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

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2020 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

Manchester City sanctioned by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play

Manchester City has been sanctioned under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations for two seasons for ‘overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information’ it had provided UEFA. The February 14 decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) likely heralds the start of a long and bitter legal war between Manchester City and UEFA, which may end up settling many of the questions surrounding the legality of FFP rules. Since its introduction in 2010, the compatibility of FFP with EU law, especially in terms of free movement and competition law, has been a continued point of contention amongst the parties concerned and commentators (see discussion here, here and here). It was only a matter of time that a case would arise to test this issue and the present circumstances seem to indicate that this may go all the way.                                 

Regardless, the ban will not be enforced this season and in light of the appeal process, it is hard to predict when the CFCB’s decision will have any effect. Indeed, Manchester City has shown an incredible willingness to fighting this out in the courts and shows no signs of backing down. The next stop will be the CAS and perhaps followed by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. It should also be recalled that the CAS has already examined FFP in its Galatasaray award, where it found FFP compatible with EU law (see commentary here). There is even a decent chance that this emerging saga may end up in front of the European Commission and eventually the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Sun Yang CAS award published

After a much-anticipated public hearing, the Panel’s award in the Sun Yang case has finally been published, sanctioning Sun Yang with an eight-year period of ineligibility (see here for a detailed commentary). The decision does not reveal anything groundbreaking in terms of its legal reasoning and in many ways the case will most likely be remembered for its historical significance: the case that jumpstarted a new era of increased public hearings at the CAS.

Perhaps of some interest is the extent to which the panel took into account Sun Yang’s behavior during the proceedings in order to support its assessment of the case. For example, the panel describes how Sun Yang had ignored the procedural rules of the hearing by inviting ‘an unknown and unannounced person from the public gallery to join him at his table and act as an impromptu interpreter’. The Panel interpreted this as Sun Yang attempting ‘to take matters into his own hands’ which it found resembled the athlete’s behavior in the case (see para 358). The Panel also found it ‘striking’ that Sun Yang did not express any remorse concerning his actions during the proceedings. Since the proceedings were held publicly and have been recorded, it is possible to verify the Panel’s assessment in this regard.

In the end, it is possible that Sun Yang may seek to reduce the period of ineligibility once the 2021 WADA Code comes into force (see para 368). For now, Sung Yang may also try to appeal the award to the Swiss Federal Tribunal on procedural grounds, and has already indicated his wish to do so. More...

Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

 On March 05, the T.M.C. Asser Institute hosted ‘Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play?’ a Multiplier Sporting Event organized in the framework of a European research project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. This project funded by the European Commission through its Erasmus+ program aims to help the EU adopt a strategic approach to sports diplomacy and to provide evidence of instances where sport can help amplify EU diplomatic messages and forge better relations with third countries. In particular, Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute is focusing on the role of EU sports diplomacy to strengthen human rights in the context of mega sporting events (MSE) both in Europe and abroad. To this end, he organized the two panels of the day focusing, on the one hand, on the ability of sport governing bodies (SGB) to leverage their diplomatic power to promote human rights, particularly in the context of MSEs and, on the other, on the EU’s role and capacity to strengthened human rights around MSEs. The following report summarizes the main points raised during the discussions. More...

Special Issue Call for Papers: Legal Aspects of Fantasy Sports - International Sports Law Journal

The International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invites submissions to a special issue focusing on legal aspects of fantasy sports. For some time, fantasy sports has been a major phenomena in North America and this has been reflected in the sports law literature. Fantasy sports have more recently grown in popularity in the rest of world, raising a number of novel legal questions. The ISLJ wants to support fruitful global discussions about these questions through a special issue. We welcome contributions from different jurisdictions analyzing fantasy sports from the perspective of various areas of law including, but not limited to, intellectual property law, gambling law, and competition law.

Please submit proposed papers through the ISLJ submission system (http://islj.edmgr.com/) no later than November 15, 2020. Submissions should have a reccomended length of 8,000–12,000 words and be prepared in accordance with the ISLJ's house style guidelines (https://www.springer.com/journal/40318/submission-guidelines). All submissions will be subject to double-blind peer review.

Question about the special issue can be directed to the Editor–in-Chief, Johan Lindholm (johan.lindholm@umu.se).

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2020 - By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

IOC Athlete Commission releases its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020

The IOC Athlete Commission presented its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020 at its annual joint meeting with the IOC Executive Board. It comes as Thomas Bach had recently underlined the importance of political neutrality for the IOC and the Olympic Games in his New Year’s message. Generally, rule 50 of the Olympic Charter prohibits any political and religious expression by athletes and their team during the Games, subject to certain exceptions. The Guidelines clarify that this includes the ‘field of play’, anywhere inside the Olympic Village, ‘during Olympic medal ceremonies’ and ‘during the Opening, Closing and other official ceremonies’. On the other hand, athletes may express their views ‘during press conferences and interview’, ‘at team meetings’ and ‘on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. While rule 50 is nothing new, the Guidelines have reignited a debate on whether it could be considered as a justified restriction on one’s freedom of expression.

 

The IOC has made the case that it is defending the neutrality of sport and that the Olympics is an international forum that should help bring people together instead of focusing on divisions. Specifically, Richard Pound has recently made the argument that the Guidelines have been formulated by the athletes themselves and are a justified restriction on free expression with its basis in ‘mutual respect’. However, many commentators have expressed their skepticism to this view (see here, here and here) citing that politics and the Olympics are inherently mixed, that the IOC is heavily involved in politics, and that the Olympics has often served as the grounds for some of history’s most iconic political protests. All in all, the Guidelines have certainly been a catalyst for a discussion on the extent to which the Olympics can be considered neutral. It also further highlights a divide between athlete committees from within the Olympic Movement structures and other independent athlete representation groups (see Global Athlete and FIFPro’s statements on rule 50).

