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

Book Review - Football and the Law, Edited by Nick De Marco - By Despina Mavromati (SportLegis/University of Lausanne)

 Editor's Note: Dr. Despina Mavromati, LL.M., M.B.A., FCIArb is an Attorney-at-law specialized in international sports law and arbitration (SportLegis) and a Member of the UEFA Appeals Body. She teaches sports arbitration and sports contracts at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and is a former Managing Counsel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

This comprehensive book of more than 500 pages with contributions by 53 authors and edited by Nick De Marco QC “aims to embody the main legal principles and procedures that arise in football law”. It is comprised of 29 chapters and includes an index, a table of football regulations and a helpful table of cases including CAS awards, UEFA & FIFA Disciplinary Committee decisions and Football Association, Premier League and Football League decisions. 

The 29 chapters cover a wide range of regulatory and legal issues in football, predominantly from the angle of English law. This is logical since both the editor and the vast majority of contributing authors are practitioners from England.

Apart from being of evident use to anyone involved in English football, the book offers additional basic principles that are likely to be of use also to those involved in football worldwide, including several chapters entirely dedicated to the European and International regulatory framework on football: chapter 3 (on International Federations) gives an overview of the pyramidal structure of football internationally and delineates the scope of jurisdiction among FIFA and the confederations; chapter 4 explains European law and its application on football deals mostly with competition issues and the free movement of workers; and chapter 29 deals with international football-related disputes and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In addition to the chapters exclusively dealing with international football matters, international perspectives and the international regulatory landscape is systematically discussed – in more or less depth, as the need might be – in several other chapters of the book, including: chapter 2 on the “Institutions” (from governing bodies to stakeholders groups in football); chapter 6 on the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP); chapter 8 dealing with (national and international) player transfers; chapter 11 (on Third Party Investment) and chapter 16 on Financial Fair Play (mostly discussing the UEFA FFP Regulations); chapter 23  on disciplinary matters (very briefly discussing the disciplinary procedures under FIFA and UEFA Disciplinary rules); chapter 24 on domestic and international doping-related cases in football, with an overview of the CAS jurisprudence in this respect; and finally chapter 23 on corruption and match-fixing (with a very short description of the FIFA and UEFA regulations).

Furthermore, the book offers extensive chapters in less discussed – yet of high importance – football topics, including: chapter 13 on image rights and key clauses in image rights agreements; chapter 14 on taxation (referring also to taxation issues in image rights and intermediary fees); chapter 15 on sponsoring and commercial rights, with a guide on the principal provisions in a football sponsoring contract and various types of disputes arising out of sponsorship rights; chapter 17 on personal injury, discussing the duty of care in football cases (from the U.K.); and chapter 18 on copyright law and broadcasting (with short references to the European law and the freedom to supply football broadcasting services).

Some chapters seem to have a more general approach to the subject matter at issue without necessarily focusing on football. These include chapters 27 (on mediation) and 22 (on privacy and defamation), and even though they were drafted by reputable experts in their fields, I would still like to see chapter 27 discuss in more detail the specific aspects, constraints and potential of mediation in football-related disputes as opposed to a general overview of mediation as a dispute-resolution mechanism. The same goes for chapter 22, but this could be explained by the fact that there are not necessarily numerous football-specific cases that are publicly available. 

As is internationally known, “football law” is male-dominated. This is also demonstrated in the fact that of the 53 contributing authors, all of them good colleagues and most of them renowned in their field, only eight are female (15%). Their opinions, however, are of great importance to the book due to the subject matter on which these women have contributed, such as player contracts (Jane Mulcahy QC), player transfers (Liz Coley), immigration issues in football (Emma Mason), broadcasting (Anita Davies) or disciplinary issues (Alice Bricogne).

The book is a success not only due to the great good work done by its editor, Nick De Marco QC but first and foremost due to its content, masterfully prepared by all 53 authors. On the one hand, the editor carefully delimited and structured the scope of each topic in a logical order and in order to avoid overlaps (a daunting task in case of edited volumes with numerous contributors like this one!), while on the other hand, all 53 authors followed a logical and consistent structure in their chapters and ensured an expert analysis that would have not been possible had this book been authored by one single person.  

Overall, I found this book to be a great initiative and a very useful and comprehensive guide written by some of the most reputable experts. The chapters are drafted in a clear and understandable way and the editor did a great job putting together some of the most relevant and topical legal and regulatory issues from the football field, thus filling a much-needed gap in the “football law” literature.

