Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The “Victory” of the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the European Court of Human Rights: The End of the Beginning for the CAS

My favourite speed skater (Full disclosure: I have a thing for speed skaters bothering the ISU), Claudia Pechstein, is back in the news! And not from the place I expected. While all my attention was absorbed by the Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe (BVerfG or German Constitutional Court), I should have looked to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR). The Pechstein and Mutu joint cases were pending for a long time (since 2010) and I did not anticipate that the ECtHR would render its decision before the BVerfG. The decision released last week (only available in French at this stage) looked at first like a renewed vindication of the CAS (similar to the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH) ruling in the Pechstein case), and is being presented like that by the CAS, but after careful reading of the judgment I believe this is rather a pyrrhic victory for the status quo at the CAS. As I will show, this ruling puts to rest an important debate surrounding CAS arbitration since 20 years: CAS arbitration is (at least in its much-used appeal format in disciplinary cases) forced arbitration. Furthermore, stemming from this important acknowledgment is the recognition that CAS proceedings must comply with Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), in particular hearings must in principle be held in public and decisions freely available to all. Finally, I will criticise the Court’s finding that CAS complies with the requirements of independence and impartiality imposed by Article 6 § 1 ECHR. I will not rehash the  well-known facts of both cases, in order to focus on the core findings of the decision. More...

ISLJ International Sports Law Conference 2018 - Asser Institute - 25-26 October - Register Now!

Dear all,

Last year we decided to launch the 'ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference' in order to give a public platform to the academic discussions on international sports law featured in the ISLJ. The first edition of the conference was a great success (don't take my word for it, just check out #ISLJConf17 on twitter), featuring outstanding speakers and lively discussions with the room. We were very happy to see people from some many different parts of the world congregating at the Institute to discuss the burning issues of their field of practice and research.

This year, on 25 and 26 October, we are hosting the second edition and we are again welcoming well-known academics and practitioners in the field. The discussions will turn around the notion of lex sportiva, the role of Swiss law in international sports law, the latest ISU decision of the European Commission, the Mutu/Pechstein ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, or the reform proposal of the FIFA Regulations on the Transfer and Status of Players. It should be, it will be, an exciting two days!

You will find below the final programme of the conference, please feel free to circulate it within your networks. We have still some seats left, so don't hesitate to register (here) and to join us.

Looking forward to seeing you and meeting you there!

Antoine

Football Intermediaries: Would a European centralized licensing system be a sustainable solution? - By Panagiotis Roumeliotis

Editor's note: Panagiotis Roumeliotis holds an LL.B. degree from National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece and an LL.M. degree in European and International Tax Law from University of Luxembourg. He is qualified lawyer in Greece and is presently working as tax advisor with KPMG Luxembourg while pursuing, concomitantly, an LL.M. in International Sports Law at Sheffield Hallam University, England. His interest lies in the realm of tax and sports law. He may be contacted by e-mail at ‘p.roumeliotis@hotmail.com’.


Introduction

The landmark Bosman Ruling triggered the Europeanization of the labour market for football players by banning nationality quotas. In turn, in conjunction with the boom in TV revenues, this led to a flourishing transfer market in which players’ agents or intermediaries play a pivotal role, despite having a controversial reputation.

As a preliminary remark, it is important to touch upon the fiduciary duty of sports agents towards their clients. The principal-agent relationship implies that the former employs the agent so as to secure the best employment and/or commercial opportunities. Conversely, the latter is expected to act in the interest of the player as their relationship should be predicated on trust and confidence, as much was made clear in the English Court of Appeal case of Imageview Management Ltd v. Kelvin Jack. Notably, agents are bound to exercise the utmost degree of good faith, honesty and loyalty towards the players.[1]

At the core of this blog lies a comparative case study of the implementation of the FIFA Regulations on working with intermediaries (hereinafter “FIFA RWI”) in eight European FAs covering most of the transfers during the mercato. I will then critically analyze the issues raised by the implementation of the RWI and, as a conclusion, offer some recommendations. More...



