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 Kristoffersen ruling: the EFTA Court targets athlete endorsement deals - By Sven Demeulemeester and Niels Verborgh

Editor’s note: Sven Demeulemeester and Niels Verborgh are sports lawyers at the Belgium law firm, Altius.

 

Introduction

In its 16 November 2018 judgment, the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States (the EFTA Court) delivered its eagerly awaited ruling in the case involving Henrik Kristoffersen and the Norwegian Ski Federation (NSF). 

On 17 October 2016, Kristoffersen had taken the NSF to the Oslo District Court over the latter’s refusal to let the renowned alpine skier enter into a sponsorship with Red Bull. At stake were the commercial markings on his helmet and headgear in races organised under the NSF’s umbrella. The NSF refused this sponsorship because it had already granted the advertising on helmet and headgear to its own main sponsor, Telenor. Kristoffersen claimed before the Oslo District Court, that the NSF should be ordered to permit him to enter into an individual marketing contract with Red Bull. In the alternative, Kristoffersen claimed damages up to a maximum of NOK 15 million. By a letter of 25 September 2017, the Oslo District Court referred several legal questions to the EFTA Court in view of shedding light on the compatibility of the rules that the NSF had invoked with EEA law.

If rules do not relate to the conduct of the sport itself, but concern sponsorship rights and hence an economic activity, these rules are subject to EEA law. The EFTA Court ruling is important in that it sets out the framework for dealing with - ever more frequent - cases in which an individual athlete’s endorsement deals conflict with the interest of the national or international sports governing bodies (SGBs) that he or she represents in international competitions.More...


Season 2 of football leaks: A review of the first episodes

Season 2 of #FootballLeaks is now underway since more than a week and already a significant number of episodes (all the articles published can be found on the European Investigative Collaborations’ website) covering various aspect of the (lack of) transnational regulation of football have been released (a short German documentary sums up pretty much the state of play). For me, as a legal scholar, this new series of revelations is an exciting opportunity to discuss in much more detail than usual various questions related to the operation of the transnational private regulations of football imposed by FIFA and UEFA (as we already did during the initial football leaks with our series of blogs on TPO in 2015/2016). Much of what has been unveiled was known or suspected by many, but the scope and precision of the documents published makes a difference. At last, the general public, as well as academics, can have certainty about the nature of various shady practices in the world of football. One key characteristic that explains the lack of information usually available is that football, like many international sports, is actually governed by private administrations (formally Swiss associations), which are not subject to the similar obligations in terms of transparency than public ones (e.g. access to document rules, systematic publication of decisions, etc.). In other words, it’s a total black box! The football leaks are offering a rare sneak peak into that box.

Based on what I have read so far (this blog was written on Friday 9 November), there are three main aspects I find worthy of discussion:

  • The (lack of) enforcement of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations
  • The European Super League project and EU competition law
  • The (lack of) separation of powers inside FIFA and UEFA More...

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: Altius

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very happy to finish this series of interviews with Sven Demeulemeester from Altius, a Belgian law firm based in Brussels with a very fine (and academically-minded!) sports law team. 


1. Can you explain to our readers the work of Altius in international sports law? 

Across different sports’ sectors, Altius’ sports law practice advises and assists some of the world’s most high-profile sports governing bodies, clubs and athletes, at both the national and the international level. The team has 6 fully-dedicated sports lawyers and adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, which guarantees a broad range of legal expertise for handling specific cases or wider issues related to the sports industry. We are proud to be independent but, in cross-border matters, are able to tap into a worldwide network.

2. How is it to be an international sports lawyer? What are the advantages and challenges of the job? 

Sports law goes beyond one specific field of law. The multiplicity of legal angles keeps the work interesting, even after years of practising, and ensures that a sports lawyer rarely has a dull moment. The main downside is that the sports industry is fairly conservative and sometimes ‘political’. While the law is one thing, what happens in practice is often another. Bringing about change is not always easy. 

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference? 