 

Doping and Corruption Allegations in Weightlifting 

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has found itself embroiled in a doping and corruption scandal after an ARD documentary was aired early in January which raised a wide array of allegations, including against the President of the IWF, Tamás Aján. The documentary also included hidden camera interviews from a Thai Olympic medalist who admits having taken anabolic steroids before having won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games and from a team doctor from the Moldovan national team who describes paying for clean doping tests. The IWF’s initial reaction to the documentary was hostile, describing the allegations as ‘insinuations, unfounded accusations and distorted information’ and ‘categorically denies the unsubstantiated’ accusations. It further claims that it has ‘immediately acted’ concerning the situation with the Thai athletes, and WADA has stated that it will follow up with the concerned actors. However, as the matter gained further attention in the main stream media and faced increasing criticism, the IWF moved to try to ‘restore’ its reputation. In practice, this means that Tamás Aján has ‘delegated a range of operation responsibilities’ to Ursual Papandrea, IWF Vice President, while ‘independent experts’ will conduct a review of the allegations made in the ARD documentary. Richard McLaren has been announced to lead the investigation and ‘is empowered to take whatever measures he sees fit to ensure each and every allegation is fully investigated and reported’. The IWF has also stated that it will open a whistleblower line to help aid the investigation.More...


How 2019 Will Shape the International Sports Law of the 2020s - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

As we begin plunging into a new decade, it can be helpful to look back and reflect on some of the most influential developments and trends from 2019 that may continue to shape international sports law in 2020 and beyond. Hence, this piece will not attempt to recount every single sports law news item but rather identify a few key sports law stories of 2019 that may have a continued impact in the 2020s. The following sections are not in a particular order.More...

Free Event! Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - 5 March at the Asser Institute in The Hague

The upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and its links to human rights violations has been the subject of many debates in the media and beyond. In particular, the respect of migrant workers’ labour rights was at the forefront of much public criticisms directed against FIFA. Similarly, past Olympics in Rio, Sochi or Beijing have also been in the limelight for various human rights issues, such as the lack of freedom of the press, systematic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or forced evictions. These controversies have led sports governing bodies (SGBs) to slowly embrace human rights as an integral part of their core values and policies. Leading to an increased expectation for SGBs to put their (private) diplomatic capital at the service of human rights by using their leverage vis-à-vis host countries of their mega-sporting events (MSEs). In turn, this also raises the question of the need for the EU to accompany this change by putting human rights at the heart of its own sports diplomacy.


Research collective 
This Multiplier Sporting Event, organised in the framework of the transnational project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’ funded by the Erasmus + Programme, aims to trigger discussions on the role of an EU sports diplomacy in strengthening respect for human rights in the context of MSEs both at home and abroad. It will feature two roundtables focused on the one hand on the diplomatic power and capacity of SGBs to fend for human rights during MSEs and on the other on the EU’s integration of human rights considerations linked to MSEs in its own sports diplomacy.


Programme

13:20 – 14:00 – Welcome and opening speech –Antoine Duval (Asser Institute)
14:00 - 15:30 - Panel 1: Leveraging the Diplomatic Power of the Sports Governing Bodies for Human Rights

  • Lucy Amis (Unicef UK/Institute for Human Rights and Business)
  • Guido Battaglia (Centre for Sport and Human Rights)
  • Florian Kirschner (World Players Association/UNI Global Union)
  • Claire Jenkin (University of Hertfordshire)

15:30 – 16:00 - Coffee Break

16:00 - 17:30 - Panel 2: A Human Rights Dimension for the EU’s Sports Diplomacy?

  • Arnout Geeraert (Utrecht University)
  • Agata Dziarnowska (European Commission)
  • Alexandre Mestre (Sport and Citizenship)
  • Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (TBC)

17:30 - Reception

Balancing Athletes’ Interests and The Olympic Partner Programme: the Bundeskartellamt’s Rule 40 Decision - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1        Introduction

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), after many years of ineffective pushback (see here, here and here) over bye law 3 of rule 40[1] of the Olympic Charter (OC), which restricts the ability of athletes and their entourage to advertise themselves during the ‘blackout’ period’[2] (also known as the ‘frozen period’) of the Olympic Games, may have been gifted a silver bullet to address a major criticism of its rules. This (potentially) magic formula was handed down in a relatively recent decision of the Bundeskartellamt, the German competition law authority, which elucidated how restrictions to athletes’ advertisements during the frozen period may be scrutinized under EU competition law. The following blog begins by explaining the historical and economic context of rule 40 followed by the facts that led to the decision of the Bundeskartellamt. With this background, the decision of the Bundeskartellamt is analyzed to show to what extent it may serve as a model for EU competition law authorities. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – November and December 2019- By Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

The Headlines

WADA Conference and the Adoption of 2021 WADA Code Amid Calls for Reform

On November 5-7, WADA held its Fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport where it faced a busy schedule, including the adoption of the revised 2021 World Anti-Doping Code and the election of a new WADA President and Vice-President by the Foundation Board. Concerning the latter, Witold Bańka, Poland’s Minister of Sport and Tourism, was elected as WADA President and Yang Yang, a former Chinese speed skater, elected as Vice-President, replacing Sir Craig Reedie and Linda Helleland respectively.  As Helleland leaves her position, she has expressed some strong views on the state of sport governance, particularly that ‘there is an absence of good governance, openness and independence in the highest levels of international sports’. Helleland was not the only one to recently voice governance concerns, as Rob Koehler, Director General of Global Athlete, also called for a ‘wholesale structural change at WADA’, which includes giving ‘independent’ athletes a vote in WADA’s Foundation Board, ensuring a greater ‘separation of powers’ and ensuring greater protection of athletes’ rights.

In the midst of the calls for reform, the amended 2021 WADA Code and the amended International Standards were also adopted after a two year, three stage code review process. Furthermore, a major milestone in athletes’ rights was achieved with the adoption of the Athletes’ Anti-Doping Rights Acts (separate from the WADA Code), which enumerates certain basic rights to help ‘ensure that Athlete rights within anti-doping are clearly set out, accessible, and universally applicable’. On the other hand, the Act ‘is not a legal document’, which clearly circumscribes some of the potential effects the Act may have. Nonetheless, athlete representative groups have ‘cautiously welcomed’ some of the changes brought by the 2021 WADA Code, such as the ‘modified sanctions for substances of abuse violations’.

