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

Pistorius revisited: A comment on the CAS award in Blake Leeper v. IAAF - By Marjolaine Viret

On 23 October 2020, a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (‘CAS’) rendered an award in the matter opposing Mr Blake Leeper (‘Mr Leeper’ or ‘the Athlete’) to the International Association of Athletics Federation (‘IAAF’).[1] The CAS panel was asked to make a ruling on the validity of the IAAF rule that places on a disabled athlete the burden to prove that a mechanical aid used to compete in IAAF-sanctioned competitions does not give such athlete an overall competitive advantage.

The award is remarkable in that it declared the shift of the burden of proof on the athlete invalid, and reworded the rule so that the burden is shifted back on the IAAF to show the existence of a competitive advantage. Thus, while the IAAF won its case against Blake Leeper as the panel found that the sport governing body had discharged its burden in casu, the outcome can be viewed as a victory for disabled athletes looking to participate in IAAF-sanctioned events. It remains to be seen how this victory will play out in practice. Beyond the immediate issue at stake, the case further presents an illustration of how – all things equal – assigning the burden of proof can be decisive for the real-life impact of a policy involving complex scientific matters, as much as the actual legal prerequisites of the underlying rules.

This article focuses on some key aspects of the award that relate to proof issues in the context of assessing competitive advantage. Specifically, the article seeks to provide some food for thought regarding burden and degree of proof of an overall advantage, the contours of the test of ‘overall advantage’ designed by the CAS panel and its possible bearing in practice, and potential impact of the ruling on other areas of sports regulations such as anti-doping.

The award also analyses broader questions regarding the prohibition of discrimination in the regulation of sports, as well as the interplay with international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which are not explored in depth here. More...

Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part. 2: The African Reality – By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


Having considered the history and justifications for the FIFA training compensation and solidarity mechanisms in my previous blog, I will now consider these systems in the African context. This appears to be a worthwhile undertaking given these global mechanisms were largely a result of European influence, so understanding their (extraterritorial) impact beyond the EU seems particularly important. Moreover, much has been written about the “muscle drain” affecting African football and the need for such drain to either be brought to a halt, or, more likely and perhaps more practical, to put in place an adequate system of redistribution to ensure the flourishing of African football that has essentially acted as a nursery for European football for at least a century. In the present blog, I intend to draw on my experiences as a football agent to expand on how FIFA’s redistributive mechanisms function in practice when an African player signs in Europe via one of the many kinds of entities that develop or purport to develop talent in Africa. I will throughout address the question of whether these mechanisms are effective in a general sense and more specifically in relation to their operation in Africa.More...



International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


The Headlines

Aguero and Massey-Ellis incident: An Opportunity for Change and Education?

In mid-October a clip went viral of Argentinian star Sergio Aguero putting his hands on sideline referee, Sian Massey-Ellis. A heated debate ensued in many circles, some claiming that Aguero’s conduct was commonplace, others taking aim at the appropriateness of the action, around players touching official and a male touching a female with an unsolicited arm around the back, the squeeze and pull in. Putting the normative arguments aside for a moment, the irony of the debate was that all sides had a point. Football, almost exclusively, has grown a culture of acceptance for touching officials despite the regulations. Male officials who have let such conduct slide, have arguably let their female colleague down in this instance.

Whilst a partial defence of Aguero might be that this kind of conduct takes place regularly, the incident could serve as a learning experience. If Massey-Ellis’ reaction was not enough, the backlash from some of the public might provide Aguero and other players the lesson, that touching a woman in this way is not acceptable.

Returning to football, the respect and protection of officials in sport, the key here appears to be cracking down on touching officials entirely. This is not a foreign concept and football need only look at the rugby codes. Under no circumstances does the regulations or the culture permit that a player from the rugby codes touch a referee. It is likely the case that the obvious extra level of respect for officials in these sports derives from a firm culture of no touching, no crowding officials, communicating with officials through the team captain only, with harsh sanctions if one does not comply.

The Football Association of England has decided no action was necessary, raising questions of how seriously they take the safety of officials, and gender issues. This is ultimately a global football issue though, so the confederations or international bodies may need step in to ensure the protections that appear at best fragile.  


Rugby Trans issue

The World Rugby Transgender guideline has been released and contains a comprehensive unpacking of the science behind much of the regulatory framework. Despite many experts applauding World Rugby on the guidelines and the extensive project to reach them, the England Rugby Football Union is the first to defy the World Rugby ruling and transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future. This clash between national bodies and the international body on an important issue is concerning and will undoubtedly be one to keep an eye on.

 

CAS rejects the appeal of Munir El Haddadi and the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football (FRMF)

The refusal to authorise a footballer to change national federation is in the headlines with the CAS dismissing the appeal of the player and Moroccan federation, confirming the original determination of the FIFA Players’ Status Committee.

