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

The International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS) and the quest for good governance: Of brave men and rotting fish - By Thomas Kruessmann

Editor's note: Prof. Thomas Kruessmann is key expert in the EU Technical Assistant Project "Strengthening Teaching and Research Capacity at ADA University" in Baku (Azerbaijan). At the same time, he is co-ordinator of the Jean-Monnet Network "Developing European Studies in the Caucasus" with Skytte Institute of Political Studies at the University of Tartu (Estonia).


The notion that “fish rots from the head down” is known to many cultures and serves as a practical reminder on what is at stake in the current wave of anti-corruption / integrity and good governance initiatives. The purpose of this blog post is to provide a short update on the recent founding of the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), intermittently known as the International Sports Integrity Partnership (IPAS), and to propose some critical perspectives from a legal scholar’s point of view.

During the past couple of years, the sports world has seen a never-ending wave of corruption allegations, often followed by revelations, incriminations and new allegation. There are ongoing investigations, most notably in the United States where the U.S. Department of Justice has just recently intensified its probe into corruption at the major sports governing bodies (SGBs). By all accounts, we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg. And after ten years of debate and half-hearted reforms, there is the widespread notion, as expressed by the Council of Europe’s (CoE’s) Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Resolution 2199/2018 that “the sports movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”. More...



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 


The Headlines 

Anti-doping whereabouts requirements declared compatible with the athletes' right to privacy and family life

On 18 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment with important consequences for the world of sport in general and the anti-doping regime in particular. The Strasbourg-based court was called upon to decide whether the anti-doping whereabouts system – which requires that a limited number of top elite athletes provide their National Anti-Doping Organisation or International Federation with regular information about their location, including identifying for each day one specific 60-minute time slot where the athlete will be available for testing at a pre-determined location – is compatible with the athletes' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and their freedom of movement pursuant to Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention. The case was brought by the French cyclist Jeannie Longo and five French athlete unions that had filed their application on behalf of 99 professional handball, football, rugby, and basketball players.

While acknowledging that the whereabouts requirements clash with the athletes' right to private and family life, the judges took the view that such a restriction is necessary in order to protect the health of athletes and ensure a level playing field in sports competitions. They held that ''the reduction or removal of the relevant obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports, and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control''. Accordingly, the judges found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, in a similar vein, ruled that Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention was not applicable to the case.

 

Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

It has been a record-breaking January transfer window with Premier League clubs having spent an eye-watering £430 million on signing new acquisitions. These spiralling transfer fees enable football agents, nowadays also called intermediaries, to charge impressive sums for their services. However, this might soon no longer be the case as the main stakeholders in European football are preparing to take action. UEFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the European Professional Football Leagues acknowledge in their joint resolution that the 2015 FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries failed to address serious concerns in relation to the activities of intermediaries/agents. They recognise in broad terms that a more effective regulatory framework is needed and call among other things for a reasonable and proportionate cap on fees for intermediaries/agents, enhanced transparency and accountability, or stronger provisions to protect minors.

 

The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website an arbitral award delivered on 4 August 2017 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the dispute between the Ghanian football referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey and FIFA. The CAS sided with FIFA and dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Lamptey against an earlier decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee which (i) found him to have violated Article 69(1) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code as he unlawfully influenced the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal that took place on 12 November 2016; (ii) as a consequence, banned him for life from taking part in any football-related activity; and (iii) ordered the match in question to be replayed. In reaching its conclusion, the CAS relied heavily on multiple reports of irregular betting activities that significantly deviated from usual market developments.  More...


Towards a Suitable Policy Framework for Cricket Betting in India - By Deeksha Malik

Editor's note: Deeksha Malik is a final-year student at National Law Institute University, India. Her main interest areas are corporate law, arbitration, and sports law. She can be reached at dkshmalik726@gmail.com.


In 2015, while interrogating cricketer Sreesanth and others accused in the IPL match-fixing case, Justice Neena Bansal, sitting as Additional Sessions Judge, made the following observations as regards betting on cricket matches.

“Cricket as a game of skill requires hand-eye-coordination for throwing, catching and hitting. It requires microscopic levels of precision and mental alertness for batsmen to find gaps or for bowlers to produce variety of styles of deliveries’ (medium pace, fast, inswing, outswing, offspin, legspin, googly). The sport requires strategic masterminds that can select the most efficient fielding positions for piling pressure on the batsmen. Based on above description, cricket cannot be described anything, but as a game of skill.”

