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

Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 2). By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre. 


Part 2. EU competition law and sports funding

The first analysed impact of Brexit on sport was the one regarding EU internal market rules and free movement. However, all sport areas that are of interest to the European Union will be impacted by the result of the future Brexit negotiations. This second part of the blog will focus on EU competition law and the media sector as well as direct funding opportunities keeping in mind that if the UK reaches for an EEA type agreement competition law and state aid rules will remain applicable as much as the funding programs.  More...


With or without them? Russia’s state doping system and the Olympic fate of Russian athletes. By Antoine Duval, Kester Mekenkamp and Oskar van Maren

On Monday 18 July 2016, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren presented the Independent Person Report to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), regarding the alleged Russian doping program surrounding the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The report was expected to seriously threaten the participation of Russian Athletes to the rapidly approaching Rio Games, starting on 5 August. In the weekend prior to the report’s publishing, Reuters obtained a leaked letter drafted by the CEO’s of the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies, which according to the New York Times was backed by “antidoping officials from at least 10 nations— including those in the United States, Germany, Spain, Japan, Switzerland and Canada — and 20 athlete groups”, urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban all Russian athletes from the upcoming Olympics.

Source: http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/50/23/01/10563667/3/920x920.jpg

More...

Brexit and EU law: Beyond the Premier League (Part 1). By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

The result of the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 took the European Union (almost) by surprise. A lot has been said and written about the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. As in all other areas, the British sport sector will also face the effects of the modification of the relationship between the EU and its (probable) former Member State, the UK. It is nearly impossible to foresee all consequences as the UK has not even triggered article 50 TFEU yet to officially start the exit negotiations. However, as the UK position toward the EU will change in any case, this two-part blog aims to examine the main practical implications of such an exit for the UK, but also for the EU, in relation to the actual application of EU law in sport and the EU sport policy.

Unless stated otherwise, the use of the terms Brexit in this blog should be understood as a complete exit of the UK from the European Union. This blog focus in particular on this worst case scenario and its consequences for UK sport. However, it is highly improbable that the future Brexit negotiations with the EU will end up without some kind of special agreement between the two parties the first of which being an EEA type of agreement with full access to the internal market and applicability of EU law. 

The first part of this blog will examined the consequences for UK sport in terms of access to the EU internal market and the applicability of free movement principles. The second part is focused on specific impacts with regard of others domain of EU law for professional and grassroots UK sport.  More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June 2016. By Kester Mekenkamp

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

What a month June turned out to be. Waking up the morning after the 23rd, the results of the UK referendum on EU membership were final. The words of Mark Twain: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today”, might provide the most apt description of the mood felt at the time.[1] The Leave campaign’s narrow victory has brought along tremendous economic, political and legal uncertainties for both the UK and the (other) Member States. To give but one example, with regard to the implications of Brexit on Europe’s most profiting football league, we recommend an older blog by Daniel Geey and Jonny Madill. More...


The EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3] More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – May 2016. By Marine Montejo

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

Challenged membership put a lot of emphasis on football federations in May. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) has rendered an award, on 27 April 2016, ordering the FIFA Council to submit the application of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) for FIFA membership to the FIFA Congress (the body authorised to admit new members to FIFA). The GFA has sought since 1999 to become a member of UEFA and FIFA. In May 2013, it became a member of the UEFA and went on to seek membership of FIFA. More...


Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

Forget the European Championship currently held in France or the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. Doping scandals are making the headlines more than ever in 2016. From tennis star Sharapova receiving a two-year ban for her use of the controversial ‘meldonium’, to the seemingly never-ending doping scandals in athletics. As if this was not enough, a new chapter was added on 14 June to one of the most infamous and obscure doping sagas in history: the Operación Puerto.

The special criminal appeal chamber,  the Audiencia Provincial, has held that the more than 200 blood bags of professional athletes that have been at the center of the investigations since 2006 can be delivered to the relevant sporting authorities, such as the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD), WADA, the UCI and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In other words, there is now a good chance that the identities of the involved athletes might eventually be revealed.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/cycling/9834122/Operation-Puerto-doctor-Eufemiano-Fuentes-treated-tennis-players-athletes-footballers-and-a-boxer.html

This case note will analyze the court’s ruling and summarize its most important findings. Given the amount of time passed since the scandal first came to light (2004), the blog will commence with a short background summary of the relevant facts. More...

