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

Not comfortably satisfied? The upcoming Court of Arbitration for Sport case of the thirty-four current and former players of the Essendon football club. By James Kitching

Editor's note: James Kitching is Legal Counsel and Secretary to the AFC judicial bodies at the Asian Football Confederation. James is an Australian and Italian citizen and one of the few Australians working in international sports law. He is admitted as barrister and solicitor in the Supreme Court of South Australia. James graduated from the International Master in the Management, Law, and Humanities of Sport offered by the Centre International d'Etude du Sport in July 2012.


Introduction

On 12 May 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had filed an appeal against the decision issued by the Australian Football League (AFL) Anti-Doping Tribunal (AADT) that thirty-four current and former players of Essendon Football Club (Essendon) had not committed any anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) identified within the AFL Anti-Doping Code (AADC). The players had each been charged with using Thymosin-Beta 4 (TB4) during the 2012 AFL season.

On 1 June 2015, WADA announced that it had filed an appeal against the decision by the AADT to clear Mr. Stephen Dank (Dank), a sports scientist employed at Essendon during the relevant period, of twenty-one charges of violating the AADC. Dank was, however, found guilty of ten charges and banned for life.

This blog will solely discuss the likelihood of the first AADT decision (the Decision) being overturned by the CAS. It will briefly summarise the facts, discuss the applicable rules and decision of the AADT, review similar cases involving ‘non-analytical positive’ ADRVs relating to the use of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method, and examine whether the Code of Sports-related Arbitration (CAS Code) is able to assist WADA in its appeal.

This blog will not examine the soap opera that was the two years leading-up to the Decision. Readers seeking a comprehensive factual background should view the excellent up-to-date timeline published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. More...


EU Law is not enough: Why FIFA's TPO ban survived its first challenge before the Brussels Court


Star Lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont is almost a monopolist as far as high profile EU law and football cases are concerned. This year, besides a mediatised challenge against UEFA’s FFP regulations, he is going after FIFA’s TPO ban on behalf of the Spanish and Portuguese leagues in front of the EU Commission, but also before the Brussels First Instance Court defending the infamous Malta-based football investment firm Doyen Sport. FIFA and UEFA’s archenemy, probably electrified by the 20 years of the Bosman ruling, is emphatically trying to reproduce his world-famous legal prowess. Despite a first spark at a success in the FFP case against UEFA with the Court of first instance of Brussels sending a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), this has proven to be a mirage as the CJEU refused, as foretold, to answer the questions of the Brussels Court, while the provisory measures ordered by the judge have been suspended due to UEFA’s appeal. But, there was still hope, the case against FIFA’s TPO ban, also involving UEFA and the Belgium federation, was pending in front of the same Brussels Court of First Instance, which had proven to be very willing to block UEFA’s FFP regulations. Yet, the final ruling is another disappointment for Dupont (and good news for FIFA). The Court refused to give way to Doyen’s demands for provisional measures and a preliminary reference. The likelihood of a timely Bosman bis repetita is fading away. Fortunately, we got hold of the judgment of the Brussels court and it is certainly of interest to all those eagerly awaiting to know whether FIFA’s TPO ban will be deemed compatible or not with EU law. More...


The New FIFA Intermediaries Regulations under EU Law Fire in Germany. By Tine Misic

I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by.” (Dr. Emmett L. Brown)[1]


Back to the future?

Availing oneself of EU law in the ambit of sports in 1995 must have felt a bit like digging for plutonium, but following the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Bosman case[2], 20 years later, with all the buzz surrounding several cases where EU law is being used as an efficient ammunition for shelling various sports governing or organising bodies, one may wonder if in 2015 EU law is to be “found in every drug store” and the recent cases (see inter alia Heinz Müller v 1. FSV Mainz 05, Daniel Striani ao v UEFA, Doyen Sports ao v URBSFA, FIFA, UEFA) [3] cannot but invitingly evoke the spirit of 1995.

One of the aforementioned cases that also stands out pertains to the injunction decision[4] issued on 29 April 2015 by the Regional Court (Landesgericht) in Frankfurt am Main (hereinafter: the Court) in the dispute between the intermediary company Firma Rogon Sportmanagement (hereinafter: the claimant) and the German Football Federation (Deutschen Fußball-Bund, DFB), where the claimant challenged the provisions of the newly adopted DFB Regulations on Intermediaries (hereinafter: DFB Regulations)[5] for being incompatible with Articles 101 and 102 TFEU.[6] The Court, by acknowledging the urgency of the matter stemming from the upcoming transfer window and the potential loss of clients, deemed a couple of shells directed at the DFB Regulations to be well-aimed, and granted an injunction due to breach of Article 101 TFEU. More...




