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: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law - Introduction - Antoine Duval & Oskar van Maren

Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

On 22 December 2014, FIFA officially introduced an amendment to its Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players banning third-party ownership of players’ economic rights (TPO) in football. This decision to put a definitive end to the use of TPO in football is controversial, especially in countries where TPO is a mainstream financing mechanism for clubs, and has led the Portuguese and Spanish football leagues to launch a complaint in front of the European Commission, asking it to find the FIFA ban contrary to EU competition law.

Next week, we will feature a Blog Symposium discussing the FIFA TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law. We are proud and honoured to welcome contributions from both the complainant (the Spanish football league, La Liga) and the defendant (FIFA) and three renowned experts on TPO matters: Daniel Geey ( Competition lawyer at Fieldfisher, aka @FootballLaw), Ariel Reck (lawyer at Reck Sports law in Argentina, aka @arielreck) and Raffaele Poli (Social scientist and head of the CIES Football Observatory). The contributions will focus on different aspects of the functioning of TPO and on the impact and consequences of the ban. More...

The CAS and Mutu - Episode 4 - Interpreting the FIFA Transfer Regulations with a little help from EU Law

On 21 January 2015, the Court of arbitration for sport (CAS) rendered its award in the latest avatar of the Mutu case, aka THE sports law case that keeps on giving (this decision might still be appealed to the Swiss Federal tribunal and a complaint by Mutu is still pending in front of the European Court of Human Right). The decision was finally published on the CAS website on Tuesday. Basically, the core question focuses on the interpretation of Article 14. 3 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players in its 2001 version. More precisely, whether, in case of a dismissal of a player (Mutu) due to a breach of the contract without just cause by the player, the new club (Juventus and/or Livorno) bears the duty to pay the compensation due by the player to his former club (Chelsea). Despite winning maybe the most high profile case in the history of the CAS, Chelsea has been desperately hunting for its money since the rendering of the award (as far as the US), but it is a daunting task. Thus, the English football club had the idea to turn against Mutu’s first employers after his dismissal in 2005, Juventus and Livorno, with success in front of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC), but as we will see the CAS decided otherwise[1]. More...

The UCI Report: The new dawn of professional cycling?

The world of professional cycling and doping have been closely intertwined for many years. Cycling’s International governing Body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), is currently trying to clean up the image of the sport and strengthen its credibility. In order to achieve this goal, in January 2014 the UCI established the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) “to conduct a wide ranging independent investigation into the causes of the pattern of doping that developed within cycling and allegations which implicate the UCI and other governing bodies and officials over ineffective investigation of such doping practices.”[1] The final report was submitted to the UCI President on 26 February 2015 and published on the UCI website on 9 March 2015. The report outlines the history of the relationship between cycling and doping throughout the years. Furthermore, it scrutinizes the role of the UCI during the years in which doping usage was at its maximum and addresses the allegations made against the UCI, including allegations of corruption, bad governance, as well as failure to apply or enforce its own anti-doping rules. Finally, the report turns to the state of doping in cycling today, before listing some of the key practical recommendations.[2]

Since the day of publication, articles and commentaries (here and here) on the report have been burgeoning and many of the stakeholders have expressed their views (here and here). However, given the fact that the report is over 200 pages long, commentators could only focus on a limited number of aspects of the report, or only take into account the position of a few stakeholders. In the following two blogs we will try to give a comprehensive overview of the report in a synthetic fashion.

This first blogpost will focus on the relevant findings and recommendations of the report. In continuation, a second blogpost will address the reforms engaged by the UCI and other long and short term consequences the report could have on professional cycling. Will the recommendations lead to a different governing structure within the UCI, or will the report fundamentally change the way the UCI and other sport governing bodies deal with the doping problem? More...