Can a closed league in e-Sports survive EU competition law scrutiny? The case of LEC - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

1.     Introduction

The organizational structure of sports in Europe is distinguished by its pyramid structure which is marked by an open promotion and relegation system. A truly closed system, without promotion and relegation, is unknown to Europe, while it is the main structure found in North American professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and the NHL. Recently, top European football clubs along with certain members of UEFA have been debating different possibilities of introducing a more closed league system to European football. Some football clubs have even wielded the threat of forming an elite closed breakaway league. Piercing through these intimidations and rumors, the question of whether a closed league system could even survive the scrutiny of EU competition law remains. It could be argued that an agreement between clubs to create a completely closed league stifles competition and would most likely trigger the application of Article 101 and 102 TFEU.[1] Interestingly, a completely closed league franchise system has already permeated the European continent. As outlined in my previous blog, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) is a European e-sports competition that has recently rebranded and restructured this year from an open promotion and relegation system to a completely closed franchise league to model its sister competition from North America, the League Championship Series. This case is an enticing opportunity to test how EU competition law could apply to such a competition structure.

As a preliminary note, this blog does not aim to argue whether the LEC is a ‘real’ sport competition and makes the assumption that the LEC could be considered as a sports competition.[2]


I’m A Loser Baby, So Let’s Kill Transparency – Recent Changes to the Olympic Games Host City Selection Process - By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

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.

Big June 2019 for Olympic Hosting

On June 24, 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected Milano-Cortina to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. Milano-Cortina’s victory came despite a declaration that the bid was “dead” just months prior when the Italian government refused to support the bid. Things looked even more dire for the Italians when 2006 Winter Games host Turin balked at a three-city host proposal. But, when the bid was presented to the members of the IOC Session, it was selected over Stockholm-Åre by 47 votes to 34. 

Just two days later, the IOC killed the host selection process as we know it. The IOC did this by amending two sections of the Olympic Charter in two key ways. First, the IOC amended Rule 33.2, eliminating the requirement that the Games be selected by an election seven years prior to the Games. While an election by the IOC Session is still required, the seven-years-out requirement is gone.

Second, the IOC amended Rule 32.2 to allow for a broader scope of hosts to be selected for the Olympic Games. Prior to the amendment, only cities could host the Games, with the odd event being held in another location. Now, while cities are the hosts “in principle”, the IOC had made it so: “where deemed appropriate, the IOC may elect several cities, or other entities, such as regions, states or countries, as host of the Olympic Games.”

The change to rule 33.2 risks undoing the public host selection process. The prior process included bids (generally publicly available), evaluation committee reports, and other mechanisms to make the bidding process transparent. Now, it is entirely possible that the IOC may pre-select a host, and present just that host to the IOC for an up-or-down vote. This vote may be seven years out from the Games, ten years out, or two years out. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April and May 2019. 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 

Caster Semenya learns that it is not always easy for victims of discrimination to prevail in court

The world of sport held its breath as the Secretary General of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) Matthieu Reeb stood before the microphones on 1 May 2019 to announce the verdict reached by three arbitrators (one of them dissenting) in the landmark case involving the South African Olympic and world champion Caster Semenya. Somewhat surprisingly, the panel of arbitrators came to the conclusion that the IAAF’s regulations requiring female athletes with differences of sexual development to reduce their natural testosterone level below the limit of 5 nmol/L and maintain that reduced level for a continuous period of at least six months in order to be eligible to compete internationally at events between 400 metres and a mile, were necessary, reasonable and proportionate to attain the legitimate aim of ensuring fair competition in female athletics, even though the panel recognised that the regulations were clearly discriminatory. Ms Semenya’s legal team decided to file an appeal against the ruling at the Swiss Federal Tribunal. For the time being, this appears to be a good move since the tribunal ordered the IAAF at the beginning of June to suspend the application of the challenged regulations to Ms Semenya with immediate effect, which means that Ms Semenya for now continues to run medication-free.


Champions League ban looms on Manchester City

On 18 May 2019, Manchester City completed a historic domestic treble after defeating Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup Final. And yet there is a good reason to believe that the club’s executives did not celebrate as much as they would under normal circumstances. This is because only two days before the FA Cup Final the news broke that the chief investigator of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) had decided to refer Manchester City’s case concerning allegations of financial fair play irregularities to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber for a final decision. Thus, the chief investigator most likely found that Manchester City had indeed misled UEFA over the real value of its sponsorship income from the state-owned airline Etihad and other companies based in Abu Dhabi, as the leaked internal emails and other documents published by the German magazine Der Spiegel suggested. The chief investigator is also thought to have recommended that a ban on participation in the Champions League for at least one season be imposed on the English club. The club’s representatives responded to the news with fury and disbelief, insisting that the CFCB investigatory chamber had failed to take into account a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence it had been provided with. They eventually decided not to wait for the decision of the CFCB adjudicatory chamber, which is yet to be adopted, and meanwhile took the case to the CAS, filing an appeal against the chief investigator’s referral.