Seraing vs. FIFA: Why the rumours of CAS’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Rumours are swirling around the decision (available in French here) of the Court of Appeal of Brussels in the case opposing RFC Seraing United to FIFA (as well as UEFA and the Belgian Football Federation, URSBFA) over the latter’s ban on third-party ownership. The headlines in various media are quite dramatic (see here and here), references are made to a new Bosman, or to a shaken sport’s legal system. Yet, after swiftly reading the decision for the first time on 29th August, I did not have, unlike with the Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München, the immediate impression that this would be a major game-changer for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the role of arbitration in sports in general. After careful re-reading, I understand how certain parts of the ruling can be misunderstood or over-interpreted. I believe that much of the press coverage failed to accurately reflect the reasoning of the court and to capture the real impact of the decision. In order to explain why, I decided to write a short Q&A (including the (not water-proof) English translations of some of the key paragraphs of the decision).

 More...

New Article Published! The Olympic Charter: A Transnational Constitution Without a State?

My latest article has just been published online by the Journal of Law and Society. It is available open access here.

The article stems from a conference organised by Jiri Priban from Cardiff University on Gunther Teubner's idea of societal constitutionalism applied to transnational regimes. My role was to test whether his descriptive and normative framework was readily applicable to the lex sportiva, and in particular its overarching "constitutional" text: the Olympic Charter.

As you will see my conclusion is mixed. I find that the Olympic Charter (OC) displays many constitutional features and is even able to regularly defend successfully its autonomy vis-à-vis national states and their laws. However, while I document some inception of limitative constitutional rules, such as the ban on discrimination or the principle of fair play, I also conclude that those have limited impact in practice. While constitutional changes to the OC can be triggered by scandal, resistance and contestation, as illustrated by the emergence of environmental concerns after the Albertville Games and the governance reshuffle of the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal, I am also sceptical that these were sufficient to tackle the underlying problems, as became obvious with the unmatched environmental damage caused by the Sotchi Games in 2014.

In conclusion, more than sporadic public outrage, I believe that the intervention of national law and, even more, European Union law will be capable and needed to rein the Olympic regime and impose external constitutional constraints on its (at least sometimes) destructive operations.

Here is the abstract of the article: This article examines various aspects of Teubner's theory of societal constitutionalism using the lex sportiva as an empirical terrain. The case study focuses on the operation of the Olympic Charter as a transnational constitution of the Olympic movement. It shows that recourse to a constitutional vocabulary is not out of place in qualifying the function and authority of the Charter inside and outside the Olympic movement. Yet, the findings of the case study also nuance some of Teubner's descriptive claims and question his normative strategy.

Good read! (And do not hesitate to share your feedback)


New Position - Internship in International Sports Law - Deadline 15 August


The T.M.C. Asser Instituut offers post-graduate students the opportunity to gain practical experience in the field of international and European sports law.  The T.M.C. Asser Instituut, located in The Hague, is an inter-university research institute specialized in international and European law. Since 2002, it is the home of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, a pioneer in the field of European and international sports law. More...


Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - 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. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...



Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal - 25 & 26 October - Asser Institute, The Hague

 Call for papers: Annual International Sports Law Conference of the International Sports Law Journal

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2018

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is inviting you to submit abstracts for its second ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ published by Springer in collaboration with Asser Press is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes academics and many practitioners active in the field. This call is open to researchers as well as practitioners. 

We are also delighted to announce that Prof. Franck Latty (Université Paris Nanterre), Prof. Margareta Baddeley (Université de Genève), and Silvia Schenk (member of FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board) have confirmed their participation as keynote speakers.

Abstracts could, for example, tackle questions linked to the following international sports law subjects:

  • The interaction between EU law and sport
  • Antitrust and sports regulation
  • International sports arbitration (CAS, BAT, etc.)
  • The functioning of the world anti-doping system (WADA, WADC, etc.)
  • The global governance of sports
  • The regulation of mega sporting events (Olympics, FIFA World Cup, etc.)
  • The transnational regulation of football (e.g. the operation of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players or the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations)
  • The global fight against corruption in sport  
  • Comparative sports law
  • Human rights in sport 

Please send your abstract (no more than 300 words) and CV no later than 30 April 2018 to a.duval@asser.nl. Selected speakers will be informed by 15 May.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 1 September 2018. All papers presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special edition of the ISLJ.  To be considered for inclusion in the conference edition of the journal, the final draft must be submitted for review by 15 December 2018.  Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and will provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 300€). If you wish to be considered for a grant please justify your request in your submission. 