Sung Yang’s Historical Public Hearing at the CAS

After much anticipation, the second public hearing in CAS history occurred on November 15 in Montreux, Switzerland in the Sun Yang case (details of this case were discussed in August and September’s monthly report), which was livestreamed and can be seen in its totality in four different parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). This was an extremely unique opportunity, which hopefully will become a more common occurrence, to see just how CAS hearings are conducted and perhaps get a taste of some of the logistical issues that can emerge during live oral hearings. One of these problems, accurate translations, rapidly became apparent as soon as Sun Yang sat in the witness chair to give his opening statements. The translators in the box seemed to struggle to provide an intelligible English interpretation of Sun Yang and other witnesses’ statements, while Sun Yang also seemingly had trouble understanding the translated questions being posed to him. The situation degenerated to such an extent that ultimately one of WADA’s officials was called to replace the translators. However, the translation drama did not end there, since during Sun Yang’s closing statements an almost seemingly random person from the public appeared next to Sun Yang who claimed to have been requested from Sun Yang’s team to ‘facilitate’ the translation. Franco Frattini, president of the panel, questioned the identity of the ‘facilitator’ and explained that one could not just simply appear before the court without notice. Interestingly, Sun Yang’s legal team also rapidly intervened claiming that it had not been made of aware of the inclusion of the supporting translator, further complicating the matter. In the end, Sun Yang concluded his statements with the translation from the WADA official.

While it was Sun Yang’s legal team that had provided the original translators in the box, it still raises the question as to how translation at CAS could be improved to ensure a certain standard of translators. After all, quality translation is critical to the parties’ right to be heard under Article 6 (e) ECHR. Regardless, in the end, neither parties made an objection that their right to be heard was violated.

Russian Doping Saga Continues: WADA Compliance Review Committee Recommends Strong Sanctions

As was already discussed in August and September’s monthly report, WADA uncovered numerous inconsistencies concerning data taken from the Moscow Laboratory. After further investigation, WADA’s Compliance Review Committee has recommended that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) be found non-compliant with the WADA Code. Accompanying the recommendation, the Compliance Review Committee also suggested several sanctions, which include prohibiting Russian athletes from participating in major events like the Olympic Games and ‘any World Championships organized or sanctioned by any Signatory’ for the next four years unless they may ‘dmonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance’. It would also see an embargo on events hosted in Russia during the same period. However, these sanctions did not go far enough for some, like Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA, who wishes to prevent a repeat of Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 ‘in which a secretly-managed process permitting Russians to compete – did not work’. On the other hand, the IOC has advocated for a softer, individual based approach that pursues ‘the rules of natural justice and respect human rights’. In the midst of these developments, the Athletics Integrity Unit also decided to charge several members of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF), including its President Dmitry Shlyakhtin, after a 15 month investigation for ‘tampering and complicity’ concerning a Russian athlete’s whereabouts violations.

Following many calls for strong consequences, the WADA Executive Committee met on December 9th and adopted the recommendations of the Compliance Review Committee. Athlete representatives have expressed their disappointment with the sanctions, calling the decision ‘spineless’ since it did not pursue a complete ban on Russian participation at events such as Euro 2020 and the 2020 Olympics. At this point, RUSADA has sent notice to WADA that it will be disputing the decision of WADA’s Executive Committee’s decision at the CAS.More...


Is UCI the new ISU? Analysing Velon’s Competition Law Complaint to the European Commission - By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

The UCI may soon have to navigate treacherous legal waters after being the subject of two competition law based complaints (see here and here) to the European Commission in less than a month over rule changes and decisions made over the past year. One of these complaints stems from Velon, a private limited company owned by 11 out of the 18 World Tour Teams,[1] and the other comes from the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico, an entity based in Italy representing an amalgamation of stakeholders in Italian professional cycling. While each of the complaints differ on the actual substance, the essence is the same: both are challenging the way the UCI exercises its regulatory power over cycling because of a growing sense that the UCI is impeding the development of cycling as a sport. Albeit in different ways: Velon sees the UCI infringing on its ability to introduce new race structures and technologies; the Lega del Ciclismo Professionistico believes the UCI is cutting opportunities for semi-professional cycling teams, the middle ground between the World Tour Teams and the amateur teams.

While some of the details remain vague, this blog will aim to unpack part of the claims made by Velon in light of previous case law from both the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to give a preliminary overview of the main legal issues at stake and some of the potential outcomes of the complaint. First, it will be crucial to understand just who/what Velon is before analyzing the substance of Velon’s complaint. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2019 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 


The Headlines

International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference 2019

The T.M.C. Asser Institute and the Asser International Sports Law Centre held the third International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) Conference on October 24-25. The Conference created a forum for academics and practitioners to discuss, debate and share knowledge on the latest developments of sports law. It featured six uniquely themed panels, which included topics such as ‘Transfer systems in international sports’ and ‘Revisiting the (in)dependence and transparency of the CAS’ to ‘The future of sports: sports law of the future’. The ISLJ Conference was also honored to have two exceptional keynote speakers: Moya Dodd and Ulrich Haas. To kick off the conference, Moya Dodd shared her experiences from an athlete’s perspective in the various boardrooms of FIFA. The second day was then launched by Ulrich Haas, who gave an incredibly thorough and insightful lecture on the importance, function and legal basis of association tribunals in international sport. For a detailed overview of this year’s ISLJ Conference, click here for the official conference report.

The Asser International Sports Law Centre was delighted to have been able to host another great edition of the ISLJ Conference and is thankful to all the participants and speakers who made this edition such a success.