The debate on the issue of betting in sports has since resurfaced and gained the attention of sportspersons, media, sports bodies, policymakers, and the general public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order directing the government to come up with an appropriate framework for regulating betting in sports. The arguments put forth in the PIL present various dimensions. One of these pertains to economic considerations, a submission that regulated betting would be able to generate annual revenue of Rs. 12,000 crores by bringing the earnings therefrom within the tax net. As for policy considerations, it was submitted that a proper regulation in this area would enable the government to distinguish harmless betting from activities that impair the integrity of the game such as match-fixing. Further, betting on cricket matches largely depends on the skill of the concerned players, thereby distinguishing it from pure chance-based activities.

The issue of sports betting witnesses a divided opinion till this day. This is understandable, for both sides to the issue have equally pressing arguments. Aside from its regulation being a daunting task for authorities, sports betting is susceptible to corruption and other unscrupulous activities. At the same time, it is argued that it would be better for both the game and the economy if the same is legalised. More...


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

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.

 

The Headlines 

The International Skating Union's eligibility rules declared incompatible with EU competition law

On 8 December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had rendered a decision in the case against the International Skating Union (ISU). The Commission upheld the complaint lodged in October 2015 by two Dutch professional speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, represented in this case by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval (you can read their joint statement here), and ruled that the ISU's eligibility rules preventing athletes from participating in speed skating competitions not approved by the ISU under the threat of severe penalties are in violation of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission held that these rules restrict the commercial freedom of (i) athletes who may be deprived of additional source of income as they are not allowed to participate in speed skating competitions other than those authorised by the ISU; and (ii) independent organisers who are unable to attract top athletes. And while the Commission recognised that sporting rules with restrictive effects might be compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective such as the protection of athletes' health and safety or the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, it found that the ISU's eligibility rules pursue only its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and independent organisers of speed skating competitions. The ISU eventually escaped financial sanctions, but it must modify or abolish its eligibility rules within 90 days; otherwise it would be liable for non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily turnover. For more information on this topic, we invite you to read our recent blog written by Professor Stefano Bastianon.

 

The International Olympic Committee bans Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games

The world has been waiting impatiently for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. This was finally communicated on 5 December 2017. Having deliberated on the findings of the Schmid Commission, the IOC Executive Board decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee with immediate effect, meaning that only those Russian athletes who demonstrate that they had not benefited from the state-sponsored doping programme will be able to participate in the Games. Such clean athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic Flag, bearing the name 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' on their uniforms. Further to this, the IOC Executive Board sanctioned several officials implicated in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, including Mr Vitaly Mutko, currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and formerly the Minister of Sport. Mounting public pressure subsequently forced Mr Mutko to step down as head of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Meanwhile, 21 individual Russian athletes were sanctioned (see here, here, here, and here) in December (in addition to 22 athletes in November) by the IOC Oswald Commission that is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Oswald Commission also published two full decisions in the cases against Evgeny Belov and Aleksandr Tretiakov who were both banned from all future editions of the Games. It is now clear that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have quite some work in the coming weeks as the banned athletes are turning to this Swiss-based arbitral tribunal to have their sanctions reviewed (see here and here).

 

Universal Declaration of Player Rights

14 December 2017 was a great day for athletes all over the globe. On this day, representatives of the world's leading player associations met in Washington D.C. to unveil the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a landmark document developed under the aegis of the World Players Association that strives to protect athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. The World Players Association's Executive Director Brendan Schwab emphasised that the current system of sports governance ''lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport'' and stated that ''athlete rights can no longer be ignored''. Among other rights, the Declaration recognises the right of athletes to equality of opportunity, fair and just working conditions, privacy and the protection of personal data, due process, or effective remedy.

 

Chris Froome failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España

The world of cycling suffered yet another blow when it transpired that one of its superstars Chris Froome had failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España, a race he had eventually emerged victorious from for the first time in his career. His urine sample collected on 7 September 2017 contained twice the amount of salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma, than permissible under the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2017 Prohibited List. Kenyan-born Froome has now hired a team of medical and legal experts to put forward a convincing explanation for the abnormal levels of salbutamol in his urine and thus to avoid sanctions being imposed on him. More...

