Tevfik Arif’s Doyen Sports, in a Resounding Victory in a Belgium Court, is Changing the Finances of Football, Again

by | Nov 25, 2018 | Sports Featured

A game-changing court ruling is the satisfying outcome of an appeal of a FIFA sanction by a Belgian soccer club and Doyen Sports Investment Limited, a private equity fund involved in investments and management of players and coaches in association football.

The focus of the case was on the revocation of enforced arbitration by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), with the overturning of a FIFA decision to sanction Seraing for violating recently prohibited third party ownership (TPO). The decision opens the door for appeals to be heard in domestic courts. In the global venue of international sports, the consequences and ramifications are wide reaching. No longer are all decisions in one potentially corrupt or biased groups court, however it could also potentially create an unlevel playing field of local laws and perspectives in an administrative game that is won only when the same rules apply to all.

Among the takeaways here is that the decision was made based on local law, in this case Belgium law but also international human rights and European Union laws. This is in the light of CAS, which up to date was the sole arbitrator and based in Switzerland where European Union laws do not come into play.

The decision by the Brussels Court was partly influenced by the vagaries of regulations of both FIFA and CAS. A clause in FIFA statutes regarding exceptions to CAS arbitration was deemed as not providing enough detail. It also declared that the FIFA and UEFA arbitration rules, which allow disputes to be heard only by CAS, violate Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which protect the rights to a fair trial and to effective remedy.

It appears a precedent has been set that allows clubs and players around the world to opt out of a CAS hearing in favor of taking legal disputes against FIFA or UEFA to courts in their own countries, to be decided under their laws. This is not the first blow FIFA and CAS have suffered, a court in Spain has already declared forced arbitration by CAS to be unconstitutional in a 2005 case involving cyclist Roberto Heras, who tested positive for drugs. Test results were annulled by the Supreme Court of Spain because Heras’ appeal to CAS was not free and voluntary, violating his rights.

Another ramification for this historic decision could be in overturning FIFA’s decision regarding third-party ownership (TPO) of players’ economic rights, in other words, shareholders who have a legal say in player trades and fees.

In Europe and South America, buying stakes in players became a way for clubs to raise immediate revenues, as well as devise long-term financing plans based in future trading value, much like playing the stock market. Companies like Doyen empower smaller clubs and promote new young players bringing fresh talent to the game.

On the flip side third party ownership (TPO) of football players has been described as a form of modern-day “slavery” by some of the most senior figures in soccer.

However, there is no doubt that TPO is a valuable resources of football clubs in poorer countries, levelling the playing field with the rich European clubs and adds a level of excitement to the world’s biggest sport. Even video game makers added team management and TPO to their formats to up the realism.

It will be interesting to watch the consequences of this ruling and the impact it has on sport. What is already obvious, is that the stranglehold of FIFA and the all-encompassing power of CAS is a thing of the past, no longer are these bodies a rule unto themselves, hopefully we will witness more transparency and accountability in the months and years to come.


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