FIBA/Euroleague: Basketball’s EU Competition Law Champions League- first leg in the Landgericht München. By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 3 June 2016, the Landgericht München (“Munich Regional Court”) ordered temporary injunctions against the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) and FIBA Europe, prohibiting them from sanctioning clubs who want to participate in competitions organized by Euroleague Commercial Assets (“ECA”). The reasoning of the Court is based on breaches of German and EU competition law provisions. FIBA and FIBA Europe are, according to the judge, abusing their dominant position by excluding or threatening to exclude national teams from their international competitions because of the participation of their clubs in the Euroleague. This decision is the first judicial step taken in the ongoing legal battle between FIBA and ECA over the organization of European basketball competitions.

This judgment raises several interesting points with regard to how the national judge deals with the alleged abuse of a dominant position by European and international federations. A few questions arise regarding the competence of the Munich Regional Court that may be interesting to first look at in the wake of an appeal before examining the substance of the case. More...

The Müller case: Revisiting the compatibility of fixed term contracts in football 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.

On 17 February 2016, the Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz delivered its highly anticipated decision in the appeal proceedings between German goalkeeper Heinz Müller and his former employer, German Bundesliga club Mainz 05.[1] The main legal debate revolved around the question (in general terms) whether the use of a fixed term contract in professional football is compatible with German and EU law. 

In first instance (see our earlier blog posts, here and here), the Arbeitsgericht Mainz had ruled that the ‘objective reasons’ provided in Section 14 (1) of the German Part-time and Fixed-term Employment Act (Gesetz über Teilzeitarbeit und befristete Arbeitsverträge, “TzBfG”), the national law implementing EU Directive 1999/70/EC on fixed-term work, were not applicable to the contract between Müller and Mainz 05 and therefore could not justify the definite nature of that contract.[2] In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.[3] Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like implications, if held up by higher courts.[4] More...

The BGH’s Pechstein Decision: A Surrealist Ruling



The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Highest Civil Court in Germany, in the Pechstein case was eagerly awaited. At the hearing in March, the Court decided it would pronounce itself on 7 June, and so it did. Let’s cut things short: it is a striking victory for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and a bitter (provisory?) ending for Claudia Pechstein. The BGH’s press release is abundantly clear that the German judges endorsed the CAS uncritically on the two main legal questions: validity of forced CAS arbitration and the independence of the CAS. The CAS and ISU are surely right to rejoice and celebrate the ruling in their respective press releases that quickly ensued (here and here). At first glance, this ruling will be comforting the CAS’ jurisdiction for years to come. Claudia Pechstein’s dire financial fate - she faces up to 300 000€ in legal fees – will serve as a powerful repellent for any athlete willing to challenge the CAS.More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Investment in Football as a Means to a Particular End – Part 2: The Multiple Layers of Multi-Club Ownership Regulation in Football - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

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

Investment in Football as a Means to a Particular End – Part 2: The Multiple Layers of Multi-Club Ownership Regulation in Football - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor's note: Rhys was an intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute. He now advises on investments and Notre acquisitions in sport (mainly football) via Lovelle Street Advisory. Following a career as a professional athlete, Rhys has spent much of his professional life as an international sports agent, predominantly operating in football. Rhys has a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and a Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) from the University of Dame, Sydney, Australia. He is currently completing an LL.M at the University of Zurich in International Business Law / International Sports Law.


Having looked at the different types of investors in football in part one of this two-part blog series, “A non-exhaustive Typology”, it is fitting to now consider the regulations that apply to investors who seek to build a portfolio of football clubs.

One way to measure the momentum of a particular practice and how serious it ought to be taken, might be when that practice earns its own initialism. Multi-club ownership or MCO as it is increasingly known today, is the name given to those entities that have an ownership stake in multiple clubs. Within the little research and writing that has been undertaken on the topic, some authors submit that investors with minority stakes in multiple clubs ought not to be captured by the MCO definition.  This position appears problematic given some of the regulations draw the line at influence rather than stake.

There are now approximately 50 MCO’s across the football world that own approximately 150 clubs.[1] Given the way MCO is trending, one might consider it important that the regulations keep up with the developing MCO practice, so as to ensure the integrity of football competitions, and to regulate any other potentially questionable benefit an MCO might derive that would be contrary to football’s best interests.

In this blog, I focus on the variety of ways (and levels at which) this practice is being regulated.  I will move through the football pyramid from member associations (MA’s) to FIFA, laying the foundations to support a proposition that FIFA and only FIFA is positioned to regulate MCO.

