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

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Why the existing athletes' Olympic entering system does not comply with the fundamental principles of Olympism enshrined in the Olympic Charter - By Anna Antseliovich

Editor's note: Anna Antseliovich heads the sports practice at the Moscow-based legal group Clever Consult. She also works as a senior researcher at the Federal Science Center for Physical Culture and Sport (Russia).


The Olympic Games have always been a source of genuine interest for spectators as Olympians have repeatedly demonstrated astounding capacity of the human body and mind in winning Olympic gold, or by achieving success despite all odds.

At the ancient and even the first modern Olympic Games, there was no concept of a national team; each Olympian represented only himself/herself. However, at the 1906 Intercalated Games[1] for the first time, athletes were nominated by the National Olympic Committees (‘NOCs’) and competed as members of national teams representing their respective countries. At the opening ceremony, the athletes walked under the flags of their countries. This was a major shift, which meant that not only the athletes themselves competed against each other, but so too did the nations in unofficial medal standings.  

The nomination and selection of athletes by their NOCs to compete under their national flag and represent their country is a matter of pride for the vast majority of athletes. However, to what extent does such a scheme correspond to the ideals which the Olympic Games were based on in ancient times? Is it possible to separate sport and politics in the modern world? 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 - 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games - Introduction

Women In Sports Law (WISLaw) is an international, non-profit association based in Switzerland and aimed at promoting women in the sports law sector, through scientific and networking events, annual meetings and annual reports. WISLaw’s objectives are to raise awareness of the presence, role and contribution of women in the sports law sector, enhance their cooperation, and empower its global membership through various initiatives.

This year, WISLaw has partnered with the Asser International Sports Law Blog to organise a special blog symposium featuring WISLaw members. The  symposium will entail both the publication of a series of blog posts authored by WISLaw members, and a virtual webinar (accessible at https://lnkd.in/dgWsy6q with the Passcode 211433) to promote discussion on the selected topics. Article contributions were invited on the topic of legal issues surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the midst of a pandemic and the rise of social justice movements around the world, the Games and their organisation gave rise to a number of interesting legal issues and challenges, which will be explored through a variety of lenses. 

We hope that you enjoy and participate in the discussion.

New Event! The Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights - Prof. Helen Keller - 26 May - 16:00

On Wednesday 26 May 2021 from 16.00-17.00 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret (University of Lausanne), is organising its fifth Zoom In webinar on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from the perspective of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

We have the pleasure to be joined by Prof. Helen Keller, former Judge at the ECtHR and a prominent dissenter to the majority’s ruling in the Mutu and Pechstein case.

The ECtHR decision in the Mutu and Pechstein case rendered on 2 October 2018 is widely seen as one of the most important European sports law rulings. It was also the first decision of the Strasbourg court dealing with a case in which the CAS had issued an award. The applicants, Adrian Mutu and Claudia Pechstein, were both challenging the compatibility of CAS proceedings with the procedural rights enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The court famously declined to conclude that the CAS lacked independence or impartiality, but did find that, insofar as Claudia Pechstein was concerned, she was forced to undergo CAS arbitration and, therefore, that CAS proceedings had to fully comply with the procedural rights guaranteed in the ECHR. In particular, the court held that the refusal by CAS to hold a public hearing, in spite of Claudia Pechstein’s express request, was contrary to Article 6(1) ECHR. Beyond this case, as highlighted by the recent decision of Caster Semenya to submit an application to the ECtHR, the decision opens the way for a more systematic intervention of the Strasbourg court in assessing the human rights compatibility of CAS awards and more broadly of the transnational sports regulations imposed by international sports governing bodies.

Prof. Helen Keller will discuss with us the implications of the ECtHR’s Mutu and Pechstein decision and the potential for future interventions by the court in the realm of the lex sportiva.

The webinar will take the form of an interview followed by a short Q&A open to the digital public. 

Please note the discussion will NOT be recorded and posted on our Youtube channel. 

Register HERE!


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...