Moving towards greater transparency: Launch of FIFA’s Legal Portal

On October 31, FIFA announced that it was introducing a new legal portal on its website that will give greater access to numerous documents that previously were kept private. FIFA explains that this is in order to help increase its transparency, which was one of the key ‘Guiding Principles’ highlighted in FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future released in 2016. This development comes as many sport governing bodies face increasing criticism for the opacity of its judicial bodies’ decisions, which can have tremendous economic and societal impacts. The newly available documents will include: ‘decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee and the FIFA Appeal Committee (notified as of 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Ethics Committee (notified since 1 January 2019); decisions rendered on the merits by the FIFA Players’ Status Committee and the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber; non-confidential CAS awards in proceedings to which FIFA is a party (notified since 1 January 2019); list of CAS arbitrators proposed by FIFA for appointment by ICAS, and the number of times they have been nominated in CAS proceedings’. The list of decisions from all the aforementioned bodies are updated every four months, according to their respective webpages. However, time will ultimately tell how consistently decisions are published. Nevertheless, this move is a major milestone in FIFA’s journey towards increasing its transparency.

Hong Kong Protests, Human Rights and (e)Sports Law: The Blizzard and NBA controversies

Both Blizzard, a major video game developer, and the NBA received a flurry of criticism for their responses to persons expressing support for the Hong Kong protests over the past month. On October 8, Blizzard sanctioned Blitzchung, a professional Hearthstone player who expressed support of the Hong Kong protest during a post-match interview, by eliminating the prize money he had won and suspending him for one year from any Hearthstone tournament. Additionally, Blizzard will cease to work with the casters who conducted the interview. With mounting disapproval over the sanctions,  J. Allen Brack, the president of Blizzard, restored the prize money and reduced the period of ineligibility to 6 months.

The NBA controversy started when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for the protests in Hong Kong. The tweet garnered much attention, especially in China where it received a lot of backlash, including an announcement from CCTV, the official state broadcaster in China, that it was suspending all broadcasts of the NBA preseason games. In attempts to appease its Chinese audience, which is a highly profitable market for the NBA, Morey deleted the tweet and posted an apology, and the NBA responded by saying that the initial tweet was ‘regrettable’. Many scolded these actions and accused the NBA of censorship to which the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, responded that the NBA remains committed to freedom of expression.

Both cases highlighted how (e)sport organizations may be faced with competing interests to either guarantee greater protection of human rights or to pursue interests that perhaps have certain financial motivations. More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | The EU State aid and sport saga: The Showdown

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: The Showdown

It’s been a long wait, but they’re finally here! On Monday, the European Commission released its decisions regarding State aid to seven Spanish professional football clubs (Real Madrid on two occasions) and five Dutch professional football clubs. The decisions mark the end of the formal investigations, which were opened in 2013. The Commission decided as follows: no State aid to PSV Eindhoven (1); compatible aid to the Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch, MVV Maastricht, NEC Nijmegen and Willem II (2); and incompatible aid granted to the Spanish football clubs Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Valencia CF, Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Osasuna, Elche and Hércules (3). 

The recovery decisions in particular are truly historic. The rules on State aid have existed since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1958, but it is the very first time that professional football clubs have been ordered to repay aid received from (local) public authorities.[1] In a way, these decisions complete a development set in motion with the Walrave and Koch ruling of 1974, where the CJEU held that professional sporting activity, and therefore also football, is subject to EU law. The landmark Bosman case of 1995 proved to be of great significance as regards free movement of (professional) athletes and the Meca-Medina case of 2006 settled that EU competition rules were equally applicable to the regulatory activity of sport. The fact that the first ever State aid recovery decision concerns major clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia, give the decisions extra bite. Therefore, this blog post will focus primarily on the negative/recovery decisions[2], their consequences and the legal remedies available to the parties involved.[3]


The launch of the formal investigations

The three Commission decisions to launch formal State aid investigations into alleged aid granted to Spanish professional football clubs were all made public on 18 December 2013. The first investigation concerned “possible privileges regarding corporate taxation of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Atlético Osasuna. These four clubs are exempted from the general obligation for professional football clubs to convert into sport limited companies. The effect of this exemption is that these clubs enjoy a preferential corporate tax rate of 25% instead of 30% applicable to sport limited companies.�� The second investigation involved Real Madrid specifically, and was opened after the Commission expressed its doubts over “a very advantageous real property swap with the City of Madrid. This swap was based on a re-evaluation of a plot of land at a value of €22.7 million, instead of its earlier supposed value in 1998 of €595 thousand”. The third investigation dealt with three clubs from the autonomous region of Valencia: Valencia CF, Elche FC and Hércules CF. In this case, the Commission decided to investigate State guarantees by the Valencia Institute of Finance for a bank loans of (1) €75 million to Valencia CF; (2) €14 million to Elche CF; and (3) €18 million to Hércules CF. The Real Madrid real property swap case and the Valencia CF case have previously been analyzed on this blog (here, here and here).[4]

Purely based on the decisions to open formal investigations, there was little doubt as to whether the criteria of Article 107(1) were fulfilled[5]: The football clubs in question received a selective economic advantage deriving from a measure taken by public authorities and which involved a transfer of State resources. This advantage has affected trade and threatens to distort the internal market. What remained unclear was whether the Member States could convince the Commission to declare the State aid compatible under Article 107(3)c) TFEU,[6] and, if not, how high the recovery would be. The complexity of the Real Madrid case in particular led to uncertainty as to whether a possible recovery decision would merely imply Real Madrid having to pay a lump sum to the city of Madrid, or whether one or more land transactions would have to be undone.[7]

Last but not least, it should be kept in mind that ordering recovery of State aid is a politically sensitive decision. Given that State aid investigations are always directed at the Member State (with limited room for interested party intervention, including the beneficiary), such proceedings are inherently political. Furthermore, from analyzing Commission speeches and policy documents, such as the recently published Report on Competition Policy 2015, one will reach the conclusion that actively enforcing EU competition law, including State aid law, in sport, is not a Commission priority. Any recovery decision in the professional sport sector, therefore, would need to serve as a blueprint for future cases: it should prevent other public authorities to grant State aid to professional sport clubs in contravention of State aid rules. 


