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

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

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.

2.  Facts of the Case

The dispute at hand involved a football club affiliated with the United Arab Emirates Football Association (“UAEFA”) and a player’s agent. The club at hand owed a commission to the agent following the completion of a player’s transfer. The agent ultimately won the case before the CAS and the latter awarded him monetary compensation against the football club.

Shortly thereafter, means of enforcement against the club were sought.

It is widely recognized that the awards rendered by the CAS do qualify as awards under the New York Convention and may thus be subject to the classic enforcement provided therein.[5]

Whilst this is to be welcomed because it offers alternatives to the prevailing party seeking recognition and enforcement of the arbitral award, the following will show that another route exists, which may prove just as effective whilst saving both time and money.

Indeed, though the United Arab Emirates did ratify the New York Convention, the general critics mentioned above also applied in the case at hand. This meant that going down the route of direct enforcement against the UAE-based football club would have had several drawbacks. First, the translation workload in order to comply with the local procedural rules was significant. Second, since the recognition procedure was due to take place in front of national courts, a local law firm would have had to be retained. Finally, there was no clear timeline as to when exactly the due compensation would effectively be paid.

3. The Indirect Enforcement

Luckily, the world of football organizations provides for an alternative path, which proved to be highly effective at hand. Indeed, as a result of the deep-rooted integration of CAS and of its decisions in effectively all organizational layers of national and international football, the New York Convention is not the only global enforcement mechanism available to a prevailing party in that field. Although it requires to take steps outside that Convention and, as a result, of the entire ‘state-supported’ enforcement system, the indirect enforcement described below nonetheless proves to be a viable alternative for parties involved in football-related arbitration.

3.1 The Statutory Basis of Indirect Enforcement

It all starts with art. 15 para. 1 let. f of the FIFA Statutes which stipulates that the statutes of the member associations shall ensure that, inter alia, all relevant stakeholders must agree to recognize the jurisdiction and authority of CAS.[6] Art. 23 para. 1 let. f provides for a similar obligation with regard to the confederations’ statutes.[7]

Pursuant to art. 61 para. 1 of the Statutes of the Asian Football Confederation (“AFC”), to which the UAEFA is a member, the AFC recognizes the CAS to resolve disputes between, inter alia, clubs and intermediaries.[8] Further, according to art. 62 para. 1 of said Statutes, the member associations, among which the UAEFA, shall agree to recognize CAS as an independent judicial authority and to ensure that their members and clubs comply with the decisions passed by CAS. Any violation of these provisions will trigger a sanction on the breaching party, according to art. 62 para. 3 of the AFC Statutes.

Finally, art. 19 para. 4 of the UAEFA Statutes provides that each club, upon application for affiliation, shall provide a declaration whereas it undertakes to accept and implement the decisions rendered by the CAS.[9]

In light of the above, the rules of football organizations put in place a terraced indirect enforcement mechanism regarding CAS awards, whereas each club undertakes to comply with such awards vis-à-vis its home association, each such association being in turn similarly obligated vis-à-vis FIFA and its own Confederation. The latter finally has the duty to ensure that its affiliated associations recognize the authority of CAS, thereby closing the loop.

The broad sanction mechanism at every stage leaves considerable discretionary powers to the competent bodies in order to appropriately pressure the breaching stakeholder, on whichever link in the chain the latter may be, into complying with CAS decisions.

3.2 The Indirect Enforcement Procedure

The FIFA Statutes do not provide for any particular body directly tasked with the enforcement of CAS awards against FIFA’s affiliates and their stakeholders. Nor is there any particular procedure enshrined in the FIFA Statues as to how the indirect enforcement of CAS awards shall take place. In particular, art. 64 FIFA Disciplinary Code only applies to CAS decisions in appeal arbitration proceedings regarding the decisions of FIFA and not to CAS decisions rendered in an ordinary arbitration procedure.[10]

However, art. 45 of the FIFA Statutes does provide that the Member Associations Committee shall deal with relations between FIFA and its member associations as well as the member associations’ compliance with the FIFA Statutes. The same is true at the level of the AFC, whereas art. 54 of its Statutes provide that the Associations Committee shall be responsible for relations between the AFC and its Member Associations as well as Member Association’s compliance with FIFA and AFC Statutes and Regulations.

In other words, both at FIFA and AFC level, a standing committee is responsible for ensuring that the Members comply with the applicable statutes and thus, inter alia, with awards rendered by CAS.

Based on the above, we concluded that in order for the competent FIFA and AFC standing committees to examine the case of a club not complying with a CAS award, they needed to be first convinced that (i) a final and binding CAS award had been rendered against a club affiliated with a member association and that (ii) such club refused to comply with said award. Second, the above-mentioned committees would need to be shown that the national football association has been notified of such occurrence and been asked to take appropriate actions against the club according to its own statutes.