New Digital Masterclass - Mastering the FIFA Transfer System - 29-30 April

The mercato, or transfer window, is for some the most exciting time in the life of a football fan. During this narrow period each summer and winter (for the Europeans), fantastic football teams are made or taken apart. What is less often known, or grasped is that behind the breaking news of the latest move to or from your favourite club lies a complex web of transnational rules, institutions and practices.

Our new intensive two-day Masterclass aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) to a small group of dedicated legal professionals who have the ambition to advise football clubs, represent players or join football governing bodies. The course combines theoretical insights on FIFA’s regulation of the transfer market with practical know-how of the actual operation of the RSTP distilled by hands-on practitioners.

Download the full Programme and register HERE.


The Team:

  • Dr Antoine Duval is a senior researcher at the Asser Institute and the head of the Asser International Sports Law Centre. He has widely published and lectured on transnational sports law, sports arbitration and the interaction between EU law and sport. He is an avid football fan and football player and looks forward to walking you through the intricacies of the FIFA transfer system.

  • Carol Couse is a Partner in the sports team at Mills & Reeve LLP , with extensive in-house and in private practice experience of dealing with sports regulatory matters, whether contentious or non-contentious.  She has advised on many multi million pound international football transfer agreements, playing contracts and image rights agreements on behalf clubs, players and agents.
  • Jacques Blondin is an Italian lawyer, who joined FIFA inundefined 2015, working for the Disciplinary Department. In 2019, he was appointed Head of FIFA TMS (now called FIFA Regulatory Enforcement) where he is responsible, among other things, for ensuring compliance in international transfers within the FIFA Transfer Matching System.
  • Oskar van Maren joined FIFA as a Legal Counsel in December 2017, forming part of the Knowledge Management Hub, a department created in September 2020. Previously, he worked for FIFA’s Players' Status Department. Between April 2014 and March 2017, he worked as a Junior Researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut. He holds an LL.M in European law from Leiden University (The Netherlands).
  • Rhys Lenarduzzi is currently a research intern at the Asser International Sports Law Centre, where he focuses in particular on the transnational regulation of football. Prior to this, he acquired over 5 years of experience as a sports agent and consultant, at times representing over 50 professional athletes around the world from various sports, though predominantly football.




(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...


“Sport Sex” before the European Court of Human Rights - Caster Semenya v. Switzerland - By Michele Krech

Editor's note: Michele Krech is a JSD Candidate and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow at NYU School of Law. She was retained as a consultant by counsel for Caster Semenya in the proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport discussed above. She also contributed to two reports mentioned in this blog post: the Report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport (June 2020); and the Human Rights Watch Report, “They’re Chasing Us Away from Sport”: Human Rights Violations in Sex Testing of Elite Women Athletes (December 2020).

This blog was first published by the Völkerrechtsblog and is republished here with authorization. Michele Krech will be joining our next Zoom In webinar on 31 March to discuss the next steps in the Caster Semenya case.



Sport is the field par excellence in which discrimination
against intersex people has been made most visible.

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Issue Paper: Human rights and intersex people (2015)


Olympic and world champion athlete Caster Semenya is asking the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to make sure all women athletes are “allowed to run free, for once and for all”. Semenya brings her application against Switzerland, which has allowed a private sport association and a private sport court to decide – with only the most minimal appellate review by a national judicial authority – what it takes for women, legally and socially identified as such all their lives, to count as women in the context of athletics. I consider how Semenya’s application might bring human rights, sex, and sport into conversation in ways not yet seen in a judicial forum. More...







Asser International Sports Law Blog | Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 1)

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

Bailing out your local football club: The Willem II and MVV State Aid decisions as blueprint for future rescue aid (Part 1)

The European Commission’s decisions of 4 July 2016 to order the recovery of the State aid granted to seven Spanish professional football clubs[1] were in a previous blog called historic. It was the first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities. Less attention has been given to five other decisions also made public that day, which cleared support measures for five football clubs in the Netherlands. The clubs in question were PSV Eindhoven, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen, FC Den Bosch and Willem II.

Given the inherent political sensitivity of State aid recovery decisions, it is logical that the “Spanish decisions” were covered more widely than the “Dutch decisions”. Furthermore, clubs like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona automatically get more media attention than FC Den Bosch or Willem II. Yet, even though the “Dutch decisions” are of a lower profile, from an EU State aid law perspective, they are not necessarily less interesting.

