Fifa and Uefa hail court ruling on third party ownership

Fifa's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland (by Valeriano Di Domenico/Getty Images)

World football’s governing body Fifa, and European counterpart Uefa, have welcomed a ruling from the Brussels Court of Appeal dismissing an appeal concerning the infringement of rules relating to third party ownership (TPO) and third party influence (TPI).

The appeal came from the Doyen Sports Investments (DSI) subsidiary of private investment fund Doyen Group and Belgian club FC Seraing, currently competing in the country’s third tier. The two parties took their case, against Fifa, Uefa and the Belgian Football Association, to the Brussels court after a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling in April 2017.

Seraing was fined CHF150,000 (€137,000/$152,000) and banned from making deals for four transfer windows in September 2015 for its links with DSI in player deals. Having failed with appeals to Fifa and in Belgian courts, Seraing took its claim to CAS. The dispute concerned two TPO contracts, the first concluded in January 2015 and the second in July 2015.

The Fifa Disciplinary Commission concluded that the Belgian club had committed a double violation of regulations on the status and transfer of players for having concluded contracts which allowed a third party to influence the independence and the policy of the club, and for entitling this entity to an indemnity payable in connection with the future transfer of certain players.

Seraing challenged the decision in front of CAS on the basis that the Fifa regulations on TPO were illegal. In its decision, CAS confirmed the validity of the Fifa regulations under European law and Swiss law.

However, CAS did rule that the punishment was too severe, reducing the duration of the ban on recruitment to three consecutive registration periods. This meant Seraing was able to enter the transfer market again at the end of the 2016-17 season.

In September 2014, Fifa agreed to ban TPO following a “transitional period” of three to four years. The ban came into force on May 1, 2015. However, existing agreements were permitted to remain in place until their contractual expiry, while new agreements made between January 1 and April 30, 2015 were subject to a time limit of one year.

In the latest decision, the Brussels Court of Appeal acknowledged the full effect of res judicata, a final judgment no longer subject to appeal, of the CAS award on the same matter and of a judgement of the Swiss Federal Tribunal rendered on February 20, 2018, confirming the validity of the disciplinary decisions rendered by the Fifa disciplinary committees. On top of that, the Brussels court confirmed that the appellants did not bring convincing arguments to doubt the legitimate objectives of the Fifa rules.

Commenting on the new ruling, Fifa’s chief legal officer, Emilio García, said: “Once again, an independent court declares that there is no reason to doubt about the validity of Fifa’s rules on TPO and TPI under the applicable law. These Fifa rules are indispensable for preserving the independence of clubs and players and for ensuring the integrity of matches and competitions.”

The ruling passed by the Brussels Court of Appeal also decided to impose the costs of the proceedings on Doyen Sports and FC Seraing.

Uefa originally called for Fifa to ban TPO as a matter of principle back in December 2012. It added in a statement: “Uefa considers the ruling by the Brussels Court of Appeal to be a sensible and logical outcome.

“As European football’s governing body, Uefa reaffirms its stringent opposition to TPO on the basis that it is harmful to the interests of players, clubs and fans, and also undermines the standing and integrity of the game.”