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: Hungary revisited? (Part 2)

On 18 May 2016, the day the first part of this blog was published, the Commission said in response to the Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller’s question, that it had “not specifically monitored the tax relief (…) but would consider doing so. The Commission cannot prejudge the steps that it might take following such monitoring. However, the Commission thanks (Niedermüller) for drawing its attention to the report of Transparency International.”

With the actual implementation in Hungary appearing to deviate from the original objectives and conditions of the aid scheme, as discussed in part 1 of this blog, a possible monitoring exercise by the Commission of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme seems appropriate. The question remains, however, whether the Commission follows up on the intent of monitoring, or whether the intent should be regarded as empty words. This second part of the blog will outline the rules on reviewing and monitoring (existing) aid, both substantively and procedurally. It will determine, inter alia, whether the State aid rules impose an obligation upon the Commission to act and, if so, in what way. More...

The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

Yesterday, 18 May 2016, the licensing committee of the Dutch football federation (KNVB) announced its decision to sanction FC Twente with relegation to the Netherland’s second (and lowest) professional league. The press release also included a link to a document outlining the reasons underlying the decision. For those following the saga surrounding Dutch football club FC Twente, an unconditional sanction by the licensing committee appeared to be only a matter of time. Yet, it is the sanction itself, as well as its reasoning, that will be the primary focus of this short blog.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga: Hungary’s tax benefit scheme revisited? (Part 1)

The tax benefit scheme in the Hungarian sport sector decision of 9 November 2011 marked a turning point as regards the Commission’s decisional practice in the field of State aid and sport. Between this date and early 2014, the Commission reached a total of ten decisions on State aid to sport infrastructure and opened four formal investigations into alleged State aid to professional football clubs like Real Madrid and Valencia CF.[1] As a result of the experience gained from the decision making, it was decided to include a Section on State aid to sport infrastructure in the 2014 General Block Exemption Regulation. Moreover, many people, including myself, held that Commission scrutiny in this sector would serve to achieve better accountability and transparency in sport governance.[2]

Yet, a recent report by Transparency International (TI), published in October 2015, raises questions about the efficiency of State aid enforcement in the sport sector. The report analyzes the results and effects of the Hungarian tax benefit scheme and concludes that:

“(T)he sports financing system suffers from transparency issues and corruption risks. (…) The lack of transparency poses a serious risk of collusion between politics and business which leads to opaque lobbying. This might be a reason for the disproportionateness found in the distribution of the subsidies, which is most apparent in the case of (football) and (the football club) Felcsút.”[3]

In other words, according to TI, selective economic advantages from public resources are being granted to professional football clubs, irrespective of the tax benefit scheme greenlighted by the Commission or, in fact, because of the tax benefit scheme. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – April 2016. By Marine Montejo

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


The Headlines

This month saw the conflict between FIBA Europe and the Euroleague (more precisely its private club-supported organizing body, Euroleague Commercial Assets or ‘ECA’) becoming further entrenched. This dispute commenced with FIBA creating a rival Basketball Champions League, starting from the 2016-2017 season with the hope to reinstate their hold over the organization of European championships. The ECA, a private body that oversees the Euroleague and Eurocup, not only decided to maintain its competitions but also announced it would reduce them to a closed, franchise-based league following a joint-venture with IMG. In retaliation, FIBA Europe suspended fourteen federations of its competition (with the support of FIBA) due to their support for the Euroleague project.More...


The boundaries of the “premium sports rights” category and its competition law implications. By Marine Montejo

Editor’s note: Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

In its decisions regarding the joint selling of football media rights (UEFA, Bundesliga, FA Premier league), the European Commission insisted that premium media rights must be sold through a non-discriminatory and transparent tender procedure, in several packages and for a limited period of time in order to reduce foreclosure effects in the downstream market. These remedies ensure that broadcasters are able to compete for rights that carry high audiences and, for pay TV, a stable number of subscriptions. In line with these precedents, national competition authorities have tried to ensure compliance with remedy packages. The tipping point here appears to be the premium qualification of sport rights on the upstream market of commercialization of sport TV rights.

This begs the question: which sport TV rights must be considered premium? More...