This has been given considerable recent attention and seemingly worth following, perhaps best summed up by FIFA Director of Football Regulatory, James Kitching, where in a tweet he notes: “The new eligibility rules adopted by the FIFA Congress on 18 September 2020 have passed their first test. We will be publishing our commentary on the rules in the next fortnight. Watch this space.” More...



Revisiting FIFA’s Training Compensation and Solidarity Mechanism - Part.1: The historical, legal and political foundations - By Rhys Lenarduzzi

Editor’s note: Rhys Lenarduzzi is a final semester Bachelor of Law (LL.B) and Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Phil.) student, at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia. As a former professional athlete, then international sports agent and consultant, Rhys is interested in international sports law, policy and ethics. He is currently undertaking an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on Transnational Sports Law.


In 2019, training compensation and solidarity contributions based on FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) amounted to US$ 75,5 million. This transfer of wealth from the clubs in the core of the football hierarchy to the clubs where the professional players originated is a peculiar arrangement unknown in other global industries. Beyond briefly pointing out or reminding the reader of how these systems work and the history behind them, this blog series aims to revisit the justifications for FIFA-imposed training compensation and the solidarity mechanism, assess their efficacy and effects through a case study of their operation in the African context, and finally analyse the potential impact of upcoming reforms of the FIFA RSTP in this context.

First, it is important to go back to the roots of this, arguably, strange practice. The current transfer system and the legal mechanisms constituting it were largely the result of a complex negotiation between European football’s main stakeholders and the European Commission dating back to 2001. The conclusion of these negotiations led to a new regulatory system enshrined in Article 20 and Annex 4 of the RSTP in the case of training compensation, and at Article 21 and Annex 5 in the case of the solidarity mechanism. Before paying some attention to the historical influences and how we arrived at these changes, as well as the justifications from the relevant bodies for their existence, let us briefly recall what training compensation and the solidarity mechanisms actually are. More...



Invalidity of forced arbitration clauses in organised sport…Germany strikes back! - By Björn Hessert

Editor's note: Björn Hessert is a research assistant at the University of Zurich and a lawyer admitted to the German bar.

 

The discussion revolving around the invalidity of arbitration clauses in organised sport in favour of national and international sports arbitral tribunals has been at the centre of the discussion in German courtrooms.[1] After the decisions of the German Federal Tribunal[2] (“BGH”) and the European Court of Human Rights[3] (“ECtHR”) in the infamous Pechstein case, this discussion seemed to have finally come to an end. Well…not according to the District Court (LG) of Frankfurt.[4] On 7 October 2020, the District Court rendered a press release in which the court confirmed its jurisdiction due to the invalidity of the arbitration clause contained in the contracts between two beach volleyball players and the German Volleyball Federation[5] (“DVV”) – but one step at a time. More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – September - October 2020 - By Rhys Lenarduzzi


The Headlines


Human rights and sport  

Caster Semenya

Human rights issues are taking the headlines in the sporting world at present. A short time ago, Caster Semenya’s appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal against the CAS decision was dismissed, perhaps raising more questions than answering them. Within the last few days however, the message from the Semenya camp has been that this is not over (see here).  See the contributions from a range of authors at Asser International Sports Law Blog for a comprehensive analysis of the Semenya case(s) to date.

Navid Afkari

As the sporting world heard of the execution of Iranian Wrestler Navid Afkari, a multitude of legal and ethical questions bubbled to the surface. Not least of all and not a new question: what is the responsibility of sport and the governing bodies therein, in the space of human rights?  And, if an athlete is to acquire a high profile through sporting excellence, does that render athletes vulnerable to be made an example of and therefore in need of greater protection than is currently afforded to them? There are differing views on how to proceed. Consider the following from the World Players Association (Navid Afkari: How sport must respond) and that from the IOC (IOC Statement on the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari) which shows no indication through this press releases and other commentary, of undertaking the measures demanded by World Players Association and other socially active organisations. (See also, Benjamin Weinthal - Olympics refuses to discuss Iranian regime’s murder of wrestler).

Yelena Leuchanka

As this is written and relevant to the above, Yelena Leuchanka is behind bars for her participation in protests, resulting in several sporting bodies calling for her immediate release and for reform in the sporting world around how it ought to deal with these issues. As a member of the “Belarus women's national basketball team, a former player at several WNBA clubs in the United States and a two-time Olympian”, Leuchanka has quite the profile and it is alleged that she is being made an example of. (see here)

Uighur Muslims and Beijing Winter Olympics

British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab does not rule out Winter Olympics boycott over Uighur Muslims. ‘The foreign secretary said it was his "instinct to separate sport from diplomacy and politics" but that there "comes a point where that might not be possible".’ Though Raab’s comments are fresh, this issue is shaping as a “watch this space” scenario, as other governments might echo a similar sentiment as a result of mounting pressure from human rights activist groups and similar, in lead up to the Winter Games. More...



