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

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

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

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

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

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


Introduction

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: The Final Whistle

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Headlines

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


Doyen’s Crusade Against FIFA’s TPO Ban: The Ruling of the Appeal Court of Brussels

Since last year, Doyen Sports, represented by Jean-Louis Dupont, embarked on a legal crusade against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has lodged a competition law complaint with the EU Commission and started court proceedings in France and Belgium. In a first decision on Doyen’s request for provisory measures, the Brussels Court of First Instance rejected the demands raised by Doyen and already refused to send a preliminary reference to the CJEU. Doyen, supported by the Belgium club Seraing, decided to appeal this decision to the Brussels Appeal Court, which rendered its final ruling on the question on 10 March 2016.[1] The decision (on file with us) is rather unspectacular and in line with the first instance judgment. This blog post will rehash the three interesting aspects of the case.

·      The jurisdiction of the Belgian courts

·      The admissibility of Doyen’s action

·      The conditions for awarding provisory measures More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2016

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 eagerly awaited FIFA Presidential elections of 26 February provided for a “new face” at the pinnacle of international football for the first time since 1998. One could argue whether Infantino is the man capable of bringing about the reform FIFA so desperately needs or whether he is simply a younger version of his predecessor Blatter. More...


Book Review: Despina Mavromati & Matthieu Reeb, The Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport—Commentary, Cases, and Materials (Wolters Kluwer International 2015). By Professor Matthew Mitten

Editor’s note: Professor Mitten is the Director of the National Sports Law Institute and the LL.M. in Sports Law program for foreign lawyers at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He currently teaches courses in Amateur Sports Law, Professional Sports Law, Sports Sponsorship Legal and Business Issues Workshop, and Torts. Professor Mitten is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and has served on the ad hoc Division for the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This Book Review is published at 26 Marquette Sports Law Review 247 (2015).


This comprehensive treatise of more than 700 pages on the Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) (the Code) is an excellent resource that is useful to a wide audience, including attorneys representing parties before the CAS, CAS arbitrators, and sports law professors and scholars, as well as international arbitration counsel, arbitrators, and scholars.  It also should be of interest to national court judges and their law clerks because it facilitates their understanding of the CAS arbitration process for resolving Olympic and international sports disputes and demonstrates that the Code provides procedural fairness and substantive justice to the parties, thereby justifying judicial recognition and enforcement of its awards.[1]  Because the Code has been in existence for more than twenty years—since November 22, 1994—and has been revised four times, this book provides an important and much needed historical perspective and overview that identifies and explains well-established principles of CAS case law and consistent practices of CAS arbitrators and the CAS Court Office.  Both authors formerly served as Counsel to the CAS and now serve as Head of Research and Mediation at CAS and CAS Secretary General, respectively, giving them the collective expertise and experience that makes them eminently well-qualified to research and write this book.More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2016

Editor’s note: Our first innovation for the year 2016 will be a monthly report compiling 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 world of professional sport has been making headlines for the wrong reasons in January. Football’s governing body FIFA is in such a complete governance and corruption mess that one wonders whether a new President (chosen on 26 February[1]) will solve anything. More recently, however, it is the turn of the athletics governing body, IAAF, to undergo “the walk of shame”. On 14 January the WADA Independent Commission released its second report into doping in international athletics. More...


Asser International Sports Law Blog | The SFT’s Semenya Decision under European human rights standards: Conflicting considerations and why a recourse could be successful at Strasbourg - By Kevin Gerenni

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 SFT’s Semenya Decision under European human rights standards: Conflicting considerations and why a recourse could be successful at Strasbourg - By Kevin Gerenni

Editor's note: Kevin Gerenni is Assistant Professor in Public International Law (Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Buenos Aires) and LLM Candidate 2021 in Public International Law at the London School of Economics.


Even though the decision rendered by the SFT in the Semenya Case was foreseeable, the Tribunal did put forward some concerning reasoning in terms of public policy (“ordre public”) and human rights. In case Semenya decides to challenge the Swiss state before the ECtHR, one can expect the case to shake some grounds at the ECtHR, which would be faced with the question of the application to sport not of fair trial guarantees (as in Mutu & Pechstein) but of substantial human rights provisions such as the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex (Article 14 ECHR) and the right to private life (Article 8 ECHR).

Under Swiss law, the reasons that may lead to the annulment of an arbitral award are enumerated in art. 190 of the Swiss Private International Law Act (PILA). Semenya’s strongest case relied on art. 190(2)(e): the award’s incompatibility with public policy. Naturally, this point concentrated most of the SFT’s attention. In order to analyze the compatibility of the CAS award with Swiss public policy, the SFT focused on three main potential breaches of human rights: prohibition of discrimination, personality rights, and human dignity. In doing so, it put forward certain observations that differ with European human rights standards and the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. The purpose of this short article is to analyze those discrepancies and, consequently, Semenya’s prospects of success before the Strasbourg Tribunal.


