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

Guest Blog - The Role of Sport in the Recognition of Transgender and Intersex Rights by Conor Talbot

Editor's note: Conor Talbot is a Solicitor at LK Shields Solicitors in Dublin and an Associate Researcher at Trinity College Dublin. He can be contacted at ctalbot@tcd.ie, you can follow him on Twitter at @ConorTalbot and his research is available at www.ssrn.com/author=1369709. This piece was first published on the humanrights.ie blog.

Sport is an integral part of the culture of almost every nation and its ability to shape perceptions and influence public opinion should not be underestimated.  The United Nations has highlighted the potential for using sport in reducing discrimination and inequality, specifically by empowering girls and women.  Research indicates that the benefits of sport include enhancing health and well-being, fostering empowerment, facilitating social inclusion and challenging gender norms.

In spite of the possible benefits, the successful implementation of sport-related initiatives aimed at gender equity involves many challenges and obstacles.  Chief amongst these is the way that existing social constructs of masculinity and femininity — or socially accepted ways of expressing what it means to be a man or woman in a particular socio-cultural context — play a key role in determining access, levels of participation, and benefits from sport.  This contribution explores recent developments in the interaction between transgender and intersex rights and the multi-billion dollar industry that the modern Olympic Games has become.  Recent reports show that transgender people continue to suffer from the glacial pace of change in social attitudes and, while there has been progress as part of a long and difficult journey to afford transgender people full legal recognition through the courts, it seems clear that sport could play an increasingly important role in helping change or better inform social attitudes.More...



Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: The Final Whistle

Footballleaks is now operating since nearly half a year and has already provided an incredible wealth of legal documents both on TPO (and in particular Doyen’s contractual arrangements) and on the operation of the transfer system in football (mainly transfer agreements, player contracts and agents contracts). This constant stream of information is extremely valuable for academic research to get a better grip on the functioning of the transfer market. It is also extremely relevant for the shaping of public debates and political decisions on the regulation of this market. As pointed out on the footballleaks website, it has triggered a series of press investigations in major European news outlets.

In this blog, I want to come to a closure on our reporting on Doyen’s TPO deals. In the past months, we have already dealt with the specific cases of FC Twente and Sporting Lisbon, reviewed Doyen’s TPO deals with Spanish clubs, as well as discussed the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. In the Sporting Lisbon case, Doyen has since earned an important legal victory in front of the CAS (the ensuing award was just published by Footballleaks). This victory should not be overstated, however, it was not unexpected due to the liberal understanding of the freedom of contract under Swiss law. As such it does not support the necessity of TPO as an investment practice and does not threaten the legality (especially under EU law) of FIFA’s ban.

In our previous blogs on Doyen’s TPO deals we decided to focus only on specific deals, Twente and Sporting Lisbon, or a specific country (Spain). However, nearly six months after the whole footballleaks project started, we can now provide a more comprehensive analysis of the TPO deals signed by Doyen. Though, it is still possible that other, yet unknown, deals would be revealed, I believe that few of Doyen’s TPO agreements are still hidden. Thanks to footballleaks, we now know how Doyen operates, we have a precise idea of its turnover, its return on investments and the pool of clubs with which it signed a TPO agreement. Moreover, we have a good understanding of the contractual structure used by Doyen in those deals. This blog will offer a brief synthesis and analysis of this data.More...





Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: TPO and Spanish football, friends with(out) benefits?

Update: On 14 April footballleaks released a series of documents concerning Sporting de Gijón. Therefore, I have updated this blog on 19 April to take into account the new information provided.  

Doyen Sports’ TPO (or TPI) model has been touted as a “viable alternative source of finance much needed by the large majority of football clubs in Europe". These are the words of Doyen’s CEO, Nélio Lucas, during a debate on (the prohibition of) TPO held at the European Parliament in Brussels last January. During that same debate, La Liga’s president, Javier Tebas, contended that professional football clubs, as private undertakings, should have the right to obtain funding by private investors to, among other reasons, “pay off the club’s debts or to compete better”. Indeed, defendants of the TPO model continuously argue that third party investors, such as Doyen, only have the clubs’ best interests in mind, being the only ones capable and willing to prevent professional football clubs from going bankrupt. This claim constitutes an important argument for the defendants of the TPO model, such as La Liga and La Liga Portuguesa, who have jointly submitted a complaint in front of the European Commission against FIFA’s ban of the practice.[1]

The eruption of footballleaks provided the essential material necessary to test this claim. It allows us to better analyse and understand the functioning of third party investment and the consequences for clubs who use these services. The leaked contracts between Doyen and, for example, FC Twente, showed that the club’s short term financial boost came at the expense of its long-term financial stability. If a club is incapable of transferring players for at least the minimum price set in Doyen’s contracts, it will find itself in a financially more precarious situation than before signing the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA). TPO might have made FC Twente more competitive in the short run, in the long run it pushed the club (very) close to bankruptcy.

