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

Cannibal's Advocate – In defence of Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez did it again. The serial biter that he is couldn’t refrain its impulse to taste a bit of Chiellini’s shoulder (not really the freshest meat around though). Notwithstanding his amazing theatrical skills and escaping the sight of the referee, Suarez could not in the information age get away with this unnoticed. Seconds after the incident, the almighty “social networks” were already bruising with evidence, outrage and commentaries over Suarez’s misdeed. Since then, many lawyers have weighed in (here, here and here) on the potential legal consequences faced by Suarez. Yesterday FIFA’s disciplinary committee decided to sanction him with a 4 months ban from any football activity and a 9 International games ban. In turn, Suarez announced that he would challenge the decision[1], and plans on going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if necessary[2]. Let’s be the advocates of the cannibal!More...

Blurred Nationalities: The list of the “23” and the eligibility rules at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. A guest Post by Yann Hafner (Université de Neuchâtel)

In 2009, Sepp Blatter expressed his concerns that half of the players participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup would be Brazilians naturalized by other countries. The Official list of Players released a few weeks ago tends to prove him wrong[1]. However, some players have changed their eligibility in the past and will even be playing against their own country of origin[2]. This post aims at explaining the key legal aspects in changes of national affiliation and to discuss the regulations pertaining to the constitution of national sides in general[3]. More...

The FIFA Business – Part 2 - Where is the money going? By Antoine Duval and Giandonato Marino

Our first report on the FIFA business dealt with FIFA’s revenues and highlighted their impressive rise and progressive diversification. In parallel to this growth of FIFA’s income, it is quite natural that its expenses have been following a similar path (see Graph 1). However, as we will see FIFA makes it sometimes very difficult to identify precisely where the money is going. Nonetheless, this is precisely what we wish to tackle in this post, and to do so we will rely on the FIFA Financial reports over the last 10 years.


 

Graph 1: FIFA Expenses in USD million (adjusted for inflation), 2003-2013.

More...


The EU State aid and Sport Saga - A legal guide to the bailout of Valencia CF

After a decade of financial misery, it appears that Valencia CF’s problems are finally over. The foreign takeover by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim will be concluded in the upcoming weeks, and the construction on the new stadium will resume after five years on hold due to a lack of money. On 3 June Bankia, the Spanish bank that “saved” Valencia CF in 2009 by providing a loan of €81 million, gave the green light for the takeover. However, appearances can be deceiving.More...

Gambling advertising regulations: pitfalls for sports sponsorship - By Ben van Rompuy

In April 2014, the Swedish Gambling Authority (Lotteriinspektionen) warned the organisers of the Stockholm Marathon that it would impose a fine of SEK 2 million (ca. € 221.000) for its sponsorship agreement with online betting operator Unibet. The Authority found that the sponsorship agreement violates §38 of the Swedish Lotteries Act, which prohibits the promotion of gambling services that are not authorized in Sweden.[1] The organisers, however, refused to withdraw Unibet as its sponsor and prominently displayed the Unibet logo at the event, which took place on 31 May 2014. As a result, the organisers of the Stockholm Marathon now face legal action before the Swedish administrative courts. More...

The FIFA Business – Part 1 – Where Does The Money Come From? - By Antoine Duval and Giandonato Marino

On next Thursday the 2014 World Cup will kick off in Sao Paulo. But next week will also see the FIFA members meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday at a much awaited FIFA congress. For this special occasion we decided to review FIFA’s financial reports over the last ten years. This post is the first of two, analysing the reports and highlighting the main economic trends at play at FIFA. First, we will study the revenue streams and their evolution along the 2003-2013 time span. In order to ensure an accurate comparison, we have adjusted the revenues to inflation, in order to provide a level playing field easing the comparative analysis over the years and types of revenues. Our first two graphs gather the main revenue streams into two comparative overviews. Graph 1 brings together the different types of revenues in absolute numbers, while Graph 2 lays down the share of each type of revenues for any given year (the others category covers a bundle of minor revenue streams not directly relevant to our analysis).

 

 


Graph 1: FIFA revenues in Millions of Dollars, 2003-2013 (adjusted for inflation). More...


Losing the UEFA Europa League on the Legal Turf: Parma FC’s bitter defeat by Giandonato Marino

This year the race for UEFA Europa League places in Serie A was thrilling. In the final minutes of the last game of the season, Alessio Cerci, Torino FC striker, had the opportunity to score a penalty that would have qualified his team to the 2014-2015 edition of the UEFA Europa League. However, he missed and Parma FC qualified instead. More...

Olympic Agenda 2020: Window Dressing or New Beginning?

Shortly after his election as IOC President, Thomas Bach announced his intention to initiate an introspective reflection and reform cycle dubbed (probably a reference to former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s publicly praised Agenda 2010) the Olympic Agenda 2020. The showdown of a year of intense brainstorming is to take place in the beginning of December 2014 during an IOC extraordinary session, in which fundamental reforms are expected. More...

