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. More...



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

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


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

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



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

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 

Anti-doping whereabouts requirements declared compatible with the athletes' right to privacy and family life

On 18 January 2018, the European Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment with important consequences for the world of sport in general and the anti-doping regime in particular. The Strasbourg-based court was called upon to decide whether the anti-doping whereabouts system – which requires that a limited number of top elite athletes provide their National Anti-Doping Organisation or International Federation with regular information about their location, including identifying for each day one specific 60-minute time slot where the athlete will be available for testing at a pre-determined location – is compatible with the athletes' right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and their freedom of movement pursuant to Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention. The case was brought by the French cyclist Jeannie Longo and five French athlete unions that had filed their application on behalf of 99 professional handball, football, rugby, and basketball players.

While acknowledging that the whereabouts requirements clash with the athletes' right to private and family life, the judges took the view that such a restriction is necessary in order to protect the health of athletes and ensure a level playing field in sports competitions. They held that ''the reduction or removal of the relevant obligations would lead to an increase in the dangers of doping for the health of sports professionals and of all those who practise sports, and would be at odds with the European and international consensus on the need for unannounced testing as part of doping control''. Accordingly, the judges found no violation of Article 8 of the Convention and, in a similar vein, ruled that Article 2 Protocol No. 4 of the Convention was not applicable to the case.

 

Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

It has been a record-breaking January transfer window with Premier League clubs having spent an eye-watering £430 million on signing new acquisitions. These spiralling transfer fees enable football agents, nowadays also called intermediaries, to charge impressive sums for their services. However, this might soon no longer be the case as the main stakeholders in European football are preparing to take action. UEFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the European Professional Football Leagues acknowledge in their joint resolution that the 2015 FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries failed to address serious concerns in relation to the activities of intermediaries/agents. They recognise in broad terms that a more effective regulatory framework is needed and call among other things for a reasonable and proportionate cap on fees for intermediaries/agents, enhanced transparency and accountability, or stronger provisions to protect minors.

 

The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

On 15 January 2018, FIFA published on its website an arbitral award delivered on 4 August 2017 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the dispute between the Ghanian football referee Joseph Odartei Lamptey and FIFA. The CAS sided with FIFA and dismissed the appeal filed by Mr Lamptey against an earlier decision of the FIFA Appeal Committee which (i) found him to have violated Article 69(1) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code as he unlawfully influenced the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal that took place on 12 November 2016; (ii) as a consequence, banned him for life from taking part in any football-related activity; and (iii) ordered the match in question to be replayed. In reaching its conclusion, the CAS relied heavily on multiple reports of irregular betting activities that significantly deviated from usual market developments.  More...


Towards a Suitable Policy Framework for Cricket Betting in India - By Deeksha Malik

Editor's note: Deeksha Malik is a final-year student at National Law Institute University, India. Her main interest areas are corporate law, arbitration, and sports law. She can be reached at dkshmalik726@gmail.com.


In 2015, while interrogating cricketer Sreesanth and others accused in the IPL match-fixing case, Justice Neena Bansal, sitting as Additional Sessions Judge, made the following observations as regards betting on cricket matches.

“Cricket as a game of skill requires hand-eye-coordination for throwing, catching and hitting. It requires microscopic levels of precision and mental alertness for batsmen to find gaps or for bowlers to produce variety of styles of deliveries’ (medium pace, fast, inswing, outswing, offspin, legspin, googly). The sport requires strategic masterminds that can select the most efficient fielding positions for piling pressure on the batsmen. Based on above description, cricket cannot be described anything, but as a game of skill.”

The debate on the issue of betting in sports has since resurfaced and gained the attention of sportspersons, media, sports bodies, policymakers, and the general public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an order directing the government to come up with an appropriate framework for regulating betting in sports. The arguments put forth in the PIL present various dimensions. One of these pertains to economic considerations, a submission that regulated betting would be able to generate annual revenue of Rs. 12,000 crores by bringing the earnings therefrom within the tax net. As for policy considerations, it was submitted that a proper regulation in this area would enable the government to distinguish harmless betting from activities that impair the integrity of the game such as match-fixing. Further, betting on cricket matches largely depends on the skill of the concerned players, thereby distinguishing it from pure chance-based activities.