The ISU Commission's Decision and the Slippery Side of Eligibility Rules - By Stefano Bastianon (University of Bergamo)

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in European Law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar. He is also member of the IVth Division of the High Court of Sport Justice (Collegio di Garanzia dello sport) at the National Olympic Committee.

1. From the very beginning, the outcome of the ISU case was highly predictable, at least for those who are familiar with the basics of antitrust law. Nevertheless, more than twenty years after the Bosman judgment, the sports sector has shown the same shortsightedness and inability to see the forest for the trees. Even this attitude was highly predictable, at least for those who know the basics of sports governance. The final result is a clear-cut decision capable of influencing the entire sports movement. More...



Human Rights as Selection Criteria in Bidding Regulations for Mega-Sporting Events – Part II: FIFA and Comparative Overview – By Tomáš Grell

The first part of this two-part blog examined the new bidding regulations adopted by the IOC and UEFA, and concluded that it is the latter who gives more weight to human rights in its host selection process. This second part completes the picture by looking at FIFA's bidding regulations for the 2026 World Cup. It goes on to discuss whether human rights now constitute a material factor in evaluating bids to host the mega-sporting events organised by these three sports governing bodies. More...

Human Rights as Selection Criteria in Bidding Regulations for Mega-Sporting Events – Part I: IOC and UEFA – By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell holds an LL.M. in Public International Law from Leiden University. He contributes to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a research intern.


It has been more than seven years since the FIFA Executive Committee awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. And yet only in November 2017 did the Qatari government finally agree to dismantle the controversial kafala system, described by many as modern-day slavery. Meanwhile, hundreds of World Cup-related migrant workers have reportedly been exposed to a wide range of abusive practices such as false promises about the pay, passport confiscation, or appalling working and living conditions.[1] On top of that, some workers have paid the highest price – their life. To a certain extent, all this could have been avoided if human rights had been taken into account when evaluating the Qatari bid to host the tournament. In such a case, Qatar would not have won the bidding contest without providing a convincing explanation of how it intends to ensure that the country's poor human rights record will not affect individuals, including migrant workers, contributing to the delivery of the World Cup. An explicit commitment to abolish the kafala system could have formed an integral part of the bid.

Urged by Professor John Ruggie and his authoritative recommendations,[2] in October 2017 FIFA decided to include human rights within the criteria for evaluating bids to host the 2026 World Cup, following similar steps taken earlier this year by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UEFA in the context of the Olympic Winter Games 2026 and the Euro 2024 respectively. This two-part blog critically examines the role human rights play in the new bidding regulations adopted by the IOC, UEFA, and FIFA. The first part sheds light on the IOC and UEFA. The second part then takes a closer look at FIFA and aims to use a comparative analysis to determine whether the new bidding regulations are robust enough to ensure that selected candidates abide by international human rights standards.More...


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

Editor's note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked.

 

The Headlines

FIFA and FIFPro sign landmark agreement

A six-year cooperation agreement concluded between FIFA and FIFPro on 6 November 2017 puts an end to protracted negotiations which began after the latter had filed in September 2015 a complaint with the European Commission, challenging the validity of the FIFA transfer system under EU competition law. This agreement, together with an accord reached between FIFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association, and the World Leagues Forum under the umbrella of the FIFA Football Stakeholders Committee, should help streamline dispute resolution between players and clubs, avoid abusive practices in the world of football, or contribute to the growth of professional women's football. In addition, the FIFA Football Stakeholders Committee is now expected to establish a task force to study and conduct a broader review of the transfer system. As part of the deal, FIFPro agreed to withdraw its EU competition law complaint.

FIFA strengthens its human rights commitment amid reports of journalists getting arrested in Russia

It is fair to say that human rights have been at the forefront of FIFA's agenda in 2017. Following the establishment of the Human Rights Advisory Board in March and the adoption of the Human Rights Policy in June this year, in November FIFA published the bidding regulations for the 2026 World Cup. Under these new regulations, member associations bidding to host the final tournament shall, inter alia, commit themselves to respecting all internationally recognised human rights in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights or present a human rights strategy on how they intend to honour this commitment. Importantly, the human rights strategy must include a comprehensive report that is to be complemented and informed by a study elaborated by an independent expert organisation. Moreover, on 9 November 2017, the Human Rights Advisory Board published its first report in which it outlined several recommendations for FIFA on how to further strengthen its efforts to ensure respect for human rights.

