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

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Why the existing athletes' Olympic entering system does not comply with the fundamental principles of Olympism enshrined in the Olympic Charter - By Anna Antseliovich

Editor's note: Anna Antseliovich heads the sports practice at the Moscow-based legal group Clever Consult. She also works as a senior researcher at the Federal Science Center for Physical Culture and Sport (Russia).

The Olympic Games have always been a source of genuine interest for spectators as Olympians have repeatedly demonstrated astounding capacity of the human body and mind in winning Olympic gold, or by achieving success despite all odds.

At the ancient and even the first modern Olympic Games, there was no concept of a national team; each Olympian represented only himself/herself. However, at the 1906 Intercalated Games[1] for the first time, athletes were nominated by the National Olympic Committees (‘NOCs’) and competed as members of national teams representing their respective countries. At the opening ceremony, the athletes walked under the flags of their countries. This was a major shift, which meant that not only the athletes themselves competed against each other, but so too did the nations in unofficial medal standings.  

The nomination and selection of athletes by their NOCs to compete under their national flag and represent their country is a matter of pride for the vast majority of athletes. However, to what extent does such a scheme correspond to the ideals which the Olympic Games were based on in ancient times? Is it possible to separate sport and politics in the modern world? More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Legal and other issues in Japan arising from the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games due to COVID-19 - By Yuri Yagi

Editor's note: Yuri Yagi is a sports lawyer involved in Sports Federations and Japanese Sports Organizations including the Japan Equestrian Federation (JEF), the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), the Japan Sports Council (JSC) and the All-Japan High School Equestrian Federation.

1. Introduction

Japan has held three Olympic Games since the inception of the modern Olympics;Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in 1964, Sapporo Winter Olympic Games in 1972, and Nagano Winter Olympic Games in 1998. Therefore, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Tokyo 2020) are supposed to be the fourth to be held in Japan, the second for Tokyo. Tokyo 2020 were originally scheduled for 24 July 2020 to 9 August 2020. Interestingly, the word ‘postpone’ or ‘postponement’ does not appear in the Host City Contract (HCC).

However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) decided on 24 March 2020 that Tokyo 2020 would be postponed because of the pandemic of COVID-19. Later on, the exact dates were fixed ‘from 23 July 2021 (date of the Opening Ceremony) to 8 August 2021 (date of the Closing Ceremony).

The process of the decision is stipulated in the ‘ADDENDUM N° 4’ signed by IOC, TMG, JOC and TOCOG.

This paper provides an overview of the current situation, along with legal and other issues in Japan that have arisen due to the postponement of Tokyo 2020 due to COVID-19. The overview is offered from the perspective of a citizen of the host city and includes a consideration of national polls, the torch relay, vaccination, training camps, ever increasing costs, and the related provisions in the Candidature File and the Host City Contract. More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - Stick to Sports: The Impact of Rule 50 on American Athletes at the Olympic Games - By Lindsay Brandon

Editor's note: Lindsay Brandon is Associate Attorney at Law Offices of Howard L. Jacobs

“Tell the white people of America and all over the world that if they don’t seem to care for the things black people do, they should not go to see black people perform.” – American sprinter and Olympic Medalist John Carlos

On 21 April 2021, the Athletes’ Commission (AC) of the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) received the “full support of the IOC Executive Board for a set of recommendations in regard to the Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and Athlete Expression at the Olympic Games.” This came over a year after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and almost a year after the IOC and AC embarked on an “extensive qualitative and quantitative” consultation process to reform Rule 50 involving over 3,500 athletes from around the globe.

Since its introduction of the new guidelines in January 2020, Rule 50 has been touted by the IOC as a means to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games, stating that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or radical propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.”  In other words, the Olympics are a time to celebrate sport, and any political act or demonstration might ruin their “moment of glory”.

In fact, the Rule 50 Guidelines say that a fundamental principle of sport is that it is neutral, and “must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.” But this separation is not necessarily rooted in totality in modern sports culture[1], particularly in the United States (“U.S.”).  This is evidenced by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (“USOPC”) committing to not sanctioning Team USA athletes for protesting at the Olympics. The USOPC Athletes stated “Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values.” More...