The Brussels Court of Appeal dismisses Striani’s appeal on jurisdictional grounds

The player agent Daniele Striani failed to convince the Brussels Court of Appeal that it had jurisdiction to entertain his case targeting UEFA’s financial fair play regulations. On 11 April 2019, the respective court dismissed his appeal against the judgment of the first-instance court without pronouncing itself on the question of compatibility of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations with EU law. The court held that it was not competent to hear the case because the link between the regulations and their effect on Mr Striani as a player agent, as well as the link between the regulations and the role of the Royal Belgian Football Association in their adoption and enforcement, was too remote (for a more detailed analysis of the decision, see Antoine’s blog here). The Brussels Court of Appeal thus joined the European Court of Justice and the European Commission as both these institutions had likewise rejected to assess the case on its merits in the past.


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A New Chapter for EU Sports Law and European Citizenship Rights? The TopFit Decision - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.


1.     Introduction

Christmas has come very early this year for the EU sports law world in the form of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) judgment in TopFit eV, Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband eV by exclusively analyzing the case on the basis of European citizenship rights and its application to rules of sports governing bodies that limit their exercise. The case concerned an Italian national, Daniele Biffi, who has been residing in Germany for over 15 years and participates in athletic competitions in the senior category, including the German national championships. In 2016, the Deutscher Leichtathletikverband (DLV), the German Athletics Federation, decided to omit a paragraph in its rules that allowed the participation of EU nationals in national championships on the same footing as German citizens. As a result, participation in the national championship was subject to prior authorization of the organizers of the event, and even if participation was granted, the athlete may only compete outside of classification and may not participate in the final heat of the competition. After having been required to compete out of classification for one national championship and even dismissed from participating in another, Mr. Biffi and TopFit, his athletics club based in Berlin, brought proceedings to a German national court. The national court submitted a request for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU in which it asked essentially whether the rules of the DLV, which may preclude or at least require a non-national to compete outside classification and the final heat, are contrary to Articles 18, 21 and 165 TFEU. Articles 18 and 21 TFEU, read together, preclude discrimination on the basis of nationality against European citizens exercising their free movement. The underlying (massive) question here is whether these provisions can be relied on by an amateur athlete against a private body, the DLV.

Covered in a previous blog, the Advocate General’s (AG) opinion addressed the case from an entirely different angle. Instead of tackling the potentially sensitive questions attached with interpreting the scope of European citizenship rights, the opinion focused on the application of the freedom of establishment because the AG found that participation in the national championships was sufficiently connected to the fact Mr. Biffi was a professional trainer who advertised his achievements in those competitions on his website. Thus, according to the AG, there was a sufficient economic factor to review the case under a market freedom. The CJEU, in its decision, sidelined this approach and took the application of European citizenship rights head on.

The following will dissect the Court’s decision by examining the three central legal moves of the ruling: the general applicability of EU law to amateur sport, the horizontal applicability of European citizenship rights, and justifications and proportionality requirements of access restrictions to national competitions. More...

League of Legends European Championships - Challenging the Boundaries of Sport in EU Law - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

1.     Introduction

The surge of e-sports has stimulated a lively discussion on the essential characteristics of sport and whether e-sports, in general, can be considered a sport. However, one should not overlook the fact that e-sports encompass a broad range of video games that fundamentally differ from one another. Thus, as one commentator recently underlined, “the position of video games and the e-sport competitions based on them should be analysed on a case-by-case basis.”[1] In this spirit, this blog aims to provide a concise analysis of one of these e-sports, League of Legends (LoL), and one of its main competitions, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), to assess whether it could be considered a sport in the sense of EU law. The LEC offers a fascinating opportunity to examine this issue especially since the previous European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) was rebranded and restructured this year into the LEC. More...

Will the World Cup 2022 Expansion Mark the Beginning of the End of FIFA’s Human Rights Journey? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games.

About three years ago, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) adopted a new version of its Statutes, including a statutory commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. Since then, FIFA undertook a human rights journey that has been praised by various stakeholders in the sports and human rights field. In early June, the FIFA Congress is scheduled to take a decision that could potentially undo all positive efforts taken thus far.

FIFA already decided in January 2017 to increase the number of teams participating in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48. Shortly after, discussions began on the possibility to also expand the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar. Subsequently, FIFA conducted a feasibility study, which revealed that the expansion would be feasible but require a number of matches to be hosted in neighbouring countries, explicitly mentioning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One does not have to be a human rights expert to be highly alarmed by this list of potential co-hosting countries. Nevertheless, the FIFA Council approved of the possibility to expand in March 2019, paving the way for the FIFA Congress to take a decision on the matter. Obviously, the advancement of the expansion decision raises serious doubts over the sincerity of FIFA’s reforms and human rights commitments. More...