Compatibility of fixed-term contracts in football with Directive 1999/70/EC. Part 2: The Heinz Müller case. By Piotr Drabik

Introduction
The first part of the present blog article provided a general introduction to the compatibility of fixed-term contracts in football with Directive 1999/70/EC[1] (Directive). However, as the Member States of the European Union enjoy a considerable discretion in the implementation of a directive, grasping the impact of the Directive on the world of football would not be possible without considering the national context. The recent ruling of the Arbeitsgericht Mainz (the lowest German labour court; hereinafter the Court) in proceedings brought by a German footballer Heinz Müller provides an important example in this regard. This second part of the blog on the legality of fixed-term contract in football is devoted to presenting and assessing the Court’s decision.


I. Facts and Procedure
Heinz Müller, the main protagonist of this case, was a goalkeeper playing for 1.FSV Mainz 05 a club partaking to the German Bundesliga. More...


Compatibility of Fixed-Term Contracts in Football with Directive 1999/70/EC. Part.1: The General Framework. By Piotr Drabik

Introduction
On 25 March 2015, the Labour Court of Mainz issued its decision in proceedings brought by a German footballer, Heinz Müller, against his (now former) club 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Mainz 05). The Court sided with the player and ruled that Müller should have been employed by Mainz 05 for an indefinite period following his 2009 three year contract with the club which was subsequently extended in 2011 to run until mid-2014. The judgment was based on national law implementing Directive 1999/70 on fixed-term work[1] (Directive) with the latter being introduced pursuant to art. 155(2) TFEU (ex art. 139(2) TEC). On the basis of this article, European social partners’ may request a framework agreement which they conclude to be implemented on the European Union (EU, Union) level by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission. One of the objectives of the framework agreement,[2] and therefore of the Directive, was to establish a system to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships[3] which lies at the heart of the discussed problem.[4] More...

UEFA’s FFP out in the open: The Dynamo Moscow Case

Ever since UEFA started imposing disciplinary measures to football clubs for not complying with Financial Fair Play’s break-even requirement in 2014, it remained a mystery how UEFA’s disciplinary bodies were enforcing the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (“FFP”) regulations, what measures it was imposing, and what the justifications were for the imposition of these measures. For over a year, the general public could only take note of the 23 settlement agreements between Europe’s footballing body and the clubs. The evidential obstacle for a proper analysis was that the actual settlements remained confidential, as was stressed in several of our previous Blogs.[1] The information provided by the press releases lacked the necessary information to answer the abovementioned questions.

On 24 April 2015, the UEFA Club Financial Control Body lifted part of the veil by referring FC Dynamo Moscow to the Adjudicatory Body. Finally, the Adjudicatory Body had the opportunity to decide on a “FFP case. The anxiously-awaited Decision was reached by the Adjudicatory Chamber on 19 June and published not long after. Now that the Decision has been made public, a new stage of the debate regarding UEFA’s FFP policy can start.More...

Policing the (in)dependence of National Federations through the prism of the FIFA Statutes. By Tine Misic

…and everything under the sun is in tune,

but the sun is eclipsed by the moon…[1] 


The issue

Ruffling a few feathers, on 30 May 2015 the FIFA Executive Committee rather unsurprisingly, considering the previous warnings,[2] adopted a decision to suspend with immediate effect the Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI) until such time as PSSI is able to comply with its obligations under Articles 13 and 17 of the FIFA Statutes.[3] Stripping PSSI of its membership rights, the decision results in a prohibition of all Indonesian teams (national or club) from having any international sporting contact. In other words, the decision precludes all Indonesian teams from participating in any competition organised by either FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). In addition, the suspension of rights also precludes all PSSI members and officials from benefits of any FIFA or AFC development programme, course or training during the term of suspension. This decision coincides with a very recent award by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in this ambit, which shall be discussed further below.[4]More...


The Brussels Court judgment on Financial Fair Play: a futile attempt to pull off a Bosman. By Ben Van Rompuy

On 29 May 2015, the Brussels Court of First Instance delivered its highly anticipated judgment on the challenge brought by football players’ agent Daniel Striani (and others) against UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP). In media reports,[1] the judgment was generally portrayed as a significant initial victory for the opponents of FFP. The Brussels Court not only made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) but also imposed an interim order blocking UEFA from implementing the second phase of the FFP that involves reducing the permitted deficit for clubs.