The issue of sports betting witnesses a divided opinion till this day. This is understandable, for both sides to the issue have equally pressing arguments. Aside from its regulation being a daunting task for authorities, sports betting is susceptible to corruption and other unscrupulous activities. At the same time, it is argued that it would be better for both the game and the economy if the same is legalised. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – December 2017. By Tomáš Grell

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

 

The Headlines 

The International Skating Union's eligibility rules declared incompatible with EU competition law

On 8 December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had rendered a decision in the case against the International Skating Union (ISU). The Commission upheld the complaint lodged in October 2015 by two Dutch professional speed skaters Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, represented in this case by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval (you can read their joint statement here), and ruled that the ISU's eligibility rules preventing athletes from participating in speed skating competitions not approved by the ISU under the threat of severe penalties are in violation of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission held that these rules restrict the commercial freedom of (i) athletes who may be deprived of additional source of income as they are not allowed to participate in speed skating competitions other than those authorised by the ISU; and (ii) independent organisers who are unable to attract top athletes. And while the Commission recognised that sporting rules with restrictive effects might be compatible with EU law if they pursue a legitimate objective such as the protection of athletes' health and safety or the protection of the integrity and proper conduct of sport, it found that the ISU's eligibility rules pursue only its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and independent organisers of speed skating competitions. The ISU eventually escaped financial sanctions, but it must modify or abolish its eligibility rules within 90 days; otherwise it would be liable for non-compliance payments of up to 5% of its average daily turnover. For more information on this topic, we invite you to read our recent blog written by Professor Stefano Bastianon.

 

The International Olympic Committee bans Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympic Games

The world has been waiting impatiently for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. This was finally communicated on 5 December 2017. Having deliberated on the findings of the Schmid Commission, the IOC Executive Board decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee with immediate effect, meaning that only those Russian athletes who demonstrate that they had not benefited from the state-sponsored doping programme will be able to participate in the Games. Such clean athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic Flag, bearing the name 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' on their uniforms. Further to this, the IOC Executive Board sanctioned several officials implicated in the manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia, including Mr Vitaly Mutko, currently the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and formerly the Minister of Sport. Mounting public pressure subsequently forced Mr Mutko to step down as head of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Meanwhile, 21 individual Russian athletes were sanctioned (see here, here, here, and here) in December (in addition to 22 athletes in November) by the IOC Oswald Commission that is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Oswald Commission also published two full decisions in the cases against Evgeny Belov and Aleksandr Tretiakov who were both banned from all future editions of the Games. It is now clear that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have quite some work in the coming weeks as the banned athletes are turning to this Swiss-based arbitral tribunal to have their sanctions reviewed (see here and here).

 

Universal Declaration of Player Rights

14 December 2017 was a great day for athletes all over the globe. On this day, representatives of the world's leading player associations met in Washington D.C. to unveil the Universal Declaration of Player Rights, a landmark document developed under the aegis of the World Players Association that strives to protect athletes from ongoing and systemic human rights violations in global sport. The World Players Association's Executive Director Brendan Schwab emphasised that the current system of sports governance ''lacks legitimacy and fails to protect the very people who sit at the heart of sport'' and stated that ''athlete rights can no longer be ignored''. Among other rights, the Declaration recognises the right of athletes to equality of opportunity, fair and just working conditions, privacy and the protection of personal data, due process, or effective remedy.

 

Chris Froome failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España

The world of cycling suffered yet another blow when it transpired that one of its superstars Chris Froome had failed a doping test during the last year's Vuelta a España, a race he had eventually emerged victorious from for the first time in his career. His urine sample collected on 7 September 2017 contained twice the amount of salbutamol, a medication used to treat asthma, than permissible under the World Anti-Doping Agency's 2017 Prohibited List. Kenyan-born Froome has now hired a team of medical and legal experts to put forward a convincing explanation for the abnormal levels of salbutamol in his urine and thus to avoid sanctions being imposed on him. More...