How Data Protection Crystallises Key Legal Challenges in Anti-Doping - By Marjolaine Viret

Editor's Note: Marjolaine is a researcher and attorney admitted to the Geneva bar (Switzerland) who specialises in sports and life sciences. Her interests focus on interdisciplinary approaches as a way of designing effective solutions in the field of anti-doping and other science-based domains. Her book “Evidence in Anti-Doping at the Intersection of Science & Law” was published through T.M.C Asser Press / Springer in late 2015. She participates as a co-author on a project hosted by the University of Neuchâtel to produce the first article-by-article legal commentary of the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code. In her practice, she regularly advises international federations and other sports organisations on doping and other regulatory matters, in particular on aspects of scientific evidence, privacy or research regulation. She also has experience assisting clients in arbitration proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport or other sport tribunals.

Since the spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) has loomed over the sports sector,[1] a new wind seems to be blowing on anti-doping, with a palpable growing interest for stakes involved in data processing. Nothing that would quite qualify as a wind of change yet, but a gentle breeze of awareness at the very least.

Though the GDPR does mention the fight against doping in sport as a potential matter of public health in its recitals,[2] EU authorities have not gone so far as to create a standalone ground on which anti-doping organisations could rely to legitimise their data processing. Whether or not anti-doping organisations have a basis to process personal data – and specifically sensitive data – as part of their anti-doping activities, thus remains dependent on the peculiarities of each national law. Even anti-doping organisations that are incorporated outside the EU are affected to the extent they process data about athletes in the EU.[3] This includes international sports federations, many of which are organised as private associations under Swiss law. Moreover, the Swiss Data Protection Act (‘DPA’) is currently under review, and the revised legal framework should largely mirror the GDPR, subject to a few Swiss peculiarities. All anti-doping organisations undertake at a minimum to abide by the WADA International Standard for Privacy and the Protection of Personal Information (‘ISPPPI’), which has been adapted with effect to 1 June 2018 and enshrines requirements similar to those of the GDPR. However, the ISPPPI stops short of actually referring to the GDPR and leaves discretion for anti-doping organisations to adapt to other legislative environments.

The purpose of this blog is not to offer a detailed analysis of the requirements that anti-doping organisations must abide by under data protection laws, but to highlight how issues around data processing have come to crystallise key challenges that anti-doping organisations face globally. Some of these challenges have been on the table since the adoption of the first edition of the World Anti-Doping Code (‘WADC’) but are now exposed in the unforgiving light of data protection requirements. More...

What happens in Switzerland stays in Switzerland: The Striani Judgment of the Brussels Court of Appeals

In the last five years, the Striani case has been the main sword of Damocles hanging over UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. At the very least, the only real judicial threat they have faced (apart from the relatively harmless challenge mounted in the Galatasaray case at the CAS). Indeed, a Belgian player agent, Daniele Striani, represented by Bosman’s former lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, attempted, in various fora, to challenge the compatibility of UEFA’s CL&FFP Regulations with EU law. Striani lodged a complaint with the European Commission (which was quickly rejected in October 2014) and initiated a private action for damages before the Brussels Court of First Instance. The latter deemed itself not competent to decide on the matter, but nevertheless accepted to order a provisory stay of the enforcement of the UEFA FFP Regulations pending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (see Ben van Rompuy’s blog on the case here). The CJEU unsurprisingly rejected to enter into the matter, but UEFA and Striani decided to appeal the first instance ruling to the Court of Appeal, which rendered its decision on 11 April. It is unclear at this stage whether Striani will attempt to challenge it at the Belgian Cour de Cassation (Highest Civil Court), however this would entail considerable risks and costs and his lawyers to date have not indicated that they would do so (see here). 

While the ruling of the Court of Appeal does not touch upon the much-discussed question of the compatibility of UEFA’s FFP Regulations with EU law (see our many blogs on the question here, here and here), it remains an interesting decision to discuss broader questions related to the procedural ease in challenging regulatory decisions passed by sports governing bodies (SGBs) based in Switzerland. Competition law constitutes the main legal tool available to sports stakeholders looking to challenge existing regulatory arrangements from the outside (e.g. not going through the internal political systems of the SGBs or the CAS route). Recent cases, such as the ISU decision of the European Commission, the Pechstein case in front of the German courts or the Rule 40 decision of the German competition authority, have demonstrated the potency of competition law to question the legality of the rules and decisions of the SGBs.[1] In this regard, the decision of the Brussels Court of Appeal narrows the range of parties allowed to challenge in European courts the SGBs’ rules and decisions on the basis of competition law. More...

Can European Citizens Participate in National Championships? An Analysis of AG Tanchev’s Opinion in TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a third year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

1.     Introduction

To many it may seem obvious that athletes in a national championship should only be able to participate if they have the nationality of the relevant state. The Dutch Road Cycling National Championships should have Dutch cyclists, and the German Athletics Championships should have German athletes and so forth. However, in reality, foreign competitors are allowed to participate in many national championships in the EU, and there is a wide discrepancy between the rules of national sport governing bodies on this issue. There is no unified practice when investigating this point by country or by sport, and rules on participation range from a complete ban on foreign competitors to absolutely no mention of foreign athletes.[1] Thus, the question arises: should foreign athletes be able to participate in national sport championships?