The Commission’s press release ordering the State aid recovery

Though the press release does not provide all the facts, it includes many interesting elements. First of all, the privileges regarding corporate taxation of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Atlético Osasuna were found to be incompatible State aid, and each club has to repay between €0 and €5 million depending on what the Spanish authorities determine in the recovery process. The press release further states that Spain adjusted its legislation on corporate taxation to end this discriminatory treatment. This last point is especially important, because it demonstrates that the “bite” of State aid could exceed a mere recovery order. Simply opening a formal investigation into this issue has made the Spanish authorities reconsider its corporate taxation and adjust it accordingly to prevent future State aid being granted. Moreover, tackling unfair corporate tax advantages has been a priority for the Commission for the last few years.[8]

As regards Real Madrid’s advantageous real property swap with the City of Madrid, the Commission concluded that the football club was only entitled to a compensation of €4.3 million, so that Real Madrid obtained an advantage of €18.4 million. In other words, the city of Madrid needs to recover €18.4 million from Real Madrid. Although this calculation seems rather straightforward, it should be noted that the press release only refers to the re-valuation of one of the lands transferred. This means that only one land transaction was found to be incompatible with EU State aid rules, while all the land transactions remain valid.

In the third and final decision the Commission determined that Valencia, Hércules and Elche will need to repay €20.4 million, €6.1 million and €3.7 million respectively. The Commission acknowledged that the three clubs were in financial difficulties when the public institution Valencia Institute of Finance, placed a public guarantee on bank loans provided to the football clubs, but did not find this difficulties sufficiently severe to declare the aid compatible with the internal market.[9] The fact that the clubs paid no adequate remuneration for the guarantees, and that the State financing was not linked to any restructuring plan, made the Commission decide to order the recovery of that aid. The arguments brought forward by the Spanish authorities defending the State aid measure will not be known until the non-confidential version of the decision is published in a few months. What we do know is that at the time the formal investigation was launched in December 2013, the Spanish authorities had not communicated any restructuring or liquidation plan to the Commission, nor were any of the conditions met for authorizing restructuring aid under the Community Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty, even though the three clubs were in severe financial difficulties.[10]  


The consequences of the negative and recovery decisions

It is important to make a distinction between negative decisions and recovery decisions.[11] They are, in fact, two separate decisions. As can be read in Articles 9(5) and 16(1) of the State Aid Procedural Regulations 2015/1589, the negative decision precedes the recovery decision. Under a negative decision, the Commission decides that the aid shall not be put into effect for not being compatible with the internal market. Any plans to grant future State aid under that measure will automatically be halted. The recovery decision can only be granted if the aid, or part of the aid, has been granted in the past, such as in the cases at hand.[12] The decision orders the Member State concerned to take all necessary measures to recover the aid from the beneficiary.[13] As can be read in the Commission’s Recovery Notice, the main objective of the recovery order is to re-establish the situation existing before the aid was unlawfully granted.[14] The recovery, which is subject to a limitation period of 10 years[15], “shall be effected without delay and in accordance with the procedures under the national law of the Member State concerned”.[16]  This means that it is up to Spain to decide on the procedure of how and when it recovers the aid, in accordance with its own national law.

Since the negative and recovery decisions are addressed to Spain, it may institute proceedings against the negative decision and/or the recovery decision, pursuant to Article 263 TFEU. The Spanish central government has not yet announced its position regarding the decisions or whether it plans to launch an appeal. The city of Madrid and the autonomous region of Valencia on the other hand, have both declared that they wish to recuperate the State aid granted to the respective football clubs.[17] Article 263 TFEU also allows any natural or legal person to challenge a Commission decision that is of direct and individual concern to them. In other words, now that for example Real Madrid is ordered to repay €18.4 million to Spain, it is directly affected by the recovery decision and has already publicly stated that it will initiate proceedings against the Commission.

The General Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine at first instance actions referred to in Article 263 TFEU. A decision by the General Court may be subject to a right of appeal to the Court of Justice.[18] Contrary to the General Court, the Court of Justice could decide, under Article 278 TFEU, that the recovery order should be suspended.   


Conclusion

The negative and recovery decisions could have consequences for the relationship between the Spanish State (particularly local governments) and professional football. The practices now condemned by the European Commission are known to have been taking place for decades. A recently published report by Transparency International, for example, discusses how Spanish football clubs, in collaboration with the local governments, would turn to urban speculation with the objective of making easy money. The report used an agreement between the city of Murcia and its local football club Real Murcia as an example. The Real Madrid case, which is also about urban speculation, is another example of this standardized practice in Spain. The fact that the Commission orders recovery of aid from the richest and most successful club in Spain, should send a message to the smaller clubs and cities that urban/ land agreements between clubs and public authorities are not unconditionally accepted.

In addition, the decisions will especially be tough for Valencia, Hércules and Elche, three clubs known to be in financial difficulties already. Valencia has already announced that it “reserves the right to appeal to the European Court of Justice”, but one wonders whether it is worth the risk, considering the legal fees attached to such an appeal. On the other hand, the public authorities will realize that granting State aid to professional football clubs can bounce back hard, if it is not granted pursuant an objective of general interest and in a transparent manner. Furthermore, rescue aid, such as in Valencia, cannot be granted without implementing a restructuring plan at the same time. A proper restructuring plan will help limit the possibility of the club returning to financial difficulties in the future. Finally, clubs too must be aware that they must live “within their own means” and that they cannot always depend on local public institutions to bail them out of there financial troubles.   




[1] For the discussion on why there was (and still is) so little State aid enforcement in the professional sport/football sector, see Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren, “EU Control of State Aid to Professional Sport: Why Now?” In: “The Legacy of Bosman. Revisiting the relationship between EU law and sport”, T.M.C. Asser Press, 2016.

[2] The distinction between a negative decision and a recovery decision will be explained further below.

[3] A specific blog post on the State aid decision concerning the Dutch football clubs will be made shortly.

[4] For an even more detailed (factual) analysis of the Real Madrid case, see: Oskar van Maren, “The Real Madrid case: A State aid case (un)like any other?” 11 Competition Law Review 1:83-108.

[5] Even though Real Madrid has always insisted the real property swap was not economically advantageous, since the value of the real property was calculated in accordance with market conditions. Supra note 4.

[6] Under this provision, State aid that facilitates the development of certain activities or of certain economic areas, where such aid does not adversely affects trading conditions to an extent contrary to the common interest, may be considered compatible with the internal market.