 

i)               The Cases that Shaped the MCO Regulatory Landscape

The ENIC and Red Bull cases essentially shaped MCO regulations, at least for UEFA.  For a comprehensive analysis of the cases, I would encourage one look at both “Multi-Club Ownership in European Football – Part I: General Introduction and the ENIC Saga” and “Multi-Club Ownership in European Football – Part II: The Concept of Decisive Influence in the Red Bull Case” by Tomáš Grell.

ENIC CASE[2]

The ENIC case featuring proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport and before the European Commission, made its way to such bodies because London Stock Exchange listed entity, ENIC (English National Investment Company), owned stakes in both AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague, that were set to play in the same UEFA club competition. At that point in time, UEFA had adopted regulations that made entry to UEFA club competitions conditional upon a club having not (i) held or been dealing in the securities or shares; and refrained from (ii) being a member; (iii) being involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration, and/or sporting performance; and (iv) having any power whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance - of any other club participating in the same UEFA club competition. Furthermore, an individual or entity was prohibited from exercising control over more than one club participating in the same UEFA club competition.

The Committee for the UEFA Club Competitions had initially ruled that only SK Slavia would take part in the 1998/99 UEFA Cup. Not satisfied with that ruling, on 15 June 1998, AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague filed a request for arbitration with CAS and simultaneously sought interim relief which was given, allowing both clubs to compete in the 1998/99 UEFA Cup. On 20 August 1999 however, the CAS held that the Original Rule was valid and that UEFA could apply the rule moving forward. Given the blow this dealt to ENIC’s football business strategies, on 18 February 2000, ENIC lodged a complaint with the European Commission and argued anew that the UEFA rules were contrary to EU competition law. The Commission was satisfied that the Original Rule was valid in that it sought to protect the integrity of UEFA competitions, rather than to restrict competition, hence seeing no violation of the relevant EU competition laws.

RED BULL CASE[3]

The current rules encapsulated in Article 5 of the UCL Regulations are distinct from the Original Rule in that one of the standards that would render a club unable to participate in a UEFA competition is if an individual or entity is able to exercise by any means a “decisive influence” in the decision-making of more than one club in that competition.

In 2017, RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig had both secured places in the 2017/18 UCL. Not long after, the UEFA General Secretary expressed concern with the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB), and the Adjudicatory Chamber of that body agreed that the clubs had failed to satisfy the criteria set out in the rules. The substantial levels of sponsorship received by Red Bull and certain individuals linked to the decision making of both clubs inter alia, were flagged as reasons for breaching the threshold.

However, and following some quite deliberate and specific changes, the CFCB Adjudicatory Chamber accepted compliance reports that RB Salzburg had cut ties with certain individuals, reduced the amount of sponsorship money paid by Red Bull and were satisfied that a cooperation agreement between the two clubs had been terminated.  The CFCB Chief withdrew his objection and RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig were admitted to the 2017/18 UCL.

ii)              Member Associations and Motives

Whilst one could simply list the national association’s MCO regulations, the reality is that for the MA’s that have express regulations, they are largely of a similar flavour to that of their Confederation. One might find the varying motivations of MA’s in enacting MCO regulations of more interest. One key feature is that some of the MA’s regulate based on MCO within their own nations, and some concern themselves with MCO even outside of the nation in which the MA governs football. This is where an MA’s motivations are evident.

Scotland

Scotland for instance, regulates MCO via Article 13 of the Articles of Association of the Scottish Football Association and refers to the section as “Dual Interests in Clubs”.[4]  It is understood that Scotland have a high standard when it comes to MCO, so as to ensure that its competition does not become the reserve competition to the English Premier League or another larger league.  With that in mind, one can then understand why Mike Ashley’s attempt to increase an already 8.92% to 29.9% shareholding of Rangers FC was rejected. The Newcastle United owner was not given written permission as is required per Article 13, as he had signed an agreement that he would not own more than 10% of the club and would not exercise influence on the board.

"The Board, under Article 13 of the Scottish FA Articles of Association, is required to have due regard to the need to promote and safeguard the interests and public profile of association football, its players, spectators and others involved with the game. This test is set out in full in Article 13.6."

Italy

Not too long ago, one was free to own more than one club in Italy (i.e. Aurelio De Laurentiis’ ownership of S.S.C. Napoli and S.S.C. Bari), but in recent months MCO in the Italian context has been headline material, with U.S. Salernitana 1919 promoting to the Serie A, a club owned by Claudio Lotito who also owns S.S. Lazio. The newly enacted Article 16 bis of the NOIF FIGC provides that an individual or entity cannot own two or more clubs in Italy, in the same competition.  On Thursday 30 September 2021, the FIGC announced that ownership of more than one professional club would be prohibited, “for those companies that should rise to Lega Pro from the Serie D” (translated), and multi-club owners would need to sell their (other) clubs “by the beginning of the 2024/2025 season”.