 The much-anticipated overhaul of the football transfer system is eagerly anticipated and is worth a thorough debate, also in terms of possible, viable alternatives. The impact of EU law - both internal market rules, competition law and fundamental rights – can hardly be underestimated. Also, dispute resolution mechanisms within the realm of sports - and an accessible, transparent, independent and impartial sports arbitration in particular - will remain a ‘hot’ topic in the sector for years to come. Furthermore, ethics and integrity issues should remain top of the agenda, as is being demonstrated by the current money-laundering and match-fixing allegations in Belgium. Finally, in a sector in which the use of data is rife, the newly-adopted GDPR’s impact remains somewhat ‘under the radar’.

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference? 

The ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference is refreshing, both in terms of its topics and participants. The academic and content-driven approach is a welcome addition to other sports law conferences in which the networking aspect often predominates.

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: LawInSport

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very happy to continue this series of interviews with LawInSport, a knowledge hub and educational platform for the community of people working in or with an interest in sport and the law  (many thanks to LawInSport's CEO Sean Cottrell for kindly responding to our questions).


1. Can you explain to our readers what LawInSport is about?

LawInSport is a knowledge hub, educational platform and global community of people working in or with an interest in sport and the law.

Our objective is to help people ‘understand the rules of the game™’. What does this mean? It means people in sport having access to information that enables them to have a better understanding the rules and regulations that govern the relationships, behaviours and processes within sports. This in turn creates a foundation based on the principles of the rule of law, protecting the rights of everyone working and participating in sport.  

2. What are the challenges and perks of being an international sports law 'reporter’ ?

I do not consider myself a reporter, but as the head of an organisation that has a responsibility to provide the highest quality information on legal issues in sport,  focusing on what is important and not just what is popular, whilst trying to stay free from conflicts of interests. These two issues, popularism and conflict of interest, are the two of the biggest challenges.

Popularism and the drive to win attention is, in my opinion, causing a lack of discipline when it comes to factual and legal accuracy in coverage of sports law issues, which on their own may seem harmless, but can cause harm to organisations and individuals (athletes, employees, etc).

Conflict of interest will obviously arise in such a small sector, however, there is not a commonly agreed standard in internationally, let alone in sports law. Therefore, one needs to be diligent when consuming information to understand why someone may or may not hold a point of view, if they have paid to get it published or has someone paid them to write it. For this reason it can be hard to get a full picture of what is happening in the sector.

In terms of perks, I get to do something that is both challenging and rewarding on a daily basis, and as  a business owner I have the additional benefit of work with colleagues I enjoy working with. I have the privilege of meeting world leaders in their respective fields (law, sport, business, science, education, etc) and gain insights from them about their work and life experiences which is incredibly enriching.  Getting access to speak to the people who are on the front line, either athletes, coaches, lawyers, scientists, rather than from a third party is great as it gives you an unfiltered insight into what is going on.

On the other side of things, we get the opportunity to help people through either having a better understand of the legal and regulatory issues in sports or to understand how to progress themselves towards their goals academically and professionally is probably the most rewarding part of my work. 

3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference?

  • The long-term implications of human rights law in sport;
  • The importance of meaningful of stakeholder consultation in the creation and drafting of regulations in sport;
  • Effective international safeguarding in sport.

4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference?

We support ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference as it is a non-profit conference that’s purpose is to create a space to explore a wide range of legal issues in sport. The conference is an academic conference that does a great job in bringing a diverse range of speakers and delegates. The discussions and debates that take place will benefit the wider sports law community.  Therefore, as LawInSport’s objective is focused on education it was a straight forward decision to support the conferences as it is aligned with our objectives. 

Supporters of the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018: Women in Sports Law

Editor's note: In the coming days we will introduce the supporters of our upcoming ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference 2018 (also known as #ISLJConf18). To do so, we have sent them a tailored questionnaire aimed at reflecting both their activities and their expectations for the conference. It is a good opportunity for us to thank them for their enthusiastic support and commitment to international sports law research. We are very proud to start this series of interviews with Women in Sports Law, an association launched in 2016 and which has already done so much to promote and advance the role of women in international sports law (many thanks to Despina Mavromati for kindly responding to our questions on behalf of WISLaw).