[7] It is a matter of discussion whether the Real Madrid case concerns only the land transaction of July 2011, or whether a second land transaction of November 2011 should be included in the same investigation. Supra, note 4.

[8] Report from the Commission COM(2016) 313 of 15 June 2016 to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions – Report on Competition Policy 2015, pages 12-13.

[9] Contrary to the State aid granted to FC Den Bosch, MVV, Willem II and NEC, where the Commission determined that the aid was granted in line with the 2004 Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty.

[10] Commission decision of 18 December 2013 SA.36387 – Alleged aid in favour of three Valencia football clubs, para.44.

[11] A third option, as stipulated in Article 9(3) of the State aid Procedural Regulation, is the positive decision. This is a decision where the Commission decides that the aid is compatible with the internal market. The decision allowing the aid to the Dutch clubs is an example of a positive decision. Challenging a positive decision under Article 263 TFEU is also possible for the Member State concerned, should it wish to do so.

[12] The aid is, for example, not granted yet when the Member State simply notifies the Commission of its plan grant State aid. Should the Commission declare the plan to grant State aid incompatible with the internal market, then there will be no need to order recovery as well.

[13] The Commission, however, can decide against a recovery order if it believes that such a recovery would be contrary to a principle of Union law. This gives the Commission the possibility to declare a State aid measure incompatible with EU law on the one hand, but not order recovery of that aid on the other.

[14] Notice from the Commission (2007/C 272/05) of 15 November 2007 Towards an effective implementation of Commission decisions ordering Member States to recover unlawful and incompatible State aid, point 2.2.

[15] Council Regulation (EU) 2015/1589 of 13 July 2015 laying down detailed rules fort the application of Article 108 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Article 17(1).

[16] Ibid., Article 16(3).

[17] It is worth mentioning that at the time the State aid was granted, the Spanish Conservative Party, PP, was in power in Madrid as well as in the autonomous region of Valencia. These two local governments are nowadays formed by opposition parties. On the other hand, the PP is still the biggest political party at national level.

[18] Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union C 326/47 of 26 October 2010, Article 256(1).

Comments (13) -

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/7/2016 12:16:21 PM |

    As the complainant in the Dutch cases I was in discussion with the supporters of MVV on their website. April 2013 I informed them about the restructuring aid. When Maastricht would have chosen to ask the EC permission to restructure MVV the same way Arnhem did in the Vitesse situation, there would have been no problem at all. At that occasion I advised (via the supporters) Maastricht to answer the EC in their probe to handle in that way. The EC decided in that way. Very elegant solution. I expect these criteria will apply in the future in any case with star aid support in professional sport.

    • Oskar van Maren

      7/7/2016 12:42:46 PM |

      Dear Loek,
      You're absolutely right. Proper restructuring plans that are notified in advance to the Commission would probably avoid most potential State aid problems. Let's see whether this week's decisions trigger a change in local governments and sport clubs mentality regarding public funding in the sector.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/7/2016 4:02:03 PM |

    Forgot to tell that mr. Almunia asked me, in reply on my email of 9 May 2010 CP 63/80, to inform him about my findings concerning Real Madrid and other football clubs in Europe and illegal state aid. Which I did from that moment on. Any suggestion he was delaying this process is therefore false. I know, because he (of course by his staff) was always in contact with me and willing to come to the best decision. That takes time.

  • Eindhoven

    7/8/2016 10:30:11 PM |

    It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Jorritsma now understands that his cooperation with Mr. Almunia and the
    baseless crusade against Dutch football has costed a lot of money and resources to the EU taxpayers at a time of crisis in which those resources where needed elsewhere.

    Five cases dismissed out of five and still trying to lecture us... If he or Mr. Almunia had just read the guidelines for restructuring companies before running amok.

    If the EU was a well functioning Institution, Mr. Jorritsma should be made responsible for the costs for the EU and for the clubs & municipalities (reputation, legal, etc.) that had been falsely accused.

    Mr. Jorritsma, will you please apologise to the EU taxpayer for your reckless behaviour?

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 10:31:18 AM |

    On the contrary. Now it is clear that state aid is only allowed under very strict circumstances. Those of restructuring aid have to be met. And that includes a whole set of obligations to ensure the European (nut just the Dutch) taxpayers are no longer the safeguards of reckless politicians and club owners still paying overprivileged players too much money. The EC was very elegant towards the Dutch clubs to define their star aid afterwards as restructuring aid. The EC ' forgot'  to ask their track record on state aid in the past. If the EC would have done so, the decision would have been negative because those conditions would not be met. The cases were not dismissed, they were saved. The Spanish cases learn the European clubs and municipalities the limits. They all have to stick to that and all the accountants concerned now have to report about those finances they are whether or not in compliance with the rules. That is profit, proud to have made that contribution to the future tax payers.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 10:59:17 AM |

    By the way mr. Eindhoven. Interesting to see your post is anonymus, or is your real name Eindhoven? Your suggestion I have to pay the costs is only fair. As fair it would be to gain the profits. That will make me a rich man. See the penalties for the Spanish clubs. But your suggestion as also very unfair. It will make any whistleblower to a calculated naked-short-seller. Let us leave that to the casino-players. Those people who have put the whole of Europe in crisis.

  • Eindhoven

    7/11/2016 2:10:14 PM |

    Oh dear, no apologies, no remorse and more accusations against the EC and the municipalities/clubs involved.

    The Restructuring guidelines had been published already in 2004 and you should have read them carefully before wasting EU resources. It was clear to any one, apparently other than you, that these regulations existed and that these conditions had to be met (as it was the case in the Dutch cases).

    The EC was not "elegant", it has simply applied the existing rules correctly (those rules that you should have read a few years ago). If you believe that further restructuring aid had already been provided to the Dutch clubs and that the EC has failed to take this into consideration, you should simply, rather than critizising the EC, go ahead and inform them. They would surely welcome your evidence, if any. Until you do that, please stop bringing the EU institutions into disrepute by suggesting that "elegant" solutions have been adopted. You are accusing the EC of "forgetting" things just like unsuccessful footballers blame the referee for their own shortcomings. Could you please at least provide any example of any previous "aid" that has been "forgotten" by the EC in its "elegant" decisions?