A few days before entering the quiet month of August, the Commission published the non-confidential versions of its decisions concerning PSV Eindhoven, Willem II and MVV Maastricht (hereinafter: “MVV”). The swiftness of these publications is somewhat surprising, since it often takes at least three months to solve all the confidentiality issues. Nonetheless, nobody will complain (especially not me) about this opportunity to analyze in depth these new decisions.

In the case of PSV, the Dutch State argued successfully that the measure implemented by the city of Eindhoven was in line with the so-called ‘Market Economy Investor Principle’ (MEIP), thereby not constituting a selective advantage to PSV. In other words, the measure did not fulfill the criteria of Article 107(1) TFEU and was not considered State aid. The aid measures granted by the cities of Tilburg and Maastricht to Willem II and MVV respectively were considered compatible State aid under Article 107(3)c) TFEU. Interestingly enough, in the Willem II and MVV cases, the Dutch authorities also argued that the respective measures did not confer any selective advantage to the clubs, but they failed to convince the Commission.

A comparison between the PSV decision on the one hand, and the other “Dutch” decisions on the other, taking into account the definition and operation of the MEIP in the (professional) football sector, will be left for a future blog. This two-part blog, instead, will focus on the compatibility assessment under Article 107(3)(c) done by the Commission in the Willem II and MVV cases and explain why it considered the State aid measure justified.

Part one will serve as an introduction on the two cases. It will provide background information on the compatibility assessment. In part two, the compatibility assessment conducted by the Commission in the two decisions will be analyzed. As will be argued, the conditions set out by the Commission can serve as a blueprint for all public authorities within the EU willing to grant State aid to football clubs in financial difficulties.  


Background

Willem II

In 2004, the municipality of Tilburg and football club Willem II concluded a contract, by which Tilburg became the owner of Willem II’s stadium and the club obtained a lease for the use of the stadium.[2] The annual rent of the stadium was established at €1 million, based on a depreciation period of 30 years, investment costs and an interest rate of 5.5%.[3]

In May 2010, Willem II found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The municipality was quick to realize the potential negative effects a bankruptcy could have for Tilburg. These negative effects consisted of (1) the loss of rental income; (2) the absence of a tenant for the stadium; (3) the absence of professional football in Tilburg; and (4) the necessity to demolish the stadium and all the costs it would entail.[4] As a result, on 31 May 2010 the municipality decided to lower the rent to €905,000 per year and to decrease the variable costs. Both measures were taken with retroactive effect till 1 July 2004, which resulted in Willem II receiving a total of €2.4 million from the municipality.[5]

Tilburg’s rescue operation of Willem II was never notified to the Commission.[6] Instead, a citizen informed DG Competition shortly after the measure was implemented by means of a letter. This prompted the Commission to send a request for information to the Netherlands on 14 March 2011.[7]

In response to the Commission, the Dutch authorities argued that the new rent agreement was in conformity with the current municipal calculation methods and that the basic principles of the 2004 agreement were still respected. Moreover, the costs Tilburg would suffer for letting Willem II go bankrupt would be higher than the rescue costs. Consequently, the municipality believed it acted in accordance with the so-called ‘Market Economy Investor Principle’ (MEIP).[8] Moreover, the municipality imposed a restructuring plan that aimed at restoring the club’s long-term viability. The conditions of this plan included finding a way to clean up its balance sheet and the need to respect the national football association's norms for salaries of players.[9]

In its decision to open a formal investigation, the Commission counter argued that the depreciation of the stadium’s rent was already adjusted in 2007, and would not justify the retroactive application until 2004. Additionally, the lowering of the variable costs with retro-active effects ended up to be lower than the actual maintenance costs for that period, and should therefore be considered as State aid in accordance with Article 107(1) TFEU.[10] Finally, at the time the Commission launched the formal investigation, it nourished doubts whether the aid measure could be considered compatible with the internal market pursuant Article 107(3)(c). Having received no notification of the rescue measure, the Commission was unable to carry out a proper compatibility assessment. 