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will soon be required to provide an, at least partial, answer to this dilemma as a result of an application for a preliminary ruling.  A German Court has referred three questions to the CJEU on the case TopFit e.V. Daniele Biffi v Deutscher Leichtathletikverband e.V. (DLV) which in essence ask whether EU citizenship rights and in particular, the requirement of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, should be applied to non-nationals wishing to participate in an athletics national championship in Germany. In the meantime, the Advocate General (AG), who provides a non-binding opinion to the Court before a decision is delivered, Evgeni Tanchev has delivered an interesting opinion on the case. It addresses the claims from the applicants based on EU citizenship rights and urges the CJEU to instead review the case on the basis of the freedom of establishment.

This blog will dissect the AG’s opinion to assess the main arguments put forward in relation to freedom of establishment and EU citizenship. Furthermore, it will weigh the ramifications this case may have on the boundaries of EU law in relation to sport. To fully appreciate the AG’s opinion, it is necessary to first discuss the intriguing factual and legal background colouring this case. After all, this will not be the first time the CJEU faces thorny issues concerning discrimination on the basis of nationality and sport. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - By Thomas Terraz

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

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2019 - Conference Report - By Thomas Terraz

On October 24th and 25th 2019, the T.M.C. Asser Institute and the International Sports Law Centre hosted the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference for a third year in a row, bringing together a group of academics and practitioners from around the world. This year’s conference celebrated the 20th year of the International Sports Law Journal, which was originally started by Robert Siekmann. Over the past 20 years, the ISLJ has aimed to be a truly international journal that addresses global topics in sports law while keeping the highest academic standards.

With this background, the conference facilitated discussions and exchanges over six differently themed panels on international sports law’s most pertinent issues and gave participants wide opportunities to engage with one another. Additionally, this year’s edition also had the great honor of hosting two distinguished keynote speakers, Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas, who were able to share their wealth of experience and knowledge with the conference participants.

The following report aims to give an overview of the ISLJ Conference 2019 to extract and underline the fundamental ideas raised by the different speakers.

Day 1:
Opening Speech: Moya Dodd

The conference was kickstarted by Moya Dodd, a former FIFA Council member and current ICAS member, who gave an engaging presentation on her experiences as an athlete in boardrooms of FIFA. After retiring from the Australian National Team, she began to become involved in sport governance, starting as a member of the AFC Executive Committee. She eventually made her way to the FIFA Executive Committee where she made it a priority to represent groups who did not have a voice in FIFA’s governance. In this vain, she launched a task force for women, which helped spearhead reforms that brought gender issues into light. Ms. Dodd also explained how she worked hard to keep connections with persons outside of the sports governing structures in order to represent them from the inside. In the end, she explained how the experience playing sports helped develop skills that became invaluable in the boardroom. This includes, teamwork skills, constantly striving to improve oneself, valuing persons for their capabilities, and the ability to deal with setbacks. This discussion led particularly well into the first panel of the conference, which took a magnifying glass to the role of athletes in sports governance.

Panel 1: Where is the athletes’ voice? The (il)legitimacy of international sports governing bodies

Antoine Duval and Marjolaine Viret began the first panel of the conference by exploring the athletes’ voice in the fight against doping and particularly within WADA. They explained that in order for the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) and WADA to be considered legitimate, the actors most affected by its policies, athletes, would need to be participating meaningfully and have a real input in the decision-making process. This input requires an actual reflection in the regulatory output of WADA, and it entails not only consulting with athlete stakeholders but that representatives have voting powers on both the code revision process and the administrative bodies of WADA. Their study examines to what extent the current operation of WADA is in line with these ideals by examining the role of athletes in WADA’s bodies and its actual regulatory output.

Mark Conrad studied the issue from a wider lens by explaining how the current representation of athletes in sports governing bodies is inadequate and why there needs to be a fundamental rethinking of the current athlete committee model. This model, he explains, is ineffective in truly representing athletes’ interests, since their mandates are not clearly defined and greatly rely on the good favor of the federations’ management. As an alternative model, he presented a collective bargaining approach, which already is widespread in North America, in which athlete unions would represent athletes’ interests in a bargaining process with the sports governing bodies. Such a model would give the athletes ‘real’ representation by relying on their strength in numbers and by negotiating agreements that would entitle them to specific rights. These agreements could cover salary standards, salary controls, free agency, drug testing and many other aspects of the employment relationship. He concluded by discussing the general pros and cons of such a model but that overall, since athletes would actually have an effective representation, it would overcome any of the negative effects of such a model.