1. Can you explain to our readers what WISLaw is about?

Women In Sports Law (WISLaw, www.wislaw.co) is an international association based in Lausanne that unites more than 300 women from 50 countries specializing in sports law. It is a professional network that aims at increasing the visibility of women working in the sector, through a detailed members’ directory and various small-scale talks and events held in different countries around the world. These small-scale events give the opportunity to include everyone in the discussion and enhance the members’ network. Men from the sector and numerous arbitral institutions, conference organizers and universities have come to actively support our initiative.


2. What are the challenges and opportunities for women getting involved in international sports law?

Women used to be invisible in this sector. All-male panels were typical at conferences and nobody seemed to notice this flagrant lack of diversity. WISLaw created this much-needed platform to increase visibility through the members’ directory and through a series of small-scale events where all members, independent of their status or seniority, can attend and be speakers.

Another difficulty is that European football (soccer) is traditionally considered to be a “male-dominated” sport, despite the fact that there are so many great female football teams around the world. The same misperception applies to sports lawyers!

Last, there is a huge number of women lawyers working as in-house counsel and as sports administrators. There is a glass ceiling for many of those women, and the WISLaw annual evaluation of the participation of women in those positions attempts to target their issues and shed more light into this specific problem.


3. What are the burning issues in international sports law that you would like to see discussed at the conference?

The ISLJ Annual Conference has already set up a great lineup of topics combining academic and more practical discussions in the most recent issues in international sports law. 


4. Why did you decide to support the ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference?

The Asser International Sports Law Centre has promoted and supported WISLaw since the very beginning. The ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference was the first big conference to officially include a WISLaw lunch talk in its program, allowing thus the conference attendees to be part of a wider informal discussion on a specific topical issue and raise their questions with respect to WISLaw. Another important reason why WISLaw supports this conference is because the conference organizers are making sincere efforts to have increased diversity in the panels : this year’s ISLJ Annual International Sports Law Conference is probably the first sports law conference to come close to a full gender balance in its panels, with 40% of the speakers being women !

The proportionality test under Art. 101 (1) TFEU and the legitimacy of UEFA Financial fair-play regulations: From the Meca Medina and Majcen ruling of the European Court of Justice to the Galatasaray and AC Milan awards of the Court of Arbitration for Sport – By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar. He is also member of the IVth Division of the High Court of Sport Justice (Collegio di Garanzia dello sport) at the National Olympic Committee.

 

1. On the 20th July 2018, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (hereinafter referred to as “CAS”) issued its decision in the arbitration procedure between AC Milan and UEFA. The subject matter of this arbitration procedure was the appeal filed by AC Milan against the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Financial Control Body dated 19th June 2018 (hereinafter referred to as “the contested decision”). As many likely know, the CAS has acknowledged that, although AC Milan was in breach of the break-even requirement, the related exclusion of the club from the UEFA Europe League was not proportionate. To date, it is the first time the CAS clearly ruled that the sanction of exclusion from UEFA club competitions for a breach of the break-even requirement was not proportionate. For this reason the CAS award represents a good opportunity to reflect on the proportionality test under Art. 101 TFEU and the relationship between the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (hereinafter referred to as “ECJ”) in the Meca Medina and Majcen affair and the very recent case-law of the CAS. More...

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...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The 2014 Dortmund judgment: what potential for a follow-on class action? By Zygimantas Juska

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 2014 Dortmund judgment: what potential for a follow-on class action? By Zygimantas Juska

Class actions are among the most powerful legal tools available in the US to enforce competition rules. With more than 75 years of experience, the American system offers valuable lessons about the benefits and drawbacks of class actions for private enforcement in competition law. Once believed of as only a US phenomenon, class actions are slowly becoming reality in the EU. After the adoption of the Directive on damages actions in November 2014, the legislative initiative in collective redress (which could prescribe a form of class actions) is expected in 2017.[1] Some pro-active Member States have already taken steps to introduce class actions in some fashion, like, for example, Germany.

What is a class action? It is a lawsuit that allows many similar legal claims with a common interest to be bundled into a single court action. Class actions facilitate access to justice for potential claimants, strengthen the negotiating power and contribute to the efficient administration of justice. This legal mechanism ensures a possibility to claim cessation of illegal behavior (injunctive relief) or to claim compensation for damage suffered (compensatory relief).   


