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

Pistorius revisited: A comment on the CAS award in Blake Leeper v. IAAF - By Marjolaine Viret

On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).[1] The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall competitive advantage.

The award is remarkable in that it declared the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the underlying rules.

This article focuses on some key aspects of the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of sports regulations such as anti-doping.

The award also analyses broader questions regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...

Revisiting FIFA��s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 2: The African Reality – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


Having considered the history and justifications for the FIFA training compensation and solidarity mechanisms in my previous blog, I will now consider these systems in the African context. This appears to be a worthwhile undertaking given these global mechanisms were largely a result of European influence, so understanding their (extraterritorial) impact beyond the EU seems particularly important. Moreover, much has been written about the “muscle drain” affecting African football and the need for such drain to either be brought to a halt, or, more likely and perhaps more practical, to put in place an adequate system of redistribution to ensure the flourishing of African football that has essentially acted as a nursery for European football for at least a century. In the present blog, I intend to draw on my experiences as a football agent to expand on how FIFA’s redistributive mechanisms function in practice when an African player signs in Europe via one of the many kinds of entities that develop or purport to develop talent in Africa. I will throughout address the question of whether these mechanisms are effective in a general sense and more specifically in relation to their operation in Africa.More...



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


The Headlines

Aguero and Massey-Ellis incident: An Opportunity for Change and Education?

In mid-October a clip went viral of Argentinian star Sergio Aguero putting his hands on sideline referee, Sian Massey-Ellis. A heated debate ensued in many circles, some claiming that Aguero’s conduct was commonplace, others taking aim at the appropriateness of the action, around players touching official and a male touching a female with an unsolicited arm around the back, the squeeze and pull in. Putting the normative arguments aside for a moment, the irony of the debate was that all sides had a point. Football, almost exclusively, has grown a culture of acceptance for touching officials despite the regulations. Male officials who have let such conduct slide, have arguably let their female colleague down in this instance.

Whilst a partial defence of Aguero might be that this kind of conduct takes place regularly, the incident could serve as a learning experience. If Massey-Ellis’ reaction was not enough, the backlash from some of the public might provide Aguero and other players the lesson, that touching a woman in this way is not acceptable.

Returning to football, the respect and protection of officials in sport, the key here appears to be cracking down on touching officials entirely. This is not a foreign concept and football need only look at the rugby codes. Under no circumstances does the regulations or the culture permit that a player from the rugby codes touch a referee. It is likely the case that the obvious extra level of respect for officials in these sports derives from a firm culture of no touching, no crowding officials, communicating with officials through the team captain only, with harsh sanctions if one does not comply.

The Football Association of England has decided no action was necessary, raising questions of how seriously they take the safety of officials, and gender issues. This is ultimately a global football issue though, so the confederations or international bodies may need step in to ensure the protections that appear at best fragile.  


Rugby Trans issue

The World Rugby Transgender guideline has been released and contains a comprehensive unpacking of the science behind much of the regulatory framework. Despite many experts applauding World Rugby on the guidelines and the extensive project to reach them, the England Rugby Football Union is the first to defy the World Rugby ruling and transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future. This clash between national bodies and the international body on an important issue is concerning and will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on.

 

CAS rejects the appeal of Munir El Haddadi and the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football (FRMF)

The refusal to authorise a footballer to change national federation is in the headlines with the CAS dismissing the appeal of the player and Moroccan federation, confirming the original determination of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.

This has been given considerable recent attention and seemingly worth following, perhaps best summed up by FIFA Director of Football Regulatory, James Kitching, where in a tweet he notes: “The new eligibility rules adopted by the FIFA Congress on 18 September 2020 have passed their first test. We will be publishing our commentary on the rules in the next fortnight. Watch this space.” More...



Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part.1: The historical, legal and political foundations - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


In 2019, training compensation and solidarity contributions based on FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) amounted to US$ 75,5 million. This transfer of wealth from the clubs in the core of the football hierarchy to the clubs where the professional players originated is a peculiar arrangement unknown in other global industries. Beyond briefly pointing out or reminding the reader of how these systems work and the history behind them, this blog series aims to revisit the justifications for FIFA-imposed training compensation and the solidarity mechanism, assess their efficacy and effects through a case study of their operation in the African context, and finally analyse the potential impact of upcoming reforms of the FIFA RSTP in this context.

First, it is important to go back to the roots of this, arguably, strange practice. The current transfer system and the legal mechanisms constituting it were largely the result of a complex negotiation between European football’s main stakeholders and the European Commission dating back to 2001. The conclusion of these negotiations led to a new regulatory system enshrined in Article 20 and Annex 4 of the RSTP in the case of training compensation, and at Article 21 and Annex 5 in the case of the solidarity mechanism. Before paying some attention to the historical influences and how we arrived at these changes, as well as the justifications from the relevant bodies for their existence, let us briefly recall what training compensation and the solidarity mechanisms actually are. More...



Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

Editor's note: Björn Hessert is a research assistant at the University of Zurich and a lawyer admitted to the German bar.

