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

Operación Puerto Strikes Back!

Forget the European Championship currently held in France or the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio. Doping scandals are making the headlines more than ever in 2016. From tennis star Sharapova receiving a two-year ban for her use of the controversial ‘meldonium’, to the seemingly never-ending doping scandals in athletics. As if this was not enough, a new chapter was added on 14 June to one of the most infamous and obscure doping sagas in history: the Operación Puerto.

The special criminal appeal chamber,  the Audiencia Provincial, has held that the more than 200 blood bags of professional athletes that have been at the center of the investigations since 2006 can be delivered to the relevant sporting authorities, such as the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency (AEPSAD), WADA, the UCI and the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In other words, there is now a good chance that the identities of the involved athletes might eventually be revealed.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/cycling/9834122/Operation-Puerto-doctor-Eufemiano-Fuentes-treated-tennis-players-athletes-footballers-and-a-boxer.html

This case note will analyze the court’s ruling and summarize its most important findings. Given the amount of time passed since the scandal first came to light (2004), the blog will commence with a short background summary of the relevant facts. More...

FIBA/Euroleague: Basketball’s EU Competition Law Champions League- first leg in the Landgericht München. By Marine Montejo

Editor's note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 3 June 2016, the Landgericht München (“Munich Regional Court”) ordered temporary injunctions against the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) and FIBA Europe, prohibiting them from sanctioning clubs who want to participate in competitions organized by Euroleague Commercial Assets (“ECA”). The reasoning of the Court is based on breaches of German and EU competition law provisions. FIBA and FIBA Europe are, according to the judge, abusing their dominant position by excluding or threatening to exclude national teams from their international competitions because of the participation of their clubs in the Euroleague. This decision is the first judicial step taken in the ongoing legal battle between FIBA and ECA over the organization of European basketball competitions.

This judgment raises several interesting points with regard to how the national judge deals with the alleged abuse of a dominant position by European and international federations. A few questions arise regarding the competence of the Munich Regional Court that may be interesting to first look at in the wake of an appeal before examining the substance of the case. More...

The Müller case: Revisiting the compatibility of fixed term contracts in football with EU Law. By Kester Mekenkamp

Editor’s note: Kester Mekenkamp is an LL.M. student in European Law at Leiden University and an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

On 17 February 2016, the Landesarbeitsgericht Rheinland-Pfalz delivered its highly anticipated decision in the appeal proceedings between German goalkeeper Heinz Müller and his former employer, German Bundesliga club Mainz 05.[1] The main legal debate revolved around the question (in general terms) whether the use of a fixed term contract in professional football is compatible with German and EU law. 

In first instance (see our earlier blog posts, here and here), the Arbeitsgericht Mainz had ruled that the ‘objective reasons’ provided in Section 14 (1) of the German Part-time and Fixed-term Employment Act (Gesetz über Teilzeitarbeit und befristete Arbeitsverträge, “TzBfG”), the national law implementing EU Directive 1999/70/EC on fixed-term work, were not applicable to the contract between Müller and Mainz 05 and therefore could not justify the definite nature of that contract.[2] In its assessment the court devoted special attention to the objective reason relating to the nature of the work, declining justifications based thereupon.[3] Tension rose and the verdict was soon labelled to be able to have Bosman-like implications, if held up by higher courts.[4] More...

The BGH’s Pechstein Decision: A Surrealist Ruling



The decision of the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), the Highest Civil Court in Germany, in the Pechstein case was eagerly awaited. At the hearing in March, the Court decided it would pronounce itself on 7 June, and so it did. Let’s cut things short: it is a striking victory for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and a bitter (provisory?) ending for Claudia Pechstein. The BGH’s press release is abundantly clear that the German judges endorsed the CAS uncritically on the two main legal questions: validity of forced CAS arbitration and the independence of the CAS. The CAS and ISU are surely right to rejoice and celebrate the ruling in their respective press releases that quickly ensued (here and here). At first glance, this ruling will be comforting the CAS’ jurisdiction for years to come. Claudia Pechstein’s dire financial fate - she faces up to 300 000€ in legal fees – will serve as a powerful repellent for any athlete willing to challenge the CAS.More...