    Please also stop bragging and be more modest, you have not rescued a single euro for any taxpayer. Your only contribution is five dismissed cases and as a result EU resources (funded by the taxpayer) have been unnecessarily wasted. Not to mention those of the municipalities that had been falsely accused.

    You say that the cases "learn" but it seems that you have not learned anything about your failures (five out of five). The result is zero recovery and huge costs in the form of wasted resources at EU, municipality and club level. You have created your own miniature crisis. Rather than accusing the EC without providing any evidence and continuing to damage the reputations of those clubs and municipalities, you should be apologising to the taxpayer. It is never too late.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 3:20:11 PM |

    There was no notification and there was no plan of restructuring the organization before state aid was given. That plan did not exist. In such a plan, and I quote:
    " 36. Het herstructureringsplan moet de omstandigheden beschrijven die tot de moeilijkheden van de onderneming hebben geleid, zodat kan worden nagegaan of de voorgestelde maatregelen passend zijn. Het houdt onder meer rekening met de actuele situatie en de verwachte ontwikkeling van vraag en aanbod op de relevante productmarkt, aan de hand van best-case-, worst-case- en neutrale scenario's, alsmede de specifieke sterke en zwakke punten van de onderneming. Het stelt de onderneming in staat de overgang te maken naar een nieuwe structuur die haar uitzicht biedt op levensvatbaarheid op lange termijn en haar in staat stelt op eigen benen te staan.
    37. Het herstructureringsplan moet zorgen voor een omslag waardoor de onderneming, nadat de herstructurering is voltooid, in staat is al haar kosten te dekken, met inbegrip van afschrijvingen en financiële lasten. Het verwachte rendement op eigen vermogen dient voldoende te zijn om de geherstructureerde onderneming in staat te stellen op eigen kracht op de markt te concurreren. Wanneer de moeilijkheden van de ondernemingen aan een gebrekkige corporate governance zijn te wijten, dienen de nodige aanpassingen te worden doorgevoerd."
    When such a plan does not exist you have to decide how to continu your probe.
    From the Vitesse case every organization could have learned.
    You seem to forget I put the word ' forget'  between brackets, that is on purpose.
    You seem also to forget there was no decision from the EC in professional football clubs at all. From now on these rules must be met at the beginning of delivering state aid, not at half time. And the probe was not only in the Netherlands. In your vocabulary, which I denounce, in Spain there was a 5 out of 5 win. And a lot of money (in my opinion not enough) regained for the tas payer. How about that? And that is for the whole of Europe.

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/11/2016 4:16:31 PM |


    M.i. kan het nu ook in het Nederlands.
    Wat betreft anonimiteit geen antwoord. Dan de vraag wat of er voorafgaand aan het besluit allemaal duidelijk moest zijn:
    " 72. Reddingssteun is een eenmalige operatie die in hoofdzaak is bedoeld om de exploitatie van een onderneming voort te zetten gedurende een beperkte periode waarin de toekomst van de onderneming kan worden geëvalueerd. Het dient echter niet mogelijk te zijn de herhaalde toekenning van reddingssteun maatregelen toe te staan waarmee enkel de status quo wordt bestendigd, het onvermijdelijke wordt uitgesteld en tegelijkertijd de economische en sociale problemen op andere, meer efficiënte producenten of op andere lidstaten worden afgewenteld. Daarom mag reddingssteun slechts eenmaal worden toegekend. In overeenstemming met ditzelfde beginsel mag ook herstructureringssteun slechts eenmaal worden toegekend, om te voorkomen dat ondernemingen die enkel dankzij herhaalde staatssteun kunnen overleven, ten onrechte steun ontvangen. Ten slotte mag, wanneer reddingssteun wordt toegekend aan een onderneming die al herstructureringssteun heeft ontvangen, worden aangenomen dat de moeilijkheden van de begunstigde onderneming een terugkerend probleem zijn en dat herhaalde overheidsmaatregelen aanleiding geven tot vervalsing van de mededinging waardoor het gemeenschappelijk belang wordt geschaad. Dergelijke herhaalde overheidsmaatregelen dienen niet te worden toegestaan.
    73. Wanneer een voornemen tot het verlenen van reddings- of herstructureringssteun bij de Commissie wordt aangemeld, moet de lidstaat aangeven of de betrokken onderneming in het verleden reeds reddings- of herstructureringssteun heeft ontvangen, met inbegrip van vóór de datum van toepassing van de onderhavige richtsnoeren verleende steun en van niet-aangemelde steun (1). Indien dit het geval is en wanneer minder dan tien jaar is verstreken sinds de toekenning van de reddingssteun, het aflopen van de herstructureringsperiode of de beëindiging van de tenuitvoerlegging van het herstructureringsplan (naargelang welke van deze gebeurtenissen het meest recent is), staat de Commissie geen verdere reddings- of herstructureringssteun toe, behalve in de volgende gevallen:
    a) wanneer herstructureringssteun volgt op de toekenning van reddingssteun als onderdeel van één enkele herstructureringsoperatie; of
    b) wanneer reddingssteun onder de voorwaarden van punt 3.1.1 werd toegekend en op deze steun geen door de Staat gesteunde herstructurering volgde, indien:
    i) redelijkerwijs mag worden aangenomen dat de onderneming na de toekenning van reddingssteun op de lange termijn levensvatbaar zal zijn, en
    ii) na ten minste vijf jaar nieuwe reddings- en herstructureringssteun noodzakelijk wordt wegens onvoorzienbare omstandigheden (2) die de onderneming niet zijn toe te rekenen, of
    c) in uitzonderlijke en onvoorzienbare omstandigheden die de onderneming niet zijn toe te rekenen.
    In de onder b) en c) bedoelde gevallen kan de vereenvoudigde procedure van punt 3.1.2 niet worden gebruikt."