 

The discussion revolving around the invalidity of arbitration clauses in organised sport in favour of national and international sports arbitral tribunals has been at the centre of the discussion in German courtrooms.[1] After the decisions of the German Federal Tribunal[2] (“BGH”) and the European Court of Human Rights[3] (“ECtHR”) in the infamous Pechstein case, this discussion seemed to have finally come to an end. Well…not according to the District Court (LG) of Frankfurt.[4] On 7 October 2020, the District Court rendered a press release in which the court confirmed its jurisdiction due to the invalidity of the arbitration clause contained in the contracts between two beach volleyball players and the German Volleyball Federation[5] (“DVV”) – but one step at a time. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – September - October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi


The Headlines


Human rights and sport  

Caster Semenya

Human rights issues are taking the headlines in the sporting world at present. A short time ago, Caster Semenya’s appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal against the CAS decision was dismissed, perhaps raising more questions than answering them. Within the last few days however, the message from the Semenya camp has been that this is not over (see here).  See the contributions from a range of authors at Asser International Sports Law Blog for a comprehensive analysis of the Semenya case(s) to date.

Navid Afkari

As the sporting world heard of the execution of Iranian Wrestler Navid Afkari, a multitude of legal and ethical questions bubbled to the surface. Not least of all and not a new question: what is the responsibility of sport and the governing bodies therein, in the space of human rights?  And, if an athlete is to acquire a high profile through sporting excellence, does that render athletes vulnerable to be made an example of and therefore in need of greater protection than is currently afforded to them? There are differing views on how to proceed. Consider the following from the World Players Association (Navid Afkari: How sport must respond) and that from the IOC (IOC Statement on the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari) which shows no indication through this press releases and other commentary, of undertaking the measures demanded by World Players Association and other socially active organisations. (See also, Benjamin Weinthal - Olympics refuses to discuss Iranian regime’s murder of wrestler).

Yelena Leuchanka

As this is written and relevant to the above, Yelena Leuchanka is behind bars for her participation in protests, resulting in several sporting bodies calling for her immediate release and for reform in the sporting world around how it ought to deal with these issues. As a member of the “Belarus women's national basketball team, a former player at several WNBA clubs in the United States and a two-time Olympian”, Leuchanka has quite the profile and it is alleged that she is being made an example of. (see here)

Uighur Muslims and Beijing Winter Olympics

British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab does not rule out Winter Olympics boycott over Uighur Muslims. ‘The foreign secretary said it was his "instinct to separate sport from diplomacy and politics" but that there "comes a point where that might not be possible".’ Though Raab’s comments are fresh, this issue is shaping as a “watch this space” scenario, as other governments might echo a similar sentiment as a result of mounting pressure from human rights activist groups and similar, in lead up to the Winter Games. More...



The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 2 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.


1. EU law and the CAS case-law

Bearing in mind these questions, it is possible to affirm that under EU law, the specificity of sport

i) refers to the inherent characteristics of sport that set it apart from other economic and social activities and which have to be taken into account in assessing the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law; and

ii) under EU law these inherent characteristics of sport must be  considered on a case by case  basis, per the Wouters test as developed by the ECJ in the Meca Medina ruling.

Both aspects can be found in the CAS case-law too, although the CAS case-law shows some remarkable differences and peculiarities. From a general point of view, the application of the principle of specificity of sport in the CAS case-law represents an aspect of the more general issue related to the application of EU law by the CAS. However, the purpose of this paper is not to fully examine if and to what extent the CAS arbitrators apply EU law rules on free movement and competition; rather, the aim is to analyse the way the CAS deals with the concept of the specificity of sport, highlighting similarities and differences compared to the ECJ.

Taking for granted that ‘a CAS panel is not only allowed, but also obliged to deal with the issues involving the application of [EU] law’,[1] as far as the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law is concerned the CAS case-law shows different degrees of engagement. For instance, in the ENIC award concerning the so-called UEFA integrity rule, the CAS panel went through a complete competition-law analysis in perfect harmony with the Wouters et al. ruling by the ECJ.[2] On the contrary, in the above-quoted Mutu case, the issue of compatibility of the FIFA’s transfer regulations with EU competition law was analysed in a rather simple way, merely stating that the FIFA rules at stake were not anti-competitive under EU competition law without giving any reason to support this conclusion. More recently, in the Galatasaray and Milan A.C. awards, concerning the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations, the CAS  applied a detailed analysis of EU competition law. However, in both cases, according to the CAS the proportionate character of sanctions listed in the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations cannot affect the evaluation of the legitimacy of these regulations under Art. 101 TFEU. This conclusion represents a clear breaking point with respect to the ECJ case-law, according to which the evaluation of the restrictive effects of a rule necessarily presupposes the analysis of the proportionate character of the sanction imposed in the event of a violation of that rule as well.[3]   In regard to EU free movement, the CAS case-law tends to be less analytical in terms of the principle of proportionality. For instance, in the RFC Seraing award  which concerned both EU free movement and competition law, the CAS panel mainly focused on the legitimate objectives of the contested rule (FIFA’s ban on Third-Party Ownership – TPO), merely affirming that the restrictive measures under EU free movement were justified and inherent in the pursuit of those objectives.More...



The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 1 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.*

 

1. Introduction.

The so-called specificity of sport represents one of the most debated, if not the most debated, but still undefined issue under European Union (EU) law. A noteworthy peculiarity is that the specificity of sport is frequently mentioned in several legislative and political documents issued by EU institutions, however it is not expressly referred to in any judgment by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).Conversely, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) case-law on Art. 17 of FIFA Regulations on status and transfer of players (RSTP) has repeatedly and expressly referred to the specificity of sport.[1] Apparently, the concept of specificity of sport has different meanings and purposes in the ECJ and CAS jurisprudence. In this blog (divided in two parts), I will try to analyse those two different meanings and to what extent the CAS case-law is consistent with the concept of specificity of sport as elaborated under EU law. More...

SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Editor's note: Andy Brown is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the governance of sport for over 15 years. He is the editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative where this blog appeared first.


For the last three days, I have been struggling with what to write regarding the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) Decision to dismiss a challenge from Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) Decision to dismiss a challenge to the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development), otherwise known as the DSD Regulations. From reading World Athletics’ statement welcoming the ruling, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had won a major trial. Sports journalists, accustomed to covering events now curtailed by Covid-19, focus on the fact that Semenya has ‘lost’ her case against the DSD Regulations. Neither assertion is strictly accurate.

The SFT’s powers to review the CAS’s ruling are severely limited. It can only consider whether the CAS Decision violates ‘widely recognised principles of public order’ on Swiss public policy grounds. The SFT has only reversed a decision based on a a violation of Swiss public policy once in 30 years.

The SFT didn’t reconsider the evidence put forward to the CAS. ‘For there to be incompatibility with public policy, it is not enough that the evidence has been poorly assessed, that a finding of fact is manifestly false or that a rule of law has been clearly violated’, its Decision reads. ‘The only question to be resolved is in fact whether or not the verdict of the CAS renders the referred award incompatible with substantive public policy’. 

There were questions about whether the appeal from Semenya and ASA qualified to be reviewed by the SFT in the first place. World Athletics is a private organisation headquartered in Monaco, and the SFT was troubled as to whether such a complaint brought by a South African athlete against an overseas private organisation is capable of violating Swiss public policy.

‘It is doubtful whether the prohibition of discriminatory measures falls within the scope of the restrictive concept of public order when the discrimination is committed by a private person and occurs in relations between individuals’, the Decision quotes from its pervious 29 July 2019 Decision, which refused the ASA’s request to provisionally suspend the application of the DSD Regulations. ‘In any event, there is no need to examine this question further here since […] the award under appeal does not in any way establish discrimination which would be contrary to public order’

The SFT ruled that the CAS was correct to uphold conditions of participation for 46 XY DSD athletes in order to guarantee fair competition for certain disciplines in female athletics. In doing so, the SFT was ruling on whether the decision taken by the CAS violates public policy, based only on the complaints brought forward by Semenya and ASA. 

Semenya and the ASA had challenged the CAS Decision based around the idea that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory. The CAS held that they are discriminatory, but agreed with the IAAF (as World Athletics was then named) that such discrimination was necessary to protect its female category. The SFT ruled that even if the discriminatory rules of a private organisation such as the IAAF were considered able to pose a threat to public order, Semenya and the ASA had failed to demonstrate that the CAS Decision was so egregious that it posed such a threat.

‘Caster Semenya essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination’, reads the Swiss Federal Supreme Court statement. ‘The CAS has issued a binding decision based on the unanimous opinion of the experts who were consulted that testosterone is the main factor for the different performance levels of the sexes in athletics; according to the CAS, women with the “46 XY DSD” gene variant have a testosterone level comparable to men, which gives them an insurmountable competitive advantage and enables them to beat female athletes without the “46 XY DSD” variant. Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the “women” category.’

Such strong support for the principle behind its DSD Regulations was rightly welcomed by World Athletics. Its statement asserted that the SFT ‘acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions’. I would argue that the SFT ruling didn’t do this, but rather found that a CAS Decision asserting this didn’t violate Swiss public policy. Semantics, perhaps.

Likewise, when World Athletics quotes the SFT Decision as confirming that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’, it is paraphrasing two texts quoted in the SFT Decision. The first is ‘La qualification juridique des rules autonomes des organizations sportive’ by Jérôme Jaquier, 2004. ‘Inborn characteristics specific to athletes in a particular group can also distort the fairness of competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Jaquier. ‘When they enact regulations, the objective of sports federations is to ensure fair and equitable competition’.

The context of the second quote, from ‘Sportrecht – Berücksichtigung der Interessen des Sports in der Rechtsordnung’ by Martin Kaiser, 2011, is even more interesting. It is preceded with a statement from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which reads: ‘It is not for the Federal Court to make, abstractly, comparisons between the disciplines to assess whether a particular athlete has an advantage that makes sporting competition meaningless’

‘It is above all for the sporting federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is liable to distort competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Kaiser. ‘And, if so, to establish legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’. 

Again, such details might be considered as semantics. But – I would argue – important semantics. Reading the media maelstrom that has resulted from the SFT Decision, one could be forgiven for assuming that Semenya has lost her case, and has no chance of ever defending her 800m title. However, a statement issued by her lawyers reveals that she intends to challenge the ruling in European and domestic courts.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am”, the statement continues. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.” More...



The Semenya Decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal: Human Rights on the Bench - By Faraz Shahlaei

Editor's note: Faraz Shahlaei is a JSD Candidate at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. His research and teaching interests are public international law, international sports law, international human rights and dispute resolution.