The French collective agreement for professional Rugby tackled by Kelsen’s Pyramid - Guest Post by Patrick Millot

Pursuant to Kelsen’s famous pyramid, the authority of norms may be ranked according to their sources: Constitution is above the Law, which is in turn superior to the Regulations, which themselves stand higher to the Collective Agreement etc…Under French labour law, this ranking can however be challenged by a “principle of favourable treatment” which allows a norm from a lower rank to validly derogate from a superior norm, if (and only if) this derogation benefits to the workers.

On 2 April 2014, the Cour de Cassation (the French Highest Civil Court) considered that these principles apply in all fields of labour law, regardless of the specificity of sport[1].  In this case, Mr. Orene Ai’i, a professional rugby player, had signed on 13 July  2007 an employment contract with the Rugby Club Toulonnais (RCT) for two sport seasons with effect on 1 July 2007. More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | Nudging, not crushing, private orders - Private Ordering in Sports and the Role of States - By Branislav Hock

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

Nudging, not crushing, private orders - Private Ordering in Sports and the Role of States - By Branislav Hock

Editor's note: Branislav Hock (@bran_hock)  is PhD Researcher at the Tilburg Law and Economics Center at Tilburg University. His areas of interests are transnational regulation of corruption, public procurement, extraterritoriality, compliance, law and economics, and private ordering. Author can be contacted via email: b.hock@uvt.nl.


This blog post is based on a paper co-authored with Suren Gomtsian, Annemarie Balvert, and Oguz Kirman.


Game-changers that lead to financial success, political revolutions, or innovation, do not come “out of the blue”; they come from a logical sequence of events supported by well-functioning institutions. Many of these game changers originate from transnational private actors—such as business and sport associations—that produce positive spillover effects on the economy. In a recent paper forthcoming in the Yale Journal of International Law, using the example of FIFA, football’s world-governing body, with co-authors Suren Gomtsian, Annemarie Balvert, and Oguz Kirman, we show that the success of private associations in creating and maintaining private legal order depends on the ability to offer better institutions than their public alternatives do. While financial scandals and other global problems that relate to the functioning of these private member associations may call for public interventions, such interventions, in most cases, should aim to improve private orders rather than replace them.

FIFA example – from gentlemen’s agreements to a rich global regulator

FIFA is the governing body for football (or soccer, as it is known in some countries). Founded in 1904 under Swiss law by seven football associations, just 40 years ago, FIFA was a small gentlemen's club with a staff of 11, far from politics, which produced little cash. Since then, it has evolved into a powerful organization generating billions of dollars in annual revenues through sales of media and marketing rights; now it employs hundreds. The rise of FIFA has been a continuous process that was made possible by the reluctance of states and supra-national organizations such as the European Union (EU) to intervene in the governance of sport, particularly football. Hence, supported by and benefitting from the special treatment of sports, FIFA filled the regulatory gap and strengthened its status as a private regulator.

Besides the rules of the game, FIFA’s legal order includes privately-designed rules of cooperation and a complex organizational structure that spans every involved party including players, clubs, coaches, managers, club investors, officials, sponsors, and spectators. The centerpiece of the relations regulated by the rules of FIFA are employment-related questions. Most importantly, FIFA’s Transfer Regulations create strong tensions between FIFA’s regulatory autonomy and public orders such as the sovereign jurisdictions of FIFA’s member associations and supra-national organizations. Tensions between different levels of employment rules are especially visible in matters related to equality and/or non-discrimination of workers, the treatment and qualification of minors, the freedom to choose employment, and the freedom of movement. For example, the inability of players to terminate their contracts without cause, before expiry and without paying compensation, is in stark contrast with traditional employment laws, according to which employees are free to end employment without cause by prior notice. Figure below illustrates the relationships between the different levels of “football ordering” and public ordering when it comes to labor rules.

The Relationship of Labor Rules in Football

Furthermore, FIFA has also private dispute resolution venues and sophisticated system of sanctions and incentives promoting compliance with the decisions of the private order’s dispute resolution bodies. Possible sanctions vary but they are leveraged by the monopoly power of FIFA. Consider the right of FIFA to suspend a member association for a specific period or expel it fully from FIFA for failure to comply with its obligations, including an obligation to comply with FIFA or CAS decisions. Given FIFA's monopoly, this, in fact, means that national teams and licensed clubs from the suspended or expelled country cannot participate in any organized game. As a consequence, FIFA has been able to maintain cooperation among all involved actors, yet, along with the increasing commercial dimension, the incentives of states and other public orders, particularly the EU, to intervene have grown.

