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 – January 2018 - By Tomáš Grell

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


The Headlines 

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

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

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

 

Football stakeholders preparing to crack down on agents' excessive fees

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

 

The CAS award in Joseph Odartei Lamptey v. FIFA 

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

 

The Headlines 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Universal Declaration of Player Rights

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

 

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

 

The Headlines

FIFA and FIFPro sign landmark agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here is our official statement:

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Good Governance Approach to Stadium Subsidies in North America - By Ryan Gauthier

Editor's Note: Ryan Gauthier is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University in Canada. Ryan’s research addresses the governance of sports organisations, with a particular focus on international sports organisations. His PhD research examined the accountability of the International Olympic Committee for human rights violations caused by the organisation of the Olympic Games.


Publicly Financing a Stadium – Back in the Saddle(dome)

Calgary, Canada, held their municipal elections on October 16, 2017, re-electing Naheed Nenshi for a third term as mayor. What makes this local election an interesting issue for sports, and sports law, is the domination of the early days of the campaign by one issue – public funding for a new arena for the Calgary Flames. The Flames are Calgary’s National Hockey League (NHL) team, and they play in the Scotiabank Saddledome. More...




Illegally obtained evidence in match-fixing cases: The Turkish perspective - By Oytun Azkanar

Editor’s Note: Oytun Azkanar holds an LLB degree from Anadolu University in Turkey and an LLM degree from the University of Melbourne. He is currently studying Sports Management at the Anadolu University.

 

Introduction

On 19 October 2017, the Turkish Professional Football Disciplinary Committee (Disciplinary Committee) rendered an extraordinary decision regarding the fixing of the game between Manisaspor and Şanlıurfaspor played on 14 May 2017. The case concerned an alleged match-fixing agreement between Elyasa Süme (former Gaziantepspor player), İsmail Haktan Odabaşı and Gökhan Sazdağı (Manisaspor players). The Disciplinary Committee acknowledged that the evidence relevant for proving the match-fixing allegations was obtained illegally and therefore inadmissible, and the remaining evidence was not sufficient to establish that the game was fixed. Before discussing the allegations, it is important to note that the decision is not only significant for Turkish football but is also crucial to the distinction between disciplinary and criminal proceedings in sports. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The ISU Commission's Decision and the Slippery Side of Eligibility Rules - By Stefano Bastianon (University of Bergamo)

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

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

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

2. On the 8th of December 2017, the European Commission ruled that ISU’s eligibility rules breached EU competition law. In particular, the Commission focused on the ISU’s eligibility rule, according to which speed skaters participating in competitions that were not approved by the ISU face severe penalties up to a lifetime ban from all major international speed skating events. The Commission found that such rules restrict competition and enable the ISU to pursue its own commercial interests to the detriment of athletes and organizers of competing events[1]. In sharp contrast with the Commission’s decision is the ISU’s statement published the same day. Indeed, according to the ISU the Commission’s decision is wrong because it fails to consider the specific nature of sports by putting commercial interests ahead of the principles of integrity, health and safety that protect fair play in sport. For this reason the statement ends with the ISU’s reserve to appeal the decision.

3. As it often occurs, small cases (that is cases involving almost unknown athletes or less popular sports and for this reason often underestimated) are able to generate consequences of great importance, presenting many aspects of interest to scholars of EU sports law: this is the case of the ISU affair.

4. First of all, it is a matter of common knowledge that the Commission tends not to intervene in cases dealing with regulatory and organizational aspects of sport. To this regard, it is sufficient to consider that in the 1999 Mouscron case the Commission took the view that the UEFA Cup rule requiring that each club must play its home match at its own ground ("at home and away from home" rule) was a sports rule that did not fall within the scope of the Treaty's competition rules and therefore rejected the complaint. In the 2001 FIA case the Commission closed various anti-trust investigations into certain regulations and commercial arrangements involving Formula One after the parties agreed to make changes which limited the FIA to a regulatory role, so as to prevent any conflict of interests and remove certain commercial restrictions imposed on circuit owners and TV broadcasters. Similarly, in the 2002 FIFA case, the Commission closed its investigation into the rules governing international transfers of football players, in which it formally rejected the complaints related to FIFA in the light of the adoption of new rules capable of balancing a player’s fundamental right to free movement and stability of contracts together with the legitimate objective of integrity of the sport and the stability of championships. Lastly, in the 2002 UEFA multi-ownership rule case the Commission established that the purpose of the rule was not to distort competition, but to guarantee the integrity of the competitions it organizes and rejected the complaint. More recently, in the 2011 Formula One Engine Manufacturers case and the 2014 Financial Fair-Play case the Commission rejected the complaints because of a lack of community interest. In this context, even from a purely statistical point of view, the ISU decision cannot be underestimated.