While all these attempts to enhance human rights protection are no doubt praiseworthy, they have not yet produced the desired effect as reports of gross human rights abuses linked to FIFA's activities continue to emerge. Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented how Russian police arrested a newspaper editor and a human rights defender whose work focused on exposing World Cup-related corruption and exploitation of migrant construction workers. On a more positive note, a bit of hope comes with the announcement by a diverse coalition, including FIFA, UEFA, and the International Olympic Committee, of its intention to launch a new independent Centre for Sport and Human Rights in 2018.

More than 20 Russian athletes sanctioned by the Oswald Commission for anti-doping rule violations at the Sochi Games   

November has been a busy month for the International Olympic Committee, especially for its Oswald Commission. Established in July 2016 after the first part of the McLaren Independent Investigation Report had been published, the Oswald Commission is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Its first sanctions were handed down last month. As of 30 November 2017, the Commission chaired by the IOC Member Denis Oswald sanctioned 22 athletes (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) who competed at the Sochi Olympics in the following sports: biathlon, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, skeleton, and speed skating. The Commission published its first full decision on 27 November 2017 in the case against the cross country skier Alexander Legkov, a gold and silver medallist from the Sochi Olympics, who was ultimately banned for life from attending another Olympics.More...

Statement on the European Commission's ISU Decision by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval

Editor's note: We (Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval) are at the origin of today's decision by the European Commission finding that the International Skating Union's eligibility rules are contrary to EU competition law. In 2014, we were both struck by the news that ISU threatened lifetime ban against speed skaters wishing to participate in the then projected Icederby competitions and convinced that it was running against the most fundamental principles of EU competition law. We got in touch with Mark and Niels and lodged on their behalf a complaint with the European Commission. Three years after we are pleased to see that the European Commission, and Commissioner Vestager in particular, fully embraced our arguments and we believe this decision will shift the tectonic structure of sports governance in favour of athletes for years to come.


Here is our official statement:

Today is a great day for Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, but more importantly for all European athletes. The European Commission did not only consider the International Skating Union's eligibility rules contrary to European law, it sent out a strong message to all international sports federations that the interests of those who are at the centre of sports, the athletes, should not be disregarded. This case was always about giving those that dedicate their lives to excelling in a sport a chance to compete and to earn a decent living. The majority of athletes are no superstars and struggle to make ends meet and it is for them that this decision can be a game-changer.

However, we want to stress that this case was never about threatening the International Skating Union’s role in regulating its sport. And we very much welcome the exceptional decision taken by the European Commission to refrain from imposing a fine which could have threatened the financial stability of the International Skating Union. The International Skating Union, and other sports federations, are reminded however that they cannot abuse their legitimate regulatory power to protect their economic interests to the detriment of the athletes.

We urge the International Skating Union to enter into negotiations with representatives of the skaters to devise eligibility rules which are respectful of the interests of both the athletes and their sport.

Since the summer of 2014, it has been our honour to stand alongside Mark and Niels in a 'David versus Goliath' like challenge to what we always perceived as an extreme injustice. In this fight, we were also decisively supported by the team of EU Athletes and its Chance to Compete campaign.

Finally, we wish to extend a special thank you to Commissioner Vestager. This case is a small one for the European Commission, but Commissioner Vestager understood from the beginning that small cases do matter to European citizens and that European competition law is there to provide a level playing for all, and we are extremely grateful for her vision.


Dr. Ben Van Rompuy (Leiden University) and Dr. Antoine Duval (T.M.C. Asser Instituut)

A Good Governance Approach to Stadium Subsidies in North America - By Ryan Gauthier

Editor's Note: Ryan Gauthier is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University in Canada. Ryan’s research addresses the governance of sports organisations, with a particular focus on international sports organisations. His PhD research examined the accountability of the International Olympic Committee for human rights violations caused by the organisation of the Olympic Games.


Publicly Financing a Stadium – Back in the Saddle(dome)

Calgary, Canada, held their municipal elections on October 16, 2017, re-electing Naheed Nenshi for a third term as mayor. What makes this local election an interesting issue for sports, and sports law, is the domination of the early days of the campaign by one issue – public funding for a new arena for the Calgary Flames. The Flames are Calgary’s National Hockey League (NHL) team, and they play in the Scotiabank Saddledome. More...




Asser International Sports Law Blog | FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 3: The compatibility of Article 19 with EU law. By 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

FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors - Part 3: The compatibility of Article 19 with EU law. By Kester Mekenkamp.