A careful reading of the judgment, however, challenges the widespread expectation that the CJEU will now pronounce itself on the compatibility of the FFP with EU law. More...

A Bridge Too Far? Bridge Transfers at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By Antoine Duval and Luis Torres.

FIFA’s freshly adopted TPO ban entered into force on 1 May (see our Blog symposium). Though it is difficult to anticipate to what extent FIFA will be able to enforce the ban, it is likely that many of the third-party investors will try to have recourse to alternative solutions to pursue their commercial involvement in the football transfer market. One potential way to circumvent the FIFA ban is to use the proxy of what has been coined “bridge transfers”. A bridge transfer occurs when a club is used as an intermediary bridge in the transfer of a player from one club to another. The fictitious passage through this club is used to circumscribe, for example, the payment of training compensation or to whitewash a third-party ownership by transforming it into a classical employment relationship. This is a legal construction that has gained currency especially in South American football, but not only. On 5 May 2015, in the Racing Club v. FIFA case, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rendered its first award involving directly a bridge transfer. As this practice could become prevalent in the coming years we think that this case deserves a close look. More...

20 Years After Bosman - The New Frontiers of EU Law and Sport - Special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law

Editor's note: This is a short introduction written for the special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law celebrating the 20 years of the Bosman ruling and dedicated to the new frontiers of EU law and Sport (the articles are available here). For those willing to gain a deeper insight into the content of the Issue we organize (in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Maastricht Journal) a launching event with many of the authors in Brussels tomorrow (More info here).More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals – Sporting Lisbon’s rebellion in the Rojo case. By Antoine Duval and Oskar van Maren

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

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals – Sporting Lisbon’s rebellion in the Rojo case. By Antoine Duval and Oskar van Maren

In this blog we continue unpacking Doyen’s TPO deals based on the documents obtained via footballleaks. This time we focus on the battle between Doyen and Sporting over the Rojo case, which raises different legal issues as the FC Twente deals dealt with in our first blog.

 

I.              The context: The free-fall of Sporting

Sporting Lisbon, or Sporting Club de Portugal as the club is officially known, is a Portuguese club active in 44 different sports. Although the club has the legal status of Sociedade Anónima Desportiva, a specific form of public limited company, it also has over 130.000 club members, making it one of the biggest sports clubs in the world.

The professional football branch of Sporting is by far the most important and famous part of the club, and with its 19 league titles in total, it is a proud member of the big three cartel, with FC Porto and Benfica, dominating Portuguese football. Yet, it has not won a league title since 2002.

The members of Sporting get to elect the club’s president. A typical election campaign is akin to a political one with regard to status, media coverage and campaign funds. In fact, former Sporting president Pedro Santana Lopes went on to become the Prime Minister of Portugal in 2004-2005. In 2011, the elections were hotly disputed with Godinho Lopes defeating his main rival Bruno de Carvalho by only 300 votes. A request by De Carvalho to recount the votes was later dismissed, causing local unrests and police intervention.

Under Godinho Lopes’ presidency, Sporting obtained very poor sporting results, including a seventh place in the 2012/13 season, the worst ranking in the club’s history. New elections were held in 2013 and won by Bruno de Carvalho in a landslide. In addition to underwhelming results on the field, it turned out that the financial health of the club off the field was also at risk. Bruno de Carvalho faced a loss of €43 million in the 2012/13 season alone. This large financial debt was one of the reasons why on 1 October 2014, the General Assembly approved the proposal by the new Board of Directors to press liability charges against Godinho Lopes for breaching due diligence duties.

In the midst of the financial and managerial chaos surrounding Sporting, one dispute stands out as being relevant to our series of blogs on Doyen’s TPO deals. Faced with financial difficulties, Godinho Lopes had recourse to Doyen Sport to finance the recruitment of a number of players, amongst them Marco Rojo, an Argentine defender coming from Spartak Moscow in 2012. After two years at the club, the player was transferred against a healthy €20 million fee to Manchester United in 2014. However, the club staunchly refused to pay out the share of the economic rights owned by Doyen. Thus, giving way to a legal dispute on which we will put the spotlight in this blog. Although the case is still pending in front of CAS, several documents related to it were published on the footballleaks website.[1]

 