The ISU Commission's Decision and the Slippery Side of Eligibility Rules - By Stefano Bastianon (University of Bergamo)

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in European 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. From the very beginning, the outcome of the ISU case was highly predictable, at least for those who are familiar with the basics of antitrust law. Nevertheless, more than twenty years after the Bosman judgment, the sports sector has shown the same shortsightedness and inability to see the forest for the trees. Even this attitude was highly predictable, at least for those who know the basics of sports governance. The final result is a clear-cut decision capable of influencing the entire sports movement. More...



Human Rights as Selection Criteria in Bidding Regulations for Mega-Sporting Events – Part II: FIFA and Comparative Overview – By Tomáš Grell

The first part of this two-part blog examined the new bidding regulations adopted by the IOC and UEFA, and concluded that it is the latter who gives more weight to human rights in its host selection process. This second part completes the picture by looking at FIFA's bidding regulations for the 2026 World Cup. It goes on to discuss whether human rights now constitute a material factor in evaluating bids to host the mega-sporting events organised by these three sports governing bodies. More...

Human Rights as Selection Criteria in Bidding Regulations for Mega-Sporting Events – Part I: IOC and UEFA – By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell holds an LL.M. in Public International Law from Leiden University. He contributes to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a research intern.


It has been more than seven years since the FIFA Executive Committee awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. And yet only in November 2017 did the Qatari government finally agree to dismantle the controversial kafala system, described by many as modern-day slavery. Meanwhile, hundreds of World Cup-related migrant workers have reportedly been exposed to a wide range of abusive practices such as false promises about the pay, passport confiscation, or appalling working and living conditions.[1] On top of that, some workers have paid the highest price – their life. To a certain extent, all this could have been avoided if human rights had been taken into account when evaluating the Qatari bid to host the tournament. In such a case, Qatar would not have won the bidding contest without providing a convincing explanation of how it intends to ensure that the country's poor human rights record will not affect individuals, including migrant workers, contributing to the delivery of the World Cup. An explicit commitment to abolish the kafala system could have formed an integral part of the bid.

Urged by Professor John Ruggie and his authoritative recommendations,[2] in October 2017 FIFA decided to include human rights within the criteria for evaluating bids to host the 2026 World Cup, following similar steps taken earlier this year by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UEFA in the context of the Olympic Winter Games 2026 and the Euro 2024 respectively. This two-part blog critically examines the role human rights play in the new bidding regulations adopted by the IOC, UEFA, and FIFA. The first part sheds light on the IOC and UEFA. The second part then takes a closer look at FIFA and aims to use a comparative analysis to determine whether the new bidding regulations are robust enough to ensure that selected candidates abide by international human rights standards.More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – November 2017. By Tomáš Grell

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

FIFA and FIFPro sign landmark agreement

A six-year cooperation agreement concluded between FIFA and FIFPro on 6 November 2017 puts an end to protracted negotiations which began after the latter had filed in September 2015 a complaint with the European Commission, challenging the validity of the FIFA transfer system under EU competition law. This agreement, together with an accord reached between FIFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association, and the World Leagues Forum under the umbrella of the FIFA Football Stakeholders Committee, should help streamline dispute resolution between players and clubs, avoid abusive practices in the world of football, or contribute to the growth of professional women's football. In addition, the FIFA Football Stakeholders Committee is now expected to establish a task force to study and conduct a broader review of the transfer system. As part of the deal, FIFPro agreed to withdraw its EU competition law complaint.