The result of this is retroactive in effect and one can reasonably suspect that the legal teams for these wealthy multi-club owners will be instructed to explore all options for a favourable outcome in courtrooms and other relevant decision-making bodies. One can simultaneously hold a view that MCO ought to be regulated, and concede that, when these owners bought these clubs, they did so on the representation that it was legal and they were free to do so. A forced sale as opposed to a willing sale distorts the market and what a willing buyer and willing seller would have otherwise settled on for a purchase price.  Flowing from the above, club owners can expect well below market rate offers, as has been the case reportedly with Salernitana, given they must sell. 

iii)             The Confederations

Most of the MCO regulations of Confederations refer to the concern of jeopardisation of the integrity of a match or competition. The regulations largely capture the substance of Article 20(2) of the FIFA Statutes which will be expanded upon below. For instance, the OFC regulation found at Article 15 (3) of the OFC Statutes, states that  ‘Member Associations shall ensure that no natural or legal person (including holding companies and subsidiaries) exercise third-party control in any manner whatsoever (in particular through a majority shareholding, a majority of voting rights, a majority of seats on the board of directors or any other form of economic dependence or control etc.) over more than one club or group whenever the integrity of any match or competition could be jeopardised.’  One will find almost verbatim, the same provision at Article 12(3) of the CAF Statutes and at Article 17(3) of the CONCACAF Statutes.

There is a distinction to be made however at confederation level, between MCO regulations applying specifically to the MA’s that fall under the Confederations, or to competitions hosted by the Confederation. Given the noise both the ENIC and Red Bull cases made, the most renown MCO regulations are those that apply to UEFA competitions, but consider also how CONMEBOL prohibits multi-club ownership in its competitions. Article 7(f) of the CONMEBOL Statutes provides that natural or legal persons cannot control more than one club. Perhaps an extension, “CONMEBOL’s Club Licensing Regulations establish as a requirement that, to participate in CONMEBOL Libertadores and CONMEBOL Sudamericana tournaments, license applicant clubs must submit a legally valid declaration if one: Owns or trades titles or securities of any other club participating in the same competition; or, b) Owns the majority of the shareholder voting rights of any other club participating in the same competition; or, c) Has the right to appoint or dismiss most of board or management or department members of another participating club in the same competition; or, d) Is a shareholder and controls most of the shareholder voting rights of shareholders in any other club participating in the same competition in accordance with an agreement signed with other shareholders of the relevant club; or, e) Belongs to the leadership structure of any other club participating in the same competition; or, f) Is involved in any quality in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in its competition; or, g) Has any power in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in the same competition.” 

The AFC regulates at both confederation club competition level, and via its club licensing regulations. The Entry Manual of the AFC Club Competitions provides as a condition of entry, at section 9.12: To ensure the integrity of an AFC Club Competition: no participating club may, either directly or indirectly, hold or deal in the securities or shares of any other participating club; be a member of any other participating club; be involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance.

Article 19 of the AFC’s Club Licensing Regulations provides that a Licence Applicant must submit a legally valid declaration outlining the ownership structure and control mechanism of the club. These regulations prohibit a natural or legal person involved in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of the club, either directly or indirectly: a) holds or deals in the securities or shares that allows such person to exercise Significant Influence in the activities of any other club participating in the same competition; b) holds a majority of the shareholders’ voting rights of any other club participating in the same competition; c) has the right to appoint or remove a majority of the members of the administrative, management or supervisory body of any other club participating in the same competition; d) is a shareholder and alone Controls a majority of the shareholders’ voting rights of any other club participating in the same competition pursuant to an agreement entered into with other shareholders of the club in question; e) is a member of any other club participating in the same competition; f) is involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in the same competition; and g) has any power whatsoever over the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in the same club competition.

When it comes to UEFA, MCO regulation is found throughout the so-called “UEFA Regulatory Framework”.  This includes the UEFA Statutes (Edition 2020), the UEFA competitions regulations, in particular the Regulations of the UEFA Champions League 2018-21 Cycle (2020/21 season) and the Regulations of the UEFA Europa League 2018-21 Cycle (2020/21 season), and the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair play Regulations (Edition 2018).