The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 2 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.


1. EU law and the CAS case-law

Bearing in mind these questions, it is possible to affirm that under EU law, the specificity of sport

i) refers to the inherent characteristics of sport that set it apart from other economic and social activities and which have to be taken into account in assessing the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law; and

ii) under EU law these inherent characteristics of sport must be  considered on a case by case  basis, per the Wouters test as developed by the ECJ in the Meca Medina ruling.

Both aspects can be found in the CAS case-law too, although the CAS case-law shows some remarkable differences and peculiarities. From a general point of view, the application of the principle of specificity of sport in the CAS case-law represents an aspect of the more general issue related to the application of EU law by the CAS. However, the purpose of this paper is not to fully examine if and to what extent the CAS arbitrators apply EU law rules on free movement and competition; rather, the aim is to analyse the way the CAS deals with the concept of the specificity of sport, highlighting similarities and differences compared to the ECJ.

Taking for granted that ‘a CAS panel is not only allowed, but also obliged to deal with the issues involving the application of [EU] law’,[1] as far as the compatibility of sporting rules with EU law is concerned the CAS case-law shows different degrees of engagement. For instance, in the ENIC award concerning the so-called UEFA integrity rule, the CAS panel went through a complete competition-law analysis in perfect harmony with the Wouters et al. ruling by the ECJ.[2] On the contrary, in the above-quoted Mutu case, the issue of compatibility of the FIFA’s transfer regulations with EU competition law was analysed in a rather simple way, merely stating that the FIFA rules at stake were not anti-competitive under EU competition law without giving any reason to support this conclusion. More recently, in the Galatasaray and Milan A.C. awards, concerning the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations, the CAS  applied a detailed analysis of EU competition law. However, in both cases, according to the CAS the proportionate character of sanctions listed in the UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations cannot affect the evaluation of the legitimacy of these regulations under Art. 101 TFEU. This conclusion represents a clear breaking point with respect to the ECJ case-law, according to which the evaluation of the restrictive effects of a rule necessarily presupposes the analysis of the proportionate character of the sanction imposed in the event of a violation of that rule as well.[3]   In regard to EU free movement, the CAS case-law tends to be less analytical in terms of the principle of proportionality. For instance, in the RFC Seraing award  which concerned both EU free movement and competition law, the CAS panel mainly focused on the legitimate objectives of the contested rule (FIFA’s ban on Third-Party Ownership – TPO), merely affirming that the restrictive measures under EU free movement were justified and inherent in the pursuit of those objectives.More...



The Specificity of Sport - Comparing the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice and of the Court of Arbitration for Sport - Part 1 - By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar.*

 

1. Introduction.

The so-called specificity of sport represents one of the most debated, if not the most debated, but still undefined issue under European Union (EU) law. A noteworthy peculiarity is that the specificity of sport is frequently mentioned in several legislative and political documents issued by EU institutions, however it is not expressly referred to in any judgment by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).Conversely, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) case-law on Art. 17 of FIFA Regulations on status and transfer of players (RSTP) has repeatedly and expressly referred to the specificity of sport.[1] Apparently, the concept of specificity of sport has different meanings and purposes in the ECJ and CAS jurisprudence. In this blog (divided in two parts), I will try to analyse those two different meanings and to what extent the CAS case-law is consistent with the concept of specificity of sport as elaborated under EU law. More...

SFT rejects Semenya appeal: nothing changes - By Andy Brown

Editor's note: Andy Brown is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the governance of sport for over 15 years. He is the editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative where this blog appeared first.


For the last three days, I have been struggling with what to write regarding the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s (SFT) Decision to dismiss a challenge from Caster Semenya and Athletics South Africa (ASA) against the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) Decision to dismiss a challenge to the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development), otherwise known as the DSD Regulations. From reading World Athletics’ statement welcoming the ruling, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had won a major trial. Sports journalists, accustomed to covering events now curtailed by Covid-19, focus on the fact that Semenya has ‘lost’ her case against the DSD Regulations. Neither assertion is strictly accurate.

The SFT’s powers to review the CAS’s ruling are severely limited. It can only consider whether the CAS Decision violates ‘widely recognised principles of public order’ on Swiss public policy grounds. The SFT has only reversed a decision based on a a violation of Swiss public policy once in 30 years.

