse and pledged not to repeat that infringement” (par.83). Moreover, “the remorse and apologies shown by the Player after having already been sanctioned cannot have the same impact as a remorse expressed immediately after the event and before any disciplinary proceeding is started and/or sanction is imposed” (par.83). Additionally, “the disciplinary bodies could take into account the fact that the Player had already committed in two preceding occasions the very same infringement, and irrespective of the level (national) of the competition in which they had occurred” (par.87). Thus, the Panel is of the view that the discretion granted to the FIFA Appeal Committee by art.39 par. 4 FIFA DC in weighing the mitigating factors and aggravating circumstances was properly exercised (par.90). The sanction against Luis Suarez is not based on an erroneous analysis of the factual situation. Indeed, remorse can only come into play if immediately voiced, while the concept of recidivism should be interpreted widely as including a similar wrongdoing in the framework of any football competition. 

c.      The proportionality of the ban

The key argument raised by the appellants against the length (and nature) of the FIFA sanctions imposed on Luis Suarez concerned the proportionality of the sanctions (par.91-108). In that regard, FC Barcelona and Suarez argued that “the biting of the Player is not an act of extreme violence and that there was no damage or injury caused to the opposing player, as he was able to continue to play without medical assistance” (par.93), while FIFA dismissively stated that “CAS should not correct any of its decisions if it is not considered to be “evidently and grossly disproportionate to the offence”” (par.94). The Panel rejected both analyses. On the one hand, it held that “biting is absolutely foreign to football and therefore to be considered as a sort of aggravated assault” and “the fact that the opposing player was not injured could not be considered a mitigating factor in the case at hand “(par.95). However, on the other hand, it also held that “the Player is responsible (only) for the violation of art. 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC” (par.96). Therefore, “the four (4) month ban on taking part in any football-related activity and the prohibition of entering the confines of any stadiums, not allowed for a violation of art. 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC, could not be applied” (par.96). Nevertheless, due to its specific nature as an intentional assault, the biting “deserves a sanction well above the minimum level of a two match suspension and a fine indicated as such in art. 48 FIFA DC” (par.97).

In conclusion, “the Panel finds that the four (4) month ban of the Player on taking part in any football-related activity and the prohibition of entering the confines of any stadiums are not contemplated by art. 48 par. 1 lit. d) FIFA DC, and are also not appropriate to the infringement committed by the Player on the pitch” (par.104). Moreover, “the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the FIFA Appeals Committee did not take into consideration that with the four (4) months ban of the Player on taking part in any football-related activity and from entering the confines of any stadiums, the Player actually was prohibited to train with a team and keep his fitness in order to be ready to start playing for the Club after and above this four (4) month ban” (par.105). Furthermore, “this prohibition appears to impact, without any legitimate justification in the case at hand, on the general possibility for the Player to derive profits from his image as football player – beyond the simple participation in football matches” (par.105). Besides, “no justification was offered in the Appealed Decision (beyond a generic reference to the gravity of his actions) in support of the specific sanction of the stadium ban– a measure usually imposed to hooligans, which in the case of the Player does not seem to pursue any legitimate purpose” (par.106). In light of all of this, the Panel decides “to replace the sanction of the prohibition on exercising any football-related activity for four (4) months with the sanction of a match ban (applicable to official matches played at any level) for the same period” (par.107). 


Conclusion

Luis Suarez is long back on the pitch and the practical relevance of this discussion is very limited for his future career. Yet, interesting insights can be derived from this award. Litigants in disciplinary cases involving FIFA will be interested to know that a Club, even if it is not directly part to a dispute in front of FIFA’s disciplinary bodies, might have a legitimate right to appeal a decision rendered against one of its players. More importantly, the systematic interaction between article 48 and 57 FIFA DC has been clarified. Article 48 FIFA DC constitutes a lex specialis to article 57 FIFA DC and, thus, both cannot be applied cumulatively to sanction a player more heavily. This is not to say that a very peculiar offense, like the one at hand, will not face a tough sanction. Nonetheless, a sanction imposing a drastic stadium or football-related activity ban, threatening the player’s ability to derive any revenues from his work, will be deemed disproportionate unless it is thoroughly justified. This is a clear warning not only to FIFA’s disciplinary bodies but also to any Sports Governing Body: the harsher you get, the stronger the supporting reasoning must be.

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