Stepping Outside the New York Convention - Practical Lessons on the Indirect Enforcement of CAS-Awards in Football Matters - By Etienne Gard

Editor’s Note: Etienne Gard graduated from the University of Zurich and from King's College London. He currently manages a project in the field of digitalization with Bratschi Ltd., a major Swiss law firm where he did his traineeship with a focus in international commercial arbitration.

1. Prelude

On the 10th of June, 1958, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, widely known as the “New York Convention”, was signed in New York by 10 countries.[1] This rather shy figure progressively grew over the decades to now reach 157 signatory countries, turning the New York Convention into the global recognition and enforcement instrument it is today. As V.V. Veeder’s puts it, “One English law lord is said to have said, extra judicially, that the New York Convention is both the Best Thing since sliced bread and also whatever was the Best Thing before sliced bread replaced it as the Best Thing.”[2]

However, among the overall appraisal regarding the New York Convention, some criticisms have been expressed. For instance, some states use their public policy rather as a pretext not to enforce an award than an actual ground for refusal.[3]  A further issue is the recurring bias in favor of local companies.[4] Additionally, recognition and enforcement procedures in application of the New York Convention take place in front of State authorities, for the most part in front of courts of law, according to national proceeding rules. This usually leads to the retaining of a local law firm, the translation of several documents, written submissions and one, if not several hearings. Hence, the efficiency of the New York Convention as a recognition and enforcement mechanism comes to the expense of both money and time of both parties of the arbitral procedure.

In contrast with the field of commercial arbitration, where the New York Convention is often considered the only viable option in order to enforce an award, international football organizations, together with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”), offer an effective enforcement alternative. This article aims at outlining the main features of the indirect enforcement of CAS awards in football matters in light of a recent case. More...



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

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


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

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



Asser International Sports Law Blog | RFC Seraing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: How FIFA’s TPO ban Survived (Again) EU Law Scrutiny

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

RFC Seraing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: How FIFA’s TPO ban Survived (Again) EU Law Scrutiny

Doyen (aka Doyen Sports Investment Limited) is nothing short of heroic in its fight against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has (sometimes indirectly through RFC Seraing) attacked the ban in front of the French courts, the Belgium courts, the European Commission and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This costly, and until now fruitless, legal battle has been chronicled in numerous of our blogs (here and here). It is coordinated by Jean-Louis Dupont, a lawyer who is, to say the least, not afraid of fighting the windmills of sport’s private regulators. Yet, this time around he might have hit the limits of his stubbornness and legal ‘maestria’. As illustrated by the most recent decision of the saga, rendered in March by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a case opposing the Belgium club RFC Seraing (or Seraing) to FIFA. The arguments in favour of the ban might override those against it. At least this is the view espoused by the CAS, and until tested in front of another court (preferably the CJEU) it will remain an influential one. The French text of the CAS award has just been published and I will take the opportunity of having for once an award in my native language to offer a first assessment of the CAS’s reasoning in the case, especially with regard to its application of EU law.

 

I.               The facts and procedure of the case

To cut a relatively long story short, RFC Seraing [the variation of the name of the club remains a disturbing mystery in the various proceedings in Belgium and at FIFA] entered a TPO agreement with Doyen on 30 January 2015, stipulating that the club transfers the economic rights of three players to Doyen against a sum of €300.000. At that time the transitory phase of FIFA’s TPO ban enshrined in art. 18ter RSTP was already in force and the FIFA TMS, tasked with monitoring the enforcement of the RSTP, quickly jumped on the matter. The issue was referred to FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee, which opened on 2 July 2015 proceedings against RFC Seraing for breaching arts. 18bis and 18ter RSTP. Additionally, on 7 July 2015, Seraing introduced in the TMS a request to recruit a Portuguese player, to which it attached an ERPA (on Doyen’s ERPAs see our blog here) attributing 25% of the economic rights attached to the player to Doyen against a payment of €50 000. A few days after, the FIFA TMS started another investigation into the transfer and on 21 July 2015 the FIFA Disciplinary Committee extended the existing proceedings to also cover this matter.

