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

Blog Symposium: The “Athlete Patient” and the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code: Competing Under Medical Treatment. By Marjolaine Viret and Emily Wisnosky

Introduction: The new WADA Code 2015
Day 1: The impact of the revised World Anti-Doping Code on the work of National Anti-Doping Agencies
Day 3: Proof of intent (or lack thereof) under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code
Day 4: Ensuring proportionate sanctions under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code

Editor's Note
Marjolaine Viret: An attorney-at-law at the Geneva bar, specialising in sports and health law. Her doctoral work in anti-doping was awarded a summa cum laude by the University of Fribourg in early 2015. She gained significant experience in sports arbitration as a senior associate in one of Switzerland’s leading law firms, advising clients, including major sports federations, on all aspects of anti-doping. She also holds positions within committees in sports organisations and has been involved in a variety of roles in the implementation of the 2015 WADC. Her book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law” is scheduled for publication in 2015.

Emily Wisnosky: An attorney-at-law admitted to the California bar, she currently participates in the WADC 2015 Commentary research project as a doctoral researcher. She also holds an LLM from the University of Geneva in International Dispute Settlement, with a focus on sports arbitration. Before studying law, she worked as a civil engineer. More...





Blog Symposium: The impact of the revised World Anti-Doping Code on the work of National Anti-Doping Agencies. By Herman Ram

Introduction: The new WADA Code 2015
Day 2: The “Athlete Patient” and the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code: Competing Under Medical Treatment
Day 3: Proof of intent (or lack thereof) under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code
Day 4: Ensuring proportionate sanctions under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code

Editor's note
Herman Ram is the Chief Executive Officer of the Anti-Doping Authority the Netherlands, which is the National Anti-Doping Organization of the country. He has held this position since 2006. After working twelve years as a librarian, Herman Ram started his career in sport management in 1992, when he became Secretary general of the Royal Netherlands Chess Federation. In 1994, he moved on to the same position at the Netherlands Badminton Federation. He was founder and first secretary of the Foundation for the Promotion of Elite Badminton that was instrumental in the advancement of Dutch badminton. In 2000 he was appointed Secretary general of the Netherlands Ski Federation, where he focused, among other things, on the organization of large snowsports events in the Netherlands. Since his appointment as CEO of the Anti-Doping Authority, he has developed a special interest in legal, ethical and managerial aspects of anti-doping policies, on which he has delivered numerous presentations and lectures. On top of that, he acts as Spokesperson for the Doping Authority. Herman Ram holds two Master’s degrees, in Law and in Sport Management. More...




Blog Symposium: The new WADA Code 2015 - Introduction

Day 1: The impact of the revised World Anti-Doping Code on the work of National Anti-Doping Agencies
Day 2: The “Athlete Patient” and the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code: Competing Under Medical Treatment
Day 3: Proof of intent (or lack thereof) under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code
Day 4: Ensuring proportionate sanctions under the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code

On 1 January, a new version of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC or Code) entered into force. This blog symposium aims at taking stock of this development and at offering a preliminary analysis of the key legal changes introduced. The present blog will put the WADC into a more general historical and political context. It aims to briefly retrace the emergence of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and its Code. It will also reconstruct the legislative process that led to the adoption of the WADC 2015 and introduce the various contributions to the blog symposium.More...






To pay or not to pay? That is the question. The case of O’Bannon v. NCAA and the struggle of student athletes in the US. By Zlatka Koleva

Editor's note
Zlatka Koleva is a graduate from the Erasmus University Rotterdam and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

The decision on appeal in the case of O’Bannon v. NCAA seems, at first sight, to deliver answers right on time regarding the unpaid use of names, images and likenesses (NILs) of amateur college athletes, which has been an ongoing debate in the US after last year’s district court decision that amateur players in the college games deserve to receive compensation for their NILs.[1] The ongoing struggle for compensation in exchange for NILs used in TV broadcasts and video games in the US has reached a turning point and many have waited impatiently for the final say of the Court of Appeal for the 9th circuit. The court’s ruling on appeal for the 9th circuit, however, raises more legitimate concerns for amateur sports in general than it offers consolation to unprofessional college sportsmen. While the appellate court agreed with the district court that NCAA should provide scholarships amounting to the full cost of college attendance to student athletes, the former rejected deferred payment to students of up to 5,000 dollars for NILs rights. The conclusions reached in the case relate to the central antitrust concerns raised by NCAA, namely the preservation of consumer demand for amateur sports and how these interests can be best protected under antitrust law. More...