 

The issue of international human rights was a central contention in Caster Semenya case ever since the start of her legal battle against the regulations of the IAAF. However, the human rights arguments were poorly considered in the two proceedings related to this case. To put it in perspective, it is like having a key player nailed to the bench throughout the whole game; no coach ever tried to give it a chance while it had the potential to be the game changer for all parties.

In 2019, the Human Rights Council, the inter-governmental human rights body of the UN, expressed concern over issues of discrimination in sports in particular regarding IAAF female classification regulations. In June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the “Intersection of Race and Gender Discrimination in Sport”. The report draws a detailed picture of how human rights in the Semenya case have been violated and also elaborates on the inherent problem of addressing human rights issues in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms favored by the sport governing bodies. However, despite an in-depth discussion of Caster Semenya’s case at both the CAS and then the SFT, the question of human rights, a key concern and a fundamental pillar of the case, hasn’t been adequately answered yet! More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | De- or Re-regulating the middlemen? The DFB’s regulation of intermediaries under EU law scrutiny at the OLG Frankfurt. By Antoine Duval and Kester Mekenkamp.

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

De- or Re-regulating the middlemen? The DFB’s regulation of intermediaries under EU law scrutiny at the OLG Frankfurt. By Antoine Duval and Kester Mekenkamp.

Football intermediaries, or agents, are again under attack in the news. For some, corrupt behaviour has become endemic in football’s culture. It is always dangerous to scapegoat a whole profession or a group of people. Many intermediaries are trying their best to lawfully defend the interests of their clients, but some are not. The key focus should be on providing an adequate legal and administrative framework to limit the opportunities for corrupt behaviour in the profession. This is easier said than done, however. We are dealing with an intrinsically transnationalized business, often conducted by intermediaries who are not subjected to the disciplinary power of federations. Sports governing bodies are lacking the police power and human resources necessary to force the intermediaries to abide by their private standards. In this context, this blog aims to review a recent case in front of the regional court of Frankfurt in Germany, which highlights the legal challenges facing (and leeway available to) national federations when regulating the profession.

Since April 2015, the FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (“Intermediaries Regulations”) entered into force. They replaced the 2008 FIFA Players’ Agents Regulation and introduced dramatic changes to the regulation of players’ agents (for a quick introduction read our short guide here). Although seeing its first light on April Fools’ Day, the Intermediaries Regulations are not to be taken lightly. On the contrary, the new rules constitute a major turning point in the governance of player and club representation. Furthermore, the question of the compatibility of the Intermediaries Regulations with EU competition law promptly arose when the Landgericht Frankfurt am Main (LG) had to rule on a challenge to the Reglement für Spielervermittlung (DFB-regulations), the national measure implementing the FIFA Regulations issued by the German Football Federation (DFB, Deutschen Fußball Bund). In its injunction of 29 April 2015 the LG found some provisions of the DFB-regulations to be contrary to Article 101 TFEU (see our earlier blog). This decision was appealed by both parties to the Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main (OLG), which rendered its ruling on 2 February 2016. This blog aims to analyse the decision of the OLG, while also putting it into its wider legal and social context.

I.              Back to the future: The Piau case revived

It is not the first time that the regulation of football agents/intermediaries by football federations and EU law are colliding. The previous Piau saga that started on 23 March 1998 with a complaint to the European Commission by a French agent, Laurent Piau, ended only very recently in front of the French Courts with a painful defeat for Mr. Piau. In the framework of that case, the then Court of First Instance of the EC (CFI) issued a ruling on the compatibility of the FIFA Agents Regulations with EU competition law, on appeal against the Commission’s decision to reject the complaint by Laurent Piau. In that decision, the CFI famously showed its surprise to see a private association engaging in regulatory activity without an express delegation of public power. In the words of the Tribunal, “the rule-making power claimed by a private organisation like FIFA, whose main statutory purpose is to promote football, is indeed open to question”.[1] Indeed, “[i]n principle, such regulation, which constitutes policing of an economic activity and touches on fundamental freedoms, falls within the competence of the public authorities”.[2] Yet, as many know, the world of football is special and in practice national states have very much relinquish regulatory control over it.

The CFI was pragmatic enough to recognize this unusual state of affairs. In fact, this peculiarity also enabled it to consider that the FIFA regulations, issued by a private organization, could not escape the scope of EU competition law.[3] Yet, in fine, the CFI endorsed the compatibility of the FIFA regulations with EU Competition law. It considered first that the European Commission (EC) was right in holding that it obtained the repeal of the most restrictive provisions contained in the original FIFA regulations.[4] Furthermore, the CFI supported the EC’s view that the compulsory nature of the FIFA licensing mechanism could be justified under the framework of then Article 81(3) EC [now 101(3)TFEU]. It stated that the “Commission did not commit a manifest error of assessment by considering that the restrictions stemming from the compulsory nature of the licence might benefit from an exemption on the basis of Article 81(3) EC”.[5] Finally, the CFI affirmed the applicability of Article 82 EC [now 102 TFEU] to the FIFA regulations, but concluded that “it follows from the above considerations regarding the amended regulations and the possible exemption under Article 81(3) EC that such an abuse [of a dominant position] has not been established”.[6]

Thus, based on the framework of analysis used in Piau, there is absolutely no doubt that EU competition law is applicable to the DFB-regulations (and analogically to all the other national regulations implementing the new FIFA Intermediaries Regulations).[7] The key question, however, is whether the restrictive effect on competition of those new rules can be justified. Such a justificatory framework of analysis is also broadly in line with the CJEU’s case law on competition law and sport, and in particular its Meca-Medina ruling.[8] The question of the legitimate objectives and proportionality of the new rules was rightly identified by the LG and OLG as the defining one to assess rule-by-rule the legality of the DFB’s regulations.