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. This blog is, to a great extent, an excerpt of his forthcoming thesis, which he shall submit in order to complete his master’s degree.

This final blog aims to provide some broader perspective, by sketching first the grander scheme in which Article 19 RSTP – FIFA's provision on the protection of minors – operates. Thereafter, the focus will shift towards testing Article 19 RSTP, thereby keeping in mind the previous blogs (Part 1: The Early Years and Part 2: The 2009 reform and its aftermath), against EU free movement law.  


Putting Article 19 RSTP into perspective: The bigger picture

After having investigated the nuts and bolts of FIFA’s provision on the protection of minors in the first two parts of this blog, it might be useful to address its bigger picture.

Article 19 RSTP and its accompanying provisions regulate only a small share of the targeted activity. There is, unfortunately, also an illegal world. Circumvention of the prohibition is allegedly commonplace.[1] Visas and passports can be falsified.[2] Work permits can be obtained on the basis of jobs arranged by clubs.[3]

In any event, a larger dynamic constituted out of a multitude of intertwined forces is at play. Globalization and professionalization are important factors contributing to stardom in football. Football idols, especially those originating from non-European countries, like Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Drogba and Eto’o, symbolised a world of opportunity for millions of children in the developing world eager to follow that same path to global fame.[4] In many parts of South America and Central and West-Africa, where families are driven by the impetus to improve their daily lives and clubs eager to cash FIFA’s training compensation money, an entire training industry emerged with the sole objective of exporting young talents to European clubs.[5] A horrifying example of the (ultimate) consequences this process can generate was seen in 2007: A fishing trawler washed up on a Tenerife beach carrying 130 young African men, of which 15 were made to believe that they would attend trials at Olympique Marseille and Real Madrid.[6] Add to the mix a group of agents focused almost exclusively on harvesting young boys for the international football market, and one can easily understand the extreme difficulty faced by FIFA to rein these practices.[7]

It is evident that the case of minors wanting to transfer internationally is closely related to a broader set of socio-economic difficulties faced by an extremely unequal world. Wars, famine, drought, corruption and the severe economic disparity[8] between the developing and developed world are determinants that can simply not be ignored. National laws applicable to asylum, migration and trade are also part of the equation. The subject of this blog hence opens up a doorway to global complexity. A true protection of minors will therefore undoubtedly require a broader approach than solely measures concerning the world of football. Yet, FIFA’s article 19 could potentially contribute to improving the fate of some minors in the developing world. The question is, does it in practice?  


Arguments supporting the prohibition of international transfers of minors

Former FIFA and UEFA presidents, Blatter, Platini, and Johansson, have all promoted an absolute forbiddance of international transfers of minors.[9] Although such a total ban was never introduced, the 2001 “Commission-condoned” FIFA transfer rules for the first time included a section dedicated to the enhancement of the protection of minors.[10] An accompanying FIFA circular stipulated that the new transfer rules imposed strict conditions “in order to provide a stable environment for the training and education of players”.[11] Moreover, it stated that the abuses, which were frequent in the past, had to be curbed. [12] Crucial in this is “protecting the appropriate and stable development of a minor as a whole”, which includes the training and education of these players.[13]

Another argument supporting Article 19 is its objective to tackle human trafficking. By strictly limiting the possibility for international transfers of minors, it takes the wind out of the traffickers’ sails. The significance of this aim was acknowledged by the European Parliament and the Commission.[14]

The thought behind the prohibition, being open to exception only in specific cases, is that minors are vulnerable, especially when moving to foreign countries. It tries to prevent football from breaking up families and “allows [minor football players] to remain within their country of origin and family networks for longer and hence reduces the psychological and cultural problems associated with adjusting to foreign climes”.[15] FIFA hereby acknowledges that “[w]hile international transfers might, in specific cases, be favourable to a young player’s sporting career, they are likely to be contrary to the best interests of the vast majority of players as minors”.[16] Poli came to a similar conclusion (concerning migration of football players in general) by stating that “the few examples of upward career paths mask the many cases of failure and are sufficient to convince young people and their families that it is worth giving oneself body and soul to football, often to the detriment of school training or an apprenticeship”.[17] 


