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

Book Review: Reforming FIFA, or Not

Editor’s note: This short book review will be published in a different format in the International Sports Law Journal, due to its timeliness we decided to reproduce it here. 

Reforming FIFA, or Not

 Antoine Duval

Book Review: Mark Pieth (ed.), Reforming FIFA, Dike Verlag, St. Gallen, 2014, 28.00 CHF, p.178

 


This book looks back at the work of the Independence Governance Committee (IGC). This Committee, constituted in 2011, had as primary objective to drive a reform process of FIFA initiated by its President Sepp Blatter. After ordering from the Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth, a report on the state of FIFA’s governance, FIFA decided to mandate him with the leadership of a consulting body composed of a mix of independent experts and football insiders, which would be accompanying and supervising the internal reform process of FIFA. The IGC was officially dissolved at the end of 2013, after completing its mandate. The book is composed of eight chapters, written by former members of the IGC, including former chairman Mark Pieth. In addition to the chapters, it includes the different reports (available here, here and here) submitted by the IGC to FIFA across the years. In the words of Pieth, this account is “fascinating because it gives a hands-on, realistic perspective of the concrete efforts, the achievements and the remaining challenges in the struggle for the reform of this organization [FIFA], avoiding the usual glorification or vilification.”[1] This review will first summarize the core of the account of the FIFA reform process provided by the book, before critically engaging with the outcome of the process and outlining the deficiencies that culminated on 29 May 2015 with the re-election of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.More...



The Spanish TV Rights Distribution System after the Royal Decree: An Introduction. By Luis Torres

On the first of May 2015, the Spanish Government finally signed the Royal Decree allowing the joint selling of the media rights of the Spanish top two football leagues. The Minister for Sport stated that the Decree will allow clubs to “pay their debts with the social security and the tax authorities and will enable the Spanish teams to compete with the biggest European Leagues in terms of revenues from the sale of media rights”.[1]Although the signing of the Royal Decree was supposed to close a very long debate and discussion between the relevant stakeholders, its aftermath shows that the Telenovela is not entirely over. 

This blog post will first provide the background story to the selling of media rights in Spain. It will, thereafter, analyse the main points of the Royal Decree and outline how the system will work in practice. Finally, the blog will shortly address the current frictions between the Spanish League (LFP) and the Spanish football federation (RFEF).More...

Sport and EU Competition Law: New developments and unfinished business. By Ben Van Rompuy

Editor's note: Ben Van Rompuy, Head of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, was recently interviewed by LexisNexis UK for their in-house adviser service. With kind permission from LexisNexis we reproduce the interview on our blog in its entirety. 

How does competition law affect the sports sector?  

The application of EU competition law to the sports sector is a fairly recent and still unfolding development. It was only in the mid-1990s, due to the growing commercialization of professional sport, that there emerged a need to address competition issues in relation to, for instance, ticketing arrangements or the sale of media rights.  More...



Is FIFA fixing the prices of intermediaries? An EU competition law analysis - By Georgi Antonov (ASSER Institute)

Introduction

On 1 April 2015, the new FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (hereinafter referred as the Regulations) came into force. These Regulations introduced a number of changes as regards the division of competences between FIFA and its members, the national associations. A particularly interesting issue from an EU competition law perspective is the amended Article 7 of the Regulations. Under paragraph 3, which regulates the rules on payments to intermediaries (also previously referred to as ‘agents’), it is recommended that the total amount of remuneration per transaction due to intermediaries either being engaged to act on a player’s or club’s behalf should not exceed 3% of the player’s basic gross income for the entire duration of the relevant employment contract. In the case of transactions due to intermediaries who have been engaged to act on a club’s behalf in order to conclude a transfer agreement, the total amount of remuneration is recommended to not exceed 3% of the eventual transfer fee paid in relation to the relevant transfer of the player.More...

The Impact of the new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries: A comparative analysis of Brazil, Spain and England. By Luis Torres

INTRODUCTION

Almost a year after their announcement, the new FIFA Regulations on working with Intermediaries (“FIFA Regulations”) came into force on 1 April 2015. Their purpose is to create a more simple and transparent system of regulation of football agents. It should be noted, however, that the new FIFA rules enable every national football association to regulate their own system on players’ intermediaries, provided they respect the compulsory minimum requirements adopted. In an industry that is already cutthroat, it thus remains to be seen whether FIFA’s “deregulation” indeed creates transparency, or whether it is a Pandora’s Box to future regulatory confusion.