Guest Blog - Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): Legal Issues by Laura Donnellan

Editor's note: Laura Donnellan is a lecturer at University of Limerick. You can find her latest publications here.


Introduction

On Tuesday the 12th of April, João Carvalho passed away in the Beaumont Hospital after sustaining serious injuries from a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Dublin on the previous Saturday. The fighter was knocked out in the third round of a welterweight fight against Charlie Ward. Aside from the tragic loss of life, the death of Carvalho raises a number of interesting legal issues. This opinion piece will discuss the possible civil and criminal liability that may result from the untimely death of the Portuguese fighter.

It is important to note at the outset that MMA has few rules and permits wrestling holds, punching, marital arts throws and kicking. MMA appears to have little regulation and a lack of universally accepted, standardised rules. There is no international federation or governing body that regulates MMA. It is largely self-regulated. MMA is not recognised under the sports and governing bodies listed by Sport Ireland, the statutory body established by the Sport Ireland Act 2015 which replaced the Irish Sports Council. MMA is considered a properly constituted sport so long as the rules and regulations are adhered to, there are appropriate safety procedures, the rules are enforced by independent referees, and it appropriately administered.

The Acting Minister for Sport, Michael Ring, has called for the regulation of MMA. Currently there are no minimum requirements when it comes to medical personnel; nor are there any particular requirements as to training of medical personnel. The promoter decides how many doctors and paramedics are to be stationed at events. In February 2014 Minister Ring wrote to 17 MMA promoters in Ireland requesting that they implement safety precautions in line with those used by other sports including boxing and rugby.

Despite this lack of regulation, this does not exempt MMA from legal liability as the discussion below demonstrates.More...



Guest Blog - The Role of Sport in the Recognition of Transgender and Intersex Rights by Conor Talbot

Editor's note: Conor Talbot is a Solicitor at LK Shields Solicitors in Dublin and an Associate Researcher at Trinity College Dublin. He can be contacted at ctalbot@tcd.ie, you can follow him on Twitter at @ConorTalbot and his research is available at www.ssrn.com/author=1369709. This piece was first published on the humanrights.ie blog.

Sport is an integral part of the culture of almost every nation and its ability to shape perceptions and influence public opinion should not be underestimated.  The United Nations has highlighted the potential for using sport in reducing discrimination and inequality, specifically by empowering girls and women.  Research indicates that the benefits of sport include enhancing health and well-being, fostering empowerment, facilitating social inclusion and challenging gender norms.

In spite of the possible benefits, the successful implementation of sport-related initiatives aimed at gender equity involves many challenges and obstacles.  Chief amongst these is the way that existing social constructs of masculinity and femininity — or socially accepted ways of expressing what it means to be a man or woman in a particular socio-cultural context — play a key role in determining access, levels of participation, and benefits from sport.  This contribution explores recent developments in the interaction between transgender and intersex rights and the multi-billion dollar industry that the modern Olympic Games has become.  Recent reports show that transgender people continue to suffer from the glacial pace of change in social attitudes and, while there has been progress as part of a long and difficult journey to afford transgender people full legal recognition through the courts, it seems clear that sport could play an increasingly important role in helping change or better inform social attitudes.More...



Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: The Final Whistle

Footballleaks is now operating since nearly half a year and has already provided an incredible wealth of legal documents both on TPO (and in particular Doyen’s contractual arrangements) and on the operation of the transfer system in football (mainly transfer agreements, player contracts and agents contracts). This constant stream of information is extremely valuable for academic research to get a better grip on the functioning of the transfer market. It is also extremely relevant for the shaping of public debates and political decisions on the regulation of this market. As pointed out on the footballleaks website, it has triggered a series of press investigations in major European news outlets.

In this blog, I want to come to a closure on our reporting on Doyen’s TPO deals. In the past months, we have already dealt with the specific cases of FC Twente and Sporting Lisbon, reviewed Doyen’s TPO deals with Spanish clubs, as well as discussed the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. In the Sporting Lisbon case, Doyen has since earned an important legal victory in front of the CAS (the ensuing award was just published by Footballleaks). This victory should not be overstated, however, it was not unexpected due to the liberal understanding of the freedom of contract under Swiss law. As such it does not support the necessity of TPO as an investment practice and does not threaten the legality (especially under EU law) of FIFA’s ban.