FIFA strengthens its human rights commitment amid reports of journalists getting arrested in Russia

It is fair to say that human rights have been at the forefront of FIFA's agenda in 2017. Following the establishment of the Human Rights Advisory Board in March and the adoption of the Human Rights Policy in June this year, in November FIFA published the bidding regulations for the 2026 World Cup. Under these new regulations, member associations bidding to host the final tournament shall, inter alia, commit themselves to respecting all internationally recognised human rights in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights or present a human rights strategy on how they intend to honour this commitment. Importantly, the human rights strategy must include a comprehensive report that is to be complemented and informed by a study elaborated by an independent expert organisation. Moreover, on 9 November 2017, the Human Rights Advisory Board published its first report in which it outlined several recommendations for FIFA on how to further strengthen its efforts to ensure respect for human rights.

While all these attempts to enhance human rights protection are no doubt praiseworthy, they have not yet produced the desired effect as reports of gross human rights abuses linked to FIFA's activities continue to emerge. Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented how Russian police arrested a newspaper editor and a human rights defender whose work focused on exposing World Cup-related corruption and exploitation of migrant construction workers. On a more positive note, a bit of hope comes with the announcement by a diverse coalition, including FIFA, UEFA, and the International Olympic Committee, of its intention to launch a new independent Centre for Sport and Human Rights in 2018.

More than 20 Russian athletes sanctioned by the Oswald Commission for anti-doping rule violations at the Sochi Games   

November has been a busy month for the International Olympic Committee, especially for its Oswald Commission. Established in July 2016 after the first part of the McLaren Independent Investigation Report had been published, the Oswald Commission is tasked with investigating the alleged doping violations by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Its first sanctions were handed down last month. As of 30 November 2017, the Commission chaired by the IOC Member Denis Oswald sanctioned 22 athletes (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) who competed at the Sochi Olympics in the following sports: biathlon, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, skeleton, and speed skating. The Commission published its first full decision on 27 November 2017 in the case against the cross country skier Alexander Legkov, a gold and silver medallist from the Sochi Olympics, who was ultimately banned for life from attending another Olympics.More...

Statement on the European Commission's ISU Decision by Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval

Editor's note: We (Ben Van Rompuy and Antoine Duval) are at the origin of today's decision by the European Commission finding that the International Skating Union's eligibility rules are contrary to EU competition law. In 2014, we were both struck by the news that ISU threatened lifetime ban against speed skaters wishing to participate in the then projected Icederby competitions and convinced that it was running against the most fundamental principles of EU competition law. We got in touch with Mark and Niels and lodged on their behalf a complaint with the European Commission. Three years after we are pleased to see that the European Commission, and Commissioner Vestager in particular, fully embraced our arguments and we believe this decision will shift the tectonic structure of sports governance in favour of athletes for years to come.


Here is our official statement:

Today is a great day for Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, but more importantly for all European athletes. The European Commission did not only consider the International Skating Union's eligibility rules contrary to European law, it sent out a strong message to all international sports federations that the interests of those who are at the centre of sports, the athletes, should not be disregarded. This case was always about giving those that dedicate their lives to excelling in a sport a chance to compete and to earn a decent living. The majority of athletes are no superstars and struggle to make ends meet and it is for them that this decision can be a game-changer.

However, we want to stress that this case was never about threatening the International Skating Union’s role in regulating its sport. And we very much welcome the exceptional decision taken by the European Commission to refrain from imposing a fine which could have threatened the financial stability of the International Skating Union. The International Skating Union, and other sports federations, are reminded however that they cannot abuse their legitimate regulatory power to protect their economic interests to the detriment of the athletes.

We urge the International Skating Union to enter into negotiations with representatives of the skaters to devise eligibility rules which are respectful of the interests of both the athletes and their sport.

Since the summer of 2014, it has been our honour to stand alongside Mark and Niels in a 'David versus Goliath' like challenge to what we always perceived as an extreme injustice. In this fight, we were also decisively supported by the team of EU Athletes and its Chance to Compete campaign.

Finally, we wish to extend a special thank you to Commissioner Vestager. This case is a small one for the European Commission, but Commissioner Vestager understood from the beginning that small cases do matter to European citizens and that European competition law is there to provide a level playing for all, and we are extremely grateful for her vision.


