Football Law & Business News Round-Up - 23 Nov 2022
Germany explores legal options against FIFA over armband ban
The controversies surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar continue to dominate international news, and the past 24 hours are no different. According to German tabloid, Bild, Germany’s Football Association (the DFB) have made enquiries with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over FIFA’s ban of the OneLove rainbow armband which players of several European nations had planned to wear in promotion of diversity and inclusion at the World Cup. As a result of FIFA’s threats to issue yellow cards to players sporting the armbands, the DFB refused to allow the German captain to wear a OneLove rainbow armband.
Before lodging a CAS claim, the DFB would need to go through FIFA’s internal appeals process and obtain an appealable decision. Any subsequent CAS case would be heard by the Ad Hoc Division of the CAS for the Qatar World Cup, which would give a decision within 48 hours of the lodging of the application.
FIFA’s stance on anti-discrimination protests concerning LGBT+ rights in Qatar has already had a commercial impact on the DFB, with Germany’s largest supermarket chain, REWE, announcing that it had abandoned its advertising campaign and sponsorship deal with the DFB after the DFB’s decision to prevent German players from wearing the OneLove armbands.
The grounds for the DFB’s potential legal case have not yet been made public. However, Steffen Simon, the DFB’s media director, said that the German federation’s reluctant decision to drop the OneLove armbands was borne of “an extreme situation” facing “extreme blackmail”. While Article 13.8.1 of the FIFA Equipment Regulations mandates that captains must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA, it is likely that the teams and federations planning to wear the armbands expected that FIFA would issue financial penalties for a breach of Article 13.8.1 rather than the sporting sanctions that FIFA allegedly threatened the European teams with, such as card bookings and match suspensions. For an analysis of the broader regulatory framework regarding political protest in football, access our LawInSport article by Maximilian Wegge and David Menz here.
Wales’ football association in talks with FIFA over confiscation of fan’s rainbow hats at stadium
The DFB are not the only football association to raise concerns regarding Qatar’s stance on the rainbow anti-discrimination symbols. Yesterday, the Welsh FA (FAW) launched an investigation and presented its findings to FIFA following reports that Welsh supporters attending Wales’ match against the USA on Monday had their rainbow bucket hats confiscated, despite FIFA’s assurances that all fans and rainbow flags would be welcome at the tournament. It is understood that FIFA has demanded Doha officials to stop forcing fans to remove rainbow flags and symbols. The FAW and FIFA are yet to make further statements regarding the investigation and the urgent discussions between the federations, while the Qatari Supreme Committee is expected to issue a statement on this matter today.
FIFA opens disciplinary proceedings against Ecuador over fan chants
In the first case of the 2022 World Cup, FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Ecuador for homophobic chanting by some of the team’s fans during its opening match against hosts Qatar. The fan conduct is a potential breach of Article 13 of the FIFA disciplinary code and potential sanctions include playing without spectators. For an overview of the FIFA Disciplinary Code see Tiran Gunawardena and Rustam Sethna’s LawInSport article.
Christiano Ronaldo fined £50,000 and issued two game suspension by the FA
The FA Regulatory Commission Panel today published the written reasons for its decision to fine Christiano Ronaldo £50,000 and issue a two match suspension for slapping a mobile phone from a child spectator’s hand while leaving Goodison Park after a match between Manchester United FC and Everton FC. The FA charged Ronaldo with improper conduct contrary to FA Rule E3.1 which the player admitted on the basis that his conduct was improper but not violent.
The Panel however, found that contrary to the Player’s assertions, his conduct was both improper and violent, and was aggravated by his very high profile and the fact that the incident was witnessed by many people. The Panel held that the player’s conduct was sufficiently serious to merit a sporting sanction of a two match suspension as well as a fine. The match suspension will apply with any new club Ronaldo joins, whether domestically or beyond by virtue of Article 12.1 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players- but will not affect his ability to play in international world cup matches.
Commercial news - Manchester United FC sale; Ronaldo agrees deal to part with Manchester United FC; Canada premier league folds FC Edmonton; plans to host La Liga matches abroad
Manchester United FC sale
Manchester United FC’s owners, the Glazer family, have announced plans to explore “strategic alternatives” for the club, including a potential sale. The club is thought to be valued at £5bn currently. It may be that the Glazer’s decide not to sell, and consider other options to raise capital such as a partial sale. For a comprehensive overview of the financing options available to the Glazer family, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of LawInSport guide to financing football clubs by Michael Savva and Stuart Bolton. Also see our guide written by Richard Barham to the legal due diligence process that will arise should Manchester United’s owners decide to sell the club.
Ronaldo agrees deal to part with Manchester United FC
Manchester United FC and Christiano Ronaldo announced yesterday by mutual agreement that he would be leaving the club with immediate effect. This announcement comes after the player’s bombshell interview last week with British journalist, Piers Morgan, in which he criticised the club, the team and the owners. Recently, Ronaldo had been reported to be training alone separate from his teammates. However, the 2021 Commentary to the Article 14(2) of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (FIFA RSTP) clarified that forcing a player to train away from their team may amount to “abusive conduct” aimed at forcing a player to terminate or amend the terms of the contract, which would entitle the player to terminate the contract with “just cause” and without consequences. The practice may also raise employment law issues in future, although in this instance, Ronaldo does not appear to have brought any employment claim against his former club and the details of any settlement reached have not been released. For an analysis and example of the concept of “just cause” in football, see Lydia Banerjee and Grahame Anderson’s LawInSport article here.
Canada premier league folds FC Edmonton
Yesterday, the Canadian Premier League (CPL) announced its decision to terminate the rights of Fath Sports Limited to operate FC Edmonton with immediate effect, due to a lack of success on and off the pitch. This means that the club will no longer operate for the 2023 season, and its existing players that are not free agents can return to their parent clubs or become eligible for selection by other CPL teams. Due to the addition of Vancouver FC, the CPL will remain an eight team league.
Plans to host La Liga matches abroad
According to the Straits Times, La Liga’s President has indicated that La Liga is still in talks with the Spanish Football Association (RFEF) about the possibility of arranging La Liga matches abroad to grow the international appeal of the league, following the success of similar strategies adopted by the NFL and NBA in London. This is despite the Madrid Provincial Court’s ruling last year in favour of the RFEF over the Spanish league’s proposals to stage La Liga matches in the United States, in which the Spanish court decided that domestic matches must be hosted in Spain.
Written by Yama Otung
 Kate Connolly, The Guardian, ‘German football federation to take legal action over Fifa’s OneLove armband ban’, 22 November 2022 (as accessed 23 November 2022)
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 Philip Buckingham, The Athletic, ‘Football’s ‘bomb squads’ could be breaking employment law’, 31 August 2022 (as accessed 23 November 2022)
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