WISLaw Blog Symposium - 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games - Introduction

Women In Sports Law (WISLaw) is an international, non-profit association based in Switzerland and aimed at promoting women in the sports law sector, through scientific and networking events, annual meetings and annual reports. WISLaw’s objectives are to raise awareness of the presence, role and contribution of women in the sports law sector, enhance their cooperation, and empower its global membership through various initiatives.

This year, WISLaw has partnered with the Asser International Sports Law Blog to organise a special blog symposium featuring WISLaw members. The  symposium will entail both the publication of a series of blog posts authored by WISLaw members, and a virtual webinar (accessible at with the Passcode 211433) to promote discussion on the selected topics. Article contributions were invited on the topic of legal issues surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the midst of a pandemic and the rise of social justice movements around the world, the Games and their organisation gave rise to a number of interesting legal issues and challenges, which will be explored through a variety of lenses. 

We hope that you enjoy and participate in the discussion.

New Event! The Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights - Prof. Helen Keller - 26 May - 16:00

On Wednesday 26 May 2021 from 16.00-17.00 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret (University of Lausanne), is organising its fifth Zoom In webinar on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from the perspective of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

We have the pleasure to be joined by Prof. Helen Keller, former Judge at the ECtHR and a prominent dissenter to the majority’s ruling in the Mutu and Pechstein case.

The ECtHR decision in the Mutu and Pechstein case rendered on 2 October 2018 is widely seen as one of the most important European sports law rulings. It was also the first decision of the Strasbourg court dealing with a case in which the CAS had issued an award. The applicants, Adrian Mutu and Claudia Pechstein, were both challenging the compatibility of CAS proceedings with the procedural rights enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The court famously declined to conclude that the CAS lacked independence or impartiality, but did find that, insofar as Claudia Pechstein was concerned, she was forced to undergo CAS arbitration and, therefore, that CAS proceedings had to fully comply with the procedural rights guaranteed in the ECHR. In particular, the court held that the refusal by CAS to hold a public hearing, in spite of Claudia Pechstein’s express request, was contrary to Article 6(1) ECHR. Beyond this case, as highlighted by the recent decision of Caster Semenya to submit an application to the ECtHR, the decision opens the way for a more systematic intervention of the Strasbourg court in assessing the human rights compatibility of CAS awards and more broadly of the transnational sports regulations imposed by international sports governing bodies.

Prof. Helen Keller will discuss with us the implications of the ECtHR’s Mutu and Pechstein decision and the potential for future interventions by the court in the realm of the lex sportiva.

The webinar will take the form of an interview followed by a short Q&A open to the digital public. 

Please note the discussion will NOT be recorded and posted on our Youtube channel. 

Register HERE!

Never let a good fiasco go to waste: why and how the governance of European football should be reformed after the demise of the ‘SuperLeague’ - By Stephen Weatherill

Editor’s note: Stephen Weatherill is the Jacques Delors Professor of European Law at Oxford University. He also serves as Deputy Director for European Law in the Institute of European and Comparative Law, and is a Fellow of Somerville College. This blog appeared first on and is reproduced here with the agreement of the author. 


The crumbling of the ‘SuperLeague’ is a source of joy to many football fans, but the very fact that such an idea could be advanced reveals something troublingly weak about the internal governance of football in Europe – UEFA’s most of all – and about the inadequacies of legal regulation practised by the EU and/ or by states. This note explains why a SuperLeague is difficult to stop under the current pattern of legal regulation and why accordingly reform is required in order to defend the European model of sport with more muscularity. More...

New Digital Masterclass - Mastering the FIFA Transfer System - 29-30 April

The mercato, or transfer window, is for some the most exciting time in the life of a football fan. During this narrow period each summer and winter (for the Europeans), fantastic football teams are made or taken apart. What is less often known, or grasped is that behind the breaking news of the latest move to or from your favourite club lies a complex web of transnational rules, institutions and practices.

Our new intensive two-day Masterclass aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) to a small group of dedicated legal professionals who have the ambition to advise football clubs, represent players or join football governing bodies. The course combines theoretical insights on FIFA’s regulation of the transfer market with practical know-how of the actual operation of the RSTP distilled by hands-on practitioners.