Book Review - Camille Boillat & Raffaele Poli: Governance models across football associations and leagues (2014)

Camille Boillat & Raffaele Poli: Governance models across football associations and leagues (2014)

Vol. 4, Centre International d'Etude du Sport, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, softback, 114 pages, ISBN 2-940241-24-4, Price: €24



The aftermath of the Pechstein ruling: Can the Swiss Federal Tribunal save CAS arbitration? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

It took only days for the de facto immunity of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) awards from State court interference to collapse like a house of cards on the grounds of the public policy exception mandated under Article V(2)(b) of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards . On 15 January 2015, the Munich Court of Appeals signalled an unprecedented turn in the longstanding legal dispute between the German speed skater, Claudia Pechstein, and the International Skating Union (ISU). It refused to recognise a CAS arbitral award, confirming the validity of a doping ban, on the grounds that it violated a core principle of German cartel law which forms part of the German public policy. A few weeks before, namely on 30 December 2014, the Court of Appeal of Bremen held a CAS award, which ordered the German Club, SV Wilhelmshaven, to pay ‘training compensation’, unenforceable for non-compliance with mandatory European Union law and, thereby, for violation of German ordre public. More...

‘The reform of football': Yes, but how? By Marco van der Harst

'Can't fight corruption with con tricks
They use the law to commit crime
And I dread, dread to think what the future will bring
When we're living in gangster time'
The Specials - Gangsters

The pressing need for change 

The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) of the Council of Europe (CoE), which is composed of 318 MPs chosen from the national parliaments of the 47 CoE member states, unanimously adopted a report entitled ‘the reform of football’ on January 27, 2015. A draft resolution on the report will be debated during the PACE April 2015 session and, interestingly, (only?) FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter has been sent an invitation

The PACE report highlights the pressing need of reforming the governance of football by FIFA and UEFA respectively. Accordingly, the report contains some interesting recommendations to improve FIFA’s (e.g., Qatargate[1]) and UEFA’s governance (e.g., gender representation). Unfortunately, it remains unclear how the report’s recommendations will actually be implemented and enforced. 

The report is a welcomed secondary effect of the recent Qatargate directly involving former FIFA officials such as Jack Warner, Chuck Blazer, and Mohamed Bin Hammam[2] and highlighting the dramatic failures of FIFA’s governance in putting its house in order. Thus, it is undeniably time to correct the governance of football by FIFA and its confederate member UEFA – nolens volens. The real question is how to do it.

            Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images                   Photograph: Octav Ganea/AP


SV Wilhelmshaven: a Rebel with a cause! Challenging the compatibility of FIFA’s training compensation system with EU law

Due to the legitimate excitement over the recent Pechstein ruling, many have overlooked a previous German decision rendered in the Wilhelmshaven SV case (the German press did report on the decision here and here). The few academic commentaries (see here and here) focused on the fact that the German Court had not recognized the res judicata effect of a CAS award. Thus, it placed Germany at the spearhead of a mounting rebellion against the legitimacy of the CAS and the validity of its awards. None of the commentators weighed in on the substance of the decision, however. Contrary to the Court in Pechstein, the judges decided to evaluate the compatibility of the FIFA rules on training compensations with the EU free movement rights. To properly report on the decision and assess the threat it may constitute for the FIFA training compensation system, we will first summarize the facts of the case (I), briefly explicate the mode of functioning of the FIFA training compensation system (II), and finally reconstruct the reasoning of the Court on the compatibility of the FIFA rules with EU law (III).More...

In Egypt, Broadcasting Football is a Question of Sovereignty … for Now! By Tarek Badawy, Inji Fathalla, and Nadim Magdy

On 15 April 2014, the Cairo Economic Court (the “Court") issued a seminal judgment declaring the broadcasting of a football match a sovereign act of State.[1]


In Al-Jazeera v. the Minister of Culture, Minister of Information, and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Radio and Television Union, a case registered under 819/5JY, the Al-Jazeera TV Network (the “Plaintiff” or “Al-Jazeera”) sued the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (“ERTU” or the “Union”) et al. (collectively, the “Respondents”) seeking compensation for material and moral damages amounting to three (3) million USD, in addition to interest, for their alleged breach of the Plaintiff’s exclusive right to broadcast a World Cup-qualification match in Egypt.  Al-Jazeera obtained such exclusive right through an agreement it signed with Sportfive, a sports marketing company that had acquired the right to broadcast Confederation of African Football (“CAF”) World Cup-qualification matches.

ERTU reportedly broadcasted the much-anticipated match between Egypt and Ghana live on 15 October 2013 without obtaining Al-Jazeera’s written approval, in violation of the Plaintiff’s intellectual property rights.


