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

RFC Seraing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport: How FIFA’s TPO ban Survived (Again) EU Law Scrutiny

Doyen (aka Doyen Sports Investment Limited) is nothing short of heroic in its fight against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has (sometimes indirectly through RFC Seraing) attacked the ban in front of the French courts, the Belgium courts, the European Commission and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This costly, and until now fruitless, legal battle has been chronicled in numerous of our blogs (here and here). It is coordinated by Jean-Louis Dupont, a lawyer who is, to say the least, not afraid of fighting the windmills of sport’s private regulators. Yet, this time around he might have hit the limits of his stubbornness and legal ‘maestria’. As illustrated by the most recent decision of the saga, rendered in March by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in a case opposing the Belgium club RFC Seraing (or Seraing) to FIFA. The arguments in favour of the ban might override those against it. At least this is the view espoused by the CAS, and until tested in front of another court (preferably the CJEU) it will remain an influential one. The French text of the CAS award has just been published and I will take the opportunity of having for once an award in my native language to offer a first assessment of the CAS’s reasoning in the case, especially with regard to its application of EU law. More...

The Validity of Unilateral Extension Options in Football – Part 1: A European Legal Mess. By Saverio Spera

Editor’s Note: Saverio Spera is an Italian lawyer and LL.M. graduate in International Business Law at King’s College London. He is currently an intern at the ASSER International Sports Law Centre.

                 

In the football world the use of unilateral extension options (hereafter UEOs) in favour of the clubs is common practice. Clubs in Europe and, especially, South America make extensive use of this type of contractual clauses, since it gives them the exclusive possibility to prolong the employment relationship with players whose contracts are about to come to an end. This option gives to a club the right to extend the duration of a player’s contract for a certain agreed period after its initial expiry, provided that some previously negotiated conditions are met. In particular, these clauses allow clubs to sign young promising players for short-term contracts, in order to ascertain their potential, and then extend the length of their contracts.[1] Here lies the great value of UEOs for clubs: they can let the player go if he is not performing as expected, or unilaterally retain him if he is deemed valuable. Although an indisputably beneficial contractual tool for any football club, these clauses are especially useful to clubs specialized in the development of young players.[2] After the Bosman case, clubs have increasingly used these clauses in order to prevent players from leaving their clubs for free at the end of their contracts.[3] The FIFA Regulations do not contain any provisions regulating this practice, consequently the duty of clarifying the scope and validity of the options lied with the national courts, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) and the CAS. This two-part blog will attempt to provide the first general overview on the issue.[4] My first blog will be dedicated to the validity of UEOs clauses in light of national laws and of the jurisprudence of numerous European jurisdictions. In a second blog, I will review the jurisprudence of the DRC and the CAS on this matter. More...

Call for papers: ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law - 26-27 October 2017

The editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) is very pleased to invite you to submit abstracts for its first Annual Conference on International Sports Law. The ISLJ, published by Springer in collaboration with ASSER Press, is the leading publication in the field of international sports law. Its readership includes both academics and many practitioners active in the field. On 26-27 October 2017, the International Sports Law Centre of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and the editorial board of the International Sports Law Journal will host in The Hague the first ever ISLJ Annual Conference on International Sports Law. The conference will feature panels on the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the world anti-doping system, the global governance of sports, the FIFA transfer regulations, comparative sports law, and much more.

More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – March 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.

 More...

The legality of surety undertakings in relation to minor football players: the Lokilo case. By Adriaan Wijckmans

Editor's note: Adriaan Wijckmans is an associate specialized in sports law at the Belgium law firm Altius.

In a recent judgment, the Brussels Court of First Instance confirmed the legality of a so-called surety undertaking, i.e. an agreement in which the parents of a minor playing football guarantee that their child will sign a professional contract with a football club as soon as the child reaches the legal age of majority.

This long-awaited ruling was hailed, on the one hand, by clubs as a much needed and eagerly anticipated confirmation of a long-standing practice in Belgian football[1] and, on the other hand, criticised by FIFPro, the international player’s trade union, in a scathing press release. More...



Kosovo at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – Constructing Statehood Through Sport? By Ryan Gauthier (Thompson Rivers University)

Editor's Note: Ryan is Assistant Professor at Thompson Rivers University, he defended his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in December 2015. His dissertation examined human rights violations caused by international sporting events, and how international sporting organisations may be held accountable for these violations. 


“Serious sport…is war minus the shooting.” – George Orwell

 

In May 2016, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) admitted the Football Federation of Kosovo (Kosovo) as a member. The voting was close, with 28 member federations in favour, 24 opposed, and 2 whose votes were declared invalid. The practical outcome of this decision is that Kosovo would be able participate in the UEFA Euro championship, and that Kosovo teams could qualify for the UEFA Champions’ League or Europa League. More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 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. More...