The SFT didn’t reconsider the evidence put forward to the CAS. ‘For there to be incompatibility with public policy, it is not enough that the evidence has been poorly assessed, that a finding of fact is manifestly false or that a rule of law has been clearly violated’, its Decision reads. ‘The only question to be resolved is in fact whether or not the verdict of the CAS renders the referred award incompatible with substantive public policy’. 

There were questions about whether the appeal from Semenya and ASA qualified to be reviewed by the SFT in the first place. World Athletics is a private organisation headquartered in Monaco, and the SFT was troubled as to whether such a complaint brought by a South African athlete against an overseas private organisation is capable of violating Swiss public policy.

‘It is doubtful whether the prohibition of discriminatory measures falls within the scope of the restrictive concept of public order when the discrimination is committed by a private person and occurs in relations between individuals’, the Decision quotes from its pervious 29 July 2019 Decision, which refused the ASA’s request to provisionally suspend the application of the DSD Regulations. ‘In any event, there is no need to examine this question further here since […] the award under appeal does not in any way establish discrimination which would be contrary to public order’

The SFT ruled that the CAS was correct to uphold conditions of participation for 46 XY DSD athletes in order to guarantee fair competition for certain disciplines in female athletics. In doing so, the SFT was ruling on whether the decision taken by the CAS violates public policy, based only on the complaints brought forward by Semenya and ASA. 

Semenya and the ASA had challenged the CAS Decision based around the idea that the DSD Regulations are discriminatory. The CAS held that they are discriminatory, but agreed with the IAAF (as World Athletics was then named) that such discrimination was necessary to protect its female category. The SFT ruled that even if the discriminatory rules of a private organisation such as the IAAF were considered able to pose a threat to public order, Semenya and the ASA had failed to demonstrate that the CAS Decision was so egregious that it posed such a threat.

‘Caster Semenya essentially alleges a violation of the prohibition of discrimination’, reads the Swiss Federal Supreme Court statement. ‘The CAS has issued a binding decision based on the unanimous opinion of the experts who were consulted that testosterone is the main factor for the different performance levels of the sexes in athletics; according to the CAS, women with the “46 XY DSD” gene variant have a testosterone level comparable to men, which gives them an insurmountable competitive advantage and enables them to beat female athletes without the “46 XY DSD” variant. Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the “women” category.’

Such strong support for the principle behind its DSD Regulations was rightly welcomed by World Athletics. Its statement asserted that the SFT ‘acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions’. I would argue that the SFT ruling didn’t do this, but rather found that a CAS Decision asserting this didn’t violate Swiss public policy. Semantics, perhaps.

Likewise, when World Athletics quotes the SFT Decision as confirming that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’, it is paraphrasing two texts quoted in the SFT Decision. The first is ‘La qualification juridique des rules autonomes des organizations sportive’ by Jérôme Jaquier, 2004. ‘Inborn characteristics specific to athletes in a particular group can also distort the fairness of competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Jaquier. ‘When they enact regulations, the objective of sports federations is to ensure fair and equitable competition’.

The context of the second quote, from ‘Sportrecht – Berücksichtigung der Interessen des Sports in der Rechtsordnung’ by Martin Kaiser, 2011, is even more interesting. It is preceded with a statement from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, which reads: ‘It is not for the Federal Court to make, abstractly, comparisons between the disciplines to assess whether a particular athlete has an advantage that makes sporting competition meaningless’

‘It is above all for the sporting federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is liable to distort competition’, the SFT Decision quotes from Kaiser. ‘And, if so, to establish legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs’. 

Again, such details might be considered as semantics. But – I would argue – important semantics. Reading the media maelstrom that has resulted from the SFT Decision, one could be forgiven for assuming that Semenya has lost her case, and has no chance of ever defending her 800m title. However, a statement issued by her lawyers reveals that she intends to challenge the ruling in European and domestic courts.

“I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am”, the statement continues. “Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history. I will continue to fight for the human rights of female athletes, both on the track and off the track, until we can all run free the way we were born. I know what is right and will do all I can to protect basic human rights, for young girls everywhere.” More...



The Semenya Decision of the Swiss Federal Tribunal: Human Rights on the Bench - By Faraz Shahlaei

Editor's note: Faraz Shahlaei is a JSD Candidate at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. His research and teaching interests are public international law, international sports law, international human rights and dispute resolution.

 

The issue of international human rights was a central contention in Caster Semenya case ever since the start of her legal battle against the regulations of the IAAF. However, the human rights arguments were poorly considered in the two proceedings related to this case. To put it in perspective, it is like having a key player nailed to the bench throughout the whole game; no coach ever tried to give it a chance while it had the potential to be the game changer for all parties.