The European Commission’s ISU antitrust investigation explained. By Ben Van Rompuy

In June 2014, two prominent Dutch speed skaters, Mark Tuitert (Olympic Champion 1500m) and Niels Kerstholt (World Champion short track), filed a competition law complaint against the International Skating Union (ISU) with the European Commission.


ChanceToCompeteTwitter.png (50.4KB)


Today, the European Commission announced that it has opened a formal antitrust investigation into International Skating Union (ISU) rules that permanently ban skaters from competitions such as the Winter Olympics and the ISU World and European Championships if they take part in events not organised or promoted by the ISU. The Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, stated that the Commission "will investigate if such rules are being abused to enforce a monopoly over the organisation of sporting events or otherwise restrict competition. Athletes can only compete at the highest level for a limited number of years, so there must be good reasons for preventing them to take part in events."

Since the case originates from legal advice provided by the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, we thought it would be helpful to provide some clarifications on the background of the case and the main legal issues at stake. More...





Interview with Wil van Megen (Legal Director of FIFPro) on FIFPro’s EU Competition Law complaint against the FIFA Transfer System

Editor’s note
Wil is working as a lawyer since 1980. He started his legal career at Rechtshulp Rotterdam. Later on he worked for the Dutch national trade union FNV and law firm Varrolaan Advocaten. Currently he is participating in the Labour Law Section of lawfirm MHZ-advocaten in Schiedam in the Netherlands. He is also a member of a joint committee advising the government in labour issues.

Since 1991 he is dealing with the labour issues of the trade union for professional football players VVCS and cyclists’ union VVBW. Since 2002, he works for FIFPro, the worldwide union for professional football players based in Hoofddorp in the Netherlands. He is involved in many international football cases and provides legal support for FIFPro members all over the world. Wil was also involved in the FIFPro Black Book campaign on match fixing and corruption in Eastern Europe. More...


The Scala reform proposals for FIFA: Old wine in new bottles?

Rien ne va plus at FIFA. The news that FIFA’s Secretary General Jérôme Valcke was put on leave and released from his duties has been quickly overtaken by the opening of a criminal investigation targeting both Blatter and Platini.

With FIFA hopping from one scandal to the next, one tends to disregard the fact that it has been attempting (or rather pretending) to improve the governance of the organisation for some years now. In previous blogs (here and here), we discussed the so-called ‘FIFA Governance Reform Project’, a project carried out by the Independent Governance Committee (IGC) under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Mark Pieth of the Basel Institute on Governance. Their third and final report, published on 22 April 2014, listed a set of achievements made by FIFA in the area of good governance since 2011, such as establishing an Audit and Compliance Committee (A&C). However, the report also indicated the reform proposals that FIFA had not met. These proposals included the introduction of term limits for specific FIFA officials (e.g. the President) as well as introducing an integrity review procedure for all the members of the Executive Committee (ExCo) and the Standing Committees. More...

Why the CAS #LetDuteeRun: the Proportionality of the Regulation of Hyperandrogenism in Athletics by Piotr Drabik

Editor's note
Piotr is an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

Introduction

On 24 July the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) issued its decision in the proceedings brought by the Indian athlete Ms. Dutee Chand against the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in which she challenged the validity of the IAAF Regulations Governing Eligibility of Female with Hyperandrogenism to Compete in Women’s Competition (Regulations). The Regulations were established in 2011 as a response to the controversies surrounding South African athlete Caster Semenya (see e.g. here, here, and here), and for the purpose of safeguarding fairness in sport by prohibiting women with hyperandrogenism, i.e. those with excessive levels of endogenous (naturally occurring) testosterone, from competing in women athletics competitions. Owing to the subject-matter that the Regulations cover, the case before the CAS generated complex legal, scientific and ethical questions. The following case note thus aims at explaining how the Panel addressed the issues raised by the Indian athlete. It follows a previous blog we published in December 2014 that analysed the arguments raised in favour of Ms. Chand. More...




Not comfortably satisfied? The upcoming Court of Arbitration for Sport case of the thirty-four current and former players of the Essendon football club. By James Kitching

Editor's note: James Kitching is Legal Counsel and Secretary to the AFC judicial bodies at the Asian Football Confederation. James is an Australian and Italian citizen and one of the few Australians working in international sports law. He is admitted as barrister and solicitor in the Supreme Court of South Australia. James graduated from the International Master in the Management, Law, and Humanities of Sport offered by the Centre International d'Etude du Sport in July 2012.


