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Saving Football from Itself: Why and How to Re-make EU Sports Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 October 2022

Somerville College & Faculty of Law, University of Oxford


EU sports law has conventionally been understood to involve the assembly of the several decisions of the Court of Justice and the Commission that apply free movement and competition law to the practices of governing bodies. The influence of these decisions has generated change in some aspects of sporting governance, in the EU, and beyond. But the EU does not set the terms according to which sport shall be organised. This article makes the case for the EU moving beyond its orthodox approach to sports law, which is rooted in the accidents of litigation, and also choosing to embrace a role as a regulator. This will diminish the autonomy that governing bodies in sport have long prized, but the article asserts the need for this in order to address the conflict of interest to which governing bodies fall prey when they perform regulatory functions while also making commercially significant choices. It is, however, unclear whether the political will needed to propel EU sports law beyond the application of internal market law to embrace also the establishment of mandatory ex ante standards can be assembled.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Centre for European Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge

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1 See eg Olympic Charter of the International Olympic Committee, Art 61,

2 Court of Arbitration for Sport,

3 See Born, G, International Arbitration: Law and Practice, 3rd ed (Kluwer Law International, 2021), chs 15–17Google Scholar.

4 Ibid, ch 17.05(H).

5 Eco Swiss China Time Ltd v Benetton International NV, C-126/97, EU:C:1999:269. See also Vincenzo Manfredi, C-295/04 to C-298/04, EU:C:2006:461.

6 See eg Galatasaray v UEFA, CAS 2016/A/4492. On the sources on which CAS draws, see Duval, A, ‘Seamstress of Transnational Law: How the Court of Arbitration for Sport Weaves the Lex Sportiva’ in Krisch, N (ed), Entangled Legalities Beyond the State (Cambridge University Press, 2022)Google Scholar.

7 For discussion, see Brett, J, ‘EU Law and Procedural Autonomy in International Commercial Arbitration’ (2021) 29(4) European Review of Private Law 583CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Olivier Bernard, C-325/08, EU:C:2010:143, para 40. See also TopFit eV, Daniele Biffi, C-22/18, EU:C:2019:497.

9 Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Jean-Marc Bosman, Royal Club Liégeois SA v Jean-Marc Bosman and others, and Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) v Jean-Marc Bosman, C-415/93, ECLI:EU:C:1995:463.

10 Olivier Bernard, C-325/08, EU:C:2010:143.

12 This theme is developed in Weatherill, S, Principles and Practice in EU Sports Law (Oxford University Press, 2017)Google Scholar. See also Cattaneo, A and Parrish, R, Sports Law in the European Union (Wolters Kluwer, 2020)Google Scholar; Heermann, P, Verbandsautonomie im Sport (Nomos, 2022)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Meca-Medina and Majcen v Commission, C-519/04P, EU:C:2006:492.

14 Ibid, para 42.

15 Ibid, para 45.

16 J Kornbeck, ‘Der ISU-Fall der Europäischen Kommission (Az. 40208 International Skating Union's Eligibility Rules) und die Zukunft des Ein-Platz-Prinzips’ (JKU, 2018), Europe Working Paper Number 8,

17 Motosykletistiki Omospondia Ellados NPID (MOTOE) v Elliniko Dimosio, C-49/07, EU:C:2008:376.

18 Ibid, para 51.

19 Ibid, para 52.

20 International Skating Union v Commission, T-93/18, EU:T:2020:610.

21 Ibid, para 75.

22 Ibid para 101; see also para 62.

23 Cf Kornbeck, J, ‘What Can Sports Governing Bodies Do to Comply with EU Antitrust Rules While Maintaining Territorial Exclusivity?’ (2020) 20 International Sports Law Journal 203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 European SuperLeague Company v UEFA, FIFA, C-333/21 (preliminary reference made by Juzgado de lo Mercantil no 17 de Madrid, pending before the Court).

25 See Weatherill, note 12 above.

26 IP/01/314, 5 March 2001.

27 IP/02/824, 5 June 2002.

28 IP/12/264, 21 March 2012.

29 See Weatherill, S, ‘The EU as a Sports Regulator’ in Nafziger, J and Gaulthier, R (eds), Handbook on International Sports Law, 2nd ed (Edward Elgar, 2022), especially sec 9Google Scholar, ‘From Indignation to Co-operation’.

30 Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL, note 9 above, para 136.

31 García, B and Meier, H E, ‘Global Sport Power Europe? The Efficacy of the European Union in Global Sport Regulation’ (2017) 55 Journal of Common Market Studies 850CrossRefGoogle Scholar. An intriguing project for another day asks what sport tells us about the ‘Brussels Effect’. Cf Bradford, A, The Brussels Effect: How the European Union Rules the World (Oxford University Press, 2020)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 Germany v Parliament and Council, C-380/03, ECLI:EU:C:2006:11573, para 41; Poland v Parliament and Council, C-358/14, ECLI:EU:C:2016:213, para 36; Philip Morris Brands, C-547/14, ECLI:EU:C:2016:325, para 62; Czech Republic v Parliament and Council, C-482/17, ECLI:EU:C:2019:1035, para 37.

33 Eg Ex Parte BAT, C-491/01, ECLI:EU:C:2002:741; Commission v Germany, C-103/01, ECLI:EU:C:2003:301.

34 Eg in application to Article 114, Ex Parte BAT, note 33 above, paras 122–23; Germany v Parliament and Council, note 32 above, para 145; Poland v Parliament and Council, note 32 above, paras 78–79; and Czech Republic v Parliament and Council, note 32 above, para 77.

35 Directive 2014/40 OJ 2014 L127/1.

36 Directive 2015/2302 OJ 2015 L326/1.

37 Directive 2019/882 OJ 2019 L151/70.

38 Regulation 2020/1503 OJ 2020 L347/1.

39 Directive 2019/1937 OJ 2019 L305/17.

40 COM (2021) 731, 25 November 2021.

41 OJ 2019 C416/3.

42 Motosykletistiki Omospondia Ellados NPID (MOTOE) v Elliniko Dimosio, note 17 above.

43 International Skating Union v Commission, note 20 above.

44 European Commission, Staff Working Document, The EU and Sport: Background and Context, accompanying document to the White Paper on Sport (SEC (2007) 935, 11 July 2007).

45 OJ 2021 C501/1.

46 OJ 2022 C224/2.

47 OJ 2022 L281/9.

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49 The full story is told in García, B and Weatherill, S, ‘Engaging with the EU in Order to Minimize Its Impact: Sport and the Negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon’ (2012) 19 Journal of European Public Policy 238CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 C(2014) 7378, 14 October 2014; C(2018) 876, 19 February 2018.

51 See eg Geeraert, A, Scheerder, J, and Bruyninckx, H, ‘The Governance Network of European Football: Introducing New Governance Approaches to Steer Football at the EU Level’ (2013) 5 International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 113CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gomtsian, S, Balvert, A, Hock, B, and Kirman, O, ‘Between the Green Pitch and the Red Tape: The Private Legal Order of FIFA’ (2018) 43 Yale Journal of International Law 85Google Scholar; Meier, H E and García, B, ‘Beyond Sports Autonomy: A Case for Collaborative Sport Governance Approaches’ (2021) 13 International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 501CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 Cf note 31 above: another intriguing project for another day would explore analogies with the perceived need for ex ante regulation to supplement competition law in digital markets, where the ‘gatekeeping’ role of powerful suppliers also resonates: an EU Digital Markets Act is under legislative consideration, see

53 Note 46 above.

54 Note 45 above.