II.            The OLG Frankfurt and the Compatibility of the DFB regulations with EU Competition Law

The OLG’s ruling bears no clear winner or loser, as both parties can claim to have prevailed on parts of their claims. In its decision the Court clearly outlined a set of provisions that it deemed compatible with EU law, and another contrary to it. In any event, this case is again a good reminder that EU law is no golden bullet against the regulations of the Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs). Instead, their compatibility with EU law must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind their contexts and objectives. Nevertheless, EU law can be invoked to challenge the rationality of the SGBs’ regulations and to check any disproportionate encroachment on the economic freedom of the affected actors.

A.    The DFB rules incompatible with EU Law

In the present case, the DFB’s regulations for intermediaries faced a relatively detailed quasi-constitutional control by the OLG. The German court found that parts of the regulatory options adopted by the German federation are disproportionate to attain their objectives and therefore contrary to Article 101 TFEU. This is especially true of the rule forcing intermediaries to abide by the rules and jurisdictions of the DFB, UEFA and FIFA, and of the rule imposing a duty to provide an extended certificate of good conduct usually reserved for professions involving a risk to the integrity of minors.

In line with the decision in first instance, the OLG ruled against the provision requiring intermediaries to submit to the jurisdictions of FIFA, UEFA, DFB and its members in connection with all violations of their regulations and statutes (see point 1 of DFB Vermittlererklärung für natürliche Personen – Anhang 1, and a related notice later issued by the DFB).[9] In the OLG’s view, it would result in an impossible situation for intermediaries, as they would be required to have a ‘reasonable’ knowledge of, at least, 35 different association statutes and face being subjected to 30 different jurisdictions.[10] The court puts forward that it is necessary, as a prerequisite for the submission of non-members to the rules of an association and its jurisdiction, to be able, at any time to take knowledge, in a reasonable manner, of the content of the regulations, compliance mechanisms and sanctions. This possibility was not warranted in the present case. In other words, if the DFB wishes to subject intermediaries to its jurisdiction it is possible, but it would need to clearly define what such a submission would entail in terms both of the rules and procedures that would be applicable. In fact, as recognized by the European Parliament,[11] some type of disciplinary control by the national federations over the intermediaries is necessary to give some teeth to their regulations.

Furthermore, the OLG also rules that agents cannot be forced to submit an extended certificate of good conduct (erweiterten Führungszeugnisses).[12] The OLG agrees with the appellant that this duty is impossible to fulfil as under German criminal law, such certificate can be issued only for occupations suitable to establish/result in contacts with children and young people. Yet, such a contact with minors is not at the heart of an intermediary’s profession, especially that, as we will see below, intermediaries cannot derive any financial compensation for a transfer or employment contract involving a minor, it seems thus impossible for he or she to obtain the requisite certificate.[13]

The OLG has clearly drawn a line in the sand. There is a limit to the obligations the DFB can impose, they must be rationally possible to fulfil and connected to the objectives pursued and must not be unreasonably burdensome for the intermediaries.

B.    The DFB rules compatible with EU Law

The judgment is rather remarkable for what it considers proportionate regulation by the DFB.

First, it endorses, contrary to the LG, the proportionality of the ban on intermediary fees for transfers or contracts involving minors.[14] This ban was a very controversial part of the new FIFA regulations, as it was deemed extremely restrictive of the economic freedom of intermediaries and potentially counter-productive. [15] However, in the view of the OLG, article 7.7 of the DFB-regulations pursues a legitimate objective: the protection of minors (der Minderjährigenschutz).[16] It aims, more specifically, to prevent the transfer of underage players based solely on the economic interests of the intermediary and/or that underage players are taken to Germany without a stable employment perspective.[17] Moreover, the OLG deems this prohibition to be necessary as the other legal protections for minors provided by the German civil code are often inapplicable.[18] Finally, the court considers this prohibition to be proportionate. First, because intermediaries are not barred from being remunerated for advising minors when this advice is not requested in the framework of the conclusion of an employment contract or a transfer. Furthermore, the OLG notes that similar measures have been adopted in all other European countries and is supportive of a uniform approach to the regulation of the role of intermediaries in transfers of minors.[19] Overall, this is not a surprising assessment. The need to combat human trafficking and to fight abuses linked to transfers of minors have been repeatedly emphasised by the European institutions in their soft law.[20] Recently, the European Parliament underlined ‘the specific vulnerability of young players and the risk of them becoming victims of human trafficking’[21]. Only time will tell whether this type of draconian measure will rein such abuses. In any event, if reducing the economic incentives of intermediaries linked to transfers of minors will most probably restrict their economic opportunities, it is also likely to diminish the connected incentives for human trafficking in football.[22]