This blog post will provide an overview of the new FIFA Regulations on working with intermediaries and especially its minimum requirements. Provided that national associations are encouraged to “draw up regulations that shall incorporate the principles established in these provisions”[1], three different national regulations have been taken as case-studies: the English FA Regulations, the Spanish RFEF Regulations and the Brazilian CBF Regulations. After mapping their main points of convergence and principal differences, the issues that could arise from these regulatory differences shall be analyzed.  More...

Blog Symposium: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified. By Prof. Dr. Christian Duve

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective. 

Editor’s note: Finally, the last blog of our TPO ban Symposium has arrived! Due to unforeseen circumstances, FIFA had to reconsider presenting its own views on the matter. However, FIFA advised us to contact Prof. Dr. Christian Duve to author the eagerly awaited blog on their behalf. Prof. Dr. Christian Duve is a lawyer and partner with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and an honorary professor at the University of Heidelberg. He has been a CAS arbitrator until 2014. Thus, as planned, we will conclude this symposium with a post defending the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. Many thanks to Prof. Dr. Duve for having accepted this last-minute challenge! More...






Blog Symposium: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective. By Daniel Geey

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor's note: In this fourth part of our blog symposium on FIFA's TPO ban Daniel Geey shares his 'UK perspective' on the ban. The English Premier League being one of the first leagues to have outlawed TPO in 2010, Daniel will outline the regulatory steps taken to do so and critically assess them. Daniel is an associate in Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP's Competition and EU Regulatory Law Group. As well as being a famous 'football law' twitterer, he has also published numerous articles and blogs on the subject.

 

What is Third Party Investment?
In brief Third Party Investment (TPI) in the football industry, is where a football club does not own, or is not entitled to, 100% of the future transfer value of a player that is registered to play for that team. There are numerous models for third party player agreements but the basic premise is that companies, businesses and/or individuals provide football clubs or players with money in return for owning a percentage of a player’s future transfer value. This transfer value is also commonly referred to as a player’s economic rights. There are instances where entities will act as speculators by purchasing a percentage share in a player directly from a club in return for a lump sum that the club can then use as it wishes. More...





Blog Symposium: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football. By Ariel N. Reck

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor’s note: Ariel N. Reck is an Argentine lawyer specialized in the football industry. He is a guest professor at ISDE’s Global Executive Master in International Sports Law, at the FIFA CIES Sports law & Management course (Universidad Católica Argentina) and the Universidad Austral Sports Law diploma (Argentina) among other prestigious courses. He is a regular conference speaker and author in the field of sports law.

Being an Argentine lawyer, Ariel will focus on the impact FIFA’s TPO ban will have (and is already having) on South American football.More...





Blog Symposium: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions - By Dr. Raffaele Poli (Head of CIES Football Observatory)

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor’s note: Raffaele Poli is a human geographer. Since 2002, he has studied the labour and transfer markets of football players. Within the context of his PhD thesis on the transfer networks of African footballers, he set up the CIES Football Observatory based at the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) located in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Since 2005, this research group develops original research in the area of football from a multidisciplinary perspective combining quantitative and qualitative methods. Raffaele was also involved in a recent study on TPO providing FIFA with more background information on its functioning and regulation (the executive summary is available here).

This is the third blog of our Symposium on FIFA’s TPO ban, it is meant to provide an interdisciplinary view on the question. Therefore, it will venture beyond the purely legal aspects of the ban to introduce its social, political and economical context and the related challenges it faces. More...






Blog Symposium: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it. The point of view of La Liga.

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor's note: This is the first blog of our symposium on FIFA's TPO ban, it features the position of La Liga regarding the ban and especially highlights some alternative regulatory measures it would favour. La Liga has launched a complaint in front of the European Commission challenging the compatibility of the ban with EU law, its ability to show that realistic less restrictive alternatives were available is key to winning this challenge. We wish to thank La Liga for sharing its legal (and political) analysis of FIFA's TPO ban with us.

INTRODUCTION

The Spanish Football League (La Liga) has argued for months that the funding of clubs through the conveyance of part of players' economic rights (TPO) is a useful practice for clubs. However, it also recognized that the practice must be strictly regulated. In July 2014, it approved a provisional regulation that was sent to many of the relevant stakeholders, including FIFA’s Legal Affairs Department. More...