    Vraag nu naar het track record van alle begunstigde clubs in de afgelopen 10 jaar, kijk ook naar de staatssteun die aan alle clubs is verleend in de afgelopen jaren en die kunnen worden geschaard onder deze noemer. Dan zal het duidelijk zijn dat voor alle clubs in ons land deze bepalingen vanaf nu gelden en dat de accountants die de Jaarrekeningen moeten goedkeuren hier van uit dienen te gaan.


  • Eindhoven

    7/11/2016 4:16:51 PM |

    This is incorrect since, as you know, there were plans for each of the clubs and the EC had already ruled a long time ago that professional sport clubs are undertakings for EU law purposes, including State aid whether any recovery decision had already been taken in that area or not. Please do not try to claim credit for reinventing the wheel.

    I insist that the end result of your actions is five out of five failures, huge amounts of public resources being wasted, reputational damage (with municipalities suing the EC and the EC backtracking after costly in-depth investigations), zero money recovered and a few interviews given by yourself.

    More importantly, accusing the Commission of "forgetting" (with or without brackets) relevant issues when adopting a decision is a very serious matter and you have failed to provide a single example of that previous aid. You should either provide some evidence or admit that, contrary to your accusation, the Commission did not "forget" anything.  If you can prove that the EC "forgot" any aspect (previous aid or anything else), I am of course very happy to admit that you were right but I seriously doubt it.

  • Eindhoven

    7/12/2016 5:14:27 PM |

    It seems that Mr. Jorritsma is very happy to copy and paste paragraphs of the Restructuring guidelines (if he had just read them a few years ago...) but has failed to provide a single example of the previous aid that, according to him, the EC "forgot" to consider in its Dutch decisions.

    What a complete waste of taxpayers' money and EU resources and now blaming the EC without providing a single example

    Just compare Mr. Jorritsma's five out of five DIY fiasco with the very efficient job performed by FC Bayern on the Spanish cases:

    www.espnfc.co.uk/.../bayern-munich-made-eu-complaint-over-state-aid-spanish-mep

  • loek Jorritsma

    7/12/2016 5:48:30 PM |

    Dear mr. Eindhoven. I love copy paste. It will bring the audience the real texts. And I also like to do my homework. For example reading de Groene Amsterdammer about state aid in the last decade; it is huge. And I expect my opponents to do their homework to. And find out whether or not the Dutch clubs have received aid from their municipalities during the period I mentioned. And google my name and Real Madrid. See the news in Reuter form 2013. Here copy pasted.

    Life | Fri Dec 20, 2013 10:36am GMT Related: SPORT
    EU state aid probe 'not anti-Spain campaign'
    MADRID | BY IAIN ROGERS
    A European Commission probe into possible illegal state aid to seven Spanish football clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona is not part of a malicious campaign against Spain, one of the complainants said on Friday.

    Loek Jorritsma, a retired senior policy adviser at the Netherlands ministry of sports, made a formal complaint in 2010 highlighting what he believed was illegal aid to clubs in his native Holland as well as to Real.

    The Commission opened an investigation into five Dutch clubs, including PSV Eindhoven, in March and launched a separate probe into Real, Barca, Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna, Valencia, Elche and Hercules on Wednesday.

    The announcement of the Spanish investigation prompted a furious response, with some claiming it was driven by envy at the world and European champions' recent successes.

    Real president Florentino Perez labelled it "a campaign against Spanish football" and said the world's richest club by income had done nothing wrong, while secretary of state for sports Miguel Cardenal complained of "damage to Spain's image".

    Jorritsma said his motivation was to identify possible instances of illegal state aid to professional clubs wherever they occurred in Europe.

    "It's a campaign on behalf of competitive balance, against foul play and for a level playing field, which is disturbed by state aid," Jorritsma told Reuters.

    "I treat the Dutch clubs and all European clubs the same way," the 70-year-old added.

    "It is state aid and they are professional organisations like banks or any other enterprise.

    "It's not culture and there is no law that gives you any freedom to jeopardise the market."

    Jorritsma is not the only complainant in the Spanish case and the EU has said a representative of "several European clubs" also filed a formal objection.

    The Commission has declined to reveal their identity, saying it was a confidential matter.

    TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

    Jorritsma is happy to go on the record, however.

    "I am a former civil servant and I don't like to do things anonymously and I take responsibility for the things I do," he said.

    Representatives of some of the Dutch clubs he denounced had even threatened him with physical violence, he added.

    "I explained my reasons to them and in the end they all thought I was very brave.

    "Because of my professional background I know how to formulate things."

    One of the areas Jorritsma highlighted is a property deal Real struck with the City of Madrid in 2011 that the Commission said appeared "very advantageous".

    The swap deal was based on a re-evaluation of a plot of land at a value of 22.7 million euros ($31 million), instead of its earlier supposed value in 1998 of 595,000 euros.

    The Spanish investigation, which could take many months to conclude, is also examining whether Real, Barca, Bilbao and Osasuna benefited from special tax treatment.

    Valencia, Elche and Hercules allegedly received illegal financial assistance from the regional government in the form of loans and bank guarantees.

    All deny wrongdoing and the Spanish government has said it would fight to prevent the clubs being forced to pay back any aid deemed to be illegal.

    (Editing by John O'Brien)

  • Eindhoven

    7/12/2016 7:17:52 PM |

    Ha ha, the article is really funny: "I was very brave", "I know how to formulate things", "I take responsibility for the things I do"... wow!

    We can either trust you or a Spanish MEP with knowledge of the matter who has disclosed that it was FC Bayern who initiated the complaints but it is of course unlikely that Rumenigge will self-glorify himself in an interview. Plus anyone following the Spanish cases knows that they were brought to the Commission in 2009. What did you exactly complain about in 2010? Please explain. Yet again claiming credit for reinventing the wheel?

    I insist that the result of your actions is five out of five failures, huge amounts of public resources being wasted, reputational damage (with municipalities suing the EC and the EC backtracking after costly in-depth investigations), zero money recovered and a few self-glorifying interviews given by yourself.

    And even worse than that, still awaiting a single example of the previous aid to the Dutch clubs that the Commission, according to your accusation, "forgot" about. A single example would be sufficient, great opportunity to take responsibility for your accusation.

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