Download the full Programme and register HERE.

The Team:

  • Dr Antoine Duval is a senior researcher at the Asser Institute and the head of the Asser International Sports Law Centre. He has widely published and lectured on transnational sports law, sports arbitration and the interaction between EU law and sport. He is an avid football fan and football player and looks forward to walking you through the intricacies of the FIFA transfer system.

  • Carol Couse is a Partner in the sports team at Mills & Reeve LLP , with extensive in-house and in private practice experience of dealing with sports regulatory matters, whether contentious or non-contentious.  She has advised on many multi million pound international football transfer agreements, playing contracts and image rights agreements on behalf clubs, players and agents.
  • Jacques Blondin is an Italian lawyer, who joined FIFA inundefined 2015, working for the Disciplinary Department. In 2019, he was appointed Head of FIFA TMS (now called FIFA Regulatory Enforcement) where he is responsible, among other things, for ensuring compliance in international transfers within the FIFA Transfer Matching System.
  • Oskar van Maren joined FIFA as a Legal Counsel in December 2017, forming part of the Knowledge Management Hub, a department created in September 2020. Previously, he worked for FIFA’s Players' Status Department. Between April 2014 and March 2017, he worked as a Junior Researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut. He holds an LL.M in European law from Leiden University (The Netherlands).
  • Rhys Lenarduzzi is currently a research intern at the Asser International Sports Law Centre, where he focuses in particular on the transnational regulation of football. Prior to this, he acquired over 5 years of experience as a sports agent and consultant, at times representing over 50 professional athletes around the world from various sports, though predominantly football.

(A)Political Games? Ubiquitous Nationalism and the IOC’s Hypocrisy

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a L.LM. candidate in the European Law programme at Utrecht University and a former intern of the Asser International Sports Law Centre


1.     Sport Nationalism is Politics

Despite all efforts, the Olympic Games has been and will be immersed in politics. Attempts to shield the Games from social and political realities are almost sure to miss their mark and potentially risk being disproportionate. Moreover, history has laid bare the shortcomings of the attempts to create a sanitized and impenetrable bubble around the Games. The first blog of this series examined the idea of the Games as a sanitized space and dived into the history of political neutrality within the Olympic Movement to unravel the irony that while the IOC aims to keep the Olympic Games ‘clean’ of any politics within its ‘sacred enclosure’, the IOC and the Games itself are largely enveloped in politics. Politics seep into the cracks of this ‘sanitized’ space through: (1) public protests (and their suppression by authoritarian regimes hosting the Games), (2) athletes who use their public image to take a political stand, (3) the IOC who takes decisions on recognizing national Olympic Committees (NOCs) and awarding the Games to countries,[1] and (4) states that use the Games for geo-political posturing.[2] With this background in mind, the aim now is to illustrate the disparity between the IOC’s stance on political neutrality when it concerns athlete protest versus sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics.

As was mentioned in part one of this series, the very first explicit mention of politics in the Olympic Charter was in its 1946 version and aimed to combat ‘the nationalization of sports for political aims’ by preventing ‘a national exultation of success achieved rather than the realization of the common and harmonious objective which is the essential Olympic law’ (emphasis added). This sentiment was further echoed some years later by Avery Brundage (IOC President (1952-1972)) when he declared: ‘The Games are not, and must not become, a contest between nations, which would be entirely contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Movement and would surely lead to disaster’.[3] Regardless of this vision to prevent sport nationalism engulfing the Games and its codification in the Olympic Charter, the current reality paints quite a different picture. One simply has to look at the mass obsession with medal tables during the Olympic Games and its amplification not only by the media but even by members of the Olympic Movement.[4] This is further exacerbated when the achievements of athletes are used for domestic political gain[5] or when they are used to glorify a nation’s prowess on the global stage or to stir nationalism within a populace[6]. Sport nationalism is politics. Arguably, even the worship of national imagery during the Games from the opening ceremony to the medal ceremonies cannot be depoliticized.[7] In many ways, the IOC has turned a blind eye to the politics rooted in these expressions of sport nationalism and instead has focused its energy to sterilize its Olympic spaces and stifle political expression from athletes. One of the ways the IOC has ignored sport nationalism is through its tacit acceptance of medal tables although they are expressly banned by the Olympic Charter.