Asser International Sports Law Blog | The EU State aid and Sport Saga - A legal guide to the bailout of Valencia CF

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 EU State aid and Sport Saga - A legal guide to the bailout of Valencia CF

After a decade of financial misery, it appears that Valencia CF’s problems are finally over. The foreign takeover by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim will be concluded in the upcoming weeks, and the construction on the new stadium will resume after five years on hold due to a lack of money. On 3 June Bankia, the Spanish bank that “saved” Valencia CF in 2009 by providing a loan of €81 million, gave the green light for the takeover. However, appearances can be deceiving. Indeed, Valencia CF has been the subject of numerous Spanish Court decisions since March 2013, the latest dating from 22 May 2014. The cases concern a guarantee given by the local authorities and whether this guarantee should be relied upon since Valencia CF is incapable of repaying its debt. Meanwhile, the European Commission announced that it will soon reach a final decision regarding the formal investigations into alleged State aid measures granted to the club. Strangely enough, the Spanish Courts are showing little interest in the pending Commission Decision and Mr Lim seems to be ignoring it as well. True, EU institutions have so far never sanctioned public authorities of Member States for granting aid to football clubs, but the evidence in this case is so damning that it will be difficult to overlook. Our aim in this blog-post is to disentangle the legal complexity of a case fought both at the national and the European level.  


Saving Valencia CF with public money

The aid measure has its origins in 2009, when Valencia CF, aiming to reduce the clubs total debt of €596 million and continue the construction works on a new stadium, decided to sell new shares for a total capital injection of €92 million. Unfortunately, club members only subscribed €18 million in shares. The majority of the shares were acquired by La Fundación del Valencia Club de Fútbol, (a foundation especially created by the club for this purpose) becoming majority shareholder of the club (70%) for the sum of €75 million. The money was loaned by BANCAJA, the largest financial institution of the autonomous region of Valencia. The loan was later increased to €81 million in November 2010. The Fundación and BANCAJA also agreed that the revenues for the old “Mestalla” stadium, which was for sale, would go to the bank. Furthermore, on 26 August 2009, the Instituto Valenciano de Finanzas (hereafter: IVF[1]) had issued a guarantee on the controversial loan.[2] In case of a default by the Fundación, the IVF was to pay back to the bank the outstanding amount. In return, the IVF would receive an annual premium of 0.5% and the Fundación is prevented to selling shares without the previous consent by the IVF.[3]

In September 2012, Bankia (the new name of the bank following a merger in 2010) was forced to restructure the deal it had with the Fundación. Bankia was suffering heavily from the financial crisis and, after being rescued by the Spanish Government, was forced to decrease its financial debt by increasing its liquidity and reducing its real estate portfolio. Thus, Valencia CF was to negotiate the refinancing of its debt, given that the Fundación was unable to repay the loan to Bankia.

By February 2013 the total of Valencia’s debts reached €387 million owed to different creditors, including the €81 million it owed to Bankia. In light of the guarantee issued, the Consell de la Generalitat de la Comunidad Autónoma de Valencia (the local government of the autonomous region of Valencia, also known as the Generalitat) was asked to transfer €4.8 million to Bankia to cover interest payments. Even worse, the Generalitat might have to bear the full debt of €81 million the Fundación owed to Bankia. As a result, the Generalitat would hold 70% of the shares in Valencia CF, thereby making the football club state-owned.[4]

Claiming that the guarantee breached both Spanish and EU law and should therefore be declared void, two club shareholders lodged a complaint against the local government of Valencia.[5] In its judgment, dating from 8 March 2013, the Administrative Court of Valencia annulled the guarantee, arguing inter alia that the operation would not generate benefits for the IVF and that the restrictions placed by the public authorities on the selling of shares by Valencia CF will distort competition.[6] Finally, the duty to evaluate whether the operation was subject to EU State aid rules had not been complied with.[7]

This last argument by the Administrative Court is no surprise, in light of the blatant State aid. Indeed, both the press and Members of the European Parliament quickly jumped onto the allegations that State aid in the form of loan guarantees was granted by Spanish public authorities. The European Commission forced by this judgment, press reports and a flood of information sent by Spanish citizens officially asked Spain to comment on these reports on 8 April 2013.[8] After analysing all the information the Commission decided to initiate the procedure laid down in Article 108(2) TFEU on alleged illegal State aid on 18 December 2013. Now that the Commission has announced in its Management Plan 2014 that the final decision will be published in 2014, one can reasonably expect the case to draw to its close.


The strategy of the Spanish Courts: Let’s ignore State aid rules and the Commission

The judgment by the Administrative Court of Valencia was only the first in a whole string of judgments by the Spanish Courts. The most important ones date from 15 November 2013, 19 December 2013, and 22 May 2014. 