5. Secondly, one aspect of the importance of the ISU decision lies in the specific matter dealt with. Indeed, eligibility rules (although sometimes differently named) are a common element of many sports. For example the FINA General Rule 4, under the heading “Unauthorised relations”, states that

«no affiliated Member shall have any kind of relationship with a non-affiliated or suspended body (…). Any individual or group violating this Rule shall be suspended by the affiliated Member for a minimum period of one year, up to a maximum period of two years. (…). Each Member that conducts a competition shall strictly enforce the FINA Rules governing eligibility».

The FIG Technical Regulations, Appendix B (Rules of Eligibility for the International Gymnastic Federation) state that

«an eligible gymnast is any gymnast who abides by the eligibility rules of the FIG and the gymnast's National Federation. In any competition sanctioned or conducted by the FIG, each National Federation is responsible for certifying the eligibility of gymnasts from its country. Only gymnasts meeting the requirements of Regulation I are authorised to participate in official competitions and particularly those competitions which qualify gymnasts for Olympic Games and Youth Olympic Games (…). A gymnast may not: (…); b) take part in any gymnastic competition or exhibition which is not sanctioned by the FIG or his/her National Federation (…). Any gymnast infringing these rules, after their enforcement, may not claim to be eligible to participate in the Olympic Games and Youth Olympic Games or qualifying tournaments for the Games».

The FIH Regulations on Sanctioned and Unsanctioned Events state that

«it is prohibited for any National Association, and for any organisation or individual (including Athletes, technical officials, umpires, coaching or management staff) under the jurisdiction of a National Association, to participate in any manner in an Unsanctioned Event. Any Athlete or other individual who participates in any capacity in an Unsanctioned Event is automatically ineligible for twelve months thereafter to participate in any capacity in any International Event».

The UCI Cycling Regulations, under the heading «Forbidden Races», state that

«no licence holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognised by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI».

As a consequence, the ISU decision goes far beyond the specific sport considered (speed skating) and represents a clear message sent by the Commission to the entire sports world.

6. From this point of view, it is important not to forget that before the Commission there are still pending two complaints lodged respectively by the Euroleague Basketball and by FIBA. The dispute between FIBA and Euroleague Basketball goes back to the end of 2015 when FIBA announced the creation of a basketball Champions League in direct competition with the two European professional clubs’ competitions organized by the ECA. In order to force professional clubs to participate in the new Basketball Champions League, FIBA did not hesitate to put pressure on national federations threatening the possibility of excluding their national teams from participation in main competitions such as EuroBasket and the Olympic Games. According to the Euroleague Basketball the complaint «targets the unacceptable and illegal threats and pressures that FIBA and its member federations are making against clubs, players and referees to force them to abandon the Euroleague and the EuroCup and only participate in FIBA competitions. The complaint's objective is to guarantee that clubs, players and referees can freely make the choice to participate in the competitions that they consider appropriate without being subject to threats or pressures. FIBA is violating European Union law because, in a blatant conflict of interest, FIBA has rules on its books that provide for sanctions against those who are involved in competitions not approved by FIBA». In a completely specular way, FIBA has lodged a complaint against the Euroleague Basketball alleging an abusive tying by imposing undue pressure on leagues and clubs, as well as threatening exclusion from the Euroleague unless they commit to the EuroCup (…); a “syndication agreement” circulated among the 11 A license clubs who hold the majority of votes in ECA, meaning that six clubs control ECA, including all Euroleague and EuroCup decisions in sporting and commercial matters; arbitrarily cherry-picking clubs for Euroleague and EuroCup, which means destroying any commercial and sporting value of domestic leagues and undermining the competitive balance in European basketball; abusively discriminating against financially weaker clubs, thereby placing them at a further competitive disadvantage». However, the FIBA/Euroleague dispute involves another fundamental aspect related to the scheduling of competitions. According to FIBA, the new Euroleague calendar does not include windows of time for national team competitions in February or November, and for this reason, the Euroleague is preventing the release of players to national team competitions. On the contrary, according to the Euroleague, FIBA’s new windows in February and November represent a change from the past where international competitions, including the World Cup qualifiers, were held in the summer, during the offseason for most leagues.[2]

Although different in many respects compared to the ISU case, the FIBA/Euroleague affair raises again the problem of conflict of interest when sports federations pretend to exercise autonomously their regulatory power for the sake of the organization of sport and to simultaneously carry out an economic activity related to the organization of sporting events. In consideration of the dual nature of sports federations, the basic problem to be solved is to clarify if and to what extent the conduct of a sports federation is legitimate when it uses its regulatory power to exclude or marginalize third parties from the market of the organization of sporting events. 