At this point, the rules restricting athletes’ political protest and those concerning sport nationalism, particularly in terms of medal tables, will be scrutinized in order to highlight the enforcement gap between the two. More...

“Sport Sex” before the European Court of Human Rights - Caster Semenya v. Switzerland - By Michele Krech

Editor's note: Michele Krech is a JSD Candidate and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow at NYU School of Law. She was retained as a consultant by counsel for Caster Semenya in the proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport discussed above. She also contributed to two reports mentioned in this blog post: the Report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport (June 2020); and the Human Rights Watch Report, “They’re Chasing Us Away from Sport”: Human Rights Violations in Sex Testing of Elite Women Athletes (December 2020).

This blog was first published by the Völkerrechtsblog and is republished here with authorization. Michele Krech will be joining our next Zoom In webinar on 31 March to discuss the next steps in the Caster Semenya case.

Sport is the field par excellence in which discrimination
against intersex people has been made most visible.

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Issue Paper: Human rights and intersex people (2015)

Olympic and world champion athlete Caster Semenya is asking the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to make sure all women athletes are “allowed to run free, for once and for all”. Semenya brings her application against Switzerland, which has allowed a private sport association and a private sport court to decide – with only the most minimal appellate review by a national judicial authority – what it takes for women, legally and socially identified as such all their lives, to count as women in the context of athletics. I consider how Semenya’s application might bring human rights, sex, and sport into conversation in ways not yet seen in a judicial forum. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Mitigating Circumstances and Strict Liability of Clubs in Match-fixing: Are We Going in the Wrong Direction? An Analysis of the Novara and Pro Patria Cases - By Mario Vigna

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

Mitigating Circumstances and Strict Liability of Clubs in Match-fixing: Are We Going in the Wrong Direction? An Analysis of the Novara and Pro Patria Cases - By Mario Vigna

Editor’s note: Mario Vigna is a Senior Associate at Coccia De Angelis Vecchio & Associati in Rome, Italy. His main practice areas are sports law, commercial law, and IP law. He also has extensive experience in the Anti-doping field, serving as Deputy-Chief Prosecutor of the Italian NADO and as counsel in domestic and international sports proceedings. He is a frequent speaker at various conferences and workshops. He was not involved in either of the cases discussed below.

I.               Introduction 

Gambling in football is a popular and potentially lucrative activity. It also raises numerous issues. When faced with the issue of gambling, the European Court of Justice (now Court of Justice of the EU) determined that gambling was economic activity per se, notwithstanding gambling’s vulnerability to ethical issues, and thus could not be prohibited outright.[1] With the legality of gambling established, it was left to the proper legislative bodies (national legislatures, national and international federations, etc.) to regulate gambling in order to guard against fraud and corruption. Gambling was not going to disappear; the dangers inherent to gambling would require attention. 

Given the amounts of money sometimes at stake, it is unsurprising that fraud and corruption are constant threats in football gambling. Match-fixing, i.e. wherein participants in a match deliberately attempt to secure a specific result to allow certain gamblers to obtain favorable rewards, is one prominent form of such corrupt activity. FIFA and UEFA, as well as other relevant bodies, have attempted to regulate match-fixing to protect the integrity of football competitions. After all, illicit gambling not only enables unjust enrichment on behalf of the corrupt gamblers and their accomplices; illicit gambling undermines the trust that spectators have in an activity and can lead to a decline in interest as a result.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has adopted a strict liability approach to deter and punish match-fixing. Under the operative rules, clubs and federations whose agents or members engage in match-fixing activity are liable for match-mixing regardless of whether the club or federation itself knew of or condoned the conduct. Unfortunately, two relatively recent appeal decisions—Novara and Pro Patria—have handicapped this strict liability regime by allowing clubs to escape or reduce their liability on account of dubious mitigating circumstances. These decisions have undermined the efficacy of strict liability as a doctrine, and consequently diminish the efforts against match-fixing.