Dr. Ben Van Rompuy (Leiden University) and Dr. Antoine Duval (T.M.C. Asser Instituut)

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The aftermath of the Pechstein ruling: Can the Swiss Federal Tribunal save CAS arbitration? 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

The aftermath of the Pechstein ruling: Can the Swiss Federal Tribunal save CAS arbitration? By Thalia Diathesopoulou

It took only days for the de facto immunity of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) awards from State court interference to collapse like a house of cards on the grounds of the public policy exception mandated under Article V(2)(b) of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards . On 15 January 2015, the Munich Court of Appeals signalled an unprecedented turn in the longstanding legal dispute between the German speed skater, Claudia Pechstein, and the International Skating Union (ISU). It refused to recognise a CAS arbitral award, confirming the validity of a doping ban, on the grounds that it violated a core principle of German cartel law which forms part of the German public policy. A few weeks before, namely on 30 December 2014, the Court of Appeal of Bremen held a CAS award, which ordered the German Club, SV Wilhelmshaven, to pay ‘training compensation’, unenforceable for non-compliance with mandatory European Union law and, thereby, for violation of German ordre public.

Although none of these decisions is yet final, with two red cards in a row, one could presume that the ‘death’ of CAS is closer than ever. Beyond such extreme and rather unconvincing predictions, the two cases set a fundamental precedent: sports arbitration, like all arbitration proceedings, shall abide by minimum standards of institutional impartiality and independence (Pechstein) and apply mandatory EU law (SV Wilhelmshaven).[1] Nevertheless and without prejudice to the need for a potential institutional reform of the CAS (see our analysis here), from a purely international arbitration point of view, the two German courts’ decisions brought into surface the controversial question of the powers of national courts in enforcement proceedings to review CAS arbitral awards with regard to the application of mandatory rules. The Pechstein case illustrates well the potential conflict between two apparently competing policies: the finality of CAS awards and the respect of public policy. In the SV Wilhelmshaven case, the Court went even a step further by implying that sport associations have the ‘duty’ (!) to review a CAS award with regard to its compatibility with German public policy.[2] In view of its uniqueness and complexity, this aspect of the SV Wilhelmshaven case deserves a thorough examination in a future blogpost.

In this blogpost, we will argue that the Pechstein case could be considered as a borderline case with regard to the limits of national courts’ power when scrutinizing CAS awards’ compatibility with domestic public policy. Challenging the validity of CAS awards before national courts, however, is something new under the sun of sports arbitration and could prove fatal for the finality of CAS awards, which is a sine qua non safeguard of procedural equal treatment among athletes[3] and legal coherence in sports law. Should athletes rely on national courts to police the institutional flaws of the CAS? Or is it high time for the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) to abandon the hands-off deferential approach towards CAS arbitration and adopt a broader scope of review in the sporting context?

In this regard, the key claim is the following: national courts’ decisions should not threaten CAS arbitration as long as the Swiss Federal Tribunal review guarantees a minimum quality of CAS arbitrators’ work on the merits.


The Pechstein case: Testing the limits of a national court’s power to review a CAS award

In the latest decision of the Pechstein saga, the Higher Regional Court in Munich found the underlying arbitration agreement between the athlete and ISU in favour of the CAS invalid and that the CAS award issued on the basis of that agreement violated mandatory German cartel law prohibits abusive conduct by companies that have a dominant position on a particular market. The ISU, as sole organizer of speed skating world championship, enjoys a monopolistic position in speed skating and forced the athlete to sign the arbitration agreement at issue. Initially, the Court hold that the arbitration agreement as a prerequisite to the athlete’s participation in competitions does not constitute per se an abuse of a dominant position, since it responds to the specificity of sport and particularly to the need of consistency in sports disputes. However, considering the decisive influence of sports organizations on the selection and appointment of arbitrators under the CAS regulations, the Court concluded that the independence of CAS is questionable. In this light, forcing the athletes to sign an arbitration agreement in favour of a rather dependent and partial tribunal would constitute an abuse of the international sports organizations’ dominant position in the market, thereby infringing the mandatory German antitrust law. More importantly, unlike the First Instance Court, the Higher Regional Court concluded that the res judicata effect of the CAS award does not prevent the athlete from bringing her claim before the Court. Instead, it found  that the recognition of the CAS award would be contrary to Germany’s public policy, since it would perpetuate the abuse of ISU dominant market position.