Introduction

On 12 May 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had filed an appeal against the decision issued by the Australian Football League (AFL) Anti-Doping Tribunal (AADT) that thirty-four current and former players of Essendon Football Club (Essendon) had not committed any anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) identified within the AFL Anti-Doping Code (AADC). The players had each been charged with using Thymosin-Beta 4 (TB4) during the 2012 AFL season.

On 1 June 2015, WADA announced that it had filed an appeal against the decision by the AADT to clear Mr. Stephen Dank (Dank), a sports scientist employed at Essendon during the relevant period, of twenty-one charges of violating the AADC. Dank was, however, found guilty of ten charges and banned for life.

This blog will solely discuss the likelihood of the first AADT decision (the Decision) being overturned by the CAS. It will briefly summarise the facts, discuss the applicable rules and decision of the AADT, review similar cases involving ‘non-analytical positive’ ADRVs relating to the use of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method, and examine whether the Code of Sports-related Arbitration (CAS Code) is able to assist WADA in its appeal.

This blog will not examine the soap opera that was the two years leading-up to the Decision. Readers seeking a comprehensive factual background should view the excellent up-to-date timeline published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. More...


EU Law is not enough: Why FIFA's TPO ban survived its first challenge before the Brussels Court


Star Lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont is almost a monopolist as far as high profile EU law and football cases are concerned. This year, besides a mediatised challenge against UEFA’s FFP regulations, he is going after FIFA’s TPO ban on behalf of the Spanish and Portuguese leagues in front of the EU Commission, but also before the Brussels First Instance Court defending the infamous Malta-based football investment firm Doyen Sport. FIFA and UEFA’s archenemy, probably electrified by the 20 years of the Bosman ruling, is emphatically trying to reproduce his world-famous legal prowess. Despite a first spark at a success in the FFP case against UEFA with the Court of first instance of Brussels sending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), this has proven to be a mirage as the CJEU refused, as foretold, to answer the questions of the Brussels Court, while the provisory measures ordered by the judge have been suspended due to UEFA’s appeal. But, there was still hope, the case against FIFA’s TPO ban, also involving UEFA and the Belgium federation, was pending in front of the same Brussels Court of First Instance, which had proven to be very willing to block UEFA’s FFP regulations. Yet, the final ruling is another disappointment for Dupont (and good news for FIFA). The Court refused to give way to Doyen’s demands for provisional measures and a preliminary reference. The likelihood of a timely Bosman bis repetita is fading away. Fortunately, we got hold of the judgment of the Brussels court and it is certainly of interest to all those eagerly awaiting to know whether FIFA’s TPO ban will be deemed compatible or not with EU law. More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | Case note: State aid Decision on the preferential corporate tax treatment of Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona

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

Case note: State aid Decision on the preferential corporate tax treatment of Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona

On 28 September 2016, the Commission published the non-confidential version of its negative Decision and recovery order regarding the preferential corporate tax treatment of Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona. It is the second-to-last publication of the Commission’s Decisions concerning State aid granted to professional football clubs, all announced on 4 July of this year.[1] Contrary to the other “State aid in football” cases, this Decision concerns State aid and taxation, a very hot topic in today’s State aid landscape. Obviously, this Decision will not have the same impact as other prominent tax decisions, such as the ones concerning Starbucks and Apple

Background

This case dates back to November 2009, when a representative of a number of investors specialised in the purchase of publicly listed shares, and shareholders of a number of European football clubs drew the attention of the Commission to a possible preferential corporate tax treatment of the four mentioned Spanish clubs.[2] The preferential tax treatment derived directly from a Spanish sports law of 1990, which obliged all Spanish professional sport clubs to convert into sport limited companies. The justification for the measure was that many clubs had been managed badly because neither their members nor their administrators bore any financial liability for economic losses. This law exempted from this duty to convert those football clubs which had a positive balance in the preceding 4-5 years. The only clubs who at that moment fulfilled these conditions were Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona, and were consequently permitted to remain associations. Sports associations are non-profit entities and, as such, qualified for a partial corporate tax exemption under the Spanish Corporate tax Law. Instead of paying tax for their commercial income at the general rate of 30%, sport clubs were only required to pay tax at a rate of 25%. Moreover, Spain did not include a time period for a possible re-assessment of the financial position of the sport limited companies. Thus, no professional sporting entity has had its legal qualification modified since the original assessment of 1990, irrespective of how the financial health of the entity evolved.[3]

