Interview with sports lawyer Juan de Dios Crespo - Episode 23

Published 17 September 2014 By: Sean Cottrell

Juan de Dios Crespo Pérez

In this episode leading sports lawyer Juan de Dios Crespo Pérez, a partner of the firm Ruiz Huerta & Crespo, talks to Sean Cottrell about his experience of representing hundreds of sports clients at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).


Juan has an enviable record of successful cases before the CAS and has been involved in some of the highest profile football cases to go before the CAS including: "Ortega", "Mexes", "Webster", "Matuzalem", "Pizarro", "De Sanctis", and "Al-Masry".

He has also represented numerous football clubs including Villarreal CF, Real Madrid , Atletico Madrid, AS Roma , River Plate , Shakhtar Donetsk and Paris Saint-Germain.

Find out what it takes to become a successful sports lawyer at the CAS.

You can download our podcast on iTunes here

A special thank you to Adam Beach for transcribing the interview. 



SC: Juan, first of all, thank you for joining me today. Would you like to start off by sharing your personal journey into sports law, as it’s quite an interesting one?

JC: My first approach to sports law was when I was in law school when I was 20 years old. In the meantime, I was playing indoor soccer or futsal, as it is known now. Futsal was, and is still, a very appreciated sport in Spain and while I was being a 2nd division player in this futsal team in Valencia, I got a call from the president of this federation and he said ‘Juan, we need someone to help us in the matter of law.’ ‘I’m not a lawyer,’ I replied. ‘Yes, but we need somebody because we don’t know how to do or what to do with disciplinary decisions, for instance. It is becoming more and more difficult for us as we are businessmen and doctors but we are not lawyers.’ So I said: ‘Why not?’ I didn’t even think, at that time, about being a sports lawyer. I loved sport and I loved the law but not sports law.

So when I became the judge of the original federation of futsal in Valencia, which is a judge for a lot of matches each weekend, I dealt with disciplinary cases: red cards, yellow cards and dismissal etc.

It happened that I saw that there were not very good regulations that lacked a lot of law – they were more sport and law. I started to change some of the regulations myself.  It was so easy at the time – it was just me sending to the president of the board and then the board changing the rules.  I became more and more involved and I started to think about maybe this being the future, why not? But, of course, when you knock on the door of clubs, basketball or football clubs at the time, nobody was answering you: ‘a lawyer here, what for? We don’t need a lawyer. We know what to do by ourselves.’  So, it could be that, at the time, TV was not much into the market, sponsors were only the friends of friends and the contracts were shaking hands and that is all. But, step-by-step, I began to be more involved. I had some small clients, small organisations, small clubs and some players – even a professional chess player at that time.

When I finished my degree, I thought about what to do. My first work was in international law because I speak four languages apart from Spanish, so I had the chance to do international law: sales of goods, franchising, agency, distribution and so on. In the meantime, I was still working a bit on what we can call the very beginning of sports law in Spain. Step-by-step, I was growing more and more until I got a very good client, Valencia Football Club, in 1993. 1993 was when I really became a sports lawyer in the very good sense of the word. I had to deal with a real club, a professional club. Everything was a mess; of course, as I knew that it would be from the beginning because other clubs were exactly the same.

For instance, just for your knowledge, when I had to make the first disciplinary recourse, appeal against a red card by the Spanish FA, normally the person in charge was a public relations (PR) person, not a lawyer. The PR [person] was exactly that PR. He would normally take the paper with the statement and appeal, went to Madrid by plane, spend one day there, gave it to the separate committee, wait for the decision, and then if it was fine, he would come back and he would prepare the second appeal because in Spain in football they have two disciplinary bodies, one after the other during the week. After two or three days there, he would come back. My first thing was to say, ‘It 6pm, you can’t go to Madrid – you can send it by fax. And another thing this is called law – you have to do it by the law, by the rules, and try to win the case by the law. Not by going there and making public relations.’