In 2019, the Human Rights Council, the inter-governmental human rights body of the UN, expressed concern over issues of discrimination in sports in particular regarding IAAF female classification regulations. In June 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the “Intersection of Race and Gender Discrimination in Sport”. The report draws a detailed picture of how human rights in the Semenya case have been violated and also elaborates on the inherent problem of addressing human rights issues in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms favored by the sport governing bodies. However, despite an in-depth discussion of Caster Semenya’s case at both the CAS and then the SFT, the question of human rights, a key concern and a fundamental pillar of the case, hasn’t been adequately answered yet! More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | The limits to multiple representation by football intermediaries under FIFA rules and Swiss Law - By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

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 limits to multiple representation by football intermediaries under FIFA rules and Swiss Law - By Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla

Editor’s note: Josep F. Vandellos Alamilla is an international sports lawyer and academic based in Valencia (Spain) and a member of the Editorial Board of the publication Football Legal. Since 2017 he is the Director of  the Global Master in Sports Management and Legal Skills FC Barcelona – ISDE.

I think we would all agree that the reputation of players’ agents, nowadays called intermediaries, has never been a good one for plenty of reasons. But the truth is their presence in the football industry is much needed and probably most of the transfers would never take place if these outcast members of the self-proclaimed football family were not there to ensure a fluid and smooth communication between all parties involved.

For us, sports lawyers, intermediaries are also important clients as they often need our advice to structure the deals in which they take part. One of the most recurrent situations faced by intermediaries and agents operating off-the-radar (i.e. not registered in any football association member of FIFA) is the risk of entering in a so-called multiparty or dual representation and the potential risks associated with such a situation.

The representation of the interests of multiple parties in football intermediation can take place for instance when the agent represents the selling club, the buying club and/or the player in the same transfer, or when the agent is remunerated by multiple parties, and in general when the agent incurs the risk of jeopardizing the trust deposited upon him/her by the principal. The situations are multiple and can manifest in different manners.

This article will briefly outline the regulatory framework regarding multiparty representation applicable to registered intermediaries. It will then focus on provisions of Swiss law and the identification of the limits of dual representation in the light of the CAS jurisprudence and some relevant decisions of the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

 

A)   Regulatory framework:

Those agents acting in the market as registered intermediaries will necessarily be subjected to the specific football regulations enacted by FIFA and the national associations in which they operate. The answer as to the possibility to represent more than one party to a deal will therefore, be necessarily found in internal rules of each association. 

As opposed to the obsolete FIFA Players’ Agent Regulations[1], the FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (RWWI) allow intermediaries to represent more than one party in a transaction. Pursuant to the definition of intermediary[2] in combination with Article 8 RWWI, the only substantive requirement to intermediaries willing to act for multiple parties is that they obtain prior written consent and confirmation in writing on which party (i.e. the player and/or the club) will remunerate the services of the intermediary. The regulations, therefore, prioritize transparency over the question of who pays for the services of the intermediary. Consequently, it is not forbidden for an intermediary to represent and be paid by multiple parties to a transaction, as long as they all know and agree to it in advance.  

At a national level, most FIFA member associations[3] have followed the solution adopted in the RWWI and have transposed ad literam the right of intermediaries to multiparty representation as long as the transparency and information requirements are met (i.e. any potential conflict of interest is disclosed to the parties in advance, and subject to the prior written consent of the parties to the transaction).

However, there are still many agents that prefer to operate off-the-radar of organized football and its regulations. For these ‘rogue’ agents, the scenario is different and the question of the legality of multiparty representation will ultimately depend on the applicable law chosen by the parties[4]. Based on my personal experience, off-the-radar agents often end up acting through very rudimentary authorizations subject to the ordinary jurisdiction of the CAS. For this reason, I chose to dissect in this paper the limits of multiparty representation according to Swiss law, for based on article XY of the CAS Code of Sports Arbitration it represents the applicable law to ordinary disputes before the CAS when parties fail to make a particular choice of law.

The provisions of the contract of brokerage (“contrat de courtage”) in Articles 412-418 of the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO) are of relevance in this regard. The cornerstone provision concerning conflict of interest is found in Article 415 CO[5] whose English translation reads as follows:

Where the broker acts in the interests of a third party in breach of the contract or procures a promise of remuneration from such party in circumstances tantamount to bad faith, he forfeits his right to a fee and to any reimbursement of expenses”.

The article differentiates between two non-cumulative hypothetical situations where the broker (i.e. agent) may be in a position of conflict of interests.

  • First: the broker “Acts in the interest of a third party in breach of the contract”.
  • Second: the broker “Procures a promise of remuneration from such party in bad faith”.