7. Going back to the merit of the ISU affair and waiting to read the decision, the Commission’s press release and the statement by Commissioner Vestager are very important in order to better understand the scope and limits of the decision. The decision is not about the pyramid structure of European sports. The principle of a single federation for each sport and the right of the federations to organise competition from local to international levels is a milestone of the European model of sport. In this context the decision does not question the right of sports federations to enact rules necessary to achieve those goals. However, the ISU decision confirms that sport is not just for fun, but it is also a business. Therefore, although the Commission does not intend “to be the referee in every dispute about sport”, in matters dealing with the economic dimension of sport, sports federations must understand that the business of sports has to comply with competition rules. This means that the sole fact that eligibility rules or any other rule enacted by sports federations pursue a legitimate objective (for example, the protection of athletes’ health, the integrity and the proper conduct of sport, the fight against doping) does not represent a valid justification to put those rules outside the scope of EU law. Indeed, according to the Court of Justice’s case law, sporting rules set up by sports federations are compatible with EU law only if they pursue a legitimate objective and the restrictions that they create are inherent and proportionate to reaching this objective. Therefore, in cases relating to the exercise of regulatory power by sports federations the problem does not concern the legitimate nature of the objectives pursued. Generally speaking, in all the cases examined by the Commission and National antitrust authorities, the legitimacy of the objectives pursued by the federations has never been questioned. On the contrary, in those cases the problem was the inherent and proportionate character of the restrictions created by the federations through the exercise of their regulatory power. From this point of view, therefore, it can be said that it must certainly be considered inherent and proportionate to the objective of ensuring the integrity of the sport the rule requiring the athletes who participate in an event not authorized by the respective federation to undergo, at their own expense, an anti-doping tests before being able to attend an event organized by the federation. Quite the reverse, a clause sanctioning the athlete who participates in a competition not authorized by the federation with a lifetime ban from all the events organized by the federation appears totally disproportionate. Similarly, it must certainly be considered inherent and proportionate to the objective of ensuring the integrity of the sport the rule requiring anyone who intends to organize a sporting event outside the federation to ensure compliance with the rules of the game, as elaborated by the federation, and the anti-doping controls. In contrast, the clause that imposes on the organizer of an event the obligation to respect the rules of the federation in regards to the choice of the athletes or teams admitted to participate in such competition must be considered disproportionate. Although it is true that the European model of sport expressly refers to the mechanism of promotion and relegation as a distinguishing feature compared to the US model, it is equally true that the Commission has never qualified the structure of open leagues as a legitimate objective capable of justifying the provision of rules restricting competition or the free movement of persons. Moreover, even considering the model of the open leagues a necessary feature of the European sports model, it must be emphasized that the organization of a sporting event based on a system of special licenses is not in itself in contrast with the founding values ​​of the European sports model. On the one hand, the existence of other events (national and European) characterized by the traditional mechanisms of promotion and relegation represents the best safeguard of the European model of sport. However, it is clear that in order to protect the meritocratic criterion behind the mechanism of promotion and relegation it is sufficient to provide a mixed system where some athletes or teams are admitted on the basis of a licence and other athletes/teams are admitted on the basis of the results achieved on the pitch.

8. We can imagine the ISU’s disappointment regarding the Commission’s decision.  On the contrary, what is really difficult to understand is the ISU’s position shown in the statement published on the same day of the Commission’s decision. The idea that the Commission’s decision fails to consider the specific nature of sport is simply nonsense considering the rather vague nature of the notion of specificity of sports, especially in the post Meca Medina era. Similarly, the idea that the Commission’s decision puts commercial interests ahead of the principles of integrity, health, and safety that protect fair play in sports has no legal basis. In the same way, the idea that the decision is contrary to the Treaty, which recognizes the voluntary, social, and educational functions of sports reveals a serious lack of knowledge of the basics of EU law applied to the sports sector. On the other hand, the ISU correctly affirms that its eligibility rules—similar to the eligibility rules of many other international sports federations—ensure the protection of the health and safety of athletes at all authorized events as well as the integrity of sports events, and that these rules are essential to the role of international federations as the guardians of sports movement. However, it is easy to assert that the Commission’s decision does not question this argument and the fundamental role of international federations to organize the proper and correct conduct of sport.  To this regard, the decision not to impose a fine on the ISU is a clear signal. Another signal is represented by the recognition that there are many disputes which have little or nothing at all to do with competition rules as they raise primarily issues related to the governance of a sport. In other words, sports federations must understand that the sole fact that they are charged to guarantee the integrity and proper conduct of their sport, the protection of athletes’ health, and other fundamental values related to sports does not automatically mean that the rules enacted to pursue these objectives cannot be scrutinized through the lens of EU law. Once and for all, it should be understood that when the exercise of regulatory power by sports federations is able to affect the distinct market of the organization of sports events, in which sports federations compete with other sports events organisers, EU law applies. This new context should have been evident following the Bosman ruling and, above all, after the Meca Medina judgment. Unfortunately, the ISU decision (and the ISU’s reaction) confirms that this is not yet the case.


[1] For more details, see http://leidenlawblog.nl/articles/what-can-eu-competition-law-do-for-speed-skaters 

[2] On this subject it is worthy to note that the statement by Commissioner Vestager on the ISU decision clearly highlights that things like the penalties for doping or match-fixing, or deciding the precise scheduling have little or nothing at all to do with antitrust. For these, sports organisations must live up to their responsibilities and find solutions and mechanisms for solving disputes that deliver the results that the public and the athletes deserve.

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