Furthermore, the OLG’s judgment also endorses the transparency requirements imposed by the DFB. More precisely, it deemed the obligation for clubs and players to disclose the contract details covering remuneration and payments to intermediaries’ enshrined in article 6.1 DFB-regulations compatible with EU competition law.[23] The legitimate aim pursued is the transparency and traceability of the market for intermediaries. Behind this objective, lies the idea that player transfers should be primarily based on sporting, rather than financial reasons. Consequently, it deems that an obligation to disclose payments connected to intermediation is necessarily linked to the attainment of this goal. This duty to disclose is also considered proportionate. For the OLG, it does not run counter the German data protection rules, nor does it constitute a disproportionate infringement in the commercial operations of an intermediary. When balancing the interest of the intermediary to keep the financial flows secret and the interest of the DFB in unveiling these flows, the OLG finds that transparency aimed at limiting the external influence of intermediaries on transfers should prevail.[24] In the eyes of the court, the DFB has concretely demonstrated that the negotiation of transfers is linked with important fees (erheblichen Zahlungen), which are liable to trigger a transfer of a player for economic reasons, rather than sporting ones. This, the OLG argues, runs counter to the ideal of fair sporting competitions. [25] In general, striving for greater transparency/publicity in the intermediary market is at the heart of the regulatory shift intended by the new FIFA regulations.[26] In fact, a recent report by two Harvard based scholars argues that the lack of transparency in the transfer market is one of the main causes for money laundering and corruption in football.[27] This is reinforced by the concentration of the market for intermediaries, with a group of happy few constituting an oligopoly.[28] Besides, due to the inherently transnational operation of the market, it is extremely difficult to monitor for national authorities. Intermediaries rely on complex contractual structures (many of them have been recently exposed on the footballleaks website), juggling with national laws and arbitration clauses to reduce both their taxes and regulatory oversight. Though the transparency requirements imposed by the DFB are extremely limited (a first rough synthesis for 2015 is available here) and way bolder proposals must be put on the table,[29] this is an important step in the right direction. This quest for transparency and openness around the financial flows involving intermediaries is very much “applauded” by the European parliament.[30] In fact, if supporters and citizens, who are often in fine called to financial rescue when an overspending club is ailing, are expected to exercise a public check over the over-optimistic (and sometimes corrupt) management of clubs and the correlated extravagant fees paid to intermediaries, they must be able to rely on trustful data to conduct such a critical assessment.

Finally, and this is most interesting in light of the on-going legal battle over FIFA’s third-party ownership ban, the OLG, confirming the LG’s assessment, also recognized the legitimacy of the DFB’s ban on an intermediary having an interest in future transfer compensations.[31] Its legitimate purpose is to rein the disproportionate influence, based on personal financial incentives, of intermediaries on a player’s transfers.[32] The OLG seems to follow the LG’s view that the potentiality of obtaining a share of future transfer fees constitutes a major incentive for intermediaries to actively encourage an early termination of a player’s contract.[33] In short, the German court endorses the need to limit incentives for intermediaries to trigger contractual ruptures over their personal financial interest in a future transfer of a player. A similar logic could be applied to the proportionality assessment of the TPO ban. Indeed, this ban is also aimed at avoiding that transfers be triggered for purely financial reasons. The idea being that a club should not be in a position of dependence vis-à-vis a third-party (in practice often an intermediary) that would force it to transfer a player to satisfy its own purely economic rationale. In this regard, the OLG’s judgment is very encouraging for FIFA as it supports a logic of ‘de-financiarization’ of football. The court is very much recognizing that economic incentives should not be front-and-centre in contemporary football and that the fact that there is a clear economic dimension to sport (triggering for example the application of EU law and/or labour law) should not overshadow its other dimensions (cultural, social, ethical, educational). Conciliation is necessary, players are not amateurs anymore, transfers are possible, TV rights money can trickle down, but the rampant financiarization (and collateralization) of labour contracts seems both dangerous in terms of the economic instability it might trigger (think FC Twente) and of the unethical abuses it might incite and conceal.

Conclusion: The legal consequences of FIFA’s retreat

The new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries are first and foremost a confession of impotence from the part of FIFA. Fifteen years after introducing a worldwide regulatory mechanism applicable to football agents, FIFA basically acknowledged its incapacity to control the profession and rein its negative externalities. The old licensing system proved unable to provide a qualitative level playing field for agents, nor was FIFA capable (or willing to invest enough resources) to truly enforce its rules. In fact, at the local level, a multitude of informal agents and practices had practically hollowed out the FIFA Regulations.[34] Yet, instead of strengthening its regulatory apparatus and enforcement mechanisms, FIFA decided to retreat and basically handed over the responsibility to regulate intermediaries to the multitude of national federations. One can be excused for doubting at first that such a re-nationalization is well suited to control an inherently transnational market.[35] Yet, there is still some room left for hope.

The re-nationalization of the Regulations will undoubtedly bring about a complex regulatory landscape with different regimes applicable in each national jurisdiction.[36] Moreover, agents/intermediaries might face an enhanced amount of red tape and administrative fees if they aim at entering each and every national market. These negative consequences can be tempered, however, by a number of things. First of all, the market for intermediaries has never been truly transnational. Sociologists have shown that it operates more as a chain of national actors rather than with truly transnational players.[37] Furthermore, the big transfer money (and thus intermediary money) in football is concentrated on a small number of national markets (mainly the European big five[38]). This means that if those markets jointly engage in a strict regulation of intermediaries it will affect disproportionately (probably positively) the profession. Due to massive TV rights revenues these national federations and leagues also dispose of the necessary (financial and administrative) resources to rigorously enforce their rules. For example, if at a European level, national federations were able to coordinate their new intermediaries regulations and provide a level regulatory field for the profession, which would involve both reducing the administrative costs to exercise it and a sharper control of its negative externalities, FIFA’s regulatory retreat would be largely compensated by a potentially more effective regulatory system.