Arguments against the prohibition of international transfers of minors

There is an opposite narrative that calls Article 19 RSTP’s rationale partially into question.[18] It can be argued that for certain countries (keeping in mind the abovementioned), with respect to the aim of protecting young football players against potential abuse and exploitation through the appropriate and stable development in training and education, minors are in reality not served by staying in their home State.[19] Furthermore, it can be contended that migration by young football players from a developing country to a developed one can be a “viable livelihood strategy to lift an individual and therefore vicariously their family out of poverty”.[20] Paradoxically a measure “with the aim of protecting minors … may, in fact, reduce opportunities for youth living in developing countries”.[21] Moreover, one must beware of an ethnocentric judgement. The argument has been raised that even in cases where third world immigrants had failed with respect to their sporting careers, they considered themselves to have succeeded, “thanks to football”, since they could come to Europe and stay.[22] It becomes a positive “escape”, which stands in contradiction with the whole idea underlying Article 19 RSTP.[23] As we will see in the coming sections, this discussion is key to the evaluation of the compatibility of FIFA’s rule with EU law. 


The Compatibility of Article 19 RSTP with EU free movement law

Applicability

For the purpose of this blog it is assumed that EU free movement law is applicable to Article 19 RSTP in relation to minor football players with an EU nationality. EU minors below the age of 16 might be able to rely on the EU citizenship rights and the free movement right of their parents. Furthermore, it can be reasonably argued that, by referring to inter alia Lawrie Blum[24], EU minor football players of 16 and above can be deemed workers in the sense of the free movement of workers. 


Free movement law aspects

A few aspects that could be deemed restrictive of EU Free movement rights deserve some attention. These are separated into situations concerning either the rights of the minor football player itself, or the rights of their parents.

Article 19(2)(b), the “EU and EEA-rule”, is explicitly created in order for the provision as a whole to meet the requirements of EU free movement law.[25] Yet, the free movement of minors is restricted by the fact that they can only transfer to a club within another Member State once additional criteria concerning football training, education and living arrangements are complied with.[26] These extra criteria, intrinsically, make it harder for minor football players to move to a foreign club. Furthermore, EU minors below the age of 16 are unable to rely on this exception. As already mentioned at the beginning of the blog, this particular age group is unlikely to perform economic services against remuneration in the sense of a “worker” under Article 45 TFEU. Nonetheless, one could envisage that under-16 EU minors could be able to rely on their citizenship rights enshrined in Article 21 TFEU (together with Art. 34(2) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) as non-economically active EU migrants.

Moreover, under-16 EU minors might be able to rely on the free movement rights of their parents. In short, the reason why an EU national decides to move to another Member State and take up work there is irrelevant under EU free movement law. To the contrary, Article 19 RSTP puts an emphasis on the underlying reason, as the “parents-rule” of Article 19(2)(a) RSTP can only be invoked where the player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located “for reasons not linked to football”. The CAS has hereby clarified that the family’s move must be entirely disconnected from the transfer of the minor in a new football club. Under the FIFA rule, it is for example insufficient to establish that the move is partially connected to their child’s football activities, although not being the primary aim.[27] Hence, if (a) parent(s) would want to move to another Member State to take up work there for the, sole or partial, reason that their child can play for a club in that country, Article 19 RSTP will deter them from doing so. As such, the contested rule may thus amount to a provision that precludes or deters the parents from leaving their country of origin in order to exercise their right to free movement as workers. 


Is Article 19 RSTP a proportionate measure under EU law?

The previous sections demonstrated that there is some room to argue that Article 19 RSTP could run counter EU Internal Market law, which could form a basis for future challenge to the provision. Regardless of whether this will ultimately be the case, the provision might benefit from some amendments. It goes without saying that the aim is on its face value laudable. Protecting minors against abuses connected to the transfer market must remain a priority. The manner in which this objective has been given practical effect has not been without criticism.

By encouraging minor football players to remain in their home country, the measure is certainly likely to contribute to them enjoying an appropriate and stable development in training and education. Furthermore, by introducing a strict regulatory regime, it lessens the chance of human traffickers using international football transfers as a cover for trafficking purposes. Therefore, it can be argued that the measure is suitable to attain its aim of protecting minors.

It then still has to be assessed whether it passes the test of necessity. As concluded at the time of its inception, an absolute ban on international transfers of minors was deemed too pervasive. The exceptions assured the overall appropriateness and reasonableness of the measure. This test raises in particular the question of existence of less intrusive alternatives. I would argue that there is indeed a less intrusive alternative to the current rule available. It involves a slight amendment of the “parents-rule” and would still attain the aim underlying the overall provision. This is achieved by firstly, omitting the requirement for the parents’ move “not to be linked to football”, and secondly, extending the mandatory obligations of clubs regarding the education and wellbeing of foreign minors, laid down in Article 19(2)(b), to the “parents-rule”. 