Class actions in antitrust and the sport sector

Throughout the years, US class actions have become an important tool to strengthen good governance in the sports sector. Due to alleged antitrust infringements, US sports organizations have been hit with a series of class action lawsuits.  The most recent and the most prominent example is the antitrust class action lawsuit O'Bannon v. NCAA. On 8 August 2014, the US District Court ruled in favour of former UCLA basketball player O'Bannon and 19 others, declaring that the National Collegiate Athletic Associations’ (NCAA) longstanding refusal to compensate athletes for the use of their name, image and likenesses (NILs) violates US antitrust laws. Previously, the college sports governing body required student-athletes  to sign ‘Form 08-3a’  in which they authorize the NCAA to use their “name or picture to generally promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs”, without receiving compensation. If the NCAA loses the appeal, it must allow schools to give athletes some of the money they bring in by licensing their NIL. For further discussion on the O’Bannon case, see my previous blog.

In the EU, however, antitrust class actions remain an underrated remedial option in EU competition policy and the sports sector (the same is true for competition law in general). As is well known, sports federations often have practical monopolies within certain markets. In particular, due to the substantial economic revenues of these markets, sports federations have the tendency to abuse their dominant position in contradiction with Article 102 TFEU. It is not unthinkable that the positive experiences with class actions in the US may serve as an inspiration for victims in the EU to go against powerful sports organizations. Here, useful insights may be derived from the German Handball case, which can be used as an example to explore the potential of class actions as a remedy. On 15 May 2014, German Bundesliga teams (30 of them) won the antitrust case against the International Handball Federation (IHF) and the German Handball Federation (DHB) at the regional court of Dortmund (Landgericht). For further discussion on the 2014 Dortmund judgment, see here.  


The 2014 Dortmund judgment: A comparative analysis with the O’Bannon case

The Court in Dortmund held that an obligatory release system of players for activities of their respective national teams without compensation constitutes an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by German competition law (§ 19 Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen, GWB) and Article 102 TFEU, while it also breaches the principle of good faith in contractual performance.[2] Until the judgment, German Bundesliga clubs had no other way but to release their players if they were invited to join their national team within the international calendar. According to the IHF Player Eligibility Code, “a club having a foreign player under contract is obliged to release such player to his National Federation if he is called up to take part in activities of that federation's national team” (Article 7.1.2). Furthermore, a club releasing a national player was not entitled to receive any kind of compensation and in the event of personal injury the insurance coverage was not provided (Articles 7.2-7.3). After the judgment, the IHF and the DHB should pay a fair compensation for the time of the release of the player.  

On the one hand, both cases have striking similarities. The judgments concern antitrust infringements by powerful sports federations, the IHF (also the DHB) and the NCAA respectively. Professional clubs / student athletes in both cases are not entitled to compensation due to the rules that have been set by sports organizations. The German case concerns the obligation for professional clubs to release players to national team events without receiving compensation, while the US case concerns the prohibition for student athletes to receive compensation from NIL.

On the other hand, although both cases concern antitrust infringements by the sports organizations, they also have vital differences. Most importantly, the O'Bannon case is an antitrust class action lawsuit filed against the NCAA. This class action proved to be a powerful instrument that managed to jeopardize the long-standing fundamental principle of amateurism on which the whole economic and social system of the NCAA lies. Until now, however, the 2014 Dortmund judgment has been an ordinary litigation according to German law. However, it does share some similarities with O’bannon that may justify a class action in the form of an injunctive relief (at least, in the first instance), subject to some exceptions.  


Indirect class action for an injunction

What is injunctive relief in class action cases? According to the European Commission, the courts should treat claims for injunctive orders requiring cessation of or prohibiting a violation of rights granted under EU law in order to prevent any or further harm causing damages.[3] According to the German law, in case of danger of recurrence, the infringer has to refrain from his conduct.[4] Perhaps surprisingly, the 2014 Dortmund judgment already fulfils the conditions for an indirect class action for an injunction.

First, a group of claimants (a total of 30 Bundesliga clubs) sued the IHF and the DHB before the regional court of Dortmund. They argued (together) that mandatory release of players to the national team constitutes an abuse of a dominant position prohibited by EU and German competition law. The Dortmund court ruled in favour of the handball clubs. It seems that handball clubs only seek the cessation of the unlawful practice, yet they have not claimed the compensatory relief, aimed at obtaining compensation for damage suffered.  