From this point in time onwards, the FIFA and AFC standing committees will have been notified that a member’s association has been asked to remedy a matter of non-compliance of an affiliated club with a CAS award and thus such association is now under a statutory obligation to ensure compliance from the club, as described above, or else may itself be found to have breached the FIFA and/or AFC Statutes and sanctioned accordingly.

4. Epilogue and Conclusion

Shifting the focus back to the case that prompted the idea of this blog, once the route leading to indirect enforcement was mapped, we proceeded with gathering the evidence needed, i.e. that the CAS award was final and binding upon the football club.

Section 193 of the Swiss Private International Law Act – which applies to international CAS proceedings – enables the parties to request an enforceability certificate from the competent state court regarding an award rendered by an international arbitral tribunal with its seat in Switzerland. This document certifies that the award in question is final and that no appeal can be filed against it. In the case of the CAS, the state court competent for the issuance of an enforceability certificate is the Tribunal cantonal, in Lausanne.

Once this certificate was obtained, we filed it together with a copy of the award to the competent national association, the UAEFA, urging the latter in writing to request from the club that it complied with the CAS award, or else the club would be sanctioned. Both the competent standing committees of the FIFA and of the AFC received a copy of that letter.

From this moment onwards, the machinery of the indirect enforcement mechanism was switched on and we knew that leverage existed at every level, up until FIFA, to ensure that each stakeholder, be it the UAEFA or the AFC, pressures its affiliated bodies, and, ultimately, the club, into complying with the CAS award.

In the case at hand, this method proved to be successful. Indeed, as a result of the aforementioned steps, the AFC promptly contacted the UAEFA, requesting this matter to be solved and the football agent received the awarded compensation from the club within a few weeks after the UAEFA, the AFC and the FIFA were notified as described above.

This case shows how operating outside the New York Convention can prove both cost- and time-effective. When used properly, the indirect sanction mechanism put in place by football organizations proves to be a proper alternative to classic enforcement proceedings and shall in any event be considered as a viable option under similar circumstances.


[1] Flannery/Merkin, Arbitration Act 1996, 5th Ed., Oxon, 2014, p. 356.

[2] V.V. Veeder, Is There a Need to Revise the New York Convention - Key note speech, in: ‘The Review of International Arbitration Awards – IAI Forum’, International Arbitration Institute, 2008, p. 183 et sqq., p. 186.

[3] V.V. Veeder, p. 191.

[4] Gaillard, ‘The Urgency of Not Revising the New York Convention’, in: The New York Convention at 50, 2008, p. 689 et seqq., p. 690.

[5] Nafziger/Ross, Handbook on International Sports Law, Edward Elgar 2011, p. 40; Rubno-Sammartano, International Arbitration Law and Practice, 3rd Ed., JurisNet, 2014, p.1709; Nolon, Arbitration and the Olympic Athlete, in: McCann, ‘The Oxford Handbook of American Sports Law’, OUP 2017, p. 444.

[6]Art. 15 para. 1 let. f of the FIFA statutes reads as follows: “Member associations’ statutes must comply with the principles of good governance, and shall in particular contain, at a minimum, provisions relating to the following matters: […] all relevant stakeholders must agree to recognise the jurisdiction and authority of CAS and give priority to arbitration as a means of dispute resolution […].

[7] Art. 23 para. 1 let. f of the FIFA statutes reads as follows: “The confederations’ statutes must comply with the principles of good

governance, and shall in particular contain, at a minimum, provisions relating to the following matters

[8] Art. 61 para 1 of the Asian Football Confederation Statutes reads as follows: “The AFC recognises the independent Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with headquarters in Lausanne (Switzerland) to resolve disputes between the AFC and the other Confederations, Member Associations, Leagues, Clubs, Players, Officials, Intermediaries and licensed match agents.”

[9] Art 19 para 4 of the UAEFA Statutes reads as follows (tentative translation): “Each applicant should provide the following documents: […] A declaration that it will to accept and implement the resolutions and decisions issued by the Court of Arbitration for sport in Lausanne (CAS).”

[10] Art. 64  para 1 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code  reads as follows (emphasis added): “Anyone who fails to pay another person (such as a player, a coach or a club) or FIFA a sum of money in full or part, even though instructed to do so by a body, a committee or an instance of FIFA or a subsequent CAS appeal decision (financial decision), or anyone who fails to comply with another decision (nonfinancial decision) passed by a body, a committee or an instance of FIFA, or by CAS (subsequent appeal decision): […].”

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