By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
An EU legal challenge against the world-wide ban on TPO (Third Party Ownership) has failed at first instance in a Belgian Court.
The TPO ban was approved by the FIFA Executive Committee in December 2014, and its terms are set out in article 18ter of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.
Doyen Sports Investments and the Belgian Second Division Club, Seraing United, brought an action in the Brussels First-Instance Tribunal against FIFA, UEFA and the Belgian FA, seeking a temporary injunction suspending the implementation of the TPO ban.
In a decision handed down on 24 July, 2015, the Tribunal held that the applicants had failed to prove, on an initial examination, their allegations that the ban contravened EU Law or was disproportionate to the objectives of the ban, namely the protection of players and the integrity of the game.
FIFPro intervened in these proceedings claiming the ‘specificity of sport’ as a ground for upholding the ban, and the Tribunal noted that, although the ban is of a financial nature, its effects are of a sporting nature.
It will be recalled that the ‘rules of the game’ are not considered to be anti-competitive under EU Competition Law, where they are imposed for sporting reasons and any restrictions arising under them go no further than is reasonably necessary to achieve those objectives. In other words, in such circumstances, they are not disproportionate.
Of course, FIFA has welcomed this decision and reiterated its confidence in the legality of the ban on TPO, claiming that the measure is indispensable for preserving the independence of football clubs and players and ensuring the integrity of matches and competitions!
However, FIFA’s remarks may be somewhat premature, as it would appear that, although the present application for an interim injunction was turned down by the Tribunal, a full hearing of the claims by the applicants against the TPO ban on their merits might still be possible.
So, this initial decision may not be the end of the matter, but we will see what actually happens!
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’