Proposed amendment to the “parents-rule”

Article 19(2)(a) RSTP, the “parents-rule”, has shown to be controversial. It has, to give but an example, been stated that this exemption has “effectively made the [entire] rule worthless”. [28] As discussed in the previous blogs, the case law is marred with disputes arising with respect to this exception, wherein the judicial bodies have advocated a strict application of the rule. In brief, the minor must follow its parents and not vice versa. Yet, circumvention of the rule appears to be quite simple.[29] Without implying that this is a sufficient reason for changing the measure, it nevertheless does show that its current form is rather impractical (or hypocritical).

It can be reasonably argued that permitting an international transfer only if the parents move based on “reasons not linked to football” is too stern. There are examples of outcomes being adverse to the interests of the minors concerned, for instance the Acuña case.[30] Even stronger is the appeal by families who have decided to move together to another country in order for the children to pursue their dream of becoming a professional footballer.[31] In the words of the father of a 15-year-old player who was denied to play for FC Barcelona (after they, as a family, had moved from the US to Spain with that particular aim): “Why should FIFA be able to tell our family where it has to live if we want our kid to play [football]?”[32] Indeed, why should families not be able to move out of their own accord, provided that they meet the general criteria for residence within the new country? If for instance a family has enough financial resources to not become a burden on the social welfare systems or both parents find employment within the new country, they obtain the required residence permits, and as a result their child can play for the club of his choosing, it is hard to argue that this is contradictory to the aim of Article 19 RSTP. The CAS has been receptive to this type of arguments in the previously discussed case concerning Atlético Madrid, in which a minor (USA) was allowed to register with the club amongst others because his family was wealthy and its basic financial maintenance was not dependent on the parents’ work.[33] One could rightly contend that less affluent families should equally have the possibility to move together with their child to the country of a new club. Such a move, in particularly when considering a transfer from a club in a developing country to a European club, could be in line with the aim of Article 19 RSTP. Furthermore, the comparison with other sports, i.e. volleyball, hockey, tennis, rugby and athletics, shows that in those sports minors are not explicitly prohibited from moving, together with their parents, to another country in pursuit of their sporting dream.[34] The same can be said, when the children pursue a career in music or dance and the family moves to the place where he or she can learn from the best mentors.

It is no coincidence that the “parents-rule” is the most debated exception of Article 19 RSTP. One can easily agree that it is beneficial (in a vast majority of cases) for minors to keep living with their parents as it enhances their chances of having a stable development. However, does this also have to entail in which country that might be? This author does not believe so and would favour a situation where parents are allowed to move together with their child to another country, whether that is for reasons linked to football or not.

It can be tentatively pleaded that this can be realized, while still reaching the aims of Article 19 RSTP. As abovementioned, this can be achieved by, firstly, omitting the requirement for the parents’ move “not to be linked to football”, and secondly, by extending the mandatory obligations of clubs regarding the education and wellbeing of foreign minors as laid down in the “EU and EEA-rule” (Article 19(2)(b) RSTP), to the “parents-rule”. This alternative measure would warrant the objective of “appropriate and stable development in training and education”, given that the minor and his parents remain a united family and the clubs are additionally made responsible for ensuring that their sporting and academic education is guaranteed. To also attain the anti-human-trafficking aim, this proposed alternative should be safeguarded from abuse by way of legal guardianship (e.g. situations where human traffickers are able to obtain the status of legal guardian of a minor). Therefore the meaning of parents, within the reading of this exception, should constitute solely the biological parents at first. Perhaps it is possible for the PSC subcommittee to devise a suitable test, based on the minor’s best interest, for judging whether anyone other than the biological parents could equally be deemed eligible under this exception.

In an attempt to contribute to the debate on the protection of minors in football, this blog has proposed a modest reform of Article 19 RSTP. It is believed that such a change would tackle some of the problems withnessed in the past years, without loosing sight of the objectives of FIFA's provision on the protection of minors in football.  




[1] J. Señík and T. Gábris, Minors in Sport. Position Paper on Legal Aspects of Minors in Sports in the Slovak Republic, (2010) International Sports Law Journal, p. 69.