On 4 September 2015, the Disciplinary Committee rendered its (unpublished) decision finding that ‘FC Seraing’ breached arts. 18bis and 18ter RSTP. Consequently, it banned the club from recruiting players (at national and international level) for the next four transfer windows and handed out a fine of CHF 150.000. Seraing challenged the decision with FIFA’s Appeal Committee, which decided on 7 January 2016 to reject the appeal and confirmed the original decision. Eventually, Seraing appealed this decision to the CAS, leading to the latest award. As a side note, it feels like the disputes involving RFC Seraing (or FC Seraing or Seraing United) are a set-up prompted by Doyen to be able to challenge the validity of art. 18ter RSTP in various jurisdictions. If it were true it should not affect the question of the legality of the ban, but it is probably not of great support to the credibility of some arguments raised by Doyen, or its alter ego Seraing, in these proceedings.


II.             The CAS’ assessment of the compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban under EU law

As the competence of CAS in this matter was not contested, the key question was against which law(s) should the compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban be assessed. Due to the history of RFC Seraing’s key lawyer, it is no surprise that much of the award is spent assessing the EU law compatibility of the ban. In the past, as I have argued elsewhere (my CAS and EU law article is accessible for free here, download it now!), the CAS has been rather reluctant to apply EU law rigorously. This case is therefore a great opportunity to assess whether it has raised its standards in this regard.

a.    The applicability of EU law

First, is EU law applicable to the case? The CAS has rarely applied EU law (the exception confirming the rule being the rather old CAS 98/200 case, which was later challenged in front of the EU Commission leading to the ENIC decision), an absurdity in light of the Bosman (and prior Walrave) case law of the CJEU, which made clear that EU law is applicable to the regulations of Sports Governing Bodies (SGBs), even when seated outside of the EU. Additionally, in light of the centrality of the free movement rights in EU integration, it is to be expected that like the EU competition rules they be considered part and parcel of a European public policy with which arbitral awards must comply to be recognized and enforced by national courts in the EU.

Thus, the less spectacular, but probably more important, aspect of the award is the clear affirmation that EU law is applicable because it constitutes a “mandatory provision of foreign law” in the sense of art. 19 of the Swiss Federal Act on Private International Law (PILA).[1] Mandatory provisions of foreign law must be taken into account when three cumulative conditions prevail:

  1. Such rules belong to a special category of norms which need to be applied irrspective of the law applicable to the merits of the case;
  2. there is a close connection between the subject matter of the dispute and teh territory where the mandatory rules are in force;
  3. in view of Swiss legal theory and practice, the mandatory rules must aim to protect legitimate interest and crucial values and their application must lead to a decision which is appropriate.[2]

In this case, the Panel considers that the three cumulative conditions are fulfilled because:

  1. EU competition law and EU provisions on fundamental freedoms are largely regarded as pertaining to the category of mandatory rules by courts and scholars within the EU;
  2. the close connections between (a) the territory on which EU competition law  and EU provisions on fundamental freedoms are in force and (b) the subject matter of the dispute results from the fact that the challenge against the legality of the RSTP has an obvious impact on the EU territory. Indeed, the RSTP aims to regulate the activity of football clubs, many of which are European. Furthermore, the particular decision affects the participation of RFC Seraing to competitions taking place on the European soil.
  3. Finally, the Swiss legal system shares the interests and values protected by EU law, specifically by the EU competition rules and EU fundamental freedoms.[3]

This is a strong confirmation that EU law (mainly EU free movement rights and EU competition law), which applies almost naturally to decisions and regulations of the SGBs[4], will always be deemed applicable if invoked in front of the CAS to challenge their legality. This, as Seraing has learned in the present instance, does not mean that the SGBs rules will be automatically found incompatible with EU law. Instead, it merely subjects them to a duty of justification and proportionality, which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.[5] The message for sports lawyers appearing in front of the CAS is then: Work hard on your EU law! But don’t get your hopes up too high… 

b.    The compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban with EU law

The rest of the CAS award is mainly dedicated to assessing the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law.[6] In doing so, the CAS, rightly in my view, considered that the conditions regarding the compatibility, or not, of a private regulation of an SGB with the EU free movement rights and competition rules overlap with regard to the key question: the proportionality of the rule.