II.            The facts: the Rojo case

Before analysing the fine prints of the Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA) between Doyen and Sporting concerning the economic rights of Rojo, a bit of background on the player and his career is needed. Marcos Rojo is an Argentine professional football player who appeared on the elite football scene at a young age. In 2009, by the age of 19, he won the Copa Libertadores with his side Estudiantes de la Plata, and in 2011, aged 21, he was a regular starter for the Argentinian national team during the Copa America. Sporting, under Godinho’s presidency, signed Rojo from Spartak Moscow for €5.43 million in July 2012.[2] In order to finance the signing of Rojo, Sporting needed fresh money, thus it turned to Doyen as a “last resort initiative”.[3] As provided by the ERPA, the Maltese investment company paid € 3 million and obtained in return 75% of Rojo’s Economic rights. The agreement includes similar provisions to the ones outlined in detail in our FC Twente blog. Notably, in the case Sporting would receive a transfer offer for Rojo of more than €8 million, Doyen could request that the club accept the offer or pay an amount equivalent to 75% of the offer to buy back the rights of the player from the fund. Moreover, in the case the club was to renew the contract of the player or failed to avoid that his contract runs out, it was bound to pay a minimum fee of €4.2 million (in case of renewal, Doyen could also chose to keep its share of the player’s economic rights).

Rojo’s outstanding 2014 World Cup (he was selected for the World Cup All-Star Team) triggered interest from English Premier League clubs, most notably Southampton and Manchester United. Both sides were keen on signing him in the summer of 2014, but Sporting president De Carvalho had no intention of selling him. According to De Carvalho, Rojo was key to the club’s ambition of becoming Portuguese champion. Sporting claimed that Doyen, via its director Nelio Lucas, was “promoting and forcing this transfer” and, thus, “violating his duty to respect Sporting’s independence in transfer related matters”.[4] De Carvalho maintained that Doyen’s influence breached then art.18bis of the FIFA RSTP. In retaliation against Doyen’s perceived influence, Sporting refused to pay to Doyen the agreed 75% share of the proceeds from the transfer of Rojo to Manchester United. Instead, it argued that Doyen had breached its contractual duties and declared the ERPA (and the guarantees attached to it) null and void. Nonetheless, the club did transfer back to Doyen the €3 million it invested at the outset. Hence, Sporting put Doyen’s contractual edifice to the test and Doyen was forced to go to court (and more precisely to the Court of Arbitration for Sport) to try to enforce its rights under the ERPA agreement.

 

III.         The showdown: The CAS as ultimate arbiter of the legality of Doyen’s TPO contracts

The ERPA signed by Doyen and Sporting contains both a clause defining Swiss law as the law applicable to the contract and the CAS as the jurisdiction competent to deal with disputes arising out of the contract.[5] Henceforth, it was mandatory for Doyen to turn to the CAS as soon as it became obvious that it would not recoup the 75% it believes it was owed on Rojo’s transfer. The dispute was finally heard by a CAS panel in June of this year and the final decision is still, as far as we know, pending (see the outstanding coverage of the issue by Tariq Panja from Bloomberg, here and here). The case is of great importance to Doyen, if the CAS finds that Doyen’s ERPA is contrary to Swiss law, this finding will most likely apply to each of Doyen’s TPO deals that are based on a similar model and dramatically weaken its contractual position. The good news for Doyen is that it probably has only relatively few ERPA’s still in place (for example FC Twente and Doyen agreed to put an end to their agreement), as the FIFA ban should have blocked it from entering into new agreements.

This case is not about former article 18bis of the FIFA RSTP, as is often misunderstood. This would come only into play if FIFA were to sanction Sporting for having had recourse to an ERPA with Doyen, an issue that might still arise and a configuration potentially already at play in the FC Twente case. The Rojo dispute between Sporting and Doyen, however, is of a purely contractual nature. It is only about whether Doyen’s TPO deals are compatible with Swiss civil law. In this regard, footballleaks has recently published a very interesting document: a confidential report by a Swiss law firm on the legality of Doyen’s Model ERPA in light of Swiss law. This report raises a number of thorny legal issues that the CAS will have to weigh on.

The ERPA between Doyen and Sporting must abide by the requirements of Swiss civil law. In general, the Swiss Civil Code is favourable to contractual autonomy, yet there are some restrictions to the freedom of the parties. To be valid, an agreement should not be contrary to the bonos mores. In other words, the moral values or ethical principles supported by the Swiss legal system. Indeed, as foreseen by Art. 20.1 of the Swiss Code of Obligations, a “contract is void if its terms are impossible, unlawful or immoral”.