More than four months after its launch, footballleaks continues to publish documents from the football world, most notably Doyen’s ERPAs involving Spanish clubs.More...

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

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 

Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.


The Headlines

The Belgian Court of Appeal released its judgment this month regarding Doyen’s legal battle against the FIFA TPO ban. The Appeal Court confirmed the first instance decision and ruled out any provisional measures to block the ban’s implementation (for an in depth review, see our blog post). More importantly, the Court reaffirmed that Swiss based sport federations are liable in front of EU Members’ States courts when EU competition law is involved. That means the next important step for this legal battle is whether or not the European Commission is going to open a formal proceeding (Doyen already lodged a complaint) to assess the compatibility, and more importantly, the proportionality of the TPO ban with EU law. Only a preliminary ruling by the CJEU could hasten the decision if one of the European national courts, hearing a case brought by Doyen (France or Belgium), decided to refer a preliminary question.More...


Doyen’s Crusade Against FIFA’s TPO Ban: The Ruling of the Appeal Court of Brussels

Since last year, Doyen Sports, represented by Jean-Louis Dupont, embarked on a legal crusade against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has lodged a competition law complaint with the EU Commission and started court proceedings in France and Belgium. In a first decision on Doyen’s request for provisory measures, the Brussels Court of First Instance rejected the demands raised by Doyen and already refused to send a preliminary reference to the CJEU. Doyen, supported by the Belgium club Seraing, decided to appeal this decision to the Brussels Appeal Court, which rendered its final ruling on the question on 10 March 2016.[1] The decision (on file with us) is rather unspectacular and in line with the first instance judgment. This blog post will rehash the three interesting aspects of the case.

·      The jurisdiction of the Belgian courts

·      The admissibility of Doyen’s action

·      The conditions for awarding provisory measures More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2016

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 


The Headlines

The eagerly awaited FIFA Presidential elections of 26 February provided for a “new face” at the pinnacle of international football for the first time since 1998. One could argue whether Infantino is the man capable of bringing about the reform FIFA so desperately needs or whether he is simply a younger version of his predecessor Blatter. More...


Book Review: Despina Mavromati & Matthieu Reeb, The Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport—Commentary, Cases, and Materials (Wolters Kluwer International 2015). By Professor Matthew Mitten

Editor’s note: Professor Mitten is the Director of the National Sports Law Institute and the LL.M. in Sports Law program for foreign lawyers at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He currently teaches courses in Amateur Sports Law, Professional Sports Law, Sports Sponsorship Legal and Business Issues Workshop, and Torts. Professor Mitten is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and has served on the ad hoc Division for the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This Book Review is published at 26 Marquette Sports Law Review 247 (2015).


This comprehensive treatise of more than 700 pages on the Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) (the Code) is an excellent resource that is useful to a wide audience, including attorneys representing parties before the CAS, CAS arbitrators, and sports law professors and scholars, as well as international arbitration counsel, arbitrators, and scholars.  It also should be of interest to national court judges and their law clerks because it facilitates their understanding of the CAS arbitration process for resolving Olympic and international sports disputes and demonstrates that the Code provides procedural fairness and substantive justice to the parties, thereby justifying judicial recognition and enforcement of its awards.[1]  Because the Code has been in existence for more than twenty years—since November 22, 1994—and has been revised four times, this book provides an important and much needed historical perspective and overview that identifies and explains well-established principles of CAS case law and consistent practices of CAS arbitrators and the CAS Court Office.  Both authors formerly served as Counsel to the CAS and now serve as Head of Research and Mediation at CAS and CAS Secretary General, respectively, giving them the collective expertise and experience that makes them eminently well-qualified to research and write this book.More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2016

Editor’s note: Our first innovation for the year 2016 will be a monthly report compiling relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 


The Headlines

The world of professional sport has been making headlines for the wrong reasons in January. Football’s governing body FIFA is in such a complete governance and corruption mess that one wonders whether a new President (chosen on 26 February[1]) will solve anything. More recently, however, it is the turn of the athletics governing body, IAAF, to undergo “the walk of shame”. On 14 January the WADA Independent Commission released its second report into doping in international athletics. More...


International Sports Law in 2015: Our Reader

This post offers a basic literature review on publications on international and European sports law in 2015. It does not have the pretence of being complete (our readers are encouraged to add references and links in the comments under this blog), but aims at covering a relatively vast sample of the 2015 academic publications in the field (we have used the comprehensive catalogue of the Peace Palace Library as a baseline for this compilation). When possible we have added hyperlinks to the source.[1]

Have a good read. More...