The legitimacy of the objectives of the TPO ban

The Panel’s assessment focuses firstly, and therefore mainly, on a possible disproportionate restriction of the free movement of capital guaranteed under art. 63 TFEU. The Panel decides to assume, without addressing it, that article 63 applies horizontally. This is still a widely uncharted territory and the CJEU has yet to take a clear stand on it. However, the CAS decided to be better safe than sorry and, thus, followed a maximalist interpretation of the scope of application of the article by applying it horizontally to the rules of FIFA. From the outset, it is uncontested that articles 18bis and 18ter RSTP constitute a restriction to the free movement of capital in the EU.[7] Yet, as emphasized by the Panel, a restriction does not entail an automatic incompatibility with EU law. Instead, the restrictive effect might be justified by a legitimate objective and compatible with EU law if the rule or measure is a proportionate mean to attain that objective. In the present case, FIFA invoked a number of potential legitimate objectives underlying the TPO ban:

  • The preservation of the contractual stability;
  • The preservation of the independence and autonomy of clubs in the management of their recruitment policy;
  • The securing of the integrity of football and preservation of the loyalty and equity of competitions;
  • The prevention of conflicts of interests and the securing of transparency in the transfer market.[8]

Those objectives remained uncontested by Seraing and the Panel concluded that they could be deemed legitimate in the sense of the CJEU’s jurisprudence.[9] Instead, Seraing tried to argue that the ‘real’ objective of FIFA in adopting the TPO ban was to ensure that the clubs monopolize the financial streams generated by the transfers of players.[10] Yet, it failed to provide the necessary evidence to convince the Panel, which insisted that “TPO has triggered amongst many commentators and inside the various instances and organisations of football intense worries to which the objectives invoked by FIFA are a response”[11]. Additionally, the Panel considers “that this practice gives way to numerous risks, in particular: risks linked to the opacity of investors escaping the control of football organizations and who are able to freely sell-on their investment; risks of a restriction of the economic freedom and rights of players, through the influencing with a speculative interest of their transfer; risks of conflicts of interests, or even of rigging or manipulation of games, contrary to the integrity of competitions, as the same investor can have TPO deals and multiples clubs involved in the same competition; risks linked to the ethics of sport because the objective pursued by investors is purely a financial and speculative one, to the detriment of sportive and moral considerations”.[12] Hence, the arbitrators buoyed the legitimacy of FIFA’s objectives in adopting the TPO ban.

The proportionality of the ban

The key question is then whether the FIFA ban can be deemed a proportionate means to attain its legitimate objectives. It is at this most crucial stage of the evaluation of the compatibility with EU law that a number of academic commentators have denied the ban’s proportionality.[13] It is the most important part of the award, which will be most likely scrutinized and attacked in follow-up cases in front of national or European courts. It is important to note that SGB regulations have never failed in front of the CJEU because they were lacking a legitimate objective, but rather because they were not considered adequate or necessary to attain their objectives. This stage of the analysis entails political considerations and a comparative analysis of the policy alternatives (and their feasibility) available to tackle a specific problem. In other words, it is not sufficient to claim that you can think in the abstract of a less restrictive alternative, you need to factually demonstrate that this less restrictive alternative is a credible candidate to attain the objective. This is obviously a difficult task for a lawyer. Furthermore, procedural considerations connected to the rulemaking process will come into play. If a sporting rule has been devised via an inclusive legislative procedure and finds broad support amongst the affected actors, then it will in turn be more likely to be deemed proportionate. Instead, if a rule is the result of a secretive, exclusive and authoritarian procedure, then it will be easier to challenge its proportionality. Thus, both substantial (effects-based) and procedural (legitimacy-based) considerations are key to evaluate the proportionality of the TPO ban.