I.               The scope of Swiss public policy versus ECHR guarantees

To begin with, the SFT distinguished between Swiss public policy and the scope of the ECHR provisions:

“An award is incompatible with public policy if it disregards essential and widely accepted values which, according to the views prevailing in Switzerland, should constitute the foundation of any legal system” (para. 9.1).[1]

“This is the place to specify that the violation of the provisions of the ECHR or of the Constitution does not count among the grievances restrictively enumerated by art. 190(2) PILA. It is therefore not possible to directly invoke such a violation. (…) Thus, the plea alleging a violation of public policy is not admissible insofar it simply tends to establish that the award in question is contrary to the various guarantees drawn from the ECHR and the Constitution.” (para. 9.2).

Contrary to this interpretation, the ECtHR has referred to the fundamental role of the ECHR in specifying the reach of a European public policy. In Loizidou v. Turkey (Preliminary Objections), it stated:

“(…) the Court must bear in mind the special character of the Convention as an instrument of European public order (ordre public) for the protection of individual human beings and its mission (…) "to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the High Contracting Parties" ” (para. 93).      

In that same judgment, it remarked the value of the ECHR as “a constitutional instrument of European public order (ordre public)” (para. 75). Similar understandings can be found in Bosphorus v. Ireland and Avotiņš v. Latvia, among others. As a consequence of this preeminent position that the ECHR holds, certain interests of the State must be outweighed by the Convention’s role in the field of human rights (Bosphorus at para. 156).


II.             The concept of “horizontal effect” in human rights violations

The SFT continued with the analysis of the prohibition of discrimination, for which it partially rest upon an argument that evidently collides with European human rights criteria. Although the Tribunal also concluded that the “relationship between an athlete and a global sports federation shows some similarities to those between an individual and a State” (para. 9.4), it did argue that under Swiss law the prohibition of discrimination does not have a direct horizontal effect. The SFT considered that:

“Although the SFT has consistently held that the prohibition of discrimination is a matter of public policy (…) it has done so, primarily, in order to protect the individual vis-à-vis the State. In this respect, it may be noted that, from the point of view of Swiss constitutional law, the case law considers that the guarantee of the prohibition of discrimination is addressed to the State and does not, in principle, produce a direct horizontal effect on relations between private persons. (…) It is therefore far from obvious that the prohibition of discrimination by private individuals is one of the essential and widely recognized values which, according to the prevailing conceptions in Switzerland, should form the basis of any legal system.” (para. 9.4).

The ECtHR has a long tradition of deeming States responsible for not preventing or sanctioning human rights violations between private persons, which means that the ECHR also applies horizontally. Since its 1981 ruling Young, James and Webster v. the UK, the Court has repeatedly held that the responsibility of a State is engaged if a violation of one of the Convention’s rights is the result of non-observance by that State of its obligation under Article 1 to secure those rights and freedoms to everyone within its jurisdiction.[2]

In Pla and Puncernau v. Andorra, the Court held the State responsible for the rulings of its domestic courts, which did not redress an individual from the discrimination inflicted by another private person. The Court, referring to its duties, clearly affirmed that:

“In exercising the European supervision incumbent on it, it cannot remain passive where a national court’s interpretation of a legal act, be it a testamentary disposition, a private contract, a public document, a statutory provision or an administrative practice appears unreasonable, arbitrary or, as in the present case, blatantly inconsistent with the prohibition of discrimination established by Article 14 and more broadly with the principles underlying the Convention.” (para. 59).

Finally, in this same vein in Identoba and Others v. Georgia, the ECtHR sanctioned the State by explaining that the difference in treatment leading to discrimination can source from a purely private action, which in this particular case included attacks to a transgender person.


III.           The necessity and proportionality of the DSD regulations

Throughout its ruling, the SFT followed the reasoning advanced by the CAS to determine that the IAAF (today “World Athletics”) DSD regulations were not in violation of fundamental human rights. With a view to analyzing a recourse to the ECtHR, I will focus on the discrimination and human dignity sections of the ruling (for a remarkably-detailed insight of the SFT’s core findings please refer to  Marjolaine Viret’s recent blog).

In assessing the necessity of the DSD regulations –pursuant to the alleged legitimate aim of fair competition– the SFT considered that “female athletes are disadvantaged and deprived of chances of success when they have to compete against 46 XY DSD athletes. The statistics speak for themselves.” (para. 9.8.3.4). A fact that does not seem to be getting attention is the “800 Metres Women” all-time records table, which lists three women with a better time than Caster Semenya. None of these three women were reported to be DSD athletes. Also, the scientific articles that supposedly demonstrate unequivocal advantage for DSD athletes have been denounced as flawed (for example, by Pielke Jr., Tucker & Boye). Nevertheless, the SFT invoked the ECtHR’s FNASS and Others v. France to shockingly conclude that “the search for a fair sport represents an important goal which is capable of justifying serious encroachments upon sportspeople’s rights”[3] (para. 9.8.3.3).