It was funny because in the first year, I won nine out of ten disciplinary cases and I had the chance to change a lot of the rules in the Spanish FA. Before, the four referees [assistants] were not considered as referees in Spain but just a helper. When the player was sacked, he said ‘you all are…(a bad word).’ The referee told the player he would be sanctioned for ten or twelve matches. The player said no because before, referees were not referees. According to the rules, they were just helpers of the referee. They had to change the rules. It was funny, and it feels funny now after such a long time being in sport, that you still have the patience to change things because sport law is so young that they need a lot of changes. So that is why I am still passionate after my first days in 1993, my first very good case. Before, in 1991, I began with the original Valencia Futsal Federation. A long, long time, as you can see.

SC: Wow. That’s impressive. And you’ve gone on to work on some of the most high profile cases that have gone to the CAS in football. I had the privilege of listening to you talk about them. What would you say, to date, I know it’s a difficult question for you to answer (there is probably not one direct you can attribute to) was your favourite case you have worked on?

JC: That’s like asking me who I prefer out of my kids, my daughter or my boy! [said jokingly] There are more than 200 cases. What the English call leading cases, I think that those leading cases (not called by myself, but named by sports lawyers in the world or the CAS itself) are the best that I can remember right now because they were the ones that put me on the real spot of being a sports lawyer, on being an international sports lawyer, which is different.

You are either a national or international sports lawyer – I am an international sports lawyer. I deal mostly in CAS, FIFA, UEFA and BAT, the basketball arbitral tribunal cases. 90% of my tasks are abroad from Spain; it’s all international cases. Cases like, Mexès I, the first Article 17 of FIFA Regulations case. At that time it was not even Article 17, it was actually Article 22. Mexès, for instance, was very well known but other cases are not so well known. Bueno-Rodríguez v Penarol was the South American ‘Bosman’, the one which changed not only the rules in Uruguay but also in Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, a lot of countries. They were playing in Uruguay and like in other countries they had the same type of annual contract. If you don’t sign a new one, you are not eligible to play, to train or to leave the club. And, of course, you are not paid. My impression was that it was like slavery, so I tried to defend the case before FIFA and CAS. We won FIFA and CAS and then we can now see what happened with all those regulations in South America. They have changed the regulations regularly and radically in those countries. Not only football, but in the rest of sport. I’m very proud of that.

Another famous case among sports lawyers is the Granada 1974 case. A club changed its name and place in Spain and the Spanish FA did not recognise its change. I had to go to CAS against FIFA, the Spanish FA and UEFA with the Spanish league and the club and fortunately, we won. There was the Matuzalem case, which was a continuation, the following case, of Webster.

There was also the Pizarro case, in which the captain of the Peruvian team was sanctioned because he went to some place with nice girls and, according to the Peruvian FA, he had to be sanctioned. We managed to have this dealt with by the CAS, even though there were no regulations in the Peruvian FA relating those cases to the CAS. It was the Anderlecht jurisdiction of CAS which was also a very big case, more than the last two very big cases I had. Shakhtar Donetsk v FIFA, in which FIFA had to recognise the CAS award that, even if a club is in insolvency proceedings, FIFA has to take care of the case to the end. Once the proceedings are finished, they have to sanction the club if the club has not paid, which is something absolutely new (it was last year). The last one, the youngest of my ‘children’, is the Al-Masry case. In Al-Masry, the club of Port Said, with the very well known clash in which 74 people died in Port Said Stadium. I managed to win the case and to take two out of three sanctions from the club, which was not responsible. It was a matter of strict liability of the club. It was not the owner of the stadium. It was not in charge of policing and so on. I think it was also a case of which I can say I am very proud. There are a lot of them as you can see and I am sure that I forgot some of them.

SC: What would you say are some of the nuances about appearing before the CAS or the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber? What would you say are some of the skill sets or tactics that people overlook? What has made you so successful at it?