Panel 2: Criminal law and sports – criminal law of sports

The day’s conversation then shifted from sports governance structures to the application of criminal law in sports. Björn Hessert kicked off the panel with a presentation on the cooperation and reporting obligations in sport investigations. He began by illustrating the catch-22 situation in which athletes may find themselves during an investigation. On the one hand, they are required to ‘cooperate fully’ with the investigation authorities, including providing self-incriminating evidence, or face sanctions. If they choose not to cooperate, then they also receive sanctions. This state of affairs may have had a direct impact on the skyrocketing number of sanctions over the past few years involving reporting and cooperation violations. Hessert argued that this situation could be significantly improved by introducing fundamental procedural rights found in criminal law systems to these investigations, such as the right to remain silent and the privilege against self-incrimination. These rights are found in article 6 (1) and (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Such a regime would force sports governing bodies to be creative in finding new strategies to investigate and prosecute alleged sports rule violations.

After Hessert’s presentation on procedural rights in sports investigations, Jan Exner took the podium to discuss the proportionality of the sanctions in the anti-doping code. He began by giving an overview of the characteristics of the sanctions in the WADC, which include a fixed sanction framework and limited flexibility for panels hearing alleged doping rule violations. He explained that due to the rigid sanction framework of the WADC, panels hearing a doping dispute are unable to go below limits set therein and that in certain exceptional cases, these sanctions may be disproportionate. Exner then illustrated some of the negative effects of the current system in which CAS panels hearing similar factual circumstances end up with delivering different sanctions. Such a predicament, Exner argues, goes against any equality of outcome of the proceedings. In the end, he contended that there should be a revised sanction framework that would allow hearing panels to go below the limits set in the WADC as long as certain criteria are met in order to ensure that the sanction is proportionate to the rule violation.

Ruby Panchal closed the panel by shining a light on match-fixing. She argued that sports governing bodies have been so concerned with doping that match fixing has not been sufficiently addressed. Much like how anti-doping rules have been significantly developed over time, anti-match-fixing laws also need to be made far more robust. Panchal explained that certain factors essential for the development of lex sportiva will be essential in the growth of this field. These factors include the validity of unilateral action clauses, a growing relationship between sports governing bodies and state courts, the creation of evidentiary processes in disciplinary proceedings, and co-operation between sports governing bodies and investigative authorities. Panchal closed her talk by examining the approach of the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (Macolin Convention) in addressing this regulatory void. While the Convention takes a ‘hopeful approach’, the question remains open as to how effective it will be in combatting match-fixing.

Panel 3: Transfer systems in international sports

The last panel of day one of the conference took a deep dive into transfer systems in international sports. Jan Łukomski opened the panel by studying the finalization of international football transfers and professional football players’ contracts. There are many kinds of agreements that could be potentially involved in the transfer of a football player, including offers, pre-contracts, definite contracts, that have significantly different legal effects. For example, the CAS explained in CAS 2008/A/1589 MKE Ankaragücü Spor Külübü v. J. that the difference between a pre-contract and a contract ‘is that the parties to the ‘precontract’ have not agreed on the essential elements of the contract or at least the “precontract” does not reflect the final agreement’. This is just one example of a growing CAS case law on issues of contractual validity of football contracts. In the end, Łukomski explains that often times disputes on contractual validity stems from ‘mistakes’ that were made by clubs and players during the negotiation process.

Following the examination of the transfer system in football, Xavier Mansat gave the participants a small peek into the archaic transfer model currently in place in volleyball. He took the audience on a journey of the transfer of one volleyball player by emphasizing all the different steps and actors participating in the process. Mansat also elucidated the various administrative and transfer fees that are taken out at every step by the involved actors. He closed the panel by explaining that the current system is in the process of being challenged by a new stakeholder group, Association des Clubs Professionels de Volleyball (ACPV) and that it is likely that some of the components in the current transfer framework are incompliant with EU law.

Day one ended with an opportunity for the conference participants to unwind over a dinner in the charming harbor of Scheveningen.

Day 2:

Keynote lecture: Ulrich Haas

Day two of the ISLJ Conference was launched by a lecture from Ulrich Haas, who gave an in-depth lecture on the nature and function of association tribunals in international sport. Haas underlined that while association tribunals are the most important dispute resolution mechanism in practice, legal literature on them is scarce. The sheer volume of the decisions made by association tribunals is staggering. In the case of FIFA, the decisions are around 10000-11000 per year. After having demonstrated the incredible importance of association tribunals to the functioning of sports governance, he outlined their legal basis, which is based in the freedom of association (in Switzerland and Germany). Austria, on the other hand, makes association tribunals mandatory. Haas then began to unpack the differences between authoritarian decision-making, used by association tribunals, compared to other forms of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. Interestingly, he concluded that while all these differences can serve as indications of whether a body is an association tribunal or an arbitration panel, there is no set international standard to make this determination. Hence, there is a need to refer to national law in order to fill this void. In conclusion, Haas endorsed a procedural law approach over a substantive law approach to determine the appeals status of an association body’s decision.