This blog post argues first that strict liability is effective in deterring match-fixing activity so long as adjudicatory bodies enforce it with appropriate rigidity. In fact, the doctrine of strict liability is widespread, in sports law and other fields, precisely because it can be effective. Next, this post critiques the decisions in Novara and Pro Patria, contending that both decisions misapply the principle of proportionality and erroneously recognize certain circumstances to mitigate against liability. As a corrective to these two decisions, this post concludes by outlining an effective application of strict liability and highlighting important regulatory efforts that out to be adopted. And while the discussion herein focuses on Italian football, the ideas explained are widely applicable across all sports and throughout all levels of competition. 


II.             Italian Law, Rules, and Regulations Against Match-fixing in Football

On the eve of the 2006 World Cup, which Italy won, Italian investigators uncovered efforts involving several major football clubs aimed at rigging referee selection for matches. This scandal became known as Calciopoli and implicated clubs from both Serie A and Serie B (respectively the first and second divisions in Italian football). Subsequent investigations in 2011 and 2015 led to additional scandals concerning clubs competing in Serie B and Lega Pro (the third division of Italian football), among them Scommessopoli (Bet City), Last Bet, Dirty Soccer, and Treni del Gol. Match-fixing, it was revealed, was a real problem in Italian football.

The FIGC, as the national football federation, maintains regulatory and disciplinary authority over all Italian football competitions and activity. To address the problem of match-fixing, the FIGC employs a set of regulation that deems match-fixing activity improper and sanctionable under a strict liability principle. Article 4 of the FIGC Code of Sport Justice (CSJ) states:

2. Clubs are strictly liable for disciplinary purposes for the actions of their managers, members and the individuals set forth in art. 1, par. 5


5. Clubs are presumptively liable for the wrongdoing committed for their benefit by any person. Liability is excluded when it is clearly or reasonably doubtful that the club participated in the wrongdoing or ignored it. [2]

Thus, clubs are liable for match-fixing even if they are not intimately aware of or complicit in the match-fixing efforts that benefit the club; liability is found once someone associated with the club—a player, an agent, etc.—engages via their acts or omissions in match-fixing activity. Match-fixing is explicitly prohibited in Article 7 of the CSJ[3], which also provides that strict liability applies for match-fixing and is punishable subject to the degree of fault borne by the club.[4] Here, it is important to note that under Article 7 the adjudicating body has discretion to assess a club’s degree of fault and reduce accordingly the corresponding sanction(s). This discretion is important; it is, however, in making use of this discretion that the appeal bodies erred in Novara and Pro Patria.


III.           Novara and Pro Patria: Setting the Wrong Precedent

The FIGC Code of Sport Justice applies strict liability to clubs for match-fixing but allows for consideration of mitigating circumstances to reduce the sanction(s) if appropriate. The problem is that currently there is no standard for what qualifies as appropriate mitigating circumstances. Novara and Pro Patria highlight this problem. In both cases, Italian football clubs—Novara Calcio and Aurora Pro Patria—were sanctioned for match-fixing, but later had those sanctions reduced on appeal on the basis of mitigating factors. This blog post contends that those reductions were ill-informed. If strict liability is to work as a deterrent and truly discourage match-fixing, acceptable mitigating factors against strict liability require greater scrutiny than provided in these two cases.

A.    Novara Calcio

An investigation by the Italian media, coined Scommessopoli, uncovered one of the largest match-fixing schemes in Italian footnall history. Scommessopoli was a wide-ranging, multi-dimensional enterprise; players were involved, as were Italian and foreign criminal groups—in total, the investigation alleged that at least twenty-two clubs and sixty-one people participated in match-fixing efforts. One of the individuals involved, Cristian Bertani, played for Novara Calcio, a club in the Italian Serie B. According to the findings of the National Disciplinary Commission, Bertani conspired with a foreign gambling group and a local criminal group to fix matches. Consequently, the National Disciplinary Commission sanctioned Bertani’s club Novara Calcio under the strict liability regime in effect. Novara Calcio was fined EUR 35,000 and received a four-point deduction from the league table.[5]