JC: Well, I don’t want to disclose all my tricks. As we say in Spain, we know much more because of our age, because of being a devil. I am much more experienced which I why I know much more now than when I was starting. But the few tricks, they are not tricks but they are mandatory – first of all, you need to know a lot of languages. English is a must for sure but I appreciate sometimes that English lawyers do not have the possibility to talk or to deal in other languages. French is another official language and Spanish is an official language in FIFA, not in CAS, but CAS cases in Spanish are more than 50 persons.  It is also important. If you have a case in FIFA and you respond in Spanish, and the lawyer in front of you doesn’t know Spanish, you have an asset in your favour. Not only that, but if you have a hearing at CAS, some of the people working in cases against me were not fluent in one or another language so they had to take translators, and as the Italians say, ‘traduttore traditore’ (translator traitor), so you never know who is going to translate and if he is going to translate accurately to what you want to do and what you want to say. So, the first thing is language.

The second thing is patience – you still have to have patience. I don’t like to have this job as only a job. If you take it as a job just 9-5 and forget about that in the weekends - no. You need to be 24 hours, 7 days, 365 days a year: a lawyer. You have to cherish your clients. You have to cherish your case. You have to be very much involved. I know that it is not by the rules: the rules say that you have to forget about that but this is clearly different. I don’t forget about that but I am not personally involved as a human being, I’m involved as a lawyer. What I want is the best for my client and if I have to study more, I study more. Some lawyers lack that patience and just stick by the rules of 9-5. You need to be, not a friend of the client of course, but so much involved that at the end of the day, you need to know much more of the case than the client himself. Which means that you are much more in love with the case than the client. This is an issue that I don’t see so much in lawyers. They stick to the rules, the 9-5 mandatory hours. This is something that you need to do – the knowledge of languages first and to still have the patience of everything you are doing.  Patience is linked to another issue: to being professional – you have to be as much of a professional as possible. This is linked certainly with patience. You don’t have to be a 9-5 lawyer – you have to be much more involved.

You have to be imaginative – you have to have an imagination. A lot of cases are lost because of that. You stick exactly on what the witness has said and what the other lawyer has said. You have to be imaginative and think more over what it seems to be. I am right now remembering a case of a French club, Olympique de Marseille against a Spanish club, Atletico Madrid. UEFA was against us and we were sanctioned because of racism. One of the issues of racism was that they were shouting ‘Oo oo oo’ – the monkey chant. Three years ago, a player was playing with Atletico Madrid named [Sergio] Kun Aguero. Kun Aguero, the nickname is ‘Kun Kun Kun Kun’. I managed to have a lot of matches in which the chants were ‘Kun Kun Kun’ even though there were no black players around him. I managed to have the CAS change its mind on the ‘Oo oo oo’. I don’t put the blame on anyone else. Of course, I don’t say that they were not chanting against the black [player]. They could be, but of course if you can see, if you can hear that in lots of matches, more than ten matches I put on the TV, there were ‘Kun, Kun, Kun’ chants, it was clearly ‘Kun Kun’ when there was nobody of other race around him, it was not so easy to sanction the club. We managed to win the issue of racism in that particular match. So, imagination is sometimes necessary to improve your case and be a better lawyer.

You have to be very simple. When you go to the hearing in CAS it is more than crucial. It is point number one, number two and number three. Of course you can write whatever you want – writing is easy; you are at home or you are at the office. It is an easy task. You have all the time prepare. Once you are in the hearing and you have a morning or day maximum to prepare and do everything and you have to be very sharp and very prepared to answer questions. This can only be done if you are very short in your statements, responses, claims, counter-claims and everything you are doing there. But, of course, being short doesn’t mean that you lack anything. It is short and saying anything and everything in a short sentence or short time. This is something that is very difficult to see in some lawyers. They pretend to hear themselves in the hearing and it is funny to see lawyers that are repeating what they have already said in written. They are not prepared for the oral statements and for the hearing. This is another issue – in the hearing to be very short and clear in what you send as a message to the panel.

SC: You are right and we spoke about it before – it is something that, speaking to CAS arbitrators, I’m told regularly is one of the key points they miss. If there was something in either the FIFA regulations or at the CAS, any of the CAS rules, what would you change and why?