Second, the claim has been initiated by victims of antitrust infringement. Under the GWB, victims are allowed to bring private actions for injunctive relief in 101 and 102 TFEU infringement cases (Sec. 33).

Third, the Forum Club Handball (FCH) financially supported the court case. This may appear as third-party financing since the financial support was provided by a private third party who is not a party to the proceedings.[5] 

Although the handball clubs dropped a quiet collective bombshell, the action cannot be considered as a real class action. Simply, there was no intention to pursue a class action. Another point is that the legal standing to bring the representative action has been limited to a law firm. In Germany, collective antitrust action can be brought by a body, which has a legal standing and to whom the claims of victims of a cartel have been assigned (Sec. 33 (2) GWB). Similarly, under Sec. 8 of the German Unfair Competition Act (UWG), the claims can be sought by: a) competitor; b) qualified entities listed with the Federal Office of Justice or, in case of foreign entities, with the European Commission; and (c) by Chambers of Industry and Commerce or Craft Chambers. For these reasons, the action brought by the clubs cannot be classified as a class action, because they have chosen to be represented by an attorney. It is not unthinkable that eventually the case will appear before the court as a follow-on compensatory class action, if the IHF and the DHB lose the appeal (if necessary, the proceedings before the Court of Justice).   


Compensatory class action: why it could be a big deal?

If the handball clubs achieve an injunction in the final Court decision, the follow-on representative action for damages may be brought against the IHF and the DHB. Some provisions in German law facilitate the incentives to bring damages claims for antitrust infringements. According to Sec. 33(4) GWB, antitrust class actions should be brought after a final decision of a public authority finding there has been a violation of competition law. Furthermore, the 8th Amendment of GWB broadens the scope of the legal standing in such a way that all associations of undertakings that are affected by an infringement, as well as consumer associations, are in principle able to claim the enforcement of German competition law in courts (including by demanding damages). Yet it appears that the UWG provisions are not applicable in this case. Under Sec. 8 available remedies allow to pursue only injunctive relief. Under Sec. 9 damages are claimed by competitors (only). Sec. 10 aims at skimming off profits (paid to the Treasury), but not at compensating victims. Due to the fact that illegal profits go to the Treasury in successful cases, the handball clubs would potentially not be happy with the expected outcome.

If the IHF and the DHB lose the appeal, the handball clubs can to a significant extent rely on the final decision. Considering that an indirect form of collective action has already been pursued by the handball clubs in the first instance, a common consent of the parties involved in the case (the major condition for class action) can be easily achieved. Still, the major concern is to solve the issue of legal standing. An actual example of class action that goes with the grain of the German law and is the Cement Cartel Case, in which 28 damaged companies purchased the cartel-related claim to Cartel Damage Claims group (CDC).[6] It is a Brussels based professional litigation that turns burdensome claims into valuable assets, taking the hassle of quantification and subsequent enforcement. The substantiation of the claim is based on evidence gathered from the cartel proceedings and the damaged companies.  In the context of the German handball case, CDC could commence the acquisition of damages claims from handball clubs and then file the collective antitrust damages action against the IHF and the DHB. This is in line with the Sec. 33 GWB under which CDC has legal standing and to whom the claims under Art. 101 and 102 TFEU have been assigned. An action brought by CDC is attractive to the handball clubs because it would strengthen the negotiating power and would reduce litigation costs, as the claim is led (or even purchased) by CDC.  