Panel 4: Rethinking sports arbitration

The first panel of day two of the ISLJ Conference took to rethinking the current framework of sports arbitration. Veronica Lavista was first to go and presented her findings on the influence of international dispute settlement on sports. She took an empirical approach to her study by going through CAS’ case law and placing the arbitrators in those cases into different categories based on their background, such as a sports law, corporate law, or international law specialist. Based on this determination, Lavista was then able to identify that the makeup of the panel had an appreciable influence on the extent certain legal issues were discussed in the award. Lavista also underlined some of the overlaps between international dispute resolution and the CAS, including the voluntary nature of their jurisdiction, the use of ad hoc panels, and the explosion of case law over the past few decades.

Next up, Daniela Mirante and Artur Flaminio da Silva offered a case study in the Portuguese context of sports arbitration to argue that perhaps switching to a mandatory arbitration scheme would alleviate many of the issues currently present in the ‘voluntary’ arbitration model. Portugal created a permanent sport arbitration center in the Portuguese Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD), which has a mandatory jurisdiction for ‘all sports disputes related to administrative law’. After underlining many of the issues plaguing the TAD, such as institutional independence and arbitrators’ impartiality, the confidentiality of the awards, and the high costs of arbitration, they explained the advantages of mandatory sports arbitration. First, it would get rid of the concept of consent, which they argue is a fiction since athletes must consent to arbitration or else not be able to participate in the sport. It would also reduce the time needed to render a decision since there would be less room for parties to challenge the jurisdiction of arbitration panels. They concluded that mandatory arbitration definitely could be a future path for sports arbitration but that it would have to follow a different path than the current Portuguese model.

To close the panel, Massimiliano Trovato brought forth his three ‘radical’ proposals to ensure the legitimacy of the CAS. Before unveiling the three proposals, Trovato gave a brief historical overview of the CAS and its relationship with the Olympic Movement to contextualize his arguments. He highlighted the interactions between the two and how certain individuals have held top positions in the CAS bodies and other sports governing bodies, like the IOC, leading to potential conflicts of interest. At this point, Trovato revealed his first proposal that article S4 and S6 of the CAS Statutes be amended to make the ICAS into a body ran by the arbitrators themselves, since they have both the ability and expertise to run the CAS for the interests of all the parties involved. Second, Trovato argued that the closed-list system of arbitrators be abolished under article S14 and move towards an open system. The quality of the arbitrators, Trovato explained, could still be assured by introducing certain minimum eligibility requirements for the arbitrators. The third proposal Trovato presented was that Article R65 be altered to make sports governing bodies responsible for the costs of arbitration, not the parties.  Shifting the burden would make sports governing bodies more disciplined and would help compensate for the fact that athletes are essentially forced into arbitration.

Book L(a)unch: The Court of Arbitration for Sport and its Jurisprudence: An Empirical Inquiry Into Lex Sportiva by Johan Lindholm

During lunchtime, the conference participants were treated to a very special book launch from the ISLJ’s chief editor, Johan Lindholm. His book, The Court of Arbitration for Sport and its Jurisprudence: An Empirical Inquiry Into Lex Sportiva, is an exhaustive and thorough empirical study into the CAS’ jurisprudence, its arbitrators, and its parties. Covering a period of 30 years (1984-2014), the book tries to unpack some of the most often raised arguments against the CAS and puts these claims to the ultimate test. For example, whether particular arbitrators are more likely to be chosen by certain parties. Furthermore, the book, through impressive data visualization graphics, illustrates a variety of intriguing data samples, including what kind of cases the CAS has deliberated and to what extent the CAS can call itself a global international sports tribunal.

Panel 5: Revisiting the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS

Following the book l(a)unch, the next panel treated conference participants to a fascinating debate on the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS. Velislava Hristova launched the panel by exploring the intersection between human rights and sports arbitration and in particular, the right to a public hearing in sport cases. She used the ECtHR case of Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland to illustrate the topic. Before jumping into the legal issues, Hristova gave an overview of the nearly 10-year legal history of the Pechstein Saga. She explained that the case boiled down to four main issues: whether Article 6 (1) ECHR (right to a fair and public hearing) could be applicable to sports arbitration, whether Pechstein waived this right, whether the CAS is sufficiently independent and impartial, and whether the lack of a public hearing in this case actually violated Article 6 (1). Next, Hristova analyzed the findings of the ECtHR on these four issues and explained how the ECtHR concluded that while the right to a public hearing is not absolute, the lack of a public hearing in Pechstein’s case was a violation because of the compulsory nature of sports arbitration, the fact that a public hearing was requested, the ‘nature and complexity’ of the case, and since the factual background had been contested. In the end, athletes, arbitrators and the CAS will have to take this landmark ruling into account moving forward.