The club appealed the decision to the FIGC Court of Justice. On appeal, the court reduced the deduction to three points and eliminated the fine entirely:

“[The reduced sanction] leads to a more accurate assessment of the overall conduct of the Appellant of all the activity carried out by the club, whether in a preventative or subsequent manner, specifically aimed at fighting the phenomenon of illicit sports or eliminating the consequences… In this sense, recalling among others, the approval by Novara Calcio of the first organizational model of the legislative decree no. 231/2001 related to the Code of Ethics; earning the ISO 9001:2008 certification of quality, being the first football association to earn it; having contracted since February 2012 the professional services in order to study the betting quota over the matches played by the club, bringing a discipline scheme over those studies thanks to an Antifraud Code in April 2012 [6]

In essence, the Court reduced the sanctions on account of the club’s implementation of self-protection tools in accordance with the organizational model set forth in the Legislative Decree no. 231/2001. The problem with this decision, however, is that the efforts in question were taken after the incident. The Court treated this post-incident measures as mitigating circumstances, even though these measures were not operative when Bertani attempted to fix matches.

Such allowance of post-incident mitigating factors is inappropriate and undercuts the effort to prevent match-fixing. Indeed, only the prior adoption of an adequate organizational model against match-fixing by a club should (potentially) mitigate against strict liability. Two requirements should be satisfied: (1) prior adoption, and (2) adequate measures. Legislative decree no. 231/2001 and Italian jurisprudence both distinguish between superficial adoption of an organizational model—which is insufficient by itself—and the adoption of an organizational model with demonstrated sufficient, concrete measures to prevent wrong-doing. Only the latter satisfactorily deters potential wrong-doing, and only the latter should (potentially) shield against strict liability so long as a club can prove its preventative efforts were adequately effected. With Novara Calcio, the problem was that the adoption of an organization model was merely superficial, in addition to being after-the-fact, and that the club did not have to prove that the adopted measures were or would be effective in combatting match-fixing.

B.    Aurora Pro Patria 

In 2015, the Catanzaro Police Department arrested more than forty individuals for alleged participation in match-fixing in matches of the Italian 4th Division. Three arrestees were former members of the club Aurora Pro Patria—two players and one coach—accused of match-fixing activities while employed by Pro Patria. All three were found guilty in the ensuing proceedings. Thus, under the doctrine of strict liability, Pro Patria received a seven-point deduction as a sanction for the conduct of its employees.[7]

Pro Patria appealed the ruling and sanction. And like the Novara case, the sanction was reduced: 

Having found the defendant liable, it cannot but follow the confirmation of the strict liability held by the association (Club). As marked by the vast jurisprudence, indeed, the referred liability cannot be avoided but graduated in the presence of circumstances that would see to deserve special consideration.

… the thorough preventative activity put in action by Aurora Pro Patria, that even when they were not obliged to, they still adopted the model of conduct as set out in the rule Legislative Decree no. 231/2001, they imposed a Code of anti-fraud and have entered into a contract with Federbet [a monitoring company] by which said company will check the flux of the bets related to the activity of the club, we determine that, given the relevant circumstances, the sanction against the association (club) must be reduced…”[8]

The Court reduced the sanction to a three-point deduction. Although the appeal court affirmed strict liability, it undercut its potency by accepting as mitigating circumstances factors that were not in place when the unlawful conduct occurred. The appeal court was in some ways excusing a violation, at least partially, for efforts the responsible party undertook to not commit the same violation again in the future. The efforts had no impact on the violation that already took place.

C.    Problems Posed by the Novara and Pro Patria Rulings 

After being charged with match-fixing, both Novara and Pro Patria hired monitoring companies that supposedly help prevent, or at least detect, potential match-fixing activity. These post-facto efforts were deemed by ruling bodies compelling enough to reduce sanctions imposed for match-fixing. This precedent of reducing on account of mitigating circumstances occurring after the match-fixing activity occurred poses two issues.