Why the European Commission will not star in the Spanish TV rights Telenovela. By Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren

The selling of media rights is currently a hot topic in European football. Last week, the English Premier League cashed in around 7 billion Euros for the sale of its live domestic media rights (2016 to 2019) – once again a 70 percent increase in comparison to the previous tender. This means that even the bottom club in the Premier League will receive approximately €130 million while the champions can expect well over €200 million per season.

The Premier League’s new deal has already led the President of the Spanish National Professional Football League (LNFP), Javier Tebas, to express his concerns that this could see La Liga lose its position as one of Europe’s leading leagues. He reiterated that establishing a centralised sales model in Spain is of utmost importance, if not long overdue.

Concrete plans to reintroduce a system of joint selling for the media rights of the Primera División, Segunda División A, and la Copa del Rey by means of a Royal Decree were already announced two years ago. The road has surely been long and bumpy. The draft Decree is finally on the table, but now it misses political approval. All the parties involved are blaming each other for the current failure: the LNFP blames the Sport Governmental Council for Sport (CSD) for not taking the lead; the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) is arguing that the Federation and non-professional football entities should receive more money and that it should have a stronger say in the matter in accordance with the FIFA Statutes;  and there are widespread rumours that the two big earners, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, are actively lobbying to prevent the Royal Decree of actually being adopted.

To keep the soap opera drama flowing,  on 30 December 2014, FASFE (an organisation consisting of groups of fans, club members, and minority shareholders of several Spanish professional football clubs) and the International Soccer Centre (a movement that aims to obtain more balanced and transparent football and basketball competitions in Spain) filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission against the LNFP. They argue that the current system of individual selling of LNFP media rights, with unequal shares of revenue widening the gap between clubs, violates EU competition law.



The 2014 Dortmund judgment: what potential for a follow-on class action? By Zygimantas Juska

Class actions are among the most powerful legal tools available in the US to enforce competition rules. With more than 75 years of experience, the American system offers valuable lessons about the benefits and drawbacks of class actions for private enforcement in competition law. Once believed of as only a US phenomenon, class actions are slowly becoming reality in the EU. After the adoption of the Directive on damages actions in November 2014, the legislative initiative in collective redress (which could prescribe a form of class actions) is expected in 2017.[1] Some pro-active Member States have already taken steps to introduce class actions in some fashion, like, for example, Germany.

What is a class action? It is a lawsuit that allows many similar legal claims with a common interest to be bundled into a single court action. Class actions facilitate access to justice for potential claimants, strengthen the negotiating power and contribute to the efficient administration of justice. This legal mechanism ensures a possibility to claim cessation of illegal behavior (injunctive relief) or to claim compensation for damage suffered (compensatory relief).  More...

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

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

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.

I.               Facts and Procedure

The case was introduced in March 2015 by Doyen Sports Investments Limited, the Maltese investment fund specialised in football and an obscure Belgium football club, the RFC Seresien/Seraing United, against the Belgium federation (URBSFA), FIFA and UEFA. For its part, FIFPro decided to voluntarily intervene in the debates.

Seraing United plays in the Proximus League, the Belgium Second Division, and signed a specific collaboration contract with Doyen Sports on 30 January 2015. This collaboration contract foresees that Doyen and Seraing United will collaborate to select at least two players in each summer transfer window to be recruited by Seraing via a TPI (Third-Party Investment). In return, Doyen will contribute 300 000€ for the 2015/2016 season to Seraing’s budget and own 30% of rights of the players it has picked. For example, during this summer’s transfer window Seraing and Doyen have concluded a TPI contract to finance the recruitment of Ferraz Pereira. It is this contract that led to the present dispute. Indeed, as Seraing indicated in its filing for registration that Ferraz Perreira was recruited via a TPI contract, the URBSFA decided to block the registration of the player in the FIFA TMS system. The procedure regarding the release of an International Transfer Certificate is still on-going in front of FIFA’s internal bodies.

The claimants demanded that the judge blocked any attempt of FIFA, UEFA and the Belgium federation to implement the TPO ban (in the form of FIFA Circular 1464) and, if necessary, to send a preliminary reference to the CJEU.

II.             Jurisdiction of the Brussels Court

The first key question, as in the FFP case, was whether the Brussels Court had jurisdiction over the matter. This was unproblematic as far as the demands against the Belgium federation are concerned, as it is seated in Belgium and a potential arbitration clause does not hinder the demand of provisory measures to the national judge under Belgium law.