FIFA's Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses in Qatar – Part II: The Zurich Court's Ruling - By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell comes from Slovakia and is currently an LL.M. student in Public International Law at Leiden University. He contributes also to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a part-time intern.

This is a follow-up contribution to my previous blog on FIFA's responsibility for human rights abuses in Qatar published last week. Whereas the previous part has examined the lawsuit filed with the Commercial Court of the Canton of Zurich ('Court') jointly by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam ('Plaintiffs') against FIFA, this second part will focus on the Court's ruling dated 3 January 2017 ('Ruling').[1]  More...



FIFA's Responsibility for Human Rights Abuses in Qatar - Part I: The Claims Against FIFA - By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell comes from Slovakia and is currently an LL.M. student in Public International Law at Leiden University. He contributes also to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a part-time intern.

On 2 December 2010, the FIFA Executive Committee elected Qatar as host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup ('World Cup'), thereby triggering a wave of controversies which underlined, for the most part, the country's modest size, lack of football history, local climate, disproportionate costs or corruption that accompanied the selection procedure. Furthermore, opponents of the decision to award the World Cup to the tiny oil-rich Gulf country also emphasized the country's negative human rights record.

More than six years later, on 3 January 2017, the Commercial Court of the Canton of Zurich ('Court') dismissed the lawsuit filed against FIFA[1] jointly by the Dutch trade union FNV, the Bangladeshi Free Trade Union Congress, the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation and the Bangladeshi citizen Nadim Shariful Alam ('Plaintiffs').[2] The Plaintiffs requested the Court to find FIFA responsible for alleged human rights violations of migrant workers in connection with the World Cup in Qatar. Had the Plaintiffs' claims been upheld by the Court, such decision would have had far-reaching consequences on the fate of thousands of migrants, mostly from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, who are currently working on the construction of sporting facilities and other infrastructure associated with organization of the World Cup. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The Rise and Fall of FC Twente

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 Rise and Fall of FC Twente

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


Background

By way of reminder, FC Twente is the typical example of a professional football club who had been “punching above its weight” for years. After taking over the club in 2003, president Joop Munsterman and his fellow associates took extreme financial risks in order to overtake clubs like PSV and Ajax as the best club in the Netherlands. At first they were successful, but winning the Dutch league in 2010 did not prove enough for the overambitious executives of FC Twente. The club started spending more money than ever on the transfer marker and new massive loans were taken to upgrade the stadium to Champion League standards. Unfortunately, all this extra spending did not materialize in extra sporting successes. Furthermore, the money derived from selling players was not sufficient to service the debt incurred in the process.

Yet, the scope of FC Twente’s financial trouble did not become apparent until November 2015. It was then that footballleaks released the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA), or TPO agreement, the club had signed with the Maltese investment company Doyen. The fine prints of the ERPA, explained in our blog of 2 December, took everyone by surprise, including the KNVB’s licensing committee. More than the precarious state of the club’s finances, it was the fact that FC Twente had deliberately mislead the KNVB regarding its relationship with Doyen that shocked the Dutch federation.[1]

As an immediate reaction to Twente’s omissions, on 15 December, the licensing committee decided to conditionally withdraw FC Twente’s license, unless the club collaborates fully to an independent internal investigation into its structure and governance. Moreover, the licensing committee sanctioned FC Twente with a €45,250 fine and a three-year exclusion from participating in European competitions. The report of the internal investigation, published on 1 March 2016, highlighted the complete lack of transparency in transfer matters, i.e. all the transfers and their financing were taken care of by vice-president Van der Laan without the involvement of other board members. The ‘Additional Agreement’ signed with Doyen, for example, was never mentioned in any of the board meetings. The report also brought to light a fresh case of deliberate deceit of the licensing committee in the transfer of Dusan Tadic to Southampton the summer of 2014. According to FC Twente’s original disclosure to the KNVB, Tadic’s agent would receive €1.8 million, which was 15% of the transfer amount. However, in January 2016, a month after FC Twente promised full collaboration in the investigation, it suddenly turned out that Tadic’s agent still had a claim of €1.8 million based on a second agreement between him and the club regarding the same transfer. Not only was this second agreement never notified to the licensing committee, it was also never mentioned to the investigators during several meetings held in December 2015. 