The first hypothesis establishes the prohibition of the broker to act in the interest of a third party if the obligations towards his client are breached. Accordingly, an agent representing a player is prevented from assisting the players’ contracting club to negotiate the terms of his employment contract, as he would be defending irreconcilable interests (i.e. the interest of the club to pay the lowest salary possible v/ the interest of the player to obtain the highest possible salary). Conversely, the same agent could be hired by the club in a different transaction without incurring a conflict of interest with the player. The condition triggering this first hypothesis will be thus, whether the agent acting for the third party is in breach of his contractual obligations.

It is important to note that the published English translation of the CO differs slightly from the original text of the code[6]. While the English translation refers to the breach of the “contract”, the original French version refers instead to a breach of the “obligations” which has obviously a broader scope, covering a wider range of situations than a contract might include.

This linguistic difference can be misleading as the obligations emanating from the CO may go beyond the obligations set forth in a simple authorization or a brokerage contract. By way of example, think of a very simple “Authorization” that does not explicitly prohibit the agent of the player to simultaneously act for the club. Sticking to literal text of the English translation, one could be tempted to believe that the agent was not acting in breach of the contract. However, the same situation seen under the lens of the legal obligations would imply that the agent could still be infringing the obligation of loyalty and trust stemming from the CO.

In view of the above, a correct evaluation of the first hypothesis will necessarily account for the legal obligations inherent to the brokerage contract, the scope of which might go beyond the obligations stipulated in the contract. Amongst these, the obligation of loyalty, the obligation to safeguard the interest of the client by not entering into conflictive situations, and the obligation of transparency and information.

The second hypothesis covers the prohibition in Swiss law of dual representation by procuring a promise of payment from third parties to the relationship broker/principal, if such a promise amounts to bad faith.

It needs to be underlined that this provision does not exclude dual payment, but subjects it to a certain limit, i.e. not incurring in bad faith. Delineating bad faith can turn out to be a difficult task as the concept itself has an inevitable component of subjectivity and, as opposed to good faith which is legally presumed (cf. Article 3 of the Swiss Civil Code), bad faith must always be proven by the party claiming it, who ultimately bears the burden of proof[7]

Applied to football agents, it can be safely assumed that an agent acting in good faith towards his client would necessarily act in a transparent way and inform his client that he is simultaneously acting for the other contracting party. Not disclosing such information in the context of negotiations can serve as indication of bad faith when combined with other elements. However, to prove the presence of bad faith will still require sufficient material evidence in order to discharge the burden of proof, since the simple negligence of the broker would not be sufficient to fall under the scope of the article.

The consequence for a broker (i.e. football agent) infringing the prohibition of dual representation in he hypotheses described in article 415 CO is the nullity of the contract and the forfeiture of the right to be remunerated, or the obligation to reimburse the amounts received if the infringement is ascertained after the realization of the contract and payment of the fee (“quod nullum est nullum producit effectum”).  

With the above premises in mind, a detailed look into the CAS and the Swiss Federal Tribunal jurisprudence regarding Article 415 CO will help identifying the scope of the legal obligations of a football agent towards his client (i.e. club and/or player), as well as the mechanisms used by the decision-making bodies to determine the existence of bad faith.

 

B)   Jurisprudence:

One of the very few CAS cases dealing with Article 415 CO in the context of football agents' relationships with clubs is the CAS award  2012/A/2988 PFC CSKA Sofia v. Loic Bensaid.

In short, the dispute opposed the flagship Bulgarian football club CSKA Sofia against a French football agent and revolved around the right of the latter to be remunerated by the club, considering he had acted simultaneously in representation of the player in the signature of the employment contract.

One of the many arguments used by the club in support of its alleged right not to pay the agent was based on Article 415 CO. The club asserted that the agent acted in violation of his obligations for having represented both parties. On the merits, the Sole Arbitrator concluded, nevertheless, that the agent had fulfilled the obligations of transparency and information as the Club was aware at all times that the agent also acted for the player and knew about the existence of the representation contract with the player[8]. The full knowledge and acceptance of the situation impeded the club to contend, at a later stage, the violation of the duty of loyalty and transparency.

Secondly, adhering to the grounds of the supporting FIFA decision, the Sole Arbitrator also remarked that the mandate between the Agent and the player did not contain any obligation to remunerate the services of the agent. The prohibition of agents to be remunerated twice for their services has been traditionally a key element in previous FIFA decisions where dual representation was at the center of the dispute[9]. This fact possibly led the Sole Arbitrator to also highlight this circumstance when assessing the behavior of the agent. However, the Sole Arbitrator further stated that, even if the mandate would have provided for a remuneration in favor of the agent (quod non), Article 415 CO would still not have been violated as the club failed to discharge the burden of proof as to the existence of bad faith, reinforcing with it that dual representation is only forbidden to the extent the agent acts in bad faith[10].

