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

Time to focus on freedom of expression: Rainbows, armbands, and FIFA’s commitment to human rights - By Prof. Mark James (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Editor's note: Mark James is Professor of Sports Law at Manchester Metropolitan University and the author of a leading Sports Law textbook.


The opening days of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 have already resulted in a number of issues of interest to sports lawyers and human rights lawyers, with FARE’s Piara Powar claiming that this is the most political major sporting event that he has attended. Both FIFA and the local organisers have been active in their suppression of expressions of support for LGBTQIA+ rights by players, fans and journalists alike, calling into question once again the legality of restricting free speech by sporting rules and regulations.

There have been two major flashpoints to date. First, seven European federations had asked FIFA for permission for their captains to wear armbands supporting the ‘OneLove’ campaign. FIFA’s response was to refuse, resulting in the German players covering their mouths for their pre-match photographs in protest at their being silenced. There are several grounds on which FIFA would seek to support its position:

  •  Law 4.5 of the Laws of the Game prohibits any playing equipment from carrying any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.
  • Regulation 4.3.1 of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations and Regulation 27.1 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Regulations prohibits clothing or equipment that includes political, religious, or personal slogans, statements, or images, or otherwise does not comply in full with the Laws of the Game.
  • Regulation 33.3 of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Regulations prohibits the display of political, religious or personal messages or slogans of any nature in any language or form by players and officials.
  • Regulation 13.8.1 of FIFA’s Equipment Regulations states that for FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each Team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA (all Regulations available in the FIFA Legal Handbook 2022).

Although the DFB is considering a challenge to FIFA’s refusal to allow its captain to wear the OneLove armband, which would ultimately be heard before CAS, it is unlikely to succeed in the face of the strict requirements of the above Laws and Regulations. However, what could cause more difficulty for both FIFA and CAS is if the DFB frames its case as a challenge to the compliance of the rules that restrict players’ freedom of expression with Article 3 of FIFA’s Statutes, which states that ‘FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights.’ Article 3, together with the additional detail provided by FIFA’s Human Rights Policy, ensures that freedom of expression as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights are limitative rules that can be applied directly to FIFA’s activities, as has been argued by Bützler and Schöddert. Further, if the affected players and associations can define themselves as human rights defenders, then Article 11 of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy states that, ‘FIFA will respect and not interfere with the work of … human rights defenders who voice concerns about adverse human rights impacts relating to FIFA.’ Any challenge using this approach would be the first real test of the enforceability of the human rights protections to which FIFA claims to be committed. It would also be a test of CAS’s ability to require adherence to the human rights commitments made by ISFs and to prove that they are more than simple window-dressing.

Secondly, members of The Rainbow Wall, a contingent of LGBTQIA+ rights-supporting Welsh fans, were prevented from entering the Ahmed bin Ali stadium whilst wearing bucket hats incorporating a rainbow into its design. No explanation for why was given, however, FIFA and the local organisers would argue that openly supporting LGBTQIA+ rights with the aim of promoting legal change in a country where homosexuality is illegal is a political statement on apparel and therefore entry into the stadium wearing the rainbow hat is in breach of the Regulation 3.1.23 of the Stadium Code of Conduct. A similar argument could be used to justify preventing US journalist Grant Wahl from entering the stadium wearing a t-shirt incorporating a rainbow into its design and Danish journalist Jon Pagh from wearing the OneLove armband. However, it must be stressed that no such explanation for the prohibitions applied to these garments was provided to any of the affected fans or journalists. It must also be recognised that the opinion that promoting LGBTQIA+ rights is a political expression is highly contested. In a statement from FIFPRO, the opposing view was stated succinctly: ‘We maintain that a rainbow flag is not a political statement but an endorsement of equality and thus a universal human right.’

It is clear that, as with Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, the chilling effect that FIFA’s Regulations have on players’ and fans’ freedom of expression is likely to be unlawful, as has been discussed at length both on this blog and on the Verfassungsblog Debate on Freedom of Expression in the Olympic Movement. Instead of revisiting these arguments, which are taken to apply to FIFA’s actions at Qatar 2022, two additional issues related to the FIFA Statutes are explored here.