Intervention by the European Ombudsman

The complaint was given a “high priority status” by the European Commission[4] and the allegations of an unfair Spanish tax system were widely covered in the press (see for example here and here). Nevertheless, it took the Commission more than four years to launch a formal investigation and nearly seven to reach a final decision. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the Commission’s delay in investigating the matter was only halted after an intervention by the European Ombudsman. As stated above, the complaint was submitted in November 2011. More than 25 months later, and not having been informed about the progress of the case, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman. According to the complainant, the Commission had failed to decide, in a timely way, whether or not to open the formal investigation procedure. The Ombudsman agreed with the complainant and found that the Commission had not justified its failure to decide on the matter. Furthermore, the public suspicion that the Commission’s inaction might be linked to the fact that the then Commissioner for Competition, Joaquín Almunia, was a socio (member) of one of the football clubs (Athletic Club Bilbao) involved, were highlighted by the Ombudsman in its Recommendation.[5] Even though the Commission has denied that the delay in launching the formal investigation was linked to Almunia’s personal footballing preferences, on 18 December 2013 (a mere two days after receiving the Ombudsman’s recommendation) the Commission decided to open an in-depth investigation into the tax privileges granted to the four Spanish football clubs.[6] 

The Decision

As is the case with most, if not all, State aid and tax cases, the key question is whether the tax measure (or treatment in this case) leads to a selective economic advantage for one or more undertakings, in this case the four professional football clubs.[7] In order to uncover a selective advantage in the form of tax income, the case-law subscribes that one begins by identifying and examining the common regime/system applicable in the Member State concerned. Secondly, an assessment is made of whether the treatment derogates from that common system. This assessment includes deciphering the objective assigned to the tax system, as well as determining whether the economic operators in question (i.e. the four football clubs) are in a comparable factual and legal situation to the other economic operators falling under the common system.[8] If the four clubs are in a comparable factual and legal situation, but their tax treatment derogates from the common system, this treatment will be considered selectively advantageous. Third and lastly, it is necessary to appraise whether the tax treatment is justified by the logic and nature of the tax system.[9] As regards this justification appraisal, there are two important aspects to note: First of all, there is a shift in the burden of proof, since it is for the Member State which has introduced such a differentiation in charges in favour of certain undertakings active in professional football to show that it is actually justified by the nature and general scheme of the system in question.[10] Secondly, this justification appraisal has to be separated from the general justification appraisal of Article 107(3), the latter of which will only take place after State aid in the sense of Article 107(1) is fully established.


The common system applicable and the objective assigned to the system

In both the Decision to open a formal investigation and the final Decision, the Commission considered that the common system applicable is that of the corporate tax law. This has been the common system since the professional sporting entities had to convert to limited companies in 1990. The Commission also held that the objective assigned to the system is generating State revenues on the basis of company profits.[11]


Are the four clubs in a comparable factual and legal situation?

The Commission believes that Real Madrid, Athletic Club Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona are in a comparable factual and legal situation as other professional sport companies in light of the abovementioned objective of the tax system, and cannot see how they should be treated differently. Nonetheless, Spain and the clubs argued that the clubs were not in the same factual and legal situation, because the clubs’ aim was not to make profits. Instead, all profits made have to be reinvested in the club itself. They also claimed that the CJEU’s case law allows for exceptions “in light of the peculiarities of cooperative societies which have to conform to particular operating principles”. Indeed, “those undertakings cannot be regarded as being in a comparable factual and legal situation to that of commercial companies, provided that they act in the economic interest of their members, the members being actively involved in the running of the business and entitled to equitable distribution of the results of economic performance”.[12] The fact that clubs cannot distribute profits to shareholders is a relevant peculiarity in the eyes of Spain.