First, the precedent undermines the strict liability regime by allowing the reduction of a club’s liability where it fixes the problem ex post facto, thereby providing clubs with a loophole to escape with minimal harm. Second, the precedent does not consider the actual efficacy of the hired monitoring companies or their methods. Without a regulatory framework and established standards for monitoring companies and certification of their services, i.e. no way of assessing whether the hired companies actually make any difference when it comes to the prevalence of match-fixing, nothing separates effective monitoring from the appearance or claim of monitoring.


IV.           A Better Way of Evaluating Mitigating Circumstances

An adjudicatory body rightfully must consider the particular context of each case. Accurate and fair decisions acknowledge that not all cases concerning similar issues deserve equal treatment. Mitigating circumstances are an important aspect of any fair legal system. With Novara and Pro Patria, however, the appeal bodies erred by giving weight to certain post-incident mitigating circumstances that had no bearing on the issue at hand. Further, allowing the hire of a monitoring company to mitigate a club’s liability introduces a separate issue, i.e. the efficacy of the monitoring company and its services. Both appeal decisions reduced the capacity of strict liability to deter match-fixing. If a strict liability regime is to be effective in combatting match-fixing, then clear standards for evaluating mitigating circumstances in cases like Novara and Pro Patria are necessary.

Before proposing a way forward, it is important to first try and understand why the appeal decisions reduced the sanctions in the cases at hand. Inherent to the appeals’ justification is the doctrine of proportionality, or the notion that any punishment must fit the crime and cannot be more extreme than is warranted. In Novara and Pro Patria, it seems that the appeal bodies thought that the clubs’ liability for the conduct of their employees should be limited. In other words, while the appeal bodies certainly assigned liability to the clubs, they were unwilling to allow that liability to support too onerous sanctions.

This, of course, misses the point of strict liability in the first place. Strict liability is used to assign liability notwithstanding immediate fault because the liable party is best positioned to absorb the liability and/or work to prevent the wrongful conduct. Punishments for strict liability in match-fixing, if reduced to minimal amounts, do little to nothing to promote clubs to actively prevent match-fixing. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) re-affirms this point:

With regard to the alleged disproportionality of the Decision, the Panel first of all wishes to stress that the fight against match-fixing is considered to be extremely important for the purpose of preserving confidence in and the integrity of sport.[9]

Part of the proportionality calculus must be the severity of the wrongdoing concerned. Match-fixing is, arguably, the greatest wrong in sports. Therefore, hefty punishments should not violate proportionality. 

The Novara and Pro Patria appeal decisions also over-value the post-incident preventative actions (which is an oxymoron!). The treatment of post-incident actions as mitigating circumstances suggests future offenders will be able to correct wrongful conduct after-the-fact simply by hiring a company that claims to monitor match-fixing activity. Even if a club were to hire a monitoring company prior to any wrongful conduct, the mere signing of a contract with a monitoring company is generally a questionable preventative measure. Clubs that employ monitoring companies and are then subsequently charged with liability for match-fixing should only have sanctions (and thus liability) reduced if they prove to the court that the monitoring company undertook actual and sufficient efforts to monitor and prevent match-fixing.

Merely employing a monitoring company without any regard for the efficacy of its services is an inadequate escape route from strict liability. After all, these companies are unregulated and unaccredited; there is no guarantee that the companies do any work, or that any work the company performs is effective. At a minimum, then, a club must demonstrate that in conjunction with a monitoring company it undertook significant and adequate measures to prevent match-fixing by its employees and agents.

A standard for monitoring companies is important in light of the Novara and Pro Patria rulings, which will support a booming (and unregulated) market for monitoring companies. Clubs may now look to symbolically contract with these companies to escape liability if/when they are accused of match-fixing. The football community should not allow such a deregulated and opaque market to emerge.


V.             Conclusion

Match-fixing poses one of the most elemental dangers to professional football—it damages the credibility of the sport and could potentially damage the market. The doctrine of strict liability discourages a club’s participation in match-fixing activities, and incentivizes clubs to put into place measures that ensure their employees abide by anti-match-fixing regulations. Judges and tribunals must not lose sight of the broader picture when determining sanctions in match-fixing cases. In light of the Novara and Pro Patria decisions, this blog post offers a way forward to maintain strict liability’s capacity to effectively combat match-fixing: (1) post-incident efforts should not be considered as mitigating circumstances, and (2) monitoring companies and their services must meet a certain standard if they are to absolve, partially or fully, a club from its liability.