Articles 3 and 4 of FIFA’s Statutes state that:

3 Human rights

FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.

4 Non-discrimination, equality and neutrality

4.1 Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

FIFA is a long-time supporter of pride events and in its press release for Pride Month 2022 stated:

[The] FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be a celebration of unity and diversity – a joining of people from all walks of life – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – everybody will be welcome.

Claims that all staff involved in the Qatar 2022 including public and private security forces, would be trained on how to accomplish their tasks in a non-discriminatory manner, seem not to have been operationalised effectively.

This begs the question whether FIFA is in breach of its own Statutes by refusing to allow players to express themselves freely on armbands and failing to protect fans’ freedom of expression by wearing rainbows. At the very least, FIFA should have ensured that a protective LGBTQIA+ regime in the stadiums and the fan zones during the World Cup was implemented to enable the ‘celebration of unity and diversity’ it claims that Qatar 2022 should be. FIFA’s actions in Qatar call into question its claims to be an inclusive and supportive leader on anti-discrimination and human rights, and is likely to see a backlash from the LGBTQIA+ community that it claims to support when it engages with Pride 2023; accusations of hypocrisy and virtue signalling are guaranteed.

With no resolution to the debate at the time of writing, Articles 3 and 4 could provide players and fans with the opportunity to demonstrate their support for human rights and anti-discrimination causes. At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Athlete Ally developed the ‘Principle 6 Campaign.’ Instead of criticising directly Russia's so called anti-gay laws, which are currently in the process of being extended, athletes promoted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which at the time stated that, ‘Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’ The eventual outcome of this campaign was the addition of sexual orientation to the list of characteristics protected by Principle 6. Unlike at Sochi 2014, there is no need to campaign for a change to either of Articles 3 or 4 of the FIFA Statutes; instead, activists want to ensure that they are being applied. An immediate response for both players and fans would be for them to quote specifically from Articles 3 and 4, as it would be extremely difficult for FIFA to claim that they are making political or personal statements when promoting FIFA’s own foundational values. A creative reminder of what FIFA claims to stand for could enable player and fan activism to continue throughout the tournament, and beyond, whilst affected players and associations can develop a compelling case for the restrictions on freedom of expression to be struck out by CAS, the Swiss Federal Tribunal and/or the European Court of Human Rights.

A personal reflection on the Summer Programme on Sports Governance and Human Rights - By Pedro José Mercado Jaén

Editor’s note:Pedro is an intern at the Asser Institute and currently studying the Erasmus Mundus Master Degree in Sports Ethics and Integrity (KU Leuven et al.) He was one of the participants of the first edition of the Summer Programme on Sports Governance and Human Rights.


In early September, the first Summer Programme on the Governance of Sport and Human Rights took place at the Asser Institute. During one week, various experts in the field presented different lectures to a very diverse group of participants with a wide range of professional backgrounds. Being a participant myself, I would like to reflect on this one-week course and share what I learned. More...



Call for papers - ISLJ Conference on International Sports Law - Asser Institute - 25 and 26 October 2022

 

Call for papers

ISLJ Conference on International Sports Law

Asser Institute, The Hague

25 and 26 October 2022


The Editors of the International Sports Law Journal (ISLJ) invite you to submit abstracts for the ISLJ Conference on International Sports Law, which will take place on 25 and 26 October 2022 at the Asser Institute in The Hague. The ISLJ, published by Springer and TMC Asser Press, is the leading academic publication in the field of international sports law. The conference is a unique occasion to discuss the main legal issues affecting international sports and its governance with renowned academic experts.


We are delighted to announce the following confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Jonathan Grix (Professor of Sport Policy and Politics at Manchester Metropolitan University), and
  • Mary Harvey (CEO at the Centre for Sport and Human Rights),
  • Ben Van Rompuy (Assistant Professor at Leiden University).