The Commission rebutted Spain’s claim that sport associations and sport limited companies are not in the same factual and legal situation.   It firstly criticised Spain’s obligatory conversion of all-but-four sport associations into sport limited companies in 1990 by highlighting that “differences in the economic performance cannot justify different treatment as regards the obligatory form of organisation or the lack of choice in that respect. Losses are not intrinsic to a certain form of organisation. The business performance is therefore not an objective criterion justifying different taxation bases or imposing certain forms of incorporation for an indefinite period”.[13] Moreover, not being able to distribute profits to shareholders “cannot support a lower taxation of certain football clubs when compared to other professional sporting entities. (…) Those four clubs, although they are non-profit entities, actively seek to make profit themselves”, in a comparable way to other professional sporting entities.[14] Indeed, “the fact that clubs are obliged to reinvest the income they realise (…) does not weaken their competitive position, nor justifies a different, more favourable, tax treatment with respect to other entities active in professional sport. It rather drives them to improve their facilities”.[15]


Justification by the nature and logic of the tax system

As stated above, it is up to the Member State concerned to argue why the different tax treatment is justified under the general tax system. The Decision shows that Spain, the four clubs and La Liga (who was given interested party status by the Commission) presented a variety of arguments that in their eyes justified the different treatment. Three of these arguments were the followings:

1. Associations have stricter internal control mechanisms than sporting limited companies;

2. Associations have fewer possibilities of access to the capital market than sporting limited companies;

3. Associations are placed at a disadvantageous position under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules compared to sporting limited companies.

As regards the first justification brought forward, it underlines the liability regime imposed on the management body of a sport association. For example, a club’s management board “must provide a bank guarantee covering 15% of the club’s budgeted spending in order to guarantee any losses generated during its term. In addition, management board members will be strictly liable, in an unlimited manner, with their present and future personal assets, for any losses generated that exceed this guaranteed amount.”[16] Nonetheless, the Commission held that this justification is at odds with the rationale for the conversion of the other sport clubs to sport limited companies in 1990, which was the fact that many clubs had been managed badly. “If there was a need for certain clubs to be subject to stricter controls, the obligatory transformation into a limited company would not be necessary to pursue the purpose of that law.[17]

Further, Spain’s claim that clubs have fewer possibilities of access to the capital market cannot be seen as a justification for deviating from the common tax system. Simply put, “if the disadvantages of the clubs in this respect are as manifest as [Spain and the clubs] assert, they always have the possibility to change their corporate form”.[18]

Last, the Commission considers the Financial Fair Play rules of the UEFA to be “internal rules set by a football organisation which aim to ensure a reasonable financial management of sport entities and to avoid continuous loss making. They cannot justify a different taxation of profits by the State”.[19] With this last consideration, the Commission displays a rather benevolent attitude towards UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rules. Indeed, refusing to attack these rules in any way is very much in line with its previous public statements on FFP, such as the Commission’s and UEFA’s Joint Statement on FFP of March 2012 and the Cooperation Agreement between the Commission and UEFA of October 2014.


Compatibility assessment under Article 107(3)

As can be read from paragraph 85 of the Decision, neither Spain nor the beneficiaries have claimed that any of the exceptions provided for in Article 107(2) and 107(3) TFEU apply in the present case. Generally speaking, successful justifications under Articles 107(2) and (3) are uncommon in State aid and taxation cases. Two possible reasons for this can be deciphered: On the one hand, Member State and interested parties seek justifications by the nature and logic of the tax system, i.e. they argue that the justification rules out a selective advantage for one more undertakings, thereby ruling out State aid under Article 107(1). On the other hand, State aid through tax advantages are in most cases considered as operating aid. Operating aid can normally not be considered compatible with the internal market under Article 107(3) TFEU in that it does not facilitate the development of certain activities or of certain economic areas, nor are the tax incentives in question limited in time, digressive or proportionate to what is necessary to remedy to a specific economic handicap of the areas concerned.[20] In the preferential corporate tax treatment of four Spanish football clubs case, the Commission noted that a lower tax burden than one that should normally be borne by the clubs in the course of their business operations, should be considered as operating aid.[21] Hence, this type of aid cannot be considered compatible aid under any of the exceptions of Article 107(3).

Yet, the tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 2011 provides an example of a tax benefit scheme for the sport sector that is declared compatible State aid under Article 107(3)c) TFEU. In this case, the Commission held that the scheme was introduced in a sufficiently transparent and proportionate manner, i.e. that the measure was well-designed to fulfil the objective of developing the country’s sport sector.[22] Moreover, the Commission acknowledged the special characteristics of sport and held that the objective of the scheme is in line with the overall objectives of sport as stipulated in Article 165 TFEU, namely that the EU “shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues”, because the sport sector “has enormous potential for bringing the citizens of Europe together, reaching out to all, regardless of age or social origin”.[23]

As regards the preferential corporate tax treatment of four Spanish football clubs case, no reference was made by Spain or the interested parties to Article 165, or how the preferential tax treatment could contribute to the promotion of sporting issues or values. Perhaps Spain and the four clubs were aware that such a justification would not fly, since the preferential tax treatment is only beneficial to four football clubs and not to the sports sector in general.