From a substantive point of view it is evident that the decision primarily concerns the independence of CAS arbitration. However, considering that the Court based its reasoning on the application of German competition law, it could also serve as a model for an abuse of dominant position in the meaning of Article 102 TFEU[4], since the decision provides important insights on the role of a national court in tackling competition law issues at the enforcement stage of an arbitral award. In the Pechstein case, the Court examined the enforcement of a CAS award, which failed to deal with competition law, since the issue was not raised during the arbitral proceedings.[5] Indeed, a competition law issue was never raised before the CAS and neither before the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Interestingly enough, the invalidity of the forced arbitration agreements was raised only in the German courts proceedings.

Given the mandatory nature of competition law, one could argue that if the matter was not raised during the arbitration proceedings by the parties or ex officio by the arbitrators, it could still be considered in enforcement proceedings.[6] However, this approach could hardly be followed in a situation where the applicability of competition law is not prima facie evident and the alleged breach would in no case amount to a hard-core violation of competition law.[7] The answer to this dilemma is to be found in the difficult balance between the public interest in the application and enforcement of competition law on the one hand and the public interest in the finality of CAS arbitral awards on the other. In this light, the following remarks can be made regarding the Pechstein case.

First, it is debatable whether the enforcement of the CAS award results in serious violation of competition law.[8] The Court alleged violation of German cartel law based on the structural imbalance of the CAS and the subsequent challenge of its independence. However, this was rather an examination of the potential effects of the absence of CAS independence which could be hardly interpreted as a hard-core violation of competition law. While the CAS is still “perfectible”[9], the German Court’s decision did not clearly demonstrate to what extent the so-called structural imbalance actually weighted against Pechstein before the CAS. Moreover, one cannot not exclude the possibility that a national court reviewing a CAS awards would be less neutral than the CAS itself as it may have the unconscious intention to safeguard its own athlete.[10] Furthermore, as Nathalia Voser interestigly remarks, the Pechstein ruling failed to provide an assessment of actual excluding and exploitative effects of the forced arbitration clause, in absence of which, it is questionable whether the rules of an arbitral institution could be considered anticompetitive.

Even assuming that the violation of competition law is serious, it is problematic that this issue was raised only in the proceedings before the national courts. The German Court argued that the athlete had no choice but to sign the arbitration agreement and the fact that she never raised a violation of competition law could not justify a perpetuation of the abuse of a dominant position by the ISU.[11] Nevertheless, this argument seems hardly convincing. A refusal of enforcement of an award for failure to apply competition law in the arbitration proceedings, notwithstanding that the party which would have benefited from its application did not raise the issue during the arbitration, could be conceived as an invitation to the parties to behave in bad faith.[12] Had Pechstein won before the CAS, she would not challenge the validity of the arbitration agreement and the Court would not delve into the conformity of the forced arbitration agreement with competition law.

For these reasons, it is the opinion of the author that competition law issues should have been raised in a timely fashion in their proper venue, before the arbitrators. This solution does not entail a danger of systematic violation of competition rules, since the national courts can still protect athletes in case of hard-core violations. On the contrary, treating competition law as a second bite of a cherry for athletes seems to be at odds with the rationale of the public policy exemption and open the road to abusive practices seriously compromising the principle of finality of CAS awards.


The counterbalance? A stricter review of the CAS awards by the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT)

In the wake of the Pechstein ruling, it is almost certain that more athletes will resort to national courts to challenge CAS awards aiming to reverse them in their favour and even claim damages against the sports governing bodies imposing sanctions on the basis of these awards. This can lead to a problematic situation as States adopt different standards of protection of fundamental rights of the athletes and arbitration clauses inserted in statutes of international sports federations can potentially conflict with non-Swiss legal systems.[13] Furthermore, it has been demonstrated in this blogpost that a meticulous review of the application of mandatory rules by national courts poses a serious risk for the effectiveness of arbitration without necessarily guaranteeing much better protection of public policy.