As far as UEFA and FIFA are concerned, however, the question is more complex. The Brussels Court quickly side-lined the objection based on a putative CAS arbitration clause, but it went into greater details concerning its international jurisdiction on the basis of the Lugano Convention. Under article 6 par. 1 of the Lugano Convention a defendant can be sued in the court of a place where one of the defendants is domiciled if “the claims are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings”. In the FFP case, it is this close connection between the claims raised against UEFA and the Belgium Federation that could not be decisively proven and that led the Court to declare itself incompetent to deal with the matter. In the present case, the Court clearly distinguishes between FIFA and UEFA.

Concerning the claims raised against FIFA, the Court considers that:

“The relations between FIFA and the URBSFA are characterized by the fact that FIFA is the association adopting the international regulations which national federations, members of FIFA, including the URBSFA, have the duty to respect and enforce against their own members, i.e. the football clubs.” (para.42 of the judgment)

It deduces from this consideration that the URBSFA will have to implement FIFA’s TPO ban. However, this close connection exists only insofar as the claims raised are connected with provisory measures to be applied on the Belgian territory. In the eyes of the Court, FIFA’s objections to its jurisdiction based on article 22.2 of the Lugano Convention are not relevant, insofar that the case does not involve primarily a question of company or association law. The Court, contrary to the FFP case against UEFA, concludes that it has jurisdiction to deal with the claims raised against FIFA. This is a first, clear, legal victory for Jean-Louis Dupont. Yet this does not apply to UEFA as it did not adopt the regulations challenged, nor is the Belgium federation implementing its rules when enforcing the TPO ban. Thus, a close link in the sense of article 6 par. 1 of the Lugano Convention is missing[1]. Neither is article 31 of the Lugano Convention suitable to ground the Court’s jurisdiction against UEFA[2]. Hence, the Court declares itself incompetent to deal with the claims raised against UEFA.

The Court’s recognition that it has jurisdiction to deal with the claims directed against FIFA’s TPO ban insofar as FIFA’s rules have to be implemented by the URBSFA on the Belgium territory meant that this time Dupont could hope for a viable preliminary reference. Yet, as we will see, this did not lead to the award of the provisory measures hoped by the claimants.


III.           The conditions for awarding provisory measures under Belgium law

Under Belgium law two main conditions need to be fulfilled to lead to the granting of provisory measures: there need to be urgency and “appearance of right” (condition de l’apparence), which is analogous to the likelihood to prevail. There is urgency when it is feared that harm of certain intensity, or the likelihood of a serious inconvenience, make an immediate decision preferable. In the present case, the Court considers that Doyen is necessarily negatively affected by the TPO ban, as it is unable to exercise its economic activity[3]. The ban prejudices also Seraing United, which is deprived of an opportunity to finance its activities in a difficult context (URBSFA’s new regulations restricting the conditions to be considered a professional club). Thus, the Court finds that the urgency of the matter is given.

However, and this is the crux of the case, the judge refuses to consider that there is an appearance of right. In other words, he denied that the claimants are likely to prevail on the substance of the application of EU competition law. This is the most important part of the judgment, as it is the first time that a judicial authority adopts a legally binding (though provisional) opinion on the potential compatibility of the TPO ban with EU competition law (the much-cited Spanish’s Competition Authority opinion is advisory and does not cover the application of EU competition law). The claimants argued that the TPO ban is contrary to EU competition law (Article 101 and 102 TFEU) and to the EU free movement rights (Article 63, 56 and 45 TFEU). While, FIFPro, to which the Court recognized the privilege of expressing the collective opinion of professional players, FIFA and UEFA considered that it is compatible with EU law. 