The Panel insists first that the TPO ban has limited effects on the freedom to invest in football. Indeed, it finds that investors are not barred from investing in clubs or to finance specific operations (such as transfers), the ban is devised only to exclude certain types or modalities of investing.[14] On the procedural/legislative side, the Panel notes that the ban has been introduced after a broad consultation and on the basis of numerous, though unpublished, expert reports.[15] This positive assessment of the adoption process could be contested, especially because FIFA did not release the expert reports to the public, which were therefore not subjected to the critical scrutiny of their peers.  Moreover, the Panel takes due note of the relatively long experimentation of a lighter measure (article 18bis RSTP), which has proven inefficient to control the widespread recourse to TPO.[16] The question was then whether Seraing would be able to come up with a credible less restrictive alternative to rein the anarchic use of TPO in football. The Belgian club claimed that FIFA’s legitimate objectives could have been attained through regulation and measures improving transparency (very similar to La Liga’s argument here).[17] Nonetheless, the arbitrators noted that Seraing failed to specify the alternative measures it envisaged.[18] Instead, the Panel sided with FIFA in finding that it lacks the capacity and legal competence to properly police investors which are not subjected contractually to its disciplinary power.[19] In such a context, the Panel finds that the risks of conflicts of interests stemming from TPO contracts cannot be properly controlled by FIFA and the national federations, and the alternative measures proposed by Seraing are bound to fail.[20] Finally, the Panel also referred to the previously existing bans in France, England and Poland, insisting that FIFA was also aiming at harmonizing the rules applicable to the transfer market in Europe to alleviate any potential discrimination.[21] Hence, the arbitrators conclude that the ban is a proportionate restriction to art. 63 TFEU and compatible with EU law. While the Panel doubts that the TPO ban has substantial restrictive effects on the free movement of players and on the freedom to provide services of agents,[22] in any case it refers to its findings under art. 63 TFEU to conclude that it must be held proportionate.[23]

Regarding the compatibility of the ban with EU competition law, Seraing argued that it constitutes an unlawful restriction to free competition under article 101 TFEU and an abuse of a dominant position under article 102 TFEU. The CAS deemed (uncontroversially) FIFA an association of undertaking for the purpose of article 101 TFEU and recognized that the TPO ban affects trade between the Member States.[24] However, the arbitrators emphasized that Seraing bears the burden of proving that the ban constitutes a restriction by object or effect of free competition in the internal market.[25] In that regard, the CAS referred to the CJEU’s analytical framework developed in its Wouters case.[26] It concluded, referring to its previous holdings, that the ban had legitimate objectives and was necessary to attain them, and therefore did not constitute a restriction in the sense of article 101 (1) TFEU. As far as the abuse of a dominant position is concerned, after criticizing the lack of serious economic analysis by the appellant,[27] the Panel simply reiterated its previous findings regarding the legitimate objectives and proportionality of the ban.[28] 

The CAS swiftly rejected all the other arguments raised by Seraing on the basis of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter,[29] the European Convention of Human Rights,[30] and Swiss law.[31] Nonetheless, it did held that the sanction imposed on Seraing by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee was too stringent in light of the proportionality principle and reduced Seraing’s transfer ban to three windows and a fine of CHF 150.000.[32]

 

III.           Conclusion

Doyen lost a new battle and, while the war is still raging on, the controversial company is slowly starting to run out of legal ammunitions to challenge FIFA’s TPO ban. I have explained elsewhere why I believe the ban to be compatible with EU law and many of the arguments of the CAS in this award resonate with my own views.  Yet, though I think banning TPO is a step in the right direction to a healthier transfer market, I also believe that FIFA is artificially sustaining a transfer market that leads to the shadowy financiarization of football brutally exposed in the recent football leaks. In other words, the fact that a challenge against articles 18bis or 18ter fails does not mean that the whole RSTP is compatible with EU law, and for various reasons I believe that the current article 17RSTP is likely to fall foul of the EU internal market rules.[33]

The broader lesson of this TPO saga is that EU law is (at last) becoming a potent tool to challenge SGBs and their rules at the CAS. However, EU law is not blind to the necessary regulatory function they exercised vis-à-vis transnational sporting activities. What EU law targets is the SGBs’ illegitimate, disproportionate, and abusive regulatory behaviour to the detriment of the affected actors. When invoking EU law, sports lawyers must be aware of the need to show concretely the disproportionate nature of the rule or decision challenged. This is a heavy evidentiary burden. In other words, one cannot be satisfied with simply pointing out a restrictive effect, instead an interdisciplinary engagement with the economic and social effects of a regulation as well as with its legislative process is in order.

On a final note, I am truly pleased to see that the CAS is finally taking EU law a bit more seriously. This is a giant step forward, which will protect its awards from challenges in front of national courts, foster its reputation in Europe’s legal communities, and empower it as a counter-power inside the system of the lex sportiva. I urge the CAS to fully embrace this change and to continue to thoroughly assess the EU law compatibility of the sporting rules challenged in front of it. In this regard, it should keep in mind that the more these rules are the result of a deliberative and inclusive (in a way democratic) transnational legislative process, the more they can be deemed legitimate in the eyes of EU law…and vice versa.


