Inquiry into head injuries in football, crowd trouble in Europe and UEFA to launch the League of Nations
In this week’s football law round up Adam Lovatt and Thomas Gibby share the top legal stories from across European football. This week's stories include: crowd trouble in European competitions; the new FA Commission established for head injuries; the Football League blocking the purchase of majority stake in Leeds United and UEFA’s League of Nations.
Crowd trouble in European competitions
The on-going rise in crowd disturbances at European football matches has been highlighted again this week with the match between Salzburg and Basel in the Europa League being halted for twelve minutes as a result of away fans from Switzerland throwing objects at home team players.
The referee took the players off the field as a result of Kevin Kampl of Salzburg being unable to take a corner kick due to missiles including cups, cigarette lighters and drinks bottles being thrown at him by visiting Swiss supporters.
UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Basel who progressed to the last eight of the competition with a 2-1 aggregate win. The club was charged with two breaches of UEFA’s Disciplinary Regulations, namely the setting-off and throwing of objects (Art. 16(2)) and improper team conduct (Art. 15(4)).
On Wednesday 26 March, a UEFA Control and Disciplinary body ordered the club to play their next two UEFA Europa League games behind closed doors and handed them a fine of €107,000.
New FA Commission established for head injuries
On Tuesday 25 March it was revealed that FA Chairman Greg Dyke is to set up a commission comprising representatives from the FA, the PFA and the Premier League to investigate head injuries in football. The statement comes in a response letter to the widow of former West Bromwich Albion and England forward Jeff Astle who died in 2002 from brain trauma caused by heading footballs. The coroner in that case ruled that Astle’s death resulted from a degenerative brain disease caused by frequently heading a football. New research has also traced the onset of early dementia, depression and loss of cognitive function to this issue.
In the USA in October 2013 a settlement was reached in favour of 4,500 NFL players that claimed they had suffered head trauma throughout their playing careers leading to serious neurological injuries. However, in January 2014, Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody denied preliminary approval of a $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims, fearing it may not be enough to cover 20,000 retired players. According to an article by the Associated Press on the 21 March 2014, “Lead players' lawyer Sol Weiss expects the court's financial expert to advise the judge "shortly" on his view of the class-action plan.”
Greg Dyke’s response comes after calls by Labour MP Chris Bryant for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue. According to Bryant, organisations such as the FA and the RFU are in ‘‘denial’’.
Football League block purchase of majority stake
On Sunday 23 March the Football League Board blocked Italian businessman Massimo Cellino from taking a controlling interest in Leeds United. The Italian, current owner of Italian Serie A side, Cagliari Calcio, had agreed for his company, Eleonora Sports, to buy a 75% stake in the club from current owners, Gulf Finance House Capital, to add to the £6m he already has invested in the club. The purchase was subject to Football League approval.
Despite the Italian professing his honesty, the Italian courts found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of non-payment of an import duty owing on a boat, and ordered him to pay a six-figure fine. The conviction relating to dishonesty questions his integrity and eligibility under Football League rules.
The Board had to consider both Cellino’s eligibility and the application of its regulations to a decision made in Italy under Italian law; and unanimously held that the Italian judgment disqualifies the Italian from owning and controlling an English Football League club under the Owners’ and Directors’ Test.
UEFA’s 54 member associations have unanimously voted to create a new competition, the UEFA Nations League, at the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan. The proposal is for this new tournament to replace the traditional European Championship qualifying campaign and reduce the number of increasingly unpopular international friendlies. Whilst the exact format of the tournament has yet to be finalised, it is apparent that there will be four divisions each divided into four smaller pools. Teams will be placed into their divisions according to UEFA’s coefficient ranking system. Pool matches will take place between September and November 2018 (each team playing the other twice) with the four winners from each division playing each other the following summer. Teams will compete to be promoted to a higher group, with the winners having the opportunity to qualify for the 2020 European Championship play-offs. Twenty teams will advance from the Nations League to the 2020 Euros. The four-point resolution that carried the new tournament was created after member associations requested that UEFA investigate the future of national team football within the framework of the approved international match calendar. Furthermore, players, coaches and supporters increasingly felt that international friendly matches were not competitive enough.
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Adam is a lawyer specialising in sports law with IMG. Adam has a wide range of commercial and litigation experience from his four years as a qualified solicitor. Adam has a passion for sports law and is currently undertaking a IP Law Masters programme with the University of London. He is passionate about most sports particularly football, golf and tennis.
Thomas is a Solicitor in Kerman & Co’s sports team. Thomas is predominantly a commercial contracts lawyer who advises the team’s biggest sporting clients and major event organisers on a range of their commercial issues, including working in-house at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. His experience includes advising on data and consumer protection, IT/software development and procurement contracts.