The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary revisited? (Part 2)

On 18 May 2016, the day the first part of this blog was published, the Commission said in response to the Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller’s question, that it had “not specifically monitored the tax relief (…) but would consider doing so. The Commission cannot prejudge the steps that it might take following such monitoring. However, the Commission thanks (Niedermüller) for drawing its attention to the report of Transparency International.”

With the actual implementation in Hungary appearing to deviate from the original objectives and conditions of the aid scheme, as discussed in part 1 of this blog, a possible monitoring exercise by the Commission of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme seems appropriate. The question remains, however, whether the Commission follows up on the intent of monitoring, or whether the intent should be regarded as empty words. This second part of the blog will outline the rules on reviewing and monitoring (existing) aid, both substantively and procedurally. It will determine, inter alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission to act and, if so, in what way. More...

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)

The tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 9 November 2011 marked a turning point as regards the Commission’s decisional practice in the field of State aid and sport. Between this date and early 2014, the Commission reached a total of ten decisions on State aid to sport infrastructure and opened four formal investigations into alleged State aid to professional football clubs like Real Madrid and Valencia CF.[1] As a result of the experience gained from the decision making, it was decided to include a Section on State aid to sport infrastructure in the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation. Moreover, many people, including myself, held that Commission scrutiny in this sector would serve to achieve better accountability and transparency in sport governance.[2]

Yet, a recent report by Transparency International (TI), published in October 2015, raises questions about the efficiency of State aid enforcement in the sport sector. The report analyzes the results and effects of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme and concludes that:

“(T)he sports financing system suffers from transparency issues and corruption risks. (…) The lack of transparency poses a serious risk of collusion between politics and business which leads to opaque lobbying. This might be a reason for the disproportionateness found in the distribution of the subsidies, which is most apparent in the case of (football) and (the football club) Felcsút.”[3]

In other words, according to TI, selective economic advantages from public resources are being granted to professional football clubs, irrespective of the tax benefit scheme greenlighted by the Commission or, in fact, because of the tax benefit scheme. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 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.  


The Headlines

This month saw the conflict between FIBA Europe and the Euroleague (more precisely its private club-supported organizing body, Euroleague Commercial Assets or ‘ECA’) becoming further entrenched. This dispute commenced with FIBA creating a rival Basketball Champions League, starting from the 2016-2017 season with the hope to reinstate their hold over the organization of European championships. The ECA, a private body that oversees the Euroleague and Eurocup, not only decided to maintain its competitions but also announced it would reduce them to a closed, franchise-based league following a joint-venture with IMG. In retaliation, FIBA Europe suspended fourteen federations of its competition (with the support of FIBA) due to their support for the Euroleague project.More...


The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

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

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? More...

Guest Blog - Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): Legal Issues by Laura Donnellan

Editor's note: Laura Donnellan is a lecturer at University of Limerick. You can find her latest publications here.


Introduction

On Tuesday the 12th of April, João Carvalho passed away in the Beaumont Hospital after sustaining serious injuries from a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Dublin on the previous Saturday. The fighter was knocked out in the third round of a welterweight fight against Charlie Ward. Aside from the tragic loss of life, the death of Carvalho raises a number of interesting legal issues. This opinion piece will discuss the possible civil and criminal liability that may result from the untimely death of the Portuguese fighter.

It is important to note at the outset that MMA has few rules and permits wrestling holds, punching, marital arts throws and kicking. MMA appears to have little regulation and a lack of universally accepted, standardised rules. There is no international federation or governing body that regulates MMA. It is largely self-regulated. MMA is not recognised under the sports and governing bodies listed by Sport Ireland, the statutory body established by the Sport Ireland Act 2015 which replaced the Irish Sports Council. MMA is considered a properly constituted sport so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, there are appropriate safety procedures, the rules are enforced by independent referees, and it appropriately administered.

The Acting Minister for Sport, Michael Ring, has called for the regulation of MMA. Currently there are no minimum requirements when it comes to medical personnel; nor are there any particular requirements as to training of medical personnel. The promoter decides how many doctors and paramedics are to be stationed at events. In February 2014 Minister Ring wrote to 17 MMA promoters in Ireland requesting that they implement safety precautions in line with those used by other sports including boxing and rugby.

Despite this lack of regulation, this does not exempt MMA from legal liability as the discussion below demonstrates.More...