[1] TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, 9 mars 2017, para. 73 : « La Formation arbitrale considère que le droit de l’Union Européenne (« droit de l’UE »), dont notamment les dispositions des traités en matière de liberté de circulation et de droit de la concurrence, doivent être prises en compte par la Formation arbitrale, dans la mesure où elles constituent des dispositions impératives du droit étranger au sens de l’article 19 de la Loi fédérale sur le droit international privé du 18 Décembre 1987 (« LDIP »).

[2] This English translation is taken from CAS 2016/A/4492 Galatasaray v. UEFA, 23 juin 2016, para. 43.

[3] TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, para. 76. The French version reads as follows :

i.       Les dispositions de droit européen, concernant notamment le droit de la concurrence et les libertés de circulation, sont communément considérées comme des règles impératives par les juridictions de l’Union et la doctrine ;

ii.     Les relations étroites entre (a) le territoire sur lequel le droit européen est en vigueur et (b) l’objet du litige, tiennent au fait que la mise en cause de la légalité du RSTJ a un impact évident sur le territoire européen. En effet, le RSTJ vise à réguler l’activité des clubs de football, dont de nombreux clubs européens. De plus, la Décision attaquée affecte notamment la participation du RFC Seraing à des compétitions se déroulant sur le sol européen.

iii.    Enfin, l’ordre juridique suisse partage les intérêts et valeurs protégées par le droit européen et notamment les dispositions de droit européen en matière de droit de la concurrence et de libertés de circulation.

[4] See B. van Rompuy, The role of EU Competition Law in Tackling Abuse of Regulatory Power by Sports Associations. In general, see S. Weatherill, European Sports Law, Asser Press, 2014. For my take on the centrality of EU law to exercise a ‘counter-democratic’ check on the lex sportiva, see my PhD thesis (in French) available here.

[5] See crucially CJEU, Meca Medina, 18 July 2006, ECLI:EU:C:2006:492, para.42.

[6] See TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, paras 90-144

[7] Ibid., para.97.

[8] Ibid., para 101. En l'espèce la FIFA invoque plusieurs objectifs poursuivis par les mesures en cause, et qu’il convient de reprendre : la préservation de la stabilité des contrats de joueurs , la garantie de l'indépendance et l'autonomie des clubs et des joueurs en matière de recrutement et de transferts, la sauvegarde de l'intégrité dans le football et du caractère loyal et équitable des compétitions, la prévention de conflits d'intérêts et le maintien de la transparence dans les transactions liées aux transferts de joueurs.

[9] Ibid., paras 102-104.

[10] Ibid., paras 105-106.

[11] Ibid. para. 107.

[12] Ibid., para.108.

[13] See J. Lindholm, Can I please have a slice of Ronaldo? The legality of FIFA’s ban on third-party ownership under European union law and S. Egger, Third-party Ownership of Players’ Economic Rights und Kartellrecht, in K. Vieweg, Inspirationen des Sportrechts, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 2016, pp.307-331.  

[14] TAS 2016/A/4490 RFC Seraing c. FIFA, paras 109-112

[15] It refers to “une phase significative d’étude, de consultation, de travaux et discussions à laquelle ont participle de nombreux interlocuteurs”, at Ibid., para.113.

[16] Ibid., para.114.

[17] Ibid., para. 116.

[18] Ibid.

[19]“La FIFA ne peut pas contrôler les intérêts de personnes qui ne lui sont pas affiliées, ni les contrats qui sont conclus à l'occasion ou à la suite de transferts par d'autres personnes que les clubs, joueurs et agents et dont la déclaration est obligatoire via le TMS.” Ibid., para.117.

[20] Ibid., para.118.

[21] Ibid., para. 120.

[22] Ibid., paras 125-127.

[23] Ibid., para. 128.

[24] Ibid., para. 135.

[25] Ibid., para. 137.

[26] Ibid., para. 138.

[27] Ibid., para. 142.

[28] Ibid., para. 143.

[29] Ibid., paras 145-148.

[30] Ibid., paras 149-151.

[31] Ibid., paras 152-161.

[32] Ibid., paras 167-179.

[33] On this see R. Parrish, Article 17 of the Fifa Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players : Compatibility with EU Law and G. Pearson, Sporting Justifications under EU Free Movement and Competition Law: The Case of the Football ‘Transfer System’.

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