The UEFA Statutes capture both the objectives of UEFA and the obligations of its MA’s, with a strong emphasis on the frequently referred to concern with MCO - issues of integrity. Then, within The Regulations of the UEFA Champions League, sits at Article 5 - Integrity of the competition / multi-club ownership.  This covers integrity of competition again and sets a criterion in order for a team to be eligible for UEFA competition, much the same flavour of regulation seen throughout the rest of the Confederations regarding ownership and control, but with the all-important test at Art.5 – 5.01(c) (iv)  No individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition, such control or influence being defined in this context as: being able to exercise by any means a decisive influence in the decision-making of the club.. 

FIFA reported that as of 2018, just 33 % of MA’s had regulatory provisions for MCO’s. The percentage of MA’s within the Confederations that regulate MCO is as follows:

  • Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) – 19%
  • Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) – 22%
  • Confederation of African Football (CAF) – 22%
  • Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – 33%
  • South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) – 50%
  • Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) – 50%

What these figures might uncover is a gap in how serious MCO ought to be taken, between the Confederations and the MA’s, and that the perceived threat MCO posed to the integrity of competitions at the time these MA regulations were enacted was minor. Confederations might want to take a firmer proactive rather than reactive approach with MA’s, given the speed at which the MCO phenomenon has gained momentum. That is if one concludes that MCO regulation ought to lie with the Confederations.

Whilst MCO might not give rise to an issue for many nations (yet), the MCO environment of countries like Mexico, (1/3 of the clubs in the Liga MX are part of a domestic MCO arrangement, to say nothing of those same owners stake and influence in Mexican media and broadcast) where there are regulations in place at both MA and Confederation level, flies in the face of both the Mexican FEMEXFUT regulations and CONCACAF regulations. Might this highlight that FIFA and only FIFA can regulate this practice?

iv)             FIFA & MCO Regulation

FIFA does not expressly regulate MCO, assumingly as clubs are not its direct remit. Though through some interpretative effort, FIFA imposes an obligation on its MA’s to regulate MCO. In the FIFA Statutes at Article 20 (2), “Status of clubs, leagues and other groups of clubs”, it reads:

Every member association shall ensure that its affiliated clubs can take all decisions on any matters regarding membership independently of any external body. This obligation applies regardless of an affiliated club’s corporate structure. In any case, the member association shall ensure that neither a natural nor a legal person (including holding companies and subsidiaries) exercises control in any manner whatsoever (in particular through a majority shareholding, a majority of voting rights, a majority of seats on the board of directors or any other form of economic dependence or control, etc.) over more than one club whenever the integrity of any match or competition could be jeopardised.

Another way of looking at how FIFA may regulate MCO, is an obligation it places on the confederations at Article 23 (g), “Confederations’ Statutes”, it reads: 

The confederations’ statutes must comply with the principles of good governance, and shall in particular contain, at a minimum, provisions relating to the following matters:

(g) regulation of matters relating to refereeing, the fight against doping, club licensing, the imposition of disciplinary measures, including for ethical misconduct, and measures required to protect the integrity of competitions.

As one will notice, the protection of the integrity of competitions does not quite warrant its own sub-section of Article 23, and instead is heaped in with matters such as refereeing and doping. Article 20 might have more clout, but given the influx of MCO and investment in football in modernity, one can reasonably wonder if the regulations suffice.  

Article 20(2) of the FIFA Statutes (formerly Article 18(2)) has been considered to a degree at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Though where it has, for instance in CAS 2014/A/3523 Club de Fútbol Atlante S.A. de C.V. v. Federación Mexicana de Fútbol (FMF) & Club Atlas F.C., the findings uncover that Article 20(2) cannot be relied upon for clarity, in terms of the jeopardisation MCO poses to the integrity of football matches or competitions.

“The FIFA rule on multiple ownership is not absolute but is based on a case-by-case assessment of the jeopardy caused to the integrity of football matches or competitions. Whether or not the integrity of a match or competition is jeopardised is a very intricate assessment which necessarily must be based on profound knowledge of the match or competition in question.”[5]

Whilst the case is not exclusively about the relevant integrity of competitions article within the FIFA Statutes, the appellant was unable to successfully argue the point that two clubs in the same league belonging to the same owner poses a serious threat to the competition (via the then Article 18(2) of the FIFA Statutes and the identical Article 7(m) of the CONCACAF Statutes) as it was unable to convince the Panel that the integrity of the Liga MX was indeed actually jeopardised.