Asser International Sports Law Blog | Sports Politics before the CAS: Early signs of a ‘constitutional’ role for CAS? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

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

Sports Politics before the CAS: Early signs of a ‘constitutional’ role for CAS? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

It took almost six months, a record of 26 witnesses and a 68 pages final award for the CAS to put an end to a long-delayed, continuously acrimonious and highly controversial presidential election for the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). Worawi Makudi can sit easy and safe on the throne of the FAT for his fourth consecutive term, since the CAS has dismissed the appeal filed by the other contender, Virach Chanpanich.[1]

Interestingly enough, it is one of the rare times that the CAS Appeal Division has been called to adjudicate on the fairness and regularity of the electoral process of a sports governing body. Having been established as the supreme judge of sports disputes, by reviewing the electoral process of international and national sports federations the CAS adds to its functions a role akin to the one played by a constitutional court in national legal systems. It seems that members of international and national federations increasingly see the CAS as an ultimate guardian of fairness and validity of internal electoral proceedings. Are these features - without prejudice to the CAS role as an arbitral body- the early sign of the emergence of a Constitutional Court for Sport?


The CAS as reviewer of electoral proceedings in sports governing bodies

The CAS Appeal Division jurisprudence reviewing electoral processes in sports governing bodies, albeit still at a nascent stage, has provoked vivid reactions due to its potential impact. One of the particularly significant values of retracing this case-law is found not in the outcomes of the decisions, but in the way the panels have scrutinized the electoral processes.[2]

On 27 September 2010, the CAS shaked the chess world by rendering its decision on the validity of Kirsan Illymzhinov’s candidature for the presidency of the Fédération Internationale des Echecs (FIDE).[3] Namely, the CAS proceedings were initiated by Karpov 2010 Inc. and five national federations (of France, Germany, Switzerland, Ukraine and the US) against FIDE. The claimant alleged the invalidity of the presidential ticket of Illymzhinov, who had been nominated by the Russian Chess Federation as their candidate for the FIDE presidential election. The majority of the CAS panel considered that it had jurisdiction to decide on the National Federations’ claims and proceeded with the merits. Taking into consideration the FIDE’s practice on membership requirements for candidates on a presidential ticket and its compliance with the text of FIDE Electoral Regulations, the CAS confirmed the validity of Illymzhinov’s ticket and dismissed the appeal. Had the CAS accepted the arguments of the claimant, Anatoly Karpov would have been declared new FIDE President. FIDE welcomed the award, since it sets straightforward and transparent standards for the electoral proceedings, putting, therefore, an end to what was perceived as frivolous claim against FIDE.

Three years later, the CAS was asked again to review electoral proceedings, this time involving the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). In fact, five national federations asked the UCI Executive Board to submit to the CAS a request for interpretation of Article 51.1 of the UCI Constitution concerning the nomination of prospective candidates for office of President of UCI. The federations claimed that the language of Article 51.1, which required that any Presidential candidate be nominated by the ‘federation of the candidate’, was ambiguous: it was unclear whether the provision was allowing an individual to be nominated by any federation of which the candidate is a member or whether only a nomination from the home federation of the candidate was allowed. The UCI rejected the request to bring the case before the CAS and declared that the UCI Congress was the only competent authority to decide on issues linked to the elections. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the parties regarded the CAS as the ultimate guardian of fair and democratic elections, which could, “provide a much-needed degree of certainty for UCI delegates in knowing that the current and future candidates standing for election are in fact eligible to do so”.

Furthermore, in September 2014, the Nigeria Football Federation’s (NFF) President, Chris Giwa, appealed FIFA’s order to vacate his post to the CAS in his last-ditch effort to hold onto the presidency and despite FIFA’s threat to suspend the NFF in the event he would stay president. The CAS dismissed his request for provisional measures on the ground that the request was without object, as FIFA decided that “two cumulative conditions mentioned in the Emergency Committee’s decision dated 3 September 2014 had been complied with and that therefore the NFF would not be finally suspended”. Indeed, at the last minute, Giwa abandoned his post and therefore the order was not valid anymore. It is noticeable again that CAS was called to be the final arbiter of a contested election.