Strict liability can be effective so long as courts and tribunals do not unduly handicap it. Match-fixing is still a prominent threat in football and in sports in general. Now is not the time to weaken the most effective tool (strict liability) available to combat match-fixing. While the preceding discussion focuses on Italian football, the lessons are universal for all sports, at all levels.

[1] Case Her Majesty's Customs and Excise v. Gerhart Schindler and Jôrg Schindler, C-275/92 Judgement of 24th March 1994 [1994] ECR 1-01039.

[2] Unofficial translation from Italian: “Responsabilità delle società 1 […]; 2. Le società rispondono oggettivamente, ai fini disciplinari, dell'operato dei dirigenti, dei tesserati e dei soggetti di cui all’art. 1 bis, comma 5; 3 […]; 4 […] 5. Le società sono presunte responsabili degli illeciti sportivi commessi a loro vantaggio da persone a esse estranee. La responsabilità è esclusa quando risulti o vi sia un ragionevole dubbio che la società non abbia partecipato all'illecito o lo abbia ignorato; 6 […].”

[3] “Committing, by any means, acts to alter the development or outcome of a match or competition or to assure any advantages in the ranking constitutes a sporting wrongdoing.” Unofficial translation from Italian: “1. Il compimento, con qualsiasi mezzo, di atti diretti ad alterare lo svolgimento o il risultato di una gara o di una competizione ovvero ad assicurare a chiunque un vantaggio in classifica costituisce illecito sportivo.”

[4] Art. 7, par. 4: It is considered the strict liability of a club in the sense of art. 4, par. 5 and the fact is punishable subject to the degree of fault, with the sanctions foreseen in art. 18, par. 1 sections (g), (h), (i), (l), and (m). Unofficial translation from Italian: “Se viene accertata la responsabilità oggettiva o presunta della società ai sensi dell'art. 4, comma 5, il fatto è punito, a seconda della sua gravità, con le sanzioni di cui alle lettere g), h), i), l), m) dell’art. 18, comma 1.” The sanctions consist, broadly speaking, in the deduction of points, to be sent to the bottom of the table, to be disqualified from the competition, to have a tittle taken away or the barred from participating in a specific competition.

[5] The sport prosecutor had sought a six-point deduction.

[6] Unofficial translation from Italian: “A ciò conduce una più attenta valutazione della complessiva condotta della reclamante, di tutta la attività da questa posta in essere, invero tanto in via preventiva che successiva ed espressamente finalizzata a combattere il fenomeno degli illeciti sportivi ovvero ad eliminarne le conseguenze… In questo ambito vanno riassuntivamente richiamati, tra gli altri interventi, l’approvazione da parte del Novara Calcio del primo modello organizzativo ex decreto legislativo n. 231/01 e relativo Codice etico; l’approvazione nel gennaio del 2012 di un nuovo modello organizzazione e di gestione; il conseguimento nel marzo ancora di quest’anno di certificazione di qualità ISO 9001:2008 come prima società calcistica in Italia; l’aver affidato nel febbraio 2012 a soggetto professionale lo studio dell’andamento delle quote di scommesse legate alle partite che avrebbe giocato il Novara da quel momento alla fine del campionato, successivamente deliberando di continuare l’opera di monitoraggio delle partite; disciplinando infine tale sistema con l’adozione di un Codice Antifrode.”

[7] The sport prosecutor sought a twenty-point reduction as an exemplary punishment and to increase its deterrent effect.

[8] Federazione Italiana Giouco Calcio; COMUNICATO UFFICIALE N. 48/TFN – Sezione Disciplinare (2015/2016), p. 81.

[9] CAS 2013/A/3297 Public Joint-Stock Company “Football Club Metalist” v. UEFA & PAOK FC, award of 29 November 2013. (Case about match-fixing and sanctions under UEFA rules.)

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