The Court, first, refers to the Piau ruling of the CJEU to affirm that FIFA has a dominant position on the market for the services of players’ agents[4]. This is not surprising. In fact the judge insists that the key legal question is whether there is an abuse of this dominant position. In this regard it considers that both abuses of dominant position under article 102 TFEU and restrictions on free competition under article 101 par. 1 TFEU must be analysed with due consideration to the specific sector in which FIFA is active and to the legitimate objectives it claims to pursue.[5] Subsequently, the judgment lists a number of factors highlighted by FIFA and FIFPro underlying the legitimate objectives of the ban:

·      These practices are mainly the deed of investment firms

·      From which we do not know the shareholders

·      Which conclude contracts with different clubs, potentially directly competing against each other on the field

·      These contracts are opaque as they are not registered

·      They can be easily transferred

·      The third-party investors are interested in the players’ quick transfers, in short sequences, as they will then reap their benefits

·      This is contradictory with the objective of contractual stability during the players contract with their club

·      If the transfer is not effectuated before the end of the employment contract (knowing that at this time the player recovers his full contractual freedom), the clubs are due to pay compensation […].[6]

The Court concludes that it is likely that third-party investors/owners will be in a conflict of interest, with equally important risks of manipulations and match-fixing arising, all of this in a totally opaque environment. Thus, though the TPI/TPO practice is apparently of financial nature, it is deemed to have important sporting consequences. Moreover, the Court remarks that the ban on the influence of third parties on clubs introduced by FIFA a few years ago via article 18 bis of the FIFA RSTP has proven ineffective. This hints at the necessity of a total ban. Additionally, it referred to the legitimate objectives of the ban invoked by FIFPro as representative of the point of view of the players.

In fine, the Court concluded that the likelihood that FIFA’s TPO ban would fail the tests of proportionality and necessity is not proven “with the force necessary” to warrant awarding provisional measures and, subsequently, rejects the demands of the claimants.

Conclusion: EU law is no magic bullet against FIFA’s regulations

Jean-Louis Dupont lost a new battle, but as far as FIFA’s TPO ban is concerned it is only the beginning of a long legal war. He still has a case to defend in the main proceedings and the opening of an investigation of the EU Commission to hope for (as well as a potential appeal to the CJEU in case the complaint on behalf of Doyen and the Iberian leagues is rejected). Nevertheless, this decision is no good omen for the future of his case. It is a worthy reminder that EU law is no magic bullets against the regulations of Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs), and FIFA in particular. The Meca-Medina/Wouters inherency test prevailing in competition cases and the similar proportionality test applied in the context of free movement rights ensure that the legitimate objectives of the regulatory practices of the SGBs are duly taken into account in the judicial or administrative review process. In fact, despite the recurrent complaints voiced by SGBs against EU law’s deregulatory bias and insensitivity to sports’ specificity, in reality the case law of the CJEU and the decisional practice of the Commission has been rather (too?) accommodating with sport’s specificities, regulatory needs and ideals. What EU law imposes is a duty to properly justify private regulations that find no sufficient legitimacy, to say the least, in the democratic nature of their legislative process[7]. Yet, especially when the diverse set of stakeholders active in a specific sporting field converge in favour of a particular policy orientation, as is the case with the TPO ban, which is supported by ECA and FIFPro, there is a strong presumption that the regulations concerned will be deemed proportionate and in the general interest. The implicit presumption of legitimacy and necessity of FIFA’s TPO ban can only be rebutted with extremely thorough arguments from the part of the claimants and will probably require that they convincingly demonstrate the easy availability of a less restrictive alternative system to deal with the perceived risks resulting from the widespread recourse to TPO/TPI agreements. As the Belgium Court aptly put it, the EU free movement rights are not absolute; if necessary they can, and will, be restricted in the name of the general interest[8].


[1] Ordinance, Brussels Court of First Instance, n°15/67/C, 24.07.2015, para.53-54

[2] Ibid, para. 55-57

[3] Ibid, para. 87.

[4] Ibid, para.94

[5]« L’existence d’un éventuel abus de position dominante (article 102 TUE) mais également celle d’une éventuelle restriction de la concurrence (article 101.1 TUE) sont notamment analysées au regard du secteur spécifique dans lequel la Fifa est active et des objectifs légitimes qui sous-tendent l’interdictiom nouvelle des TPI/TPO », Ibid, para.95.

[6] My translation of the bullet points included at para.95 of the decision.

[7] On this important role of EU law, see B. Van Rompuy, ‘The Role of EU Competition Law in Tackling Abuse of Regulatory Power by Sports Associations’, Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law, Vol.22, Issue 2, 2015 pp.179-208.

[8] « Ces droits ne sont pas absolus, mais peuvent connaître des limites nécessitées par l’intérêt général ». Para.99 of the decision.

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