Integrity vs. legal order

The fact that FIFA is undermined by corruption is nothing surprising. Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi shows that the average public integrity in more than 200 countries whose soccer associations are the FIFA constituents “is just 5, on a scale where New Zealand has ten and Somalia 1” […] “Were FIFA a country, it would clearly not be in the upper half, but somewhere near Brazil, whose officials seem to have been waist deep in its corruption, and which ranks around 121, with a 4.2”. FIFA’s administrative structure, certainly, needs reforms that will improve its financial stability and decrease corruption risks within the organization. These reforms, indeed, may require “public nudge” by the enforcement of extraterritorial “anti-mafia” statutes such as the US Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) that played the central role in the so-called FIFAGate. Moreover, in the light of “the second FIFAGate”—six months after the original scandal, a number of FIFA officials that replaced the old leadership were charged with a 92-count indictment—and after the recent neutralization of its internal corruption investigations (see here), more radical “public nudge” may be desirable. Indeed, these developments, as was discussed in this blog some time ago, may call for a more powerful intervention by, for example, the EU, to impose ‘certain basic “constitutional” requirements’ to FIFA.

Nevertheless, while FIFA may need “public help” to clean its house and improve some areas of its legal order, no public order is a better alternative. Common rules spanning across borders, predictable contractual relations, and incentives to invest in training young players are only some advantages made possible by FIFA’s tailored rules of behavior. These advantages would be lost if public interventions would crash the FIFA order and replace it by a patchwork of national laws, unstable contractual relations, more costly dispute resolution and enforcement mechanisms, and limited ability to encourage talent development. Therefore, while FIFA as an administrative organization may generally be considered as more corrupt than an average government, it has been able to offer harmonized institutions that in many cases are better accustomed to the needs of the involved parties than their state-made alternatives, which often are based on one-size-fits-all approach and lack certainty of application.

Public orders as the reversed civil society

It does not mean that public orders such as the EU and nation states should do nothing. Private entities often need a “public nudge” not only to prevent excesses, but also to maintain incentives to produce rules that reflect new economic and social developments. In numerous writings (for an overview see Katz), law-and economics scholars indicate that while in principle private orders should be best left alone, states should limit the potential of powerful interest groups to undermine the roots of private orders such as FIFA. Who, how, and when should determine the benchmark of what is excessive is difficult, and law-and economics has declined to offer a general theory of the role of public orders in nudging private orders to limit interest groups’ power. Nevertheless, determining the role of public orders is no more difficult than the question what civil society should do when it comes to the performance of nation states.

In the context of nation states, the key role in limiting the power of elites belongs to the civil society. In case of monopolistic orders such as FIFA’s, however, there is often no direct representation of various actors inside such orders. Shouldn’t, then, states and the EU assume the role of a reversed civil society when interacting with large and successful private orders? In practice, particularly the EU is more and more involved in an informal co-determination of football-related regulation (for similar argument see here). For example, the recent social dialogue in European football, brokered by the EU Commission, is an example how public orders can fulfill their role as reversed civil society. The EU Commission, instead of intervening directly and regulating sports, encouraged, and should do so much more, various stakeholder groups, such as the European Club Association and FIFPro, to engage in a dialogue with the purpose of improving the practices of player protection (however, it is true that the EU Commission had a way deeper impact through EU competition law, see Duval). For the private order itself participation in this dialogue and active encouragement of the enforcement of its results is the best way to guarantee its role as a supplier of rules (see generally Colucci & Geeraert). In contrary, refusal to accommodate certain mechanisms, and mainly these that effectively limit FIFA’s executives’ power (e.g. Ethics Committee), may lead to a forceful, but legitimate, public intervention with possibly tragic consequences for the world of football.

Conclusion: Taking over fallen FIFA

What is so fascinating about FIFA is that it exemplifies how a very small number of enthusiastic people could set a mechanism that is ultimately able to create institutions that aim to regulate behavior of involved actors globally as well as to keep them away from regular courts. FIFA is an example of an order that has created huge economic and social value by being able to overcome many hurdles that prevented countless other member associations from creating their own orders (think of lawyers or investment bankers, for example). The fact that such order locks-in all involved football actors, despite some, such as small teams, benefiting significantly less by their participation than others, suggests that there is a value, despite FIFA’s monopoly power, that alternatives cannot offer. Some of them, such as increased certainty, are in the interests of all involved actors, whereas others, such as commitment to enforce contractual practices or training compensation awards, are more preferred by sophisticated actors (i.e. clubs and prominent footballers) and small clubs, respectively. This, though not allowing to state plainly that the private order is maximizing the welfare of all involved actors, also does not justify arguments for abandoning the current system in favor of state laws. In contrary, failure to accommodate mechanisms that limit the power of inside interest groups might undermine the order by giving incentives to interest groups to advocate public orders’ involvement, thereby putting an end to the monopoly of FIFA’s order, and possibly its destruction.

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