Recovery of the aid

Given that the Commission considered the preferential tax treatment to be unjustifiable State aid, a recovery decision was adopted. According to the Commission, the amount of the aid to be recovered from the four football clubs consists of the difference between the amount of corporate tax which the clubs actually paid and the amount of corporate tax which would have been due under the general corporate regime starting from the year 2000.[24] The Commission further recalls that the exact amount of the aid to be recovered will be assessed on a case by case basis during the recovery proceeding which will be carried out by the Spanish authorities in close cooperation with the Commission.[25]

In this regard, it is important to mention that Spain amended the corporate tax rules in November 2014 and new rules entered into force on 1 January 2015.[26] Under the amended law, the corporate income tax rate of 30% for all limited companies will be reduced to 28% for 2015 and to 25% from 2016 onwards. This includes limited sport companies as well, which will, from 2016, be submitted to that 25% corporate tax rate.[27] In other words, since there is no longer a different tax treatment for associations compared to sport limited companies as of 2016, Spain has seized to grant (unlawful) State aid to the four professional football clubs. The recovery will thus only involve the advantages obtained until the end of 2015. 


Conclusion

Few will disagree with the Commission in that the Spanish corporate tax system allowed for an economic selective advantage to be granted to Real Madrid, Athletic Club Bilbao, Osasuna and FC Barcelona over more than 25 years, and without the presence of an acceptable justification for such a favourable treatment. Having said this, this particular “saga” has not quite ended after it became clear that Athletic Club de Bilbao (at least) appealed the Commission’s Decision in front of the General Court of the EU.

Notwithstanding the upcoming Court case, the practical impact of this Decision will probably be very limited. Firstly, the actual aid that needs to be recovered by Spain will be relatively low in financial terms. As can be read in the Commission’s press release of 4 July 2016, it is estimated that the amounts that need to be recovered are around €0-5 million per club.[28] The Spanish government is yet to announce how much it will recover, but Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in particular will have no difficulties returning the aid, irrespective of what the amount exactly is. Secondly, by lowering the corporate tax rate for all limited companies in 2015 and 2016, Spain cannot be considered anymore as granting State aid to its professional football associations based on the corporate tax system. This also means that there is no more reason to believe that the European Commission could “force” the four clubs to change their legal status from club to sport limited company through the enforcement of EU State aid rules, as some have insinuated. The fans of these clubs were dreading this outcome because becoming a sport limited company would open the doors to external investors, who would not necessarily in their eyes have the best interest of the clubs in mind.



[1] The Commission has previously published: Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41613 on the measure implemented by the Netherlands with regard to the professional football club PSV in Eindhoven; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.40168 on the State aid implemented by the Netherlands

in favour of the professional football club Willem II in Tilburg; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41612 on the State aid implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club MVV in Maastricht; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41614 on the measures implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club FC Den Bosch in 's-Hertogenbosch; Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.41617 on the State aid implemented by the Netherlands in favour of the professional football club NEC in Nijmegen; and Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.33754 on the State aid implemented by Spain for Real Madrid CF. The last remaining decision to be published is Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.36387 Aid to Valencia football clubs.

[2] Draft recommendation of 16 December 2013 of the European Ombudsman in the inquiry into complaint 2521/2011/JF against the European Commission, points 1-3.

[3] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769 on the State Aid implemented by Spain for certain football clubs, paras. 5-9.

[4] Draft recommendation of the European Ombudsman in the inquiry into complaint 2521/2011/JF against the European Commission, point 13.

[5] “Rather than allaying suspicions regarding a conflict of interests, and regarding inappropriate influences on the decision making process, the Commission's failures here have actually added to those suspicions”.

[6] Interestingly enough, on that same day, the Commission decided to open an in-depth investigation into State guarantees in favour of three Spanish football clubs in Valencia and land transfers by the Council of Madrid to Real Madrid: Commission decision of 18 December 2013, SA.36387, Spain—Alleged aid in favour of three Valencia football clubs; Commission decision of 18 December 2013, SA.33754, Spain—Real Madrid CF.

[7] C Quigley, “European State Aid Law and Policy”, Hart Publishing (2015), pages 109-127.