In our previous blogs on Doyen’s TPO deals we decided to focus only on specific deals, Twente and Sporting Lisbon, or a specific country (Spain). However, nearly six months after the whole footballleaks project started, we can now provide a more comprehensive analysis of the TPO deals signed by Doyen. Though, it is still possible that other, yet unknown, deals would be revealed, I believe that few of Doyen’s TPO agreements are still hidden. Thanks to footballleaks, we now know how Doyen operates, we have a precise idea of its turnover, its return on investments and the pool of clubs with which it signed a TPO agreement. Moreover, we have a good understanding of the contractual structure used by Doyen in those deals. This blog will offer a brief synthesis and analysis of this data.More...





Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: TPO and Spanish football, friends with(out) benefits?

Update: On 14 April footballleaks released a series of documents concerning Sporting de Gijón. Therefore, I have updated this blog on 19 April to take into account the new information provided.  

Doyen Sports’ TPO (or TPI) model has been touted as a “viable alternative source of finance much needed by the large majority of football clubs in Europe". These are the words of Doyen’s CEO, Nélio Lucas, during a debate on (the prohibition of) TPO held at the European Parliament in Brussels last January. During that same debate, La Liga’s president, Javier Tebas, contended that professional football clubs, as private undertakings, should have the right to obtain funding by private investors to, among other reasons, “pay off the club’s debts or to compete better”. Indeed, defendants of the TPO model continuously argue that third party investors, such as Doyen, only have the clubs’ best interests in mind, being the only ones capable and willing to prevent professional football clubs from going bankrupt. This claim constitutes an important argument for the defendants of the TPO model, such as La Liga and La Liga Portuguesa, who have jointly submitted a complaint in front of the European Commission against FIFA’s ban of the practice.[1]

The eruption of footballleaks provided the essential material necessary to test this claim. It allows us to better analyse and understand the functioning of third party investment and the consequences for clubs who use these services. The leaked contracts between Doyen and, for example, FC Twente, showed that the club’s short term financial boost came at the expense of its long-term financial stability. If a club is incapable of transferring players for at least the minimum price set in Doyen’s contracts, it will find itself in a financially more precarious situation than before signing the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA). TPO might have made FC Twente more competitive in the short run, in the long run it pushed the club (very) close to bankruptcy.

More than four months after its launch, footballleaks continues to publish documents from the football world, most notably Doyen’s ERPAs involving Spanish clubs.More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March 2016. By Marine Montejo

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

Marine Montejo is a graduate from the College of Europe in Bruges and is currently an Intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.


The Headlines

The Belgian Court of Appeal released its judgment this month regarding Doyen’s legal battle against the FIFA TPO ban. The Appeal Court confirmed the first instance decision and ruled out any provisional measures to block the ban’s implementation (for an in depth review, see our blog post). More importantly, the Court reaffirmed that Swiss based sport federations are liable in front of EU Members’ States courts when EU competition law is involved. That means the next important step for this legal battle is whether or not the European Commission is going to open a formal proceeding (Doyen already lodged a complaint) to assess the compatibility, and more importantly, the proportionality of the TPO ban with EU law. Only a preliminary ruling by the CJEU could hasten the decision if one of the European national courts, hearing a case brought by Doyen (France or Belgium), decided to refer a preliminary question.More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | The French “betting right”: a legislative Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By Ben Van Rompuy

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 French “betting right”: a legislative Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By Ben Van Rompuy

The European Commission has published the “Study on Sports Organisers’ Rights in the EU”, which was carried out by the ASSER International Sports Law Centre (T.M.C. Asser Institute) and the Institute for Information Law (University of Amsterdam). 

The study critically examines the legal protection of rights to sports events (sports organisers’ rights) and various issues regarding their commercial exploitation in the field of media and sports betting, both from a national and EU law perspective.  

In a number of posts, we will highlight some of the key findings of the study. 


“It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty.” 