If the conditions for the admissibility of class action are fulfilled, the IHF and the DHB should fear potential damages. In particular as a result of the inconsistent application of the Player Eligibility Code, the claimants are in a favourable position. Despite the fact that the Code states that “a club releasing a national player shall not have any claim to compensation”, the IHF agreed to pay compensation to the clubs for the release of their players to the national team during the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. To make matters even worse, the IHF provided insurance for the players’ salaries in case of personal injury (contrary to the Article 7.3.2).[7] This suggests that in principle a compensation and insurance coverage are compatible with the Eligibility Code and thereby the interests of the IHF are not jeopardized. The perceived inconsistency provides more clout to the claimants, suggesting that the harm has already been presumed. If the plaintiffs achieve an injunction in Court, they potentially may claim broad compensation, including other undisputed World Championships[8], the Olympic Games, continental championships as well as the qualification matches and tournaments for these events. However, it is even not the worst potential outcome for the IHF. Indeed, due to the Court of Justice (CJEU) decision in Case C-302/13 flyLAL-Lithuanian Airlines, potentially all handball clubs from EU Member States can claim damages from the IHF, if they are part of the federation. In that case, the Latvian Supreme Court sent a request for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU, asking whether a Lithuanian court judgment ordering provisional measures in a damages case can be recognized and enforced in Latvia. The CJEU ruled that actions brought by undertakings seeking redress or compensation for damage resulting from alleged infringements of EU competition law, can be qualified as a ‘civil and commercial matter’, within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 44/2001, and enforceable in Latvia under the provisions of the said regulation. Thus, the CJEU opened a wealth of opportunities for handball clubs (if the final decision in Germany is successful) to claim damages wherever they are based on the EU’s territory. Given that follow-on damages claims have a high success rate, the winning chances are high. Hence, since the common legal and factual features of each individual claim are observed, the class action would be an effective instrument to obtain redress, also adding to the deterrence goals.


Compensatory class actions: a powerful instrument to ensure better governance in sport (federations)?

If the German handball clubs bring a compensatory class action, it has the potential to become an important precedent for many other sports. One successful case may open a Pandora’s Box that would put a lot of pressure on the sports federations’ regulations.  

By forming the group, claimants (such as handball clubs) are able to bundle individual claims and thus trigger efficiency gains by tackling common legal, factual and economic issues collectively.[9] As such, the defendants can handle the risks attached to private litigation and the probability of winning the case increases since multiple plaintiffs have larger financial means. Therefore, a group of claimants having larger financial means can employ more qualified lawyers and economic experts for antitrust cases. A package of collected claims from victims are easier introduced and defended before the court, meaning that damages are proved with sufficiently high probability and thus the chance of receiving compensation is high. When focussing on sanctions, class actions appear to deter abusive conduct, therefore strengthening good governance in sport. If all victims can sue a sports federation, the group will force the infringer to internalize the negative effects of the damage caused as close as possible to the full-compensation principle that is embedded in the EU reform on private enforcement.[10] Sport entities, knowing that class actions may be used against them and anticipating that the expected cost of the infringement may increase significantly, would think twice before violating the competition rules. The achievement of better governance would solve, or at least diminish, the problem of under-enforcement of EU competition rules in the sports sector. Even if the handball case does not result in an antitrust class action, victims from other sports should pay particular attention to such a fruitful litigation model.



[1] It was adopted Commission Recommendation of 11 June 2013 on common principles for collective redress mechanisms in the Member States for injunctions against and claims on damages caused by violations of EU rights, COM (2013) 3539/3, 11.6.2013 (‘Recommendation’).

[2] German Civil Code, Section 242 (“An obligor has a duty to perform according to the requirements of good faith, taking customary practice into consideration”).

[3] Recommendation COM (2013) 3539/3, sec. 19. In the area of injunctive relief, the European Parliament and the Council have already adopted Directive [2009/22/EC OJ L 110, 1.05.2009]  on injunctions for the protection of consumers' interests

[4] GWB, sec. 33.

[5] Recommendation COM (2013) 3539/3, Sec 14-16.

[6] http://www.carteldamageclaims.com/portfolios/cdc-german-cement-cartel/. On 17 December 2013 the Regional Court of Düsseldorf dismissed the action in its entirety [Case No. 37 O 200/09]. CDC has appealed the judgment to the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf.

[7]See http://www.forumclubhandball.com/?p=707 and http://www.forumclubhandball.com/?p=707. The outcome had been reached after the negotiations with the FCH in 2010-2011.

[8] The IHF decided to pay compensation for the release of players to the 2011 and 2013 World Championships.

[9] Z. Juska, ‘Obstacles in European Competition Law Enforcement: A Potential Solution from Collective Redress’ (2014) 7 EJLS, 149.

[10] Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain rules governing actions for damages under national law for infringements of the competition law provisions of the Member States and of the European Union’ COM (2013) 404 final, 11.6.2013

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