The CAS in this instance was merely making a decision per its reach, but one struggles to imagine that any football governing body would want to take the position and to regulate so as to suggest that MCO within competitions does not “necessarily” raise integrity issues. Perhaps an extreme analogy, but that would be like concluding that doping is not “necessarily” performance enhancing and a case-by-case intricate assessment is needed to determine whether an advantage was actually attained.  Some threats to integrity require the preventative approach be captured in the regulations and the above case highlights that the articles regarding MCO found in the FIFA Statutes are insufficient and have probably not kept pace with the MCO phenomenon. A further reasonable question one might ponder, is what the reaction to the above case might have been if the clubs were UEFA based?

v)               Concluding remarks and why FIFA must assume MCO Regulations

MCO is a transnational phenomenon with no clear integrated or uniform regulatory framework and rather, a fragmented landscape, as one might reasonably expect when MCO regulation is left to the many Confederations and MA’s.  MCO regulations as they stand may have sufficed in yesteryear when football was not the target of such investment for direct financial return, branding in the case of company investment, or the branding and soft power strategies of nations – evidently the prime motivations for establishing an MCO. 

FIFA regularly offsets the negative news stories it attracts, with reference to growing the game globally. If FIFA is to cash in on the growing the game globally narrative, it surely has an obligation to regulate when that global growth produces integrity issues to football, as is the case with MCO. If one accepts that MCO is a transnational phenomenon and in turn a global issue, and that it does raise concerns in regard to the integrity of football inter alia, then it is difficult to see what body other than FIFA is best positioned to deal with the MCO phenomenon.

There are other reasons of significance as to why this should lie with FIFA as well. For instance, the MCO phenomenon also affects FIFA’s training rewards systems that it has gone to considerable lengths to attempt to fine tune (i.e. the establishment of the Clearing House). With players moving between clubs within the same MCO for free, many transfers will not trigger the trickledown effect they may have otherwise had players transferred for market rates. Another concern for FIFA might be player trading within an MCO being used as accounting tactics to avoid triggering Financial Fair Play issues, rather than a transfer representing the market value of the player.

Player welfare issues also arise, as do employment law questions.  It is already the case that there are clauses in player contracts where a player cannot refuse to be transferred to another club within an MCO if so requested (or demanded), which is in effect an MCO contract, rather than a club contract. Even when clauses of this nature are not inserted within an MCO club player’s contract, there are concerns when players are groomed within an MCO ,given the clubs have considerable time with players and a unique dynamic exists within MCO given common ownership, where a club is incentivised to persuade the player to remain within the group, when the best move, career, financial or otherwise, may be elsewhere. This is an entirely different dynamic to a player weighing up his or her transfer options and seeking professional advice from an agent and/or lawyer.  There are also instances where an MCO has only allowed a move internally and refused a transfer to another club and potentially better option for the player, raising  the ever-recurring freedom of movement questions. These instances are of course rare (for now), but real implications that need attention from football’s global governing body.

The increased globalisation of the game through creations like the UEFA Conference League and FIFA also expanding the Club World Cup, significantly broadens the number of clubs that may face each other, which increasing the risks that MCO presents. The obligations FIFA imposes on its MA’s and Confederations are not observed across the board, and are consequently not sufficient to keep pace with the burgeoning MCO phenomenon. FIFA can no longer simultaneously celebrate the globalisation of football, and defer on definition and regulation downwards in the football pyramid, when it comes to a product of that globalisation; Multi Club Ownership.


[1] I have added to the approximate figure mentioned in the hyperlinked article, to account for some recent acquisitions.

[2] CAS 98/200 AEK Athens and SK Slavia Prague / UEFA & Case COMP/37 806: ENIC / UEFA [2002] Commission

[3] CFCB Adjudicatory Chamber AC-01/2017 RasenBallsport Leipzig GmbH and FC Red Bull Salzburg GmbH

[4] DUAL INTERESTS IN CLUBS 13.1 Except with the prior written consent of the Board:- (a) no club or nominee of a club; and (b) no person, whether absolutely or as a trustee, either alone or in conjunction with one or more associates or solely through an associate or associates (even where such person has no formal interest), who:- (i) is a member of a club; or (ii) is involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management or administration of a club; or (iii) has any power whatsoever to influence the management or administration of a club, may at the same time either directly or indirectly:- (a) be a member of another club; or (b) be involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management or administration of another club; or ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION 69 (c) have any power whatsoever to influence the management or administration of another club

[5] CAS 2014/A/3523 Club de Fútbol Atlante S.A. de C.V. v. Federación Mexicana de Fútbol (FMF) & Club Atlas F.C., at 88


Comments are closed