In recent years, numerous national and European sports organisers have called for the adoption of a specific right to consent to the organisation of bets (“right to consent to bets”), by virtue of which no betting operator could offer bets on a sports event without first entering into a contractual agreement with the organiser. 

A sports organisers’ right to consent to bets was first introduced in Victoria (Australia) in 2007. Yet it was the recognition of a similar right in France that created the true momentum for sports organisers to advocate its adoption at the EU or EU-wide national level. The argument is twofold. First, a right to consent to bets would entitle sports organisers to demand a “fair financial return” for the commercial exploitation of theirs sports events by betting operators. Second, it would establish a statutory obligation for betting operators to work in partnership with sports organisers to preserve the integrity of sports events. According to the contractual provisions agreed upon by the involved parties, mutual obligations (for e.g. fraud detection) and conditions of information exchange can be identified. 


A restriction to the freedom to provide services? 

From an EU internal market law perspective, it is important to note that the conditions implementing a right to consent to bets are capable of constituting a restriction of the free movement of services within the Union (within the meaning of Article 56 TFEU). Indeed, the requirement for betting operators to obtain consent for the organisation of sports bets could impede or render less attractive the free provision of gambling services.[1] 

The Court of Justice (CJ) has consistently held that restrictions on gambling activities are acceptable only if justified by an imperative requirement in the general interest and compliant with the principle of proportionality. The CJ has accepted the prevention of fraud as a legitimate objective justification. The financing of public interest activities through proceeds from gambling services, on the other hand, can only be accepted as a beneficial consequence that is incidental to the restrictive policy adopted.[2]  

It follows that a strict regulatory framework that genuinely reflects a concern to prevent the manipulation of sports events must accompany the introduction of a right to consent to bets. 


The origins of the French betting right 

With the enactment of a new gambling law in 2010, the French legislator, following case law precedent recognizing sports bets as a form of commercial exploitation of sports events, introduced a right to consent to bets in the French Sports Code. 

Interestingly, the concept of the right to consent to bets evolved considerably during the course of the legislative process.  

When the draft law opening up online gambling and betting to competition and regulation was introduced in the French parliament, the rationale of the right to consent to bets was solely expressed in terms of generating a “fair financial return” to sport. Under Chapter IX (“Provisions concerning the exploitation of sports events”) of the original draft law, the following addition to Article L.334-1 of the Sports Code was proposed: 

“The use, for commercial purposes, of any characteristic element of sporting events or competitions, notably names, calendars, data or results, requires the consent of the owners of the exploitation rights under conditions, in particular of a financial nature, defined by contract, subject to the provisions of articles L. 333-6 to L.333-9”.[3]

On 5 March 2009, the French authorities notified the draft law to the European Commission, in accordance with the provisions of Directive 98/34/EC of 22 June 1988.[4] In its detailed opinion, the Commission stressed that several provisions of the draft law would infringe Article 56 TFEU if they were to be adopted without due consideration of the Commission’s objections. Amongst other things, the Commission rightly observed that the financing of sport through gambling revenues could not justify an obstacle to free movement, in this case the requirement to obtain consent from the sports organiser. The Commission further noted that the characteristic elements that are already in the possession of sports organisers, such as calendars, data or results, could not qualify for sui generis database right protection.  

It was only during the subsequent first reading of the draft law in the French National Assembly that the statutory recognition of the right to consent to bets was presented as a means of preserving sports integrity. On 21 July 2009, the French Minister for the Budget declared: 

“in reality, the interest of this right for sport is not financial but ethical, by requiring commercial agreements between gambling operators and the organisers of sports competitions, this right finally will give professional sport the means to make the operators share their concerns in matters of competition ethics”.[5]

 Accordingly, the relevant provision was substantially amended to address the concerns about its compliance with the EU internal market rules. First, it no longer mentioned that the consent to the organisation of bets was related to the use of fixtures and schedules. Second, the title of Chapter IX was changed to “Provisions concerning the exploitation of sports events and the fight against fraud and cheating in the context of these events” (emphasis added). Third, multiple paragraphs were added, so as to stipulate that (1) the betting right contracts should impose obligations on betting operators concerning fraud detection and prevention and (2) the financial contribution is intended to compensate for costs incurred by sports organisers for anti-fraud mechanisms.[6]


The proof of the pudding is in the eating  

On the basis of an in-depth assessment of the exploitation of the French right to consent to bets, the study concludes that the rationale of safeguarding the integrity of sports events did not really override its economic rationale. 