Bankia appealed the judgment of 8 March 2013, claiming it should have been invited as a party at the trial. At first, the Administrative Court of Valencia upheld the previous decision annulling the guarantee, but Bankia’s second appeal, this time in front of the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Comunidad Valenciana, sala de lo Contencioso (the High Administrative Court of the autonomous region of Valencia) was successful. On 15 November 2013, the High Court, found the judgments by the Administrative Court to be void due to a procedural deficiency. Indeed, as Bankia was not provided the opportunity to present its views at the first trial, the tribunal violated Bankia’s right to be heard. More precisely the High Court considered that the IVF had not informed Bankia adequately when, as a public authority, it had the obligation to do so; Bankia’s own financial troubles and instability were too important for it to be left out of the procedure; and the fate of the football club would be at stake if the guarantee is revoked.[9] Hence, the guarantee provided by the local authorities on the loan was considered legally valid and Valencia CF’s bankruptcy risk dismissed. That the guarantee probably is in breach of EU State aid rules was irrelevant to the High Court.

In response to this latest judgment the same shareholders demanded an injunction that consisted in suspending the execution of the guarantee since it could constitute illegal State aid. Once again the demanding parties won the day and the execution of the guarantee was suspended in a decision dating from 19 December 2013. The timing by the Administrative Court to suspend the execution could not have been better. Indeed, the decision occurred only 24 hours after the Commission announced a formal investigation into the Valencia F.C case, thus, the alleged state aid could have been used as a fitting legal justification to suspend the guarantee. However, strangely enough, the Administrative Court did not refer to the State aid constellation. In the fourth paragraph of its judgment, the Court did recognize that procedural rules were breached including the European procedural rules on State aid[10], but the reasoning used to freeze the guarantee was based on national law. 


Peter Lim appears on stage: the end of all the trouble?

By January of this year, the IVF received a formal offer from Mr Lim to invest €210 million in the club. Mr Lim would, thus, take over IVF’s debt with Bankia. The Valencian government must have hoped for the end of their troubles. Indeed, it appeared that it was only the Commission decision it had to worry about.

But, Bankia, on the other hand, still believed it had a right to compensation by the Valencian government for refusing to execute the guarantee and launched a new civil procedure. In a ruling dating from 22 May 2014, the high Civil Court in Valencia sided with the bank and upheld the validity of the guarantee (yet again). Furthermore, the judge ordered the local government to pay €4.2 million as a compensation for loss of opportunities.[11] To make the legal uncertainty certain, the Valencian government quickly reaffirmed its refusal to pay any compensation to Bankia since it considered the execution of the guarantee as suspended by the Administrative Court.[12]


The ball in the Commission’s Court

From a substantive perspective, the Valencia State aid case seems quite straightforward. Valencia CF is a professional football club engaged in economic activities and should therefore be considered an undertaking under EU State aid rules. The guarantee provided by the local government constitutes an economic advantage for the football club over its competitors, as it is technically shield from the possibility of going bankrupt. The measure is selective, distorts competition towards clubs not enjoying a similar guarantee and is funded by State (more precisely the regional governments) resources. In other words, the criteria of article 107(1) TFEU can be considered as fulfilled. Finally, the measure does not appear to fall under any of the exemptions of articles 107(2) and 107(3) nor under any provisions of the General Block Exemption Regulation. 

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Commission will take an unprecedented action and sanction the local authorities of a Member State for supporting financially a professional football club. The Valencia case certainly provides an outstanding opportunity to do so. First of all, the facts of the case cast little doubt as to whether or not the measure breached EU State aid law. Second, even though the Commission cannot decide the matter in place of the Spanish Courts, any decision will create a guiding precedent hopefully putting a final point to the prevailing legal uncertainty of a long-lasting and protracted legal saga.



[1] The IVF is the Public Entity that  performs the public credit policy of the government of the autonomous region of Valencia

[2] Memoria de Actividades: Institut Valencià de Finances, Informe Anual 2009, page 48

[3] Sentencia N° 103/2013, N° de Recurso 239/2010, 8 March 2013, §5

[4] Ibid

[5] J. M. Bortvalencia, “Creo que Bankia no puede recurrir esta sentencia”, Levante – EMV, 21 March 2013

[6] Supra Nº3, §7

[7] Ibid

[8] Commission Decision State aid SA.36387 – Spain: Alleged aid in favour of three Valencia football clubs

[9] Las Provincias, El Valencia gana tranquilidad al decretar el TSJ que la Generalitat vuelve a ser avalista, 16 November 213

[10] Auto N° 239/2010,  19 December 2013, §4

[11] Iusport, Bankia levanta el hacha de guerra y ejecuta parte del aval del Valencia, 27 May 2014

[12] Las Provincias, La Generalitat «no se plantea pagar nada» por el aval a la Fundación del Valencia CF, 27 May 2014

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