In addition, the SFT assessed the proportionality of the regulations vis-à-vis the potential gender identity implications. The SFT primarily relied on the allegedly-mild side effects caused by the hormonal treatment: “no different in nature from the side effects experienced by thousands, if not millions, of other women of type XX” (para. 9.8.3.5).

Referring to gender identity (stemming from human dignity), the SFT argued that:

“It must be made clear that the sentence does not in any way seek to question the female sex of the 46 XY DSD athletes or to determine whether they are sufficiently “female”. It is not a question of knowing what a woman or an intersex person is. The only issue to be resolved is whether it is contrary to human dignity to create certain rules of eligibility, for the purposes of sporting equity and equal opportunity, applicable only to certain women who enjoy an insurmountable advantage arising from certain innate biological characteristics. (…) In some contexts, as specific competitive sport, it is permissible that biological characteristics may, exceptionally and for the purposes of fairness and equality of opportunity, overshadow a person’s legal sex or gender identity.” (para. 11.1).

The SFT struggles to highlight that Semenya’s “female sex” is not under question. However, the DSD regulations, implemented in competitions that are divided into the male/female binary, denote that Semenya’s innate sex is not female enough as to compete in female events. On the other hand, she is allowed to compete in male events.

The ECtHR has a growing jurisprudence relating to discrimination on the basis of sex which, especially linked to gender identity, leads to violations of the ECHR Articles 14 and 8. In the 2002 leading case Goodwin v. the UK which dealt with Article 8 ECHR violations, the Court remarked that:

“It is not apparent to the Court that the chromosomal element, amongst all the others, must inevitably take on decisive significance for the purposes of legal attribution of gender identity for transsexuals.” (para. 82).

It is true that Goodwin involved the rights of a trans person, not intersex.[4] However, as the European Commission points out in its Trans and intersex equality rights in Europe – A comparative analysis, the judgment was the inception of States obligation to legally recognize preferred gender in Europe. Similar conclusions in favor of gender identity would later appear, among others, in Y. Y. v Turkey, Van Kück v. Germany and Identoba and Others v. Georgia (this last one dealing with Article 14 ECHR). In Garçon and Nicot v. France the Court underpinned that “the right to respect for private life under Article 8 applies fully to gender identity, as a component of personal identity. This holds true for all individuals.” (para. 95). Later in that judgment, it rendered a particularly relevant observation for Semenya’s case:

“Medical treatment cannot be considered to be the subject of genuine consent when the fact of not submitting to it deprives the person concerned of the full exercise of his or her right to gender identity and personal development, which, as previously stated, is a fundamental aspect of the right to respect for private life.” (para. 130).

It must be noted that this paragraph pertains particularly to the world of sport. “Personal development” is a fundamental part of the Principles of the Olympic Movement, as this article by Durántez Corral et al. indicates.


Conclusions

The reasoning behind the above paragraphs supports Semenya’s case before the ECtHR and would give her a serious chance to prevail in Strasbourg. Even though it is true that the Court has mostly endorsed the lex sportiva system with its judgments FNASS, Platini and Mutu & Pechstein, the latter did aim at certain fair trial deficiencies and triggered concrete changes. Could Semenya’s case be stronger? Yes, for instance if Switzerland had ratified Protocol No. 12 ECHR or if the former IAAF were based in Switzerland instead of Monaco (an issue which the SFT took care to highlight).

On the other hand, the judges could additionally resort to extremely relevant reports in the field of intersex rights, namely the Council of Europe’s document on eliminating discrimination against intersex people, or refer to the categorical document against DSD regulations written by three UN experts. Needless to say, these instruments support the athlete’s claims even further.

The scenario is set for Semenya to create considerable turmoil if she decides to take the case to Strasbourg, where the ECtHR will have to engage –once again and deeper this time– with lex sportiva and Switzerland’s role in ensuring that sports governing bodies comply with human rights. Or, will it look the other way?


*All translations of the SFT’s decision done by the author from French, except where otherwise noted.


[1] Translation done by Marjolaine Viret for her blog article “Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold: Dissecting the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s Semenya Decision”, available here.

[2] See Spielmann, D.; “Chapter 14: The European Convention on Human Rights, The European Court of Human Rights” in Human Rights and the Private Sphere: A Comparative Study (p. 430); Eds. Oliver, D. &  Fedtke, J.; Routledge; 2007. 

[3] Translation done by Marjolaine Viret for her blog article “Chronicle of a Defeat Foretold: Dissecting the Swiss Federal Tribunal’s Semenya Decision”, available here.

[4] As shown in the excerpt, the judgment did address the relevance (or the lack of it) of the “chromosomal element” in defining a person’s gender.

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