This final remark of the Sole Arbitrator is crucial as it evidences, in my view, that whether the player and the agent agreed upon a remuneration, remains in the end irrelevant for the evaluation of a possible violation of Article 415 CO. Indeed, pursuant to the CAS arbitrator’s interpretation of the article, the agent can be remunerated twice, as it is the disregard of the obligations inherent to the contract and in particular for the second hypothesis acting in bad faith that determines compliance with Article 415 CO.

To better illustrate the irrelevance of the “double remuneration” discussion, think for a moment of a brokerage contract where there is no explicit reference to the remuneration. Does such a lacuna in the contract imply that the brokerage is necessarily, pro bono? The answer is no, for as a general rule, mandates given in the context of professional relationships are presumed to be lucrative (see Art. 394(3) CO). That is precisely the case of football agents when they contract with players or clubs. This circumstance renders the reference to a remuneration in the contract a secondary element, or at least not an essential one. The former FIFA PAR (Ed. 2008[11]) followed this ratio legis when explicitly providing for a default remuneration of 3% of the players’ basic income where the parties cannot agree on the remuneration.

Beyond the specific CAS awards, some decisions of the Swiss Tribunal Federal help getting the full perspective on dual representation in the context of disputes subject to Swiss law. Although these do not refer to football agents, the similarities that exist with real estate and/or corporate brokers allow to derive important conclusions that can be applied to football agents.

A first decision worth mentioning is no. 4A_214/2014 of 15 December 2014. The case concerned a classic real estate intermediation where the agent agreed a commission from both the seller and the buyer involved in the transaction. The agent also failed to inform the seller of the existence of a better buying offer from a third potential buyer. In this context, after concluding the deal, the buyer refused to pay the agent, invoking Article 415 CO.

This case is important because it reveals the existence of two types of brokerage contracts under Swiss law (i.e. “courtage de negotiation” and the “courtage d’indication”). Whereas in a brokerage of negotiation the broker is entrusted by his client to negotiate the conditions of the transaction, in a brokerage of indication, the broker is simply called to indicate the possibility to conclude a transaction, with no negotiation duties involved. Furthermore, according to the doctrine cited in the decision, both types of contract are treated differently under Article 415 CO.

In casu, the Federal Tribunal qualified the contracts signed by the agent with the buyer and the seller as “courtage de negotiation” as he was entrusted with conducting all aspects related to the transaction. The agent was required to obtain the best possible conditions for his clients (e.g. the best buying and selling price respectively) and this circumstance directly generated an irremediable conflict of interest (i.e. the negotiation was either benefitting the financial interests of seller or the buyer) infringing the obligation of loyalty inherent to the brokerage contracts with the parties.

All in all, the Federal Tribunal rejected the appeal submitted by the real estate agent and confirmed the nullity of both contracts for violating Article 415 CO. The Federal Tribunal followed a strict interpretation of Article 415 CO according to which “no one can serve two masters” and thus, dual representation would only be possible (if so) in simple intermediations where no negotiation from the broker is required[12], in other words in “courtage d’indication”. In addition, in this case the agent also acted in bad faith for failing to disclose the existence of a more favorable offer to the detriment of the seller.

The main lesson that can be learnt from this decision is that Article 415 CO must be interpreted restrictively and that it has to be distinguished between those intermediation contracts that imply an active involvement of the agent (i.e. the agent is contractually required to negotiate the terms of a transaction for the player and/or the club) and those contracts of intermediation where the agent is called to simply indicate the possible opportunity for his client to conclude a deal with no other involvement in the transaction. In this last case, dual representation could be allowed for there would be no conflict of interests, and therefore, no infringement of the obligations under the brokerage contract. The specific contractual clauses are therefore crucial as they ultimately reveal the extent of the role assumed by the agent.

The second important decision by the SFT is more recent, no. 4A_529/2015 of 4 March 2016. The factual background of this dispute is extremely complex. In brief, the case revolved around the selling and buying of the shares of a company exploiting a luxurious Hotel located in Switzerland. The seller and the broker entered into a negotiation brokerage contract whereby the latter was entrusted to find a buyer of the company against the payment of remuneration. The principal had to agree with the final potential buyer. In the end, it was proved that the broker misled the principal about the true identity of the final buyer (to whom the principal expressly refused to sell), with whom the broker had also agreed remuneration. On the basis of these facts, the principal refused to pay the broker. 

The Federal Tribunal confirmed again that Article 415 CO is always interpreted strictly, and considered that by allowing the banned buyer to indirectly acquire the company, the broker acted in the interest of a third party against the obligation of loyalty. What is most significant about this decision is that the court delimitates very clearly the scope of the obligation of loyalty. It is described as a double-edged sword, implying on the one side: a positive obligation consisting of actively safeguarding and defending the interest of the principal; and on the other side: a negative obligation, consisting of abstaining from any conduct that could harm the interests of the client.  