We welcome abstracts from academics and practitioners on all issues related to international sports law and governance. We also welcome panel proposals (including a minimum of three presenters) on a specific issue. For this year’s edition, we specifically invite submissions on the following themes and subthemes:

  • International sports law and governance in times of conflict:
    • The emergence of the idea(l) of political neutrality of SGBs and its translation in legal/governance practice
    • The intersection between public international law and international sports law and governance in the context of international conflicts
    • The role of sports diplomacy/conditionality in the context of international conflicts
    • International sports law and the Russian invasion of Ukraine

  • Human rights and mega sporting events (MSEs)
    • The adverse or positive impact of MSEs on (specific) human rights
    • The influence of human rights commitments on the organisation of MSEs
    • The effects of MSEs on human rights in organising countries
    • The responsibilities and strategies of SGBs to ensure respect of human rights at MSEs
    • The role and responsibilities of states in ensuring respect of human rights in the context of MSEs

  • Competition law and challenges to the governance monopoly of SGBs
    • The impact of competition law on SGBs and their governance
    • The limits of competition law on effecting change in the governance of sport
    • The specific modalities of application of competition law to sports governance
    • The legitimacy of competition authorities in challenging SGBs


Please send your abstract of 300 words and CV no later than 1 July 2022 to a.duval@asser.nl. Selected speakers will be informed by 15 July.

The selected participants will be expected to submit a draft paper by 10 October 2022. Papers accepted and presented at the conference are eligible for publication in a special issue of the ISLJ subject to peer-review. Submissions after this date will be considered for publication in later editions of the Journal.

The Asser Institute will cover one night accommodation for the speakers and may provide a limited amount of travel grants (max. 250€). If you wish to be considered for a grant, please indicate it in your submission.

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – June - August 2020 by Thomas Terraz

Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. 

 

 

The Headlines

CAS Decision on Manchester City FC Case

After the UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control’s (CFCB) decision earlier this year to ban Manchester City FC for two seasons, observers waited impatiently to see the outcome of this high profile dispute. The CFCB’s decision had found that Manchester City FC overstated sponsorship revenues and in its break-even information given to UEFA. While some feared this showdown could lead to the demise of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, the now publicized CAS panel’s decision is more nuanced. The panel’s decision turned on (see analysis here and here) (a) whether the ‘Leaked Emails’ were authentic and could be admissible evidence, (b) whether the ‘CFCB breached its obligations of due process’, (c) whether the conclusions of the 2014 Settlement Agreement prevents the CFCB from charging Manchester City FC, (d) whether the charges are time-barred, (e) the applicable standard of proof, (f) whether Manchester City FC masked equity funding as sponsorship contributions, and (g) whether Manchester City FC failed to cooperate with CFCB. In the end, among other findings, the Panel held that some of the alleged breaches were time-barred but maintained that Manchester City FC had failed to cooperate with CFCB’s investigation. In light of this, the Panel significantly reduced the sanction placed on Manchester City FC by removing the two-season suspension and reducing the sanction from 30 million euros to 10 million euros.

 

Qatar Labour Law Reforms Effectively Abolishes the Kafala System

Just a few days after Human Rights Watch released a lengthy report on abusive practices suffered by migrant workers in Qatar, Qatar adopted a series of laws that effectively gets rid of the Kafala system by no longer requiring migrant workers to obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from their employer in order to start another job. The International Labour Organization declared that this development along with the elimination of the ‘exit permit requirements’ from earlier this year means that the kafala system has been effectively abolished. In addition to these changes, Qatar has also adopted a minimum wage that covers all workers and requires that employers who do not provide food or housing at least give a minimum allowance for both of these living costs. Lastly, the new laws better define the procedure for the termination of employment contracts.

In reaction to these changes, Amnesty International welcomed the reforms and called for them to be ‘swiftly and properly implemented’. Indeed, while these amendments to Qatar’s labour laws are a step in the right direction, Amnesty International also cautions that the minimum wage may still be too low, and in order to be effective, these new laws will have to be followed with ‘strong inspection and complaint mechanisms’.