MVV

In 2010, football club MVV was facing severe financial difficulties: its total debt amounted to €6.5 million, including €1.7 million to the municipality of Maastricht. As a means of aiding its local football club, the municipality decided to waive its claim of €1.7 million and bought the stadium for €1.85 million.[11] The municipality held that the purchase was done in accordance with the MEIP and that the stadium would be used for multifunctional purposes. The parties agreed that MVV would use the €1.85 million to finance preferential claims, such as taxes and pensions.[12] 

The Commission opened a formal investigation procedure, because it was unable to conclude on the basis of the available information (the rescue measures were not notified[13]) that the behaviour of the municipality had been that of the typical creditor in a market economy.[14] Firstly, it doubted whether a total remission of the claim (€1.7 million) was entirely necessary, since other creditors transformed their claim into a claim on future income from transfer payments or “only” waived 50% of their claim. Secondly, according to the Commission, the purchase price of the stadium was estimated on the basis of replacement value rather than the real market value. It further raised doubts as to whether the municipality acted in accordance with the MEIP since investing in a football stadium depending on one captive user entails a very high risk, even when claiming that you want to make it multifunctional.[15] Similar to the Willem II case, no compatibility assessment of the aid measure in favour of MVV was carried out, because the measure was not notified.[16] 


The rules on compatibility

Pursuant to Article 107(3)(c) TFEU, aid to facilitate the development of certain economic activities, where such aid does not adversely affect trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest, may be considered compatible with the internal market. Only the Commission has the competence (subject to control by the EU Courts) to determine whether or not certain aid merits derogation from the general prohibition of Article 107(1).[17] However, it is settled case law that it is up to the Member State to invoke possible grounds of compatibility and to demonstrate that the conditions for such compatibility are met.[18] Due to its own wide discretion to assess the compatibility, the Commission has developed its own methodologies and approaches over the years, found in the decisional practice, policy documents[19] and sector specific guidelines.[20] 


The Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines

The Community Guidelines of 1 October 2004 on State aid for rescue and restructuring firms in difficulty (hereinafter: “Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines”) primarily serve as a tool for the Commission to assess similar cases in a similar way.[21] The criteria and conditions laid down in the Guidelines are mostly based on the Commission’s own experience in dealing with cases involving State aid in favour of firms in difficulty and case law by the Court of Justice of the EU. Due to the continuous developments in the area of EU State aid law, the Guidelines are regularly updated.[22] In the Guidelines, the Commission sets out the conditions under which State aid for rescuing and restructuring undertakings in difficulty may be considered compatible with the internal market. These conditions include the notification obligation for the Member State,[23] as well as demonstrating that the firm qualifies as ‘a firm in difficulty’. As is stipulated in point 11 of the Guidelines, a firm is considered to be in difficulties where the usual signs of a firm being in difficulty are present, such as increasing losses, diminishing turnover and mounting debt.

In order to rescue a firm from bankruptcy, the Member State has to show that it limits the amount of aid provided to that which is strictly necessary to keep the firm in business.[24] Section 3.2 of the Guidelines requires that the grant of the aid must be conditional on the implementation of a restructuring plan that restores the long term viability of the firm.[25] The restructuring plan needs to be approved by the Member State concerned and communicated to the Commission.[26]

The Member States granting the restructuring aid will have to limit the amount and intensity of the aid to the strict minimum of the restructuring costs necessary to enable restructuring to be undertaken in the light of the existing financial resources of the firm. This also means that the beneficiaries are expected to make a significant contribution to the restructuring plan from their own resources.[27] The Commission will normally consider the following contributions to the restructuring to be appropriate: at least 25 % in the case of small enterprises, at least 40 % for medium-sized enterprises and at least 50 % for large firms.[28]

The Guidelines also stipulate that, in case the firm in difficulty is considered a medium-sized enterprise or larger[29], compensatory measures must be taken by the Member State that grants the rescue and/or restructuring aid in order to ensure that the adverse effects on trading conditions are minimized as much as possible, so that the positive effects pursued outweigh the adverse ones.[30] These last two conditions (i.e. limiting the aid to what is strictly necessary and introducing compensatory measures) have the aim of ensuring that the State aid measure is proportionate to the objective tackled, namely rescuing and/or restructuring a firm in difficulty.