Decree No. 2010-614 requires the betting right marketing contracts to specify information and transparency obligations imposed on operators to detect fraud and prevent the risk of harm to the integrity of sports events.[7] Contrary to the relatively strong language about the stipulation of “information and transparency obligations” imposed on the operators, Decree No. 2010-614 merely requires the holder of the right to consent to bets to specify in the contracts the measures it “intends” to introduce for preventing the risk for the integrity of the events in question. However, the law does not mandate the effective implementation of these integrity measures. Furthermore, although the compensation paid for the right to organise bets must take account “in particular the costs incurred in detecting and preventing fraud”, there is no guarantee that the income is allocated to fraud prevention and detection. 

If Member States would consider introducing a right to consent to bets, it appears critical from an EU law perspective that it is genuinely designed to protect a non-economic public interest objective in a proportional manner. The Victorian (Australia) regulatory regime is recommended as a best practice model. Here, the financial return is truly a compensation for the integrity assurances given by the sports bodies. Before a sports body is legally entitled to exercise the right to consent to bets, it must first invest time and resources into developing adequate integrity mechanisms. Furthermore, in case the sports body fails to fulfil its contractual obligations, the gambling regulator may revoke its ability to exercise the right to consent to bets. Indeed, the rights and obligations in the betting right agreements must work both ways: sports betting operators are also entitled to expect that the sports organisers truly implement the integrity policies.  

For a detailed exploration of the virtues of a right to consent to bets and the challenges of adopting such a mechanism from a legal, institutional, and practical perspective, check out the full study available at http://ec.europa.eu/sport/news/2014/study-on-sport-organisers-rights_en.htm.


[1] All measures that prohibit, impede or render less attractive the exercise of the fundamental freedoms must be regarded as restrictions, see e.g. C-439/99 Commission v Italy [2002] ECR I-305, para. 22; Case C-205/99 Analir and Others v Administratión General del Estado [2001] ECR I-271, para. 21.

[2] See e.g. Joined Cases C 316/07, C 358/07 to C 360/07, C 409/07 and C 410/07 Markus Stoß and Others v Wetteraukreis and Others [2010] ECR I-8069, para. 104; C-67/98 Questore di Verona v Diego Zenatti [1999] ECR I-7289, para. 36; Judgment of the EFTA Court in Case 3/06 (Ladbrokes) para. 63.

[3] Unofficial translation by the research team (“L’utilisation, à des fins commerciales, de tout élément caractéristique des manifestations ou compétitions sportives, notamment leur dénomination, leur calendrier, leurs données ou leurs résultats, ne peut être effectuée sans le consentement des propriétaires des droits d’exploitation, dans des conditions, notamment financières, définies par contact, sous réserve des dispositions des articles L. 333-6 à L. 333-9”).

[4] Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations (1998) OJ L 204/37. This “Transparency Directive” requires Member States to notify their rules on information society services in draft form, and generally observe a standstill period of at least three months before formal adoption, in order to allow other Member States and the European Commission to raise concern about potential trade barriers within the EU.

[5] Assemblée Nationale, Audition de M. Éric Woerth, ministre du budget, des comptes publics, de la fonction publique et de la réforme de l'État au cours de la réunion du 21 Juillet 2009.

[6] In the context of the second reading of the draft law in the French Senate, the rapporteur of the Finance Committee welcomed this solution to accommodate the European Commission’s concerns regarding Article 52. Sénate, Rapport n° 209 (2009-2010) de M. François Trucy, fait au nom de la commission des finances, déposé le 19 janvier 2010.

[7] Décret no. 2010-614 du 7 Juin 2010 relatif aux conditions de commercialisation de droits portant sur l’organisation de paris en relation avec une manifestation ou compétition sportives, Article 2.

Comments are closed