[8] See for example Joined Cases C-78/08 to C-80/08 Paint Graphos and others ECLI:EU:C:2011:550, para. 49.

[9] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 51.

[10] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 59. See also Case T-211/05 Italian Republic v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2009:304, para. 125.

[11] Commission decision of 18 December 2013, SA.29769, Spain—State aid to certain Spanish professional football clubs, para. 16; and Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 53.

[12] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 62; and joined Cases C-78/08 to C-80/08 Paint Graphos and others ECLI:EU:C:2011:550, para. 61.

[13] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 56.

[14] Ibid, para. 65

[15] Ibid, para. 67.

[16] Ibid, para. 24.

[17] Ibid, para. 61.

[18] Ibid, para. 68.

[19] Ibid, para. 71.

[20] See for example Commission Decision of 10 October 2015, SA.38374 on State aid implemented by the Netherlands to Starbucks, para. 433.

[21] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 86.

[22] Commission Decision of 9 November 2011, SA.31722 – Hungary - Supporting the Hungarian sport sector via tax benefit scheme., paras 95-98.

[23] Ibid, paras 86-87. For more information on the tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision, see O. van Maren, “The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)”, Asser International Sports Law Blog, 18 May 2016.

[24] According to Article 17(1) of the State Aid Procedural Regulation 2015/1589, the powers of the Commission to recover aid are subject to a limitation period of ten years. Since the Commission asked Spain for information for the first time in 2010, the recovery of the tax difference starts with the taxation year 2000.

[25] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, paras. 93-97.

[26] Ley 27/2014 de 27 noviembre 2014, del Impuesto sobre Sociedades, BOE of 28 November 2014. Article 29(1) stipulates that “El tipo general de gravamen para los contribuyentes de este Impuesto será el 25 por ciento”.

[27] Commission Decision of 4 July 2016, SA.29769, para. 34.

[28] European Commission - Press release IP/16/2401 of 4 July 2016, State aid: Commission decides Spanish professional football clubs have to pay back incompatible aid.

Comments (2) -

  • Boris

    11/7/2016 7:50:54 PM |

    Very interesting analysis.

    "there are reasons to believe that the Commission’s delay in investigating the matter was only halted after an intervention by the European Ombudsman"

    This is really scary stuff, very close to corruption, why was the EC protecting a few companies? why does the EC take such huge reputational risks? It is all very strange. Looking at this, it is not really surprising that the US believes that the EU's competition policy is biased.

    One question, EC has stated that Spain has already amended the tax rules and you say that the discriminatory treatment has ended in 2015 but under the current Spanish corporation tax law (articles 109-111) the sport clubs are still exceptionally allowed (as partially exempted entities) to treat many items of revenue as fully exempt for corporation tax purposes. The tax rate may now be the same but the tax base selective advantage still exists. Has the EC asked Spain to eliminate this preferential treatment or are lower corporation tax bases a clever loophole that could be used by the likes of Luxembourg and Ireland to favour specific companies? At the end of the day, these countries could achieve the same result whether it is by reducing the tax base or by granting a lower tax rate.

    The EC has ruled Real Madrid and Barca will have to calculate their taxes since 2000 as if they had been sport limited companies but sport limited companies can only participate in one sport discipline (i.e. they cannot participate in football and basketball simultaneously). Will an exception be made for Real and Barca or will they have to calculate their football and basketball taxes separately? How could the EC justify the exception?

    The Telegraph referred to a €7m annual tax saving due to the ability to set-off basketball losses against football profits (www.telegraph.co.uk/.../) and over 16 years this could add up to a huge amount.

    Have you noticed that there is a provision in the new corporation tax law (seventh additional disposition) that states that the conversion of the sport clubs into PLCs shall be free of corporation tax (for the undertakings that would receive the assets) and free of personal tax (for the non-profit members that would make a handsome profit by receiving the shares of the clubs). This is a very weird transaction for any non-profit and the model could be replicated elsewhere to circumvent state aid rules. Why should the conversion not be taxed according to the general tax rules for both corporations and individuals? Has the EC asked Spain to end this discriminatory treatment?

    Many thanks

    • Oskar van Maren

      11/8/2016 12:33:25 PM |

      Dear Boris,

      Thank you very much for your comment.

      You pose a series of questions that will require me to look into the matter thoroughly.

      I shall get back to you as soon as possible and look forward to the discussion with you.

      Best,

      Oskar

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