Last but not least, the so-called ‘one time, last time’ principle has to be applied. According to this principle, rescue aid should only be granted once.[31] 


In the coming days, the key part of the Commission’s decisions, the compatibility assessment, will be discussed in part two of this blog.



[1] Real Madrid (twice), FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules.

[2] Commission Decision on State Aid SA.40168 of 4 July 2016 implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club Willem II in Tilburg, para. 10.

[3] Commission Decision SA.33584 of 6 March 2013 – The Netherlands Alleged municipal aid to the Professional Dutch football clubs Vitesse, NEC, Willem II, MVV, PSV and FC Den Bosch in 2008-2011, para. 29.

[4] Ibid, para. 30.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, para. 67.

[7] Ibid, paras. 3-4. To find out how a citizen’s letter can instigate a preliminary State aid investigation, see Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren, “EU Control of State Aid to Professional Sport: Why Now?” In: “The Legacy of Bosman. Revisiting the relationship between EU law and sport”, T.M.C. Asser Press, 2016.

[8] The essence of this principle is that when a public authority invests in an enterprise on terms and in conditions that would be acceptable to a private investor operating under normal market economy conditions, the investment is not State aid.

[9] SA.40168, para. 12.

[10] SA.33584, paras. 29-31 and 51-53.

[11] Ibid, para. 32.

[12] Ibid, para. 57.

[13] Ibid, para. 67.

[14] Commission Decision on State Aid SA.41612 of 4 July 2016 implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club MVV in Maastricht, para. 12.

[15] SA.33584, paras. 54-57.

[16] SA.41612, para. 11.

[17] According to settled case law, national courts do not have the power to declare a State aid measure compatible with the internal market. See e.g. C-354/90, Fédération Nationale du Commerce Extérieur des Produits Alimentaires and Syndicat National des Négociants et Transformateurs de Saumon v French Republic, ECLI:EU:C:1991:440, para. 14.

[18] SA.41612, para. 42; see also Case C-364/90, Italy v Commission, ECLI:EU:C:1993:157, point 20.

[19] See for example Communication from the Commission COM(2012) of 8 May 2012 to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – EU State Aid Modernisation (SAM), para. 12.

[20] See for example the Communication from the Commission OJ C25/01 of 26 January 2013 on the EU Guidelines for the application of State aid rules in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks, paras. 32-34.

[21] In July 2014, the Commission published new Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring undertakings in difficulty, but they are not applicable to aid granted in 2010.

[22] The Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines published in 2014 are the fourth of its sort after earlier versions published in 1994, 1999 and 2004.

[23] Communication from the Commission of 1 October 2004 (2004/C 244/02) Community Guidelines on State Aid for Rescuing and Restructuring firms in difficulty, point 25(c).

[24] Ibid, point 25(d).

[25] Ibid, poins 34-37.

[26] Ibid, point 59. In this regard, it should be noted that the Commission does not need to endorse the restructuring plan.

[27] By “own resources” the Commission also understands funding from external financiers at market conditions.

[28] Guidelines on State Aid for Rescuing and Restructuring firms in difficulty, points 43-44.

[29] The Commission’s definition of Small and Medium-Sized enterprises (SMEs), as stipulated in the Annex of the Commission Recommendation concerning the definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, is also used in the Rescue and Restructuring Guidelines. Pursuant to Article 2 of the SME Recommendation, a small enterprise is defined as an enterprise which employs fewer than 50 persons and whose annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total does not exceed €10 million, whereas a medium-seized enterprise is defined as an enterprise which employs fewer than 250 persons and which has an annual turnover not exceeding €50 million, and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceeding €43 million.

[30] Guidelines on State Aid for Rescuing and Restructuring firms in difficulty, point 38.

[31] Ibid, point 25(e) and section 3.3. In practice, this actually means that rescue or restructuring aid can only be granted once every 10 years.

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