[2] Ed Hawkins, The Lost Boys. Inside Football’s Slave Trade. Bloomsbury (2015), inter alia pp. 135, 162 and 229.

[3] S. Van den Bogaert, Practical Regulation of the Mobility of Sportsmen in the EU post Bosman, Kluwer (2005), p. 240; Supra at 2, p. 165.

[4] Supra at 2, pp. 115-116.

[5] J. Schokkaert, Football clubs’ recruitment strategies and international player migration: evidence from Senegal and South Africa, 17 Soccer & Society (2016), p. 121; The Guardian, “The scandal of Africa's trafficked players”, 6 January 2008,; Supra at 2, pp. 117-129.

[6] The Telegraph, “The dark side of football transfers”, 31 December 2014; Supra at 2, p. 132.

[7] R. Poli, African migrants in Asian and European football: hopes and realities, 13 Sport in Society (2010), p. 1008. For more on player’s agents, see A. Duval and K. Mekenkamp, “De- or Re-regulating the middlemen? The DFB’s regulation of intermediaries under EU law scrutiny at the OLG Frankfurt”, Asser International Sports Law Blog.

[8] J. Schokaert showed, supra at 5, p. 132, in comparison, that an economically higher developed country, such as South Africa as opposed to Senegal, which attracts more money to domestic football and higher wages for football players, resulting in more players to stay in their home country. 

[9] Supra at 1, p. 68.

[10] Art. 12 FIFA RSTP 2001.

[11] FIFA Circular no. 769, 24 August 2001.

[12] N. St. Cyr Clarke, The beauty and the beast: Taming the ugly side of the people’s game, 2011 Columbia Journal of European Law, p. 627.

[13] See Blog 1; Commentary on the Status and Transfer of Players, p. 58.

[14] European Parliament, Report on the future of professional football in Europe (2006/2130(INI)), paras. 33-34; The White Paper on Sport, COM(2007) 391 final, p. 16.

[15] P. Darby, “Out of Africa: The exodus of elite African football talent to Europe”, JLS 2007, p. 453.

[16] FIFA, September 2016, “FAQ Protection of Minors”, 

[17] Supra at 7, p. 1008.

[18] J. Esson, Better Off at Home? Rethinking Responses to Trafficked West African Footballers in Europe, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 2015, pp. 526-527.

[19] M. LoPiccolo, You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here: Problems arising when SIJS meets international adoption, Wisconsin International Law Journal 2015, pp. 200-201.

[20] Supra at 18, p. 521.

[21] M. Mauro, Inclusive sport or institutional discrimination? New FIFA regulations, organized football and migrant youth in Italy, Sport in Society 2016, p. 2.

[22] R. Poli, African migrants in Asian and European football: hopes and realities, 13 Sport in Society (2010), p. 1009.

[23] P. Darby and E. Solberg, Differing Trajectories: Football Development and Patterns of Player Migration in South Africa and Ghana, 11 Soccer and Society (2009), pp. 118–130.

[24] Case 66/85, Lawrie Blum v Land Baden-Württemberg, [1986] ECR 2135, para. 17: the crucial elements are that, for a certain period of time, a person performs services for and under the direction of another person in return for which he receives remuneration.

[25] See blog 1.

[26] Art. 19(2)(b) RSTP: Hereby, it is important to indicate that the CAS in Vada II (TAS 2012/A/2862) has established a workable account for the particular case of players with the nationality of a EU or EEA Member State residing in a non-EU/EEA country, by allowing them to invoke this exception.

[27] TAS 2011/A/2494, FC Girondins de Bordeaux c. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), sentence du 22 décembre 2011 (Vada I), paras. 31-38; CAS 2013/A/3140, A. v. Club Atlético de Madrid SAD & Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) & Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), award of 10 October 2013 (A. v. Club Atlético de Madrid), para. 8.25.

[28] Supra at 2, p. 246.

[29] KEA, CDES and EOSE, Study on Sports Agents in the Eurropean Union, November 2009, p. 128; Supra at 3, p. 240.

[30] See blog 2.

[31] The New York Times, “An American Boy Wonder in Barcelona”, 7 November 2013.

[32] The New York Times, “Strict Enforcement of FIFA Rules Sidelines Young Players Abroad”, 31 Augustus 2015.

[33] See blog 2; A. v. Club Atlético de Madrid, Supra at  28, para. 8.31.

[34] Supra at 30, pp. 127-129.

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