 

CAS Decision Concerning Keramuddin Karim Abuse Case

In June of last year, Keramuddin Karim, former president of Afghanistan’s soccer federation, was banned by FIFA for life (see the decision of the adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee) after reports of sexual and physical abuse that emerged in late 2018. Following a lengthy and tumultuous investigation in Afghanistan, Afghan officials came forward with an arrest warrant for Mr. Karim. Nevertheless, despite attempts to apprehend Mr. Karim, Mr. Karim has still avoided arrest over a year later. Most recently in August, Afghan Special Operation officers attempted to apprehend him but he was not at the residence when they arrived.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karim had appealed FIFA’s lifetime ban to the CAS and the CAS Panel’s decision has recently been released. In its decision, the Panel upheld both the lifetime ban and the 1,000,000 CHF fine, finding that due to the particular egregious nature of Karim’s acts, ‘they warrant the most severe sanction possible available under the FCE’. Since both Karim and his witnesses were unable to be heard, the case raises questions connected to the respect of fundamental procedural rights at the CAS.  More...

Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play? - Conference Report – By Thomas Terraz

Editor’s note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B. candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on International and European Sports Law.

 

1.     Introduction

 On March 05, the T.M.C. Asser Institute hosted ‘Mega-sporting events and human rights: What role can EU sports diplomacy play?’ a Multiplier Sporting Event organized in the framework of a European research project on ‘Promoting a Strategic Approach to EU Sports Diplomacy’. This project funded by the European Commission through its Erasmus+ program aims to help the EU adopt a strategic approach to sports diplomacy and to provide evidence of instances where sport can help amplify EU diplomatic messages and forge better relations with third countries. In particular, Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute is focusing on the role of EU sports diplomacy to strengthen human rights in the context of mega sporting events (MSE) both in Europe and abroad. To this end, he organized the two panels of the day focusing, on the one hand, on the ability of sport governing bodies (SGB) to leverage their diplomatic power to promote human rights, particularly in the context of MSEs and, on the other, on the EU’s role and capacity to strengthened human rights around MSEs. The following report summarizes the main points raised during the discussions. More...

Will the World Cup 2022 Expansion Mark the Beginning of the End of FIFA’s Human Rights Journey? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor's note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games.


About three years ago, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) adopted a new version of its Statutes, including a statutory commitment to respect internationally recognized human rights. Since then, FIFA undertook a human rights journey that has been praised by various stakeholders in the sports and human rights field. In early June, the FIFA Congress is scheduled to take a decision that could potentially undo all positive efforts taken thus far.

FIFA already decided in January 2017 to increase the number of teams participating in the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48. Shortly after, discussions began on the possibility to also expand the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar. Subsequently, FIFA conducted a feasibility study, which revealed that the expansion would be feasible but require a number of matches to be hosted in neighbouring countries, explicitly mentioning Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One does not have to be a human rights expert to be highly alarmed by this list of potential co-hosting countries. Nevertheless, the FIFA Council approved of the possibility to expand in March 2019, paving the way for the FIFA Congress to take a decision on the matter. Obviously, the advancement of the expansion decision raises serious doubts over the sincerity of FIFA’s reforms and human rights commitments. More...



New Event! FIFA and Human Rights: Impacts, Policies, Responsibilities - 8 May 2019 - Asser Institute

In the past few years, FIFA underwent intense public scrutiny for human rights violations surrounding the organisation of the World Cup 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar. This led to a reform process at FIFA, which involved a number of policy changes, such as:

  • Embracing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • The inclusion of human rights in the FIFA Statutes;
  • Adopting new bidding rules including human rights requirements;
  • And introducing a Human Rights Advisory Board.

To take stock of these changes, the Asser Institute and the Netherlands Network for Human Rights Research (NNHRR), are organising a conference on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and human rights, which will take place at the Asser Institute in The Hague on 8 May 2019.

This one-day conference aims to take a deeper look at FIFA’s impacts on human rights and critically investigate the measures it has adopted to deal with them. Finally, we will also address FIFA’s potential legal responsibilities under a variety of human rights laws/instruments.