In particular, the fact that the principal had not objected to a previous e-mail sent by the broker where he expressly indicated that the potential buyer was “C or any company indicated by it” was also irrelevant for the principal could not expect in ‘good faith’ that the buyer would make use of this substitution prerogative in favor of the real buyer. The arguments of the broker according to which it was not important for the principal to know who the buyer was and that he suffered no damage, were also dismissed.   

Finally, the argument of the broker according to which the remuneration to be received from the buyer was agreed after the transaction took place was also irrelevant in the eyes of the court.

With these cases in mind, when applying the holding of the SFT above to football agents' professional relationships, it follows that the scope of the obligation of loyalty will be significantly wider for football agents entrusted with negotiations than for agents simply tasked with identifying possible opportunities to close a deal.

Likewise, in order to determine the existence of a violation of the obligations assumed by the agent, it will not be enough to demonstrate that there has been no threat to the interests of the client or that the agent has not actively engaged in a conduct against those interests. Indeed, a simple passive conduct with the potential of jeopardizing the interests of the principal, such as failing to disclose relevant information, can be sufficient to violate the obligation of loyalty and deprive the agent from the right to be remunerated.

To this effect, the correct identification of the interest pursued by the client will ultimately determine the infringement by the agent of his obligations under the representation contract. In the end, the agent will only violate his obligation of loyalty as long as his behavior damages the interests of his client. These interests will vary depending on whether the principal is a football club or a player. If a club is trying to transfer or recruit a player, the interests will in most cases be of a financial nature. If instead, the principal is a football player terminating or signing a contract with a club, he might have non-economic interests (e.g. willing to play in a different championship, lack of integration of the family in the country etc.). Furthermore, the moment in which the remuneration is agreed is not relevant to establish the violation of the obligation of loyalty.


In conclusion, the contract of representation and its clauses in combination with the particular circumstances of each case will be fundamental to establish compliance with Article 415 CO when multiple representation takes place.   Football agents pretending to be remunerated by both contracting parties simultaneously without risking to violate their obligations must either enter into simple brokerage contracts with no negotiation attributions, or, when acting through a negotiation brokerage, always inform all parties in complete transparency. 

 



[1] See Article 19.8 FIFA PAR.

[2] “Definition of an intermediary

A natural or legal person who, for a fee or free of charge, represents players and/or clubs in negotiations with a view to concluding an employment contract or represents clubs in negotiations with a view to concluding a transfer agreement.” [Emphasis added]

[3] Only the FFF (France), the RFU (RUSSIA), the BFU (Bulgaria) the JFA (Japan) have explicitly adopted stricter rules prohibiting any conflict of interest. See Comparative Table of “The FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries Implementation at a national level” (Ed. Michele Colucci).

[4] E.g. Arbitrage TAS 2007/O/1310 Bruno Heiderscheid c. Franck Ribéry.

[5] See article R45 of the CAS Code (ed. 2017).

[6] Art. 415. III. Déchéance:

“Le courtier perd son droit au salaire et au remboursement de ses dépenses, s'il agit dans l'intérêt du tiers contractant au mépris de ses obligations, ou s'il se fait promettre par lui une rémunération dans des circonstances où les règles de la bonne foi s'y opposaient.”

https://www.admin.ch/opc/fr/classified-compilation/19110009/index.html

[7] See. Decision of the SFT 131 III 511 para. 3.2.2 of  http://relevancy.bger.ch/php/clir/http/index.php?highlight_docid=atf%3A%2F%2F131-III-511%3Ade&lang=de&type=show_document

[8] See para. 118.

[9] E.g. Decision of the Single Judge of the PSC of 12 January 2012:12. In view of the above, the Single Judge formed the view that, although the Claimant appears to have represented the Respondent and the player in the same transaction, the documentary evidence contained in the file clearly demonstrates that the Claimant could not have possibly been remunerated twice for his services. Consequently, and in accordance with the general principles of bona fide and pacta sunt servanda the Single Judge decided that the Respondent must fulfill the obligation it voluntarily entered into with the Claimant by means of the representation agreement concluded between the parties, and therefore, the Respondent must pay the Claimant for the services he rendered in connection with the transfer of the player to the Respondent.”

[10] See also para. 118.

[11] See i.c. article 20 para. 4 FIFA PAR (ed. 2008).

[12] See para. 1.1.3 of the SFT decision. An example of a courtage d’indication would be the brokerage of insurances, where the broker, acting for the policy-holder, is paid instead, by the insurance company.

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