What is the role of EU law in this regard? The Piau case is a good reminder that the CJEU is sympathetic to the need to regulate the market for intermediaries. Since then, the soft law of the European institutions (and especially the European Parliament’s position) has very much comforted this sympathy.[39] However, it would be rather naïve to believe that the EU would be able and willing to take on the task of single-handedly re-regulating such a complex transnational field. It has currently other burning priorities and crucially lacks the resources and expertise to do so. The role of EU law is rather one of a careful catalyst and counter-power, aimed at encouraging private regulations at the national or transnational level and eschewing that they go too far in scapegoating the intermediaries and in restricting their economic freedoms. In this regard, the OLG Frankfurt provided, on the basis of EU law, a rather balanced review of the DFB regulations, striking down some of the more intrusive (or arguably less rational) parts of the regulations, while recognizing the legitimacy and proportionality of others. EU law can be invoked to open up a critical discussion over the regulatory trade-offs of transnational private regulations. Not more but also not less.


[1] Case T-193/02, Laurent Piau v Commission [2005] ECR II-0209, paras. 112-115; Landesgericht Frankfurt am Main: Urteil vom 29. April 2015 · Az. 2-06 O 142/15, para. 77. On the Piau ruling see D. Waelbroeck & P. Ibañez-Colomo, ‘Case C-171/05 P, Laurent Piau, Order of the Court of Justice (Third Chamber) of 23 February 2006, [2006] ECR I-37’, Common Market Law Review 43: 1743–1756, 2006.

[2] Ibid., para. 78.

[3] “On the other hand, since they are binding on national associations that are members of FIFA, which are required to draw up similar rules that are subsequently approved by FIFA, and on clubs, players and players’ agents, those regulations are the reflection of FIFA’s resolve to coordinate the conduct of its members with regard to the activity of players’ agents. They therefore constitute a decision by an association of undertakings within the meaning of Article 81(1) EC (Case 45/85 Verband der Sachversicherer v Commission [1987] ECR 405, paragraphs 29 to 32, and Wouters and Others, paragraph 71), which must comply with the Community rules on competition, where such a decision has effects in the Community.” Ibid., para. 75.

[4] Ibid., paras 83-99.

[5] Ibid., para. 104.

[6] Ibid., para. 117.

[7] This is well recognized and explicated in the OLG’s judgment. See, OLG Frankfurt am Main, Urt. v. 02.02.2016, Az.: 11 U 70/15 (Kart), para. II.1.

[8] Case C-519/04 P David Meca-Medina and Igor Majcen v Commission [2006] ECR I-6991, para. 42 ff. See further S. Weatherill, ‘Anti-doping Revisited: The Demise of the Rule of ‘Purely Sporting Interest’?’ in S. Weatherill, European Sports Law, ASSER Press, Springer, 2014, pp. 379-399 and B. Van Rompuy, The Role of EU Competition Law in Tackling Abuse of Regulatory Power by Sports Associations, available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2767467.

[9] OLG Frankfurt am Main, Urt. v. 02.02.2016, Az.: 11 U 70/15 (Kart),, II.2.b.

[10] Ibid, II.2.b

[11] The European Parliament “Underscores the finding of the study that the regulations of agents established by sports federations are basically aimed at controlling access to the profession and regulating its exercise, but that these bodies have only limited supervisory and sanctioning powers, since they lack any means of control or direct action vis-à-vis sports agents who are not registered with them; nor are they entitled to impose civil or criminal penalties”. European Parliament, Resolution on players’ agents in sports, 17 June 2010, (2011/C 236 E/14), para.8.

[12] OLG Frankfurt am Main, Urt. v. 02.02.2016, Az.: 11 U 70/15 (Kart), II.3.a

[13] Ibid, II.3.a: Art. 3.2 and 3.3 DFB-regulations

[14] Ibid, II.2.a

[15] For a good critique see N. de Marco, ‘The new FA Football Intermediaries Regulations and the Disputes Likely to arise’, at §23-25.

[16] Art. 7.7 DFB-regulations

[17] OLG Frankfurt am Main, Urt. v. 02.02.2016, Az.: 11 U 70/15 (Kart), II.2.a

[18] “Die Regelung ist auch notwendig; insbesondere bieten entgegen den Darstellungen der Klägerin die Regelungen zur beschränkten Geschäftsfähigkeit Minderjähriger gemäß §§ 104 ff BGB im vorvertraglichen Feld der Anbahnung eines möglichen Vertragsschlusses keinen Schutz. Dies erlangt Bedeutung, sofern - wie vom Beklagten dargestellt - eine Mehrzahl an potentiellen Spielern angeworben, jedoch nur einer tatsächlich vermittelt wird.” Ibid, II.2.a.

[19] “Schließlich erlangt bei der Verhältnismäßigkeitsprüfung auch Bedeutung, dass im europäischen Ausland ausnahmslos Regelungen hinsichtlich des Verbots der kostenpflichtigen Vermittlung minderjähriger Spieler verabschiedet wurden, so dass eine einheitliche Handhabung im Sinne des Minderjährigenschutzes in besonderer Weise geboten erscheint.” Ibid, II.2.a.