The whole Rojo case in front of the CAS is likely to hang on the determination whether Doyen’s ERPA model is immoral or not from the Swiss perspective. Immorality is constituted especially if the contract introduces a serious imbalance between the obligations of the parties. The Swiss law firm mandated by Doyen doubted the signature of an ERPA would create such imbalance, simply because “both the FUND [Doyen] and the Club have rights and obligations according to the Agreement”.[6] This falls a bit short. As we have seen, Doyen uses the leverage offered by the financial difficulties of clubs (FC Twente or Sporting) to impose very harsh contractual conditions and high interest rates. This harshness is clearly acknowledged in the ERPA. For example, clause 10.6 indicates that Sporting “is conscious of the harshness and the severity of the consequences of clauses 10.4 and 10.5”. Whether the embedded contractual imbalance in the ERPA is sufficient to be deemed immoral under Swiss law is for the CAS to decide, but it is not a possibility that should be discarded lightly. Moreover, this potential immorality is also supported by the willingness of FIFA to ban TPO as it points at the conflicts of interest and integrity risks arising out of its use.

The ERPA could also be contrary to art. 27.2 of the Swiss Civil Code, which provides that: “No person may surrender his or her freedom or restrict the use of it to a degree which violates the law or public morals”. According to the Swiss law firm contracted by Doyen, this is especially the case if a legal entity’s “economic freedom is restricted in such a way that its economic existence is in danger”.[7] It also argued that, “the undertakings of the Club cannot in principle be considered excessive”, as “there is no obvious disparity between the considerations of the Parties”.[8] Here again, the arguments provided by Doyen’s law firm are feeble at best. In fact, the contractual imbalance is openly acknowledged in Doyen’s own contract. The economic freedom of Sporting (or FC Twente for that matter) is so drastically reduced that a club is forced into selling its best players at Doyen’s will.[9] Those players are at the heart of the “economic existence” of a club. In fact, the fate of FC Twente illustrates how the loss of its best players led to the club facing financial and sporting bankruptcy.

Finally, Sporting is also likely to have argued that Doyen was in breach of its contractual duties. Clause 14 of the ERPA stipulates that Doyen “recognizes that the Club is an independent entity in so far as the Club’s employment and transfer-related matters are concerned and [Doyen] shall not, either though this Agreement or otherwise, seek to exert influence over these matters […]”. The Club claimed in its termination letter of the ERPA that “Doyen has seriously and irremediably violated its obligations of non-influence in Sporting transfer policy […] which constitutes a material breach of the agreement”. Swiss contract law may entail the right for Sporting to refuse to execute its part of the deal in case of breach of contract by Doyen. In that regard, Sporting would have had to factually demonstrate the faulty character of Doyen’s intervention in Rojo’s transfer.

It is certainly not a given that the CAS will consider Doyen’s ERPA contrary to Swiss law or for Doyen to be in breach of its contractual duties, but there are credible legal arguments that point in both directions. Surely, the hubris of the management of Sporting and FC Twente is chiefly responsible for the terrible deals closed with Doyen. Yet, Doyen leveraged their dire financial situations and irrational ambitions to strong-arm them into one-sided agreements that are imposing unfair terms on the clubs. Doyen takes on very little risk: If a player fails to become a star, the fund will recoup its investment plus very reasonable interests (unless the club is bankrupt); if a player breaks through, it will pocket the jackpot. The fund is a true vulture fund geared to the football industry. It buys under-priced assets (economic rights attached to players) in fire sales and hopes for a huge profit.

We will hear soon from the CAS whether it deems this practice legal under Swiss law. In any event, FIFA has decided to ban TPO outright, raising the opposite question of the compatibility of the ban with EU law. This will be the subject of our final blog.

 


[1] The documents used, especially the ERPA applicable to Rojo and the termination letter send out by Sporting, might be blocked or unavailable due to complaints lodged by Doyen. They are on file with the authors.

[2] http://www.transfermarkt.nl/marcos-rojo/profil/spieler/93176.

[3] Rojo ERPA, 23 August 2012, p.2.

[4] Letter of termination of the ERPA, 14 August 2014, para.15. See also paras 17-20.

[5] Rojo ERPA, 23 August 2012, clause 22 and 23.

[6] FRORIEP, ‘Memorandum on certain questions of Swiss law in relation to a draft ERPA’, para.16.

[7] Ibid, para.23.

[8] Ibid, para.25.

[9] Doyen could not ignore the fact that those clubs were in such financial difficulties, that they would be unable to pay on their own the share of a transfer offer above the agreed amount and thus retain their player.

Comments are closed