Goodbye 2015! The Highlights of our International Sports Law Year

2015 was a good year for international sports law. It started early in January with the Pechstein ruling, THE defining sports law case of the year (and probably in years to come) and ended in an apotheosis with the decisions rendered by the FIFA Ethics Committee against Blatter and Platini. This blog will walk you through the important sports law developments of the year and make sure that you did not miss any. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | WISLaw Blog Symposium - Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter: the wind of changes or a new commercial race - By Rusa Agafonova

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 - Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter: the wind of changes or a new commercial race - By Rusa Agafonova

Editor's note: Rusa Agafonova is a PhD Candidate at the University of Zurich, Switzerland   

The Olympic Games are the cornerstone event of the Olympic Movement as a socio-cultural phenomenon as well as the engine of its economic model. Having worldwide exposure,[1] the Olympic Games guarantee the International Olympic Committee (IOC) exclusive nine-digit sponsorship deals. The revenue generated by the Games is later redistributed by the IOC down the sports pyramid to the International Federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and other participants of the Olympic Movement through a so-called "solidarity mechanism". In other words, the Games constitute a vital source of financing for the Olympic Movement.

Because of the money involved, the IOC is protective when it comes to staging the Olympics. This is notably so with respect to ambush marketing which can have detrimental economic impact for sports governing bodies (SGBs) running mega-events. The IOC's definition of ambush marketing covers any intentional and non-intentional use of intellectual property associated with the Olympic Games as well as the misappropriation of images associated with them without authorisation from the IOC and the organising committee.[2] This definition is broad as are the IOC's anti-ambush rules.

Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter

The famous Rule 40[3] of the Olympic Charter was introduced in 1991 prohibiting competitors[4] from any use of name, image or sports performances for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games and since then has been critised for its disproportionality.

The blanket ban covered all types of advertising during the "blackout" ("frozen") period of almost a month, starting nine days before the Opening Ceremony and ending three days after the Closing of the Games. Any Olympic-related terms varying from quite specific "Olympia" and "games" to more generic "medal", "gold", "pedestal" and to very questionable "summer", "challenge" and "victory" were banned from use in an advertising context. These restrictions are even more drastic knowing that violation of the Olympic Charter can entail temporary or permanent ineligibility or exclusion from the Olympic Games.[5]

Legal challenges

While companies still managed to find loopholes in the regulations,[6] a legal challenge was expected on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, the antitrust lawsuit against the USA Track and Field and the US Olympic Committee (USOC) brought to the U.S. District Court by a runner Nick Symmonds[7] was dismissed on the basis of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, which granted an implied antitrust immunity to the USOC.

In Europe, however, the complaint filed with the German Competition Authority (Bundeskartellamt) by the German Athlete Commission and the Federal Association of the German Sports Goods Industry was successful and resulted in a series of commitments undertaken by the German NOC (DOSB) and the IOC, but only German athletes could benefit from it.

Bundeskartellamt refers to the ISU and Kristoffersen cases admitting the protection of the solidarity mechanism as a potential justification for a measure restricting competition, but only "if the financial support granted by the system is sufficiently transparent for the participants who contributed their performance", i.e. when they are "in a position to understand and assess the volume of income generated" and "whether this income, or at least most of it, has in fact been spent to the benefit of those athletes who are disadvantaged in terms of opportunities to participate in the Olympic Games". The Olympic solidarity plan does not attain this high standard of "sufficient transparency".[8] Hence, Rule 40 and its German analogue were preliminarily assessed as violating Art. 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (abuse of dominant position) and Sections 18 and 19 GWB (German Competition Act).

The German decision gave the green light to advertising campaigns by non-Olympic sponsors during the frozen period and replaced the authorisation procedure by the requirement to notify the NOC of the intended campaigns. The list of protected terms was narrowed down, and only sanctions of economic nature, i.e. contractual damages and/or penalties, became admissible.

Reconsidering Rule 40

In summer 2019, the IOC amended Rule 40 for the first time in many years. Its new wording was akin to a 180-degree turn and allowed competitors, team officials and other team personnel to use their person, name, picture, and sports performances for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games as far as the principles determined by the IOC Executive Board were respected.  

NOCs should concretise the rule for their Olympic team in accordance with the Key Principles on the application of by-law 3 to Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter (Tokyo 2020 Key Principles) which give the NOCs some guidance but also leave them a considerable leeway.

In terms of substance, non-Olympic sponsors can now undertake "generic advertising", i.e., campaigns launched at least 90 days before the Event, which create association with the Olympic Games only through an athlete's image, and which should avoid any unusual activity during the Games. What is considered unusual is to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Regarding the procedure, non-Olympic partners must now only notify in advance the IOC or the respective NOCs of their advertising plans. The NOCs are free to decide on the form and modalities of this notification. It can be a simple notice, such as in Switzerland, a two-step notification (i.e. a pre-registration and a further notification) as in South Africa, or a more complex legal structure consisting of a notification accompanied by a personal sponsor commitment agreement (PSC) concluded by and between an athlete's sponsor and the NOC, as is the case in the USA or in Ireland. In the latter case, the NOC obtains additional contractual guarantees in case of a violation of the Rule 40.[9]

All these discrepancies put athletes on an unequal footing. The commercial rights of those sportspeople who already struggle to find sponsors due to the limited exposure of their sports disciplines might be curtailed even further by the non-attractiveness of their NOCs' regimes in respect to Olympic sponsorship.