Preliminary Programme

9:00 Registration & Coffee

9:45 Welcome by Antoine Duval (Asser Institute) & Daniela Heerdt (Tilburg University)

10:00 Opening Remarks by Andreas Graf (Human Rights Officer, FIFA)

10:30 Panel 1: FIFA & Human Rights: Impacts

  • Zoher Shabbir (University of York) – The correlation between forced evictions and developing nations hosting the FIFA World Cup
  • Roman Kiselyov (European Human Rights Advocacy Centre) - FIFA World Cup as a Pretext for a Crackdown on Human Rights
  • Eleanor Drywood (Liverpool University) - FIFA and children’s rights: theory, methodology and practice 

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Panel 2: FIFA & Human Rights: Policies

  • Lisa Schöddert & Bodo Bützler (University of Cologne) – FIFA’s eigen-constitutionalisation and its limits
  • Gigi Alford (World Players Association) - Power Play: FIFA’s voluntary human rights playbook does not diminish Switzerland’s state power to protect against corporate harms
  • Brendan Schwab (World Players Association) & Craig Foster - FIFA, human rights and the threatened refoulement of Hakeem Al Araibi 

14:30 Break

15:00 Panel 3: FIFA & Human Rights: Responsibilities

  • Daniel Rietiker (ECtHR and University of Lausanne) - The European Court of Human Rights and Football: Current Issues and Potential
  • Jan Lukomski (Łukomski Niklewicz law firm) - FIFA and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights : Obligations, duties and remedies regarding the labour rights         protected under the ICESCR
  • Raquel Regueiro Dubra (Complutense University of Madrid) - Shared international responsibility for human rights violations in global events. The case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
  • Wojciech Lewandowski (Polish Academy of Sciences/University of Warsaw) - Is Bauer the new Bosman? – The implications of the newest CJEU jurisprudence for FIFA and other sport governing bodies

17:00 Closing Remarks by Mary Harvey (Chief Executive, Centre for Sports and Human Rights)


More information and registration at https://www.asser.nl/education-events/events/?id=3064

Human Rights Protection and the FIFA World Cup: A Never-Ending Match? - By Daniela Heerdt

Editor’s note: Daniela Heerdt is a PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School in the Netherlands. Her PhD research deals with the establishment of responsibility and accountability for adverse human rights impacts of mega-sporting events, with a focus on FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games. She recently published an article in the International Sports Law Journal that discusses to what extent the revised bidding and hosting regulations by FIFA, the IOC and UEFA strengthen access to remedy for mega-sporting events-related human rights violations.


The 21st FIFA World Cup is currently underway. Billions of people around the world follow the matches with much enthusiasm and support. For the time being, it almost seems forgotten that in the final weeks leading up to the events, critical reports on human rights issues related to the event piled up. This blog explains why addressing these issues has to start well in advance of the first ball being kicked and cannot end when the final match has been played. More...



FIFA's Human Rights Agenda: Is the Game Beautiful Again? – By Tomáš Grell

Editor’s note: Tomáš Grell holds an LL.M. in Public International Law from Leiden University. He contributes to the work of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre as a research intern.

 

Concerns about adverse human rights impacts related to FIFA's activities have intensified ever since its late 2010 decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar respectively. However, until recently, the world's governing body of football had done little to eliminate these concerns, thereby encouraging human rights advocates to exercise their critical eye on FIFA. 

In response to growing criticism, the Extraordinary FIFA Congress, held in February 2016, decided to include an explicit human rights commitment in the revised FIFA Statutes which came into force in April 2016. This commitment is encapsulated in Article 3 which reads as follows: ''FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights''. At around the same time, Professor John Ruggie, the author of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ('UN Guiding Principles') presented in his report 25 specific recommendations for FIFA on how to further embed respect for human rights across its global operations. While praising the decision to make a human rights commitment part of the organization's constituent document, Ruggie concluded that ''FIFA does not have yet adequate systems in place enabling it to know and show that it respects human rights in practice''.[1]

With the 2018 World Cup in Russia less than a year away, the time is ripe to look at whether Ruggie's statement about FIFA's inability to respect human rights still holds true today. This blog outlines the most salient human rights risks related to FIFA's activities and offers a general overview of what the world's governing body of football did over the past twelve months to mitigate these risks. Information about FIFA's human rights activities is collected primarily from its Activity Update on Human Rights published alongside FIFA's Human Rights Policy in June 2017. More...