In this light, the concentration of jurisdiction at a single forum is an overriding need in order to ensure that the athletes participating in competitions are on equal footing.[14] Nevertheless, this does not come without limits. In view of the ‘forced’ nature of sports arbitration and the specificity of sports disputes, athletes should enjoy further safeguards for their rights. To this end, the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) should play a key role. By adopting a broader and stricter review of the CAS awards, (namely one that would really take into account the forced nature of sports arbitration) the SFT could at the same time safeguard the enforceability of CAS awards and uniform application of sports law at domestic and international level, while guaranteeing athletes’ fundamental rights.

In fact, a CAS award can be challenged before the SFT on the limited grounds provided in Article 190 (2) PILA and particularly: (a) if the sole arbitrator or the arbitral tribunal was not properly appointed or composed; (b) if the arbitral tribunal erroneously held that it had or did not have jurisdiction; (c) if the arbitral tribunal ruled on matters beyond the claims submitted to it or if it failed to rule on one of the claims; (d) if the equality of the parties or their right to be heard in an adversarial proceeding was not respected; or (e) if the award is incompatible with public policy. The current SFT jurisprudence reviewing CAS awards has demonstrated its capacity to protect parties’ procedural rights.[15] Nonetheless, when it comes to the merits of the dispute, the SFT has consistently adopted a hands-off approach by interpreting the concept of incompatibility with public policy under Article 190 (2)(e) very narrowly, covering only those fundamental principles that are widely recognized and should underlie any system of law according to the prevailing conceptions in Switzerland.[16] For example, in practice, this means that the SFT will not consider whether an award is compatible with EU competition law and EU fundamental principles, irrespective of whether such an award could be enforced within the EU, since they are not embedded in Swiss legal tradition.

It was only in 2012 that the SFT for the first time in over twenty years took the bold step to annul a CAS award on the basis of a violation of substantive public policy.[17] In this judgment, the SFT has answered the criticism that its substantive review under Art 190(2) (e) PILA is a dead letter[18] and more importantly it made it clear that the CAS has the primary responsibility of ensuring that its awards are fair on the merits and the SFT’s role is to examine whether the CAS successfully assumed this duty. However, the Matuzalem ruling instead of marking a turning point in the SFT review on the merits, was soon proven to be a rare exception. The repeated ‘excuse’ of the SFT for this pro-CAS arbitration approach has been that Art 190(2) (e) PILA mandates an excessively limited review on the merits. The CAS arbitration being under the sword of Damocles, should this hands-off approach be sustained?

This question has to be answered negatively. In fact, Chapter 12 of the PILA, including Article 190(2), was originally drafted for the purpose of governing international commercial arbitration. Nevertheless, in its almost 20 years of practice, the SFT has acknowledged that sports arbitration should be treated differently than standard commercial arbitration.[19] It could be argued, therefore, that in view of the particularity of sports arbitration, the restrictive reading of substantive public policy under Art 190 (2)(e) could be tolerated in international commercial arbitration, but not for CAS arbitration. It has been suggested, instead, that in view of protecting athletes’ fundamental rights, the SFT should engage in a broader review and take into account the specificity of sports arbitration in defining the scope of its review on the merits of CAS awards.[20] A suggestion has also been made for a redefinition of public policy under which the SFT could freely review whether CAS has complied with the essential rights of athletes.[21] Considering that athletes are forced to accept CAS arbitration, a broader scope of review that would ensure a minimum quality guarantee of the CAS awards on the merits should be offered to athletes. Therefore, a potential institutional reform of the CAS to ensure independence and impartiality coupled with a more stringent review of its awards by the SFT should bring about a more restraint approach of national courts when reviewing CAS awards’ compliance with domestic public policy and ensure the subsequent finality of CAS awards.