Antonio Rigozzi further delved into the issue of the (in)dependence of the CAS by not only looking at the Pechstein case but also the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) decision in the Seraing case and how these rulings could potentially impact the CAS. Concerning the Seraing case, he explained how the SFT had to determine whether the CAS is structurally independent, which differs from the Lazutina case because the SFT had to determine whether it was independent from FIFA, not the IOC. In the end, the SFT did not find it necessary to depart from its analysis in the Lazutina case and deemed the CAS to be independent so long there were no overriding reasons indicating that FIFA is given special treatment. Furthermore, the SFT noted that the CAS had made significant efforts to strengthen its independence by improving its structure and functioning. Rigozzi finished by drawing some conclusions from the Pechstein and Seraing cases. First, the Pechstein case has made public hearings at the CAS an inevitability now that Article 6 (1) ECHR is fully applicable to its proceedings, and the CAS will have to improve the optics concerning its rules on the appointment of the president of the panel. Secondly, the SFT in the Seraing made clear that while CAS could be further ‘perfected’, it was not the proper institution to take on such a project. Instead, it placed the responsibility in the hands of the Swiss legislator, and it is yet to be seen whether they will actually take the initiative to introduce change.

The panel was brought to a close by Tom Seamer, who plunged into the issue of the independence and impartiality of CAS arbitrators. He argued that there could be two main areas of improvement in this regard, the ICAS and the appointment of arbitrators. Concerning the ICAS, only minor changes would be necessary to drastically improve the status quo, such as ensuring that its president be neutral and has no connections with any sports governing body, athlete or clubs. Secondly, Seamer supported the contention that certain arbitrators are repeatedly nominated by the same parties and often make decisions in favor of that particular party. He explained that in order to test this theory, one must only look at the period in which the particular arbitrator was on the approved CAS list and then determine the proportion of cases they were called upon by a particular party during that same period. Seamer closed by asserting more needed to be done in order to tackle these issues, while acknowledging some of the challenges ahead.

Panel 6: The future of sports: sports law of the future

The last panel of the conference took the opportunity to look forward into the future of sports law and discussed the growing fields of e-sports and extreme sports. On e-sports, Cedric Aghey tackled the issue of e-sports governance and how it could be potentially integrated into the current sports governing structures, since currently there is an unharmonized e-sport structure. At the moment, e-sports relies on a variety of stakeholders operating at different levels, such as games publishers, e-sports governing bodies, and investors. In order to address this situation, Aghey argued that the e-sports definition should be narrowed only to video games that seek to emulate ‘traditional’ sports. This would allow for a rather seamless integration of these e-sports into the already existing sports federations. For example, FIFA would absorb its FIFA e-sport counterpart.

Nick Poggenklaas also presented on e-sports but instead took a wider definition of e-sports by not only limiting e-sports to games based on ‘traditional’ sports. He contended that the current regulatory framework present in e-sports is inadequate to sufficiently protect minors from the negative aspects of sport. This issue is particularly pertinent, since minors make an exceptionally large share of the e-sport athletes, which is especially worrying since there have been cases of doping and sexual and financial abuse. Such cases question whether enough is being done to really combat these problems. Thus, Poggenklaas put forth several proposals that could substantially improve the situation of minor’s rights in e-sports. He submitted that by creating an overarching e-sport governing body that would manage an abuse hotline, minors would be subject to a more rigid regulatory regime that would at least provide them with the opportunity and means to raise their concerns. Furthermore, Poggenklaas believes that the creation of players unions and further parent involvement would also help to ensure that minors’ interests are sufficiently protected.

Lastly, Angela Busacca examined extreme sports and the kind of civil liability applicable to these activities. She first described the elements and different classifications of extreme sports under Italian law. For instance, extreme sports have a component of risk and require a certain interaction with nature. They can also be placed on a scale ranging from sports that have a set of pre-defined rules to those where there are no pre-defined rules and consequently giving a free range for the athlete’s actions. In addition, extreme sports are categorized by those that have a clear governance organizational structure to those who do not have a defined structure. All these aforementioned components can have an impact on the establishment of civil liability and whom is responsible in case of an accident.


After two intense days of discussion and debate of international sports law’s most pressing topics through six differently themed panels, two keynote lectures, eighteen invited speakers, and many other highlights, the ISLJ Conference 2019 came to a close. The Asser International Sports Law Centre was honored to have been able to host another successful edition. On behalf of the organizers, we would like to thank all the speakers and participants who made this conference such a success and look forward to seeing you all back at the Institute soon!

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