However, it is in the Thai case that the CAS for the first time was given broad authority to review several irregularities in the electoral process. Namely, the appellant, Chanpanich, challenged the validity of the presidential election for the FAT before the CAS, alleging the existence of a plethora of procedural irregularities- starting from the adoption of the 2013 Statues of the Electoral Code - so severe as to flaw the election entirely. In addition, the appellant requested from the CAS panel to issue guidelines as to the manner in which such elections were to be held. On the basis of a specific arbitration agreement, the CAS admitted jurisdiction on the dispute and proceeded with the merits. The CAS was asked to address the following set of irregularities and breaches: the alleged interference of the FAT Secretary General (‘M.’) and of the Secretary of the Electoral Committee (‘U.’) with the electoral process; the unlawful amendment in the composition of the Electoral Appeal Committee; the violation of basic standards of procedural fairness (no proper hearing, no present parties, limited documentation) in the proceedings before the Electoral Appeal Committee; and the participation in the voting process of ineligible delegates, i.e. non-members and members of the FAT Executive Committee. In scrutinizing the electoral process, the CAS relied first on the text itself of the FAT 2013 Statutes and Electoral Code, which were adopted on the basis of FIFA’s fundamental principles of separation of powers, accountability and transparency, and under the FIFA supervision, and then on the factual evidence. On the ground of the lack of sufficient evidence in conjunction with the rules of the Electoral Code, the CAS rejected the alleged irregularities.

With regard to the CAS’s reasoning, two remarks can to be made. Firstly, although the FAT Congress acted in breach of Article 4 of the Electoral Code by allowing the members of the electoral bodies to be appointed by the candidates themselves on the basis of a mandate granted to them by the Congress and along a repartition agreed by the candidates, the CAS chose to qualify this breach as a “deviation” which should be tolerated due to ‘political reasons’.[4] Namely, the CAS panel embraced the “good intentions”[5] of the FAT Congress to pave the way to an electoral process based on consent, healing, therefore, the violation of the Electoral Code. As a result of this “deviation”, according to the CAS, the parties should accept the consequences it produced. This assessment leads to the second remark. With regard to the alleged violation of procedural fairness, the CAS recognized that the Appeal Electoral Committee had limited time to render its decision, because of the delayed previous decision of the Electoral Committee. However, since the Electoral Committee was composed by Chanpanich - pursuant to the above mentioned deal between the candidates and the Congress -, the appellant had to accept the consequences of this situation. These assessments seem at least questionable: the CAS qualifies a clear breach of the Electoral Code as “deviation”[6] and then declares that the parties are responsible for the problems provoked by this “deviation”!

It is remarkable that although the CAS has been given broad reviewing authority, it chose to stick to an ‘ostrich like behaviour. It refused to proceed with a true control of the conformity of the electoral process with the relevant electoral code and left the door open for more ‘behind the curtains’ irregularities, which would be based on the consent of the Congress and the candidates. Thus, it seems that the CAS is adopting a very cautious, hands-off, approach when reviewing electoral proceedings.


The emerging constitutional role of the CAS: A shift towards a sui generis function for arbitration?

From the above brief overview of the CAS jurisprudence, two major trends can be identified: the diminishing autonomy of national and international federations in deciding on their internal electoral proceedings (1) and the growing readiness of the members of sports federations to have recourse to the CAS to control the fairness of the electoral proceedings in sports governing bodies. So far, the CAS Appeal Division has ruled over the eligibility of the potential candidates for the presidential elections of sports federations as well as over the regularity, validity and procedural fairness of the electoral process itself. At this point, it has to be noticed that, apart from the sports federations’ electoral processes, the CAS has also been asked to rule on the validity of the pre-electoral practices of the candidates for the election to the IOC Athlete’s Commission.[7] By controlling as well the electoral process of the IOC Commissions the CAS adds more credentials to its function as guarantor of fair and democratic electoral proceedings in international sports.

Since its emergence in the mid-1980s, the CAS’s role as the arbitral body competent to resolve international sporting disputes arising from appeals of decisions of sports governing bodies has evolved significantly. The CAS Appeal Division has mainly played a role in disciplinary matters, in doping cases for example, or contractual disputes, as in cases concerning transfers in football. Nonetheless, it seems as if it is also about to become an important institutional player in ‘constitutional’ disputes involving the political structure of sports governing bodies. By deciding on the eligibility of the candidates, on the composition of the electoral body, or on the conformity of the electoral proceedings with the applicable electoral code and minimum standards of fairness, the CAS acts not unlike a constitutional court of the international sports world. This functional evolution appears to be the reflexive answer of the CAS to the disputes submitted to it by sports governing bodies.