[1] B Hess and F Kaps, ‘Claudia Pechstein and SV Wilhelmshaven: Two German Higher Regional Courts Challenge the Court of Arbitration for Sport’ (6 February 2015).

[2] Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht in Bremen, SV Wilhelmshaven e.V. gegen Norddeutscher Fußball-Verband e.V. (30 Dezember 2014) “i) Der Senat sieht weder sich noch den Beklagten durch die Satzung des Beklagten und die darin in Bezug genommene Satzung des DFB daran gehindert, die Ent-scheidung des Beklagten vom 13.01.2014 unter diesem rechtlichen Aspekt zu prüfen und im Hinblick auf die Unvereinbarkeit der der Vereinsstrafe zugrunde liegenden Festsetzung der Ausbildungsentschädigung mit Art. 45 AEUV die Rechtswidrigkeit des angegriffenen Zwangsabstiegs der ersten Herrenmann-schaft festzustellen. Im Gegenteil war der Beklagte verpflichtet, die „umzuset-zende“ Disziplinarentscheidung und den ihr zugrunde liegenden CAS-Schiedsspruch darauf zu überprüfen, ob diesen nicht zwingendes nationales oder internationales Recht entgegensteht.’’

[3] A Rigozzi, ‘International Sports Arbitration: Why does Swiss Law Matter?’ in Citius, Altius, Fortius-Mélanges en l’ honneur de Denis Oswald (2012), 446.

[4]A Duval, ‘The Pechstein ruling of the Oberlandesgericht München - Time for a new reform of CAS?’ (19 January 2015).

[5] A similar example of this situation is the Eco Swiss v Benetton arbitration, which led to the C-126/97 judgement of the Court of Justice.

[6] L Radicati di Brozolo, ‘Antitrust: a paradigm of the relations between mandatory rules and arbitration-a fresh look at the “second look” ’ (2004) 7 (1) International Arbitration Law Review, 31.

[7] Ibid

[8]  For an interesting analysis on the competition law perspectives of the Pechstein case, see N Voser ‘The Most Recent Decision in the Pechstein Saga: Red Flag for Sports Arbitration?’ (22 January 2015)

[9] Decision 4P.267–270/2002 du 27 mai 2003, Lazutina c. CIO, ATF 129 III 445, Bull. ASA 2003, 465

[10] L Mintas, ‘Dr Laila Mintas: Is this the end of CAS arbitration?’ (3 February 2015)

[11] OLG München · Teil-Urteil vom 15. Januar 2015 · Az. U 1110/14 Kart, paras 135 and 137.

[12] L Radicati di Brozolo (n 5) 32.

[13] J Lukomski, ‘Arbitration clauses in sport governing bodies statutes: consent or constraint? Analysis from the perspective of Article 6(1) of the ECHR’ (2013) 13 The International Sports Law Journal, 69

[14] S Netzle, ‘Jurisdiction of arbitral tribunals in sports matters : arbitration agreements by reference to regulations of sports organisations’ in Arbitration of sports-related disputes (1998,  Basel : Association suisse de l'arbitrage) 47

[15] A Rigozzi, ‘L’importance du droit suisse de l’arbitrage dans la résolution des litiges sportifs internationaux’ (2013) Revue de droit suisse 2013, 320.

[16] Ibid

[17] Swiss Federal Tribunal, Francelino Da Silva Matuzalem v FIFA (27 March 2012) 4A_558/2011

[18] P Landolt, ‘Annulment of Swiss International Arbitration Awards for Incompatibility with Substantive Public Policy: First Annulment in over Twenty Years’ (2012) 27 MEALEY’S International Arbitration Report Issue 4, 22.

[19] Swiss Federal Tribunal, Guillermo Cañas v. ATP Tour (22 March 2007) 4P.172/2006 See also, A Rigozzi (n 13), 321-322.

[20] M Baddeley, ‘La décision Cañas: nouvelles règles du jeu pour l’arbitrage international du sport’ (2007)  CAUSASPORT 2007, 161.

[21] A Rigozzi (n 13), 325.

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