Finally, the IOC recommends that NOCs adopt monetary rather than sporting measures to sanction violations.[10] But recommendations are non-binding, while it seems that such a crucial issue as sanctions should be covered by a uniform rule more than anything else.

Conclusion

Athletes have, at times in history, been precluded from fully monetising their economic potential during the most important - and the most marketable - moments  of their careers, which themselves are relatively short. The amended Rule 40 has been welcomed as a big achievement and fits well with the overall trend for athletes' growing engagement in policy-making processes and the increasing role of competition law in shaping sports governance. However, it seems that Rule 40 is not yet at its final destination. To get there, it should find the balance between the individual athlete’s right to generate income in relation to their sporting career and the collective interest in protecting the solidarity model. It is indeed important to remember that there are many athletes, including those at the grassroots level, who are supported by the solidarity mechanism rather than by sponsors' financial backing.

Conversely, while the concept of the Olympics has not been distorted by allowing professionals to compete in the Games, why would it be inadvisable to reconsider the idea of commercialisation of sport? The outbreak of COVID-19 and the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games drew attention to the insecurity of athletes in many senses, and the relationship between an athlete and a sponsor acquired a deeper significance: despite the uncertainties of the sports calendars, epidemiologic regimes, and impossibility of long-term planning, the parties - or rather the partners - maintained mutual support and shared common values. 

All regulatory instruments should be adjusted accordingly. Rule 40 as it existed before 2019 appeared archaic. When it entered into force, neither the internet nor social media existed. As of today, Twitter and especially Instagram have shaped a new paradigm of hashtags, likes, reposts, and followers.[11] 

Rule 40, as it exists in 2021, leaves a risk of unequal implementation due to the fact that NOCs and athletes' associations have different degrees of bargaining power across the globe and, in the absence of a uniform clause imposed by the international regulator, give divergent interpretations to the scope of the rule. The country-to-country approach can sometimes allow for necessary flexibility in order to ensure optimal implementation of the regulations, in particular, regarding compliance with the national legislation of each state. However, some issues, such as the sanctioning regimes, should be handled in a centralised and harmonised way.

The German example has set the trend, but many NOCs may be reluctant to follow it. In this respect, the European Commission may play an important role in reconciling athletes' economic interests and the SGBs' interests with due consideration to the specificity of sport. It remains to be seen how the situation will be resolved outside the European Union. Meanwhile, during the period from 13 July to 10 August 2021, we will most likely witness a dramatic change in advertising as the new Rule 40 will be applied. It is possible that the focus on sports competitions will be slightly diluted by additional commercial ads, but even this scenario seems appealing after the silence of quarantine. 


[1] The geographic market for the organisation and exploitation of the Olympic Games has been defined as worldwide. See Bundeskartellamt, Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17 (25 February 2019), para. 56. The version in English is available at https://www.bundeskartellamt.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidung/EN/Entscheidungen/Missbrauchsaufsicht/2019/B2-26-17.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=2. Accessed on 30 May 2021.

[2] Brand Protection Guidelines, Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Version 5.0. February 2020, Pt. 6. Ambush Marketing.

[3] Here and hereafter: Rule 40 refers to Bye-law 3 to Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter.

[4] In 2003, the rule was expanded to coaches and officials.

[5] Olympic Charter, Rule 59 (2.1).

[6] For example, in the pre-London-2012 campaign “Find Your Greatness”, Nike shows athletes from the towns named London situated in the US, Canada, Jamaica, and Nigeria and never mentions London in the UK. 

[7] Gold Medal LLC v. USA Track & Field, 187 F. Supp. 3d 1219, 1222 (D. Or. 2016).

[8] Bundeskartellamt, Decision pursuant to Section 32b GWB Public version, B-226/17, 25 February 2019, para. 103.

[9] McKelvey Steve, Grady John, Moorman Anita M., Ambush Marketing and Rule 40 for Tokyo 2020: A Shifting Landscape for Olympic Athletes and Their Sponsors, Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport, 2021, 31, pp. 94 – 122.

[10] Commercial Opportunities for Athletes. Rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (in 2021), p. 14. Frequently Asked Questions for Athletes.

[11] It is, for example, the key tool for fans' engagement. See Ennis Sean (2020) Understanding Fans and Their Consumption of Sport. In: Sports Marketing. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp 75-100.

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