JC: In CAS, I think that they have changed a lot in the last years. At first they were just the same for years and years, but now they have changed a lot. One of the issues I don’t agree on is one that everyone agrees on. I’m one of the discordant voices. Now it is forbidden to be a lawyer and an arbitrator at the same time. But you see, and you see a lot of cases in which a lawyer of a company/law firm is giving as a lawyer and you have, in that firm, one or two arbitrators. I don’t see the point: either you forbid everything or you don’t forbid anything. My opinion is that you don’t have to forbid anything. Why? Because I think arbitrators, I myself am an arbitrator in the International Handball Federation, have to be independent. We are independent. Why are you depriving CAS – I would love to be an arbitrator in CAS – but I’m deprived to be an arbitrator because I cant be an arbitrator because I would have to not continue as a lawyer and my love in sports law is to be a lawyer in CAS cases – I love that.

It should be that you could change it to have anyone being a lawyer and being an arbitrator but with some frame. One frame can be that you cannot be nominated as an arbitrator more than five times in CAS cases. The second one is that if you are involved in football, you are not into football but I am mostly football, 99%. Why not taking cases of doping, taking cases of Olympic games, in which I can give all my expertise, all my experience, all my knowledge. It would be much better than to have, I don’t want to name countries, but to have arbitrators from each country that has never been involved in sport. I think that on the contrary, instead of helping the new regulations that forbid lawyers to be lawyers and arbitrators is giving the bad voice to CAS. CAS needs to have the best arbitrators, lawyers and I think they are losing something somewhere. This is the first issue.

According to your question, the second question was about FIFA. Of course, FIFA has changed a lot since I was a lawyer and I came the first time and went to FIFA. I was there to sue them in a national court in Zurich. The first thing they said was, ‘why are you doing that? We are good friends, we are for the good of the game, we are for football?’ ‘Yes, but your regulations are against the law so I have to sue you.’ They were not aware of that. From that time, in which instead of knowing that they have to change, they were just staring at this foolish Spanish guy coming to Zurich to sue us, what the hell are you doing? Now they have changed a lot. They are much more in the 21st century but they still have something to do. They still have to follow the stakeholders more. What I mean by stakeholders is not only FIFPro and clubs. We lawyers, sports lawyers, are also stakeholders in my opinion and we are giving a lot to them. We are helping with their decisions and by going to court or the CAS and changing the rules. We are giving a lot to sport. I think that they need to, not to follow us exactly, but to try to sit with us and to see what we can do and we can give to help them. This is one of the crucial issues – they think that lawyers are against sport. On the contrary, we love so much sport that we are against some regulations and some bodies.

SC: I always find it surprising speaking to people like yourself and others, really experienced sports lawyers – it’s a real privilege because you guys know so much and have been around for so long doing so much. I think you sometimes forget how much you know.

JC: We know a lot because we are old, and we are getting older and we have the experience. One of the things that I want to answer because you have not asked the question is that I love to lecture. I’m a professor in 10 masters all over world in Italian, French, Spanish and English. I love that. I love to lecture. Mostly, not to lecture, but to give my knowledge to younger generations. Last week I was in Marseille, in the French masters. I was so happy to be there and to give those French guys my knowledge about sports law, my passion about sports law and the future they could expect if they really want to enjoy life. I think that I am so happy in my life because I enjoy what I am doing and I am paid for that. What else? Like George Clooney says in his advertising: ‘what else?’ There is nothing else I can expect from my professional life. I am paid for what I want, what I need, what I love and doing exactly that for the last twenty years. I want all the people to also enjoy that, which is why I love to lecture in university or in masters and in seminars.

SC: Juan, it’s been fantastic to speak to you. Sadly, it’s all we’ve got time for this show. Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us.

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Sean Cottrell

Sean Cottrell

Sean is the founder and CEO of LawInSport. Founded in 2010, LawInSport has become the "go to sports law website" for sports lawyers and sports executives across the world.

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