[20] See amongst others: European Parliament, Resolution on the future of professional football in Europe, 29 March 2007, (2006/2130(INI)), paras 35-38; European Parliament, Resolution on players’ agents in sports, 17 June 2010, (2011/C 236 E/14), para.6-7;

[21] European Parliament, Resolution on players’ agents in sports, para.6.

[22] This is a truly worrying development. See A. C. Najarian, ‘"The Lost Boys": FIFA's Insufficient Efforts To Stop Trafficking of Youth Footballers’, 22 Sports Law. J. 151 2015. On the ‘muscle drain’ phenomena, see W. Andreff, ‘“Muscle Drain” in Sport and how to regulate it? A plea for a “Coubertobin” tax’ and J. Scherrens, ‘The muscle drain of African Football Players to Europe: Trade or Trafficking?’, Master Thesis 2007.

[23] OLG Frankfurt am Main, Urt. v. 02.02.2016, Az.: 11 U 70/15 (Kart), II.3.b; Art. 6.1 DFB-regulations

[24] Ibid, II.3.b

[25] “Dies widerspricht dem Grundsatz eines am fairen Wettbewerb orientierten sportlichen Wettkampfs [...]“. Ibid, II.3.b

[26] In FIFA’s own words: “The new system does not regulate access to the activity but provide a framework for tighter control and supervision of the transactions relating to transfer of football players in order to enhance transparency.” FIFA, Working with intermediaries – reform of FIFA’s players’ agents system, Background information, April 2015, p.2.

[27] M. Andrews and P. Harrington, Off Pitch: Football’s financial integrity weaknesses, and how to strengthen them, CID Working Paper No. 311 January 2016, p.68-103.

[28]“The analysis of shares highlights that the big five league players’ representation market is highly concentrated: half of the footballers are managed by 83 football agents or agencies. Our study reveals the existence of closed relational networks that clearly favors the concentration of players under the control of few agents.”R. Poli, G. Rossi & R. Besson, Football Agents in the biggest five European football markets. An empirical research report, CIES, February 2012, p.2.

[29] Andrew and Harrington suggest for example to create both a “Transfer Clearinghouse to house transfer process information” and a “centralized processes for registering and managing intermediaries”, op.cit. 27, p.96-99.

[30] The EP “[a]pplauds sport governing bodies’ efforts to bring about more transparency and supervision of financial flows.” European Parliament, Resolution on players’ agents in sports, 17 June 2010, (2011/C 236 E/14), para.11. See also European Parliament, Resolution on the European dimension in sport, 2 February 2012 (2011/2087(INI)), paras 76, 78 and 87.

[31] OLG Frankfurt am Main, Urt. v. 02.02.2016, Az.: 11 U 70/15 (Kart),, II.3.c; Art. 7.3 DFB-regulations

[32]“Zweck der Regelung ist es, einer an sachfremden, d.h. nicht sportlichen Interessen ausgerichteten Einflussnahme der Vermittler auf Spielerwechsel, insbesondere im Bereich der vorzeitigen Vertragsbeendigung, entgegenzuwirken. Die Regelung ist geboten, da dieser Zweck durch das Verbot insbesondere der Zahlung von Transferentschädigungen oder Beteiligungen an einem künftigen Transferwert eines Spielers den Anreiz zur sachfremden, finanziell motivierten Einflussnahme mindert.” Ibid, II.3.c.

[33] LG Frankfurt am Main: Urteil vom 29. April 2015 · Az. 2-06 O 142/15, paras. 83-84

[34] A finding shared by the CIES study and the Study on Sports Agents in the European Union commissioned by the EC in 2009.

[35] The European Parliament stated in its 2010 Resolution on Agents that « doing away with the existing FIFA licence system for player’s agents without setting up a robust alternative system would not be the appropriate way to tackle the problems surrounding player’s agents in football”. European Parliament, Resolution on players’ agents in sports, 17 June 2010, (2011/C 236 E/14), para. 10. The same scepticism is displayed by M. Andrews and P. Harrington, Off Pitch: Football’s financial integrity weaknesses, and how to strengthen them, CID Working Paper No. 311 January 2016, at p.98.

[36] For a preliminary rough mapping, see M. Colucci (ed.), The FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries – Implementation at National Level, International Sports Law and Policy Bulletin, Issue 1-2015.

[37] This is highlighted in the CIES study of 2012.

[38] I.e. the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A and the French Ligue 1.

[39] European Parliament, Resolution on the future of professional football in Europe, 29 March 2007, (2006/2130(INI)), para. 44; European Parliament, Resolution on the White Paper on Sport, 8 May 2008 (2007/2261(INI)), para. 100; European Parliament, Resolution on players’ agents in sports, 17 June 2010, (2011/C 236 E/14); European Parliament, Resolution on the European dimension in sport, 2 February 2012 (2011/2087(INI)), paras 75-78. This need for regulation is also embraced, though more carefully, by the European Commission in its White Paper on Sport, see European Commission, White Paper on Sport, COM(2007) 391, at para. 4.4. See also European Commission, ‘Commission blows the whistle over inflated football transfer fees and lack of level playing field’, 7 February 2013

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