The unsettled interplay between Sports Politics and the CAS: an emerging political role for the CAS?

The review of electoral proceedings can also imply a political role – from a sporting point of view - of the CAS, bringing to the surface the thorny issue of the political role of arbitrators in general. In the Thai case, the CAS in a remarkable obitur dictum declared its duty to settle “a legal dispute according to the law”, denying, thereby, any intention to enter the field of sports politics. It recognized, though, the political implications “at least from a sporting point of view” of its award on the governance of FAT.[8] The panel was clear: it did not want to address sports politics, “let alone politics tout court”[9]. The CAS insisted on its legal role “rendering unto sports the things that are sport and to courts the things that are legal”[10]. This assessment is not surprising. There is a widespread view that judges and arbitrators only apply the law, irrespective of their policy beliefs and backgrounds. This de-politicization of the arbitral process, however, masks the fact that arbitral tribunals are composed of human beings, who are consciously or not driven by non-legal factors, such as the political and sociological factors. The CAS panels do not constitute an exception. A brief look at the CAS jurisprudence demonstrates in the view of the author of this blogpost that CAS panels are more likely to adopt a pro-international sports governing bodies approach, acting very cautiously when it is called to interpret their regulations and their decisions. Similarly, the CAS is aware of the significant impact of its rulings on the governance of sports and their de facto precedential value at the international and even national levels of sports.[11] Consequently, its awards have become increasingly self-referent, leaving a small room for divergent interpretations.

However, it is the author’s opinion that the CAS, even when acting as a “neutral” arbitral tribunal reviewing the electoral processes, will inevitably grapple with the political dimensions of those decisions. Despite the declaration of the Thai panel that it would abstain from any involvement in sports politics, the Panel, as noted above, justified a breach of the Electoral Code as mandated by political reasons and particularly by the overriding goal to guarantee electoral process based on the consent of FTA’s members. This decision was not neutral: in practice the panel decided who was to be president of the FTA. This is a highly political decision and it is a duty of CAS to be aware and reflexive of its impact when opting for one legal interpretation over the other.

In overall, a modicum of sports politics does not seem totally incompatible with the CAS role. 


Conclusion

The former President of the IOC and founder of the CAS, Juan Antonio Samaranch, had a dream: he envisaged the CAS as a “kind of Hague court for the sports world”[12]. In fact, 30 years after, and despite its permanent roots in arbitration, it seems that the CAS is becoming the Supreme Court of world sport. The CAS is a legal chameleon, being one day a quasi-criminal Court and the next a constitutional one. However, its increasing tendency to scrutinize the political processes at play in sports governing bodies is probably one of its least developed, but also most intriguing functions.

It remains to be seen whether the CAS will continue to be prudent and deferent when reviewing electoral processes, or whether it has the potential to morph into a more audacious, and maybe more “political”, constitutional role.


[1] CAS 2013/A/3389, Virach Chanpanich v The Football Association of Thailand

[2] A Erbsen, ‘The Substance and Illusion of Lex Sportiva’ in I Blackshaw and others (eds) The Court of Arbitration for Sport 1984-2004 (The Hague, TMC Asser Press 2006), 441.

[3] 2010/0/2166, National Chess Federation of France et al. v.FIDE

[4] CAS 2013/A/3389 (n 1) paras 122-123

[5] Ibid, para 123.

[6] Ibid

[7] CAS 2012/A/2913 Mu-yen Chu & Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee v.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) & CAS 2012/A/2912 Koji Murofushi & Japanese Olympic Committee v. International

Olympic Committee

[8] CAS 2013/A/3389 (n1), para 115

[9] Ibid

[10] M Beloff QC, ‘Is there such a thing as Sports Law’ (2011) 33 The Circuiteer 13

[11] G Kaufmann Kohler, ‘Arbitral Precedent: Dream, Necessity or Excuse?’ (2007) 23 Arbitration International (3) 357

[12] ‘ Speech Delivered by Mr Juan Antonio Samaranch’ (1982) 176 Olympic Review 314, 317

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