The licensing committee’s decision

In a nutshell, the licensing committee decided to unconditionally withdraw FC Twente’s license, but to simultaneously grant it a new license so that it is permitted to play in the Dutch second professional league. The committee held that:

“The Dutch licensing system was repeatedly, deliberately and systematically undermined by FC Twente and the licensing committee was repeatedly, intentionally and purposely misled. This behavior undermines the functioning of the licensing system, contributes to an unfair competition between professional football clubs, creates income for FC Twente it would not have obtained under fair conditions (e.g. income from the selling of TV rights) and leads to player transfers that possibly would not have taken place had the club behaved ethically.”[2]

It added that it had already considered an unconditional withdrawal of the license in December 2015, but decided against it because it needed more information, such as an independent report. The licensing committee’s conclusions drawn from the report was twofold. On the one hand, the licensing committee praised the fact that FC Twente collaborated with the investigation, that it promised to continue with the reorganization of the club’s governance structure after  a new license was granted[3] and that it will not ask for a UEFA license for the next three seasons.[4]

On the other hand, the licensing committee felt it needed to act as a consequence of the new information regarding the Tadic transfer. The committee determined that the “Doyen Gate” was not an isolated incident, but that it fitted in a pattern of systematic unethical behavior by FC Twente’s management. Consequently, it concluded that FC Twente had breached Article 9 of the Dutch license regulation, which requires a license holder (i.e. a professional football club) to timely provide the licensing committee all the relevant information and documents regarding the club’s financial situation, transfer details, etc. Interestingly enough, the license regulation offers only two sanction possibilities for breaching Article 9: A fine of maximum €45.250 under Article 11(1); or the complete withdrawal of the license under Article 12(2)c). The option to sanction a club with a relegation to the lower divisions is currently not an option, as stipulated by the license committee in paragraph 9 of its decision.

The lack of alternative options proved to be problematic for the licensing committee because it found a fine of €45.250, given the circumstances, disproportionately light, but the decision to withdraw the license disproportionately heavy.[5] A complete license withdrawal could realistically lead to the disappearance of FC Twente, a football club with (as held by the licensing committee) an important role in the Enschede region. “The licensing committee is aware that the effects (of a collapse) could be disastrous for FC Twente, its employees, financers, supporters and professional football in the region”.[6] With this statement, the licensing committee is demonstrating that it is taking into account inter alia the guarantee issued by the municipality of Enschede on a loan of €32 million for FC Twente in December 2015, under the condition that the club would obtain a license. Without this loan, FC Twente would have gone bankrupt. In the end, the licensing committee came up with the rather pragmatic solution to withdraw unconditionally FC Twente’s license, immediately followed by the granting of a new license to participate in the second professional league, “in order to limit the disproportionate consequences of the license withdrawal”.[7]

What makes the licensing committee’s decision worthy of debate is that the regulations, strictly speaking, do not provide for the option to replace a first division license with a second division license. The committee admits that it has sought the limits of the licensing regulations, but defends its decision by stating it is sanctioning FC Twente for its past actions in a proportionate manner while taking into account the interests of the club and its stakeholders.  


Aftermath

In an official statement following the decision, FC Twente declared that its currently studying all its options. Although an appeal remains one of the possibilities, one could argue that it might be too risky for FC Twente to do so. Concretely, an appeal would probably lead to a sanction that actually exists under the regulations: A fine of €45.250 or an unconditional withdrawal of a license. A more interesting issue is whether any other professional club might consider questioning this decision. Clubs who believe to have been placed in a disadvantageous position as a result of FC Twente’s deliberate and systematic deceit, could argue that the current sanction does not address the gravity of the misconduct. Moreover, the fact that the sanction is not enshrined in the KNVB’s regulations, could make it difficult for the licensing committee to uphold it in an appeal procedure.

This decision puts the final nail in FC Twente’s coffin. The surprising rise and brutal downfall of the Dutch club exemplifies the advantages and downsides of TPO. This practice (and other financial tricks linked to the transfer system) enabled Twente to leverage up and make the impossible possible (winning the Eredivisie), but at the same time strapped it with an unsustainable debt that has brought the club to its knees. Basically, fans must choose between a few seconds (or years) of glory on the one hand, or a sustainable future for their club on the other.



[1] FC Twente had not disclosed to the KNVB an Annex, called ‘Additional Agreement’, to the ERPA that insinuated far-reaching influence by Doyen in employment and transfer-related matters, thereby breaching FIFA and KNVB Regulations.

[2] The licensing committee’s decision, page 1.

[3] In this regard it should be noted that four FC Twente board members resigned in March as a result of the report. See “FC Twente geeft toelichting op onderzoeksrapport Knüppe” (http://www.fctwente.nl/blog/2016/03/fc-twente-geeft-toelichting-onderzoeksrapport-knuppe/).

[4] The licensing committee’s decision, page 3.

[5] Ibid., page 4.

[6] Ibid., page 5.

[7] Ibid.

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