March 14, 2020
The impartiality of the judiciary is particularly important in resolving sports disputes. Increasingly, athletes and other persons related to the world of sport submit complaints to the European Court of Human Rights invoking violations of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This article guarantees the right to a fair trial and this is to be achieved, among others, by an independent and impartial court. The sports justice system is traditionally not exercised by a common judicial authority. These disputes are usually settled by sports federations. This increasingly raises doubts as to the impartiality of the bodies hearing a case. In recent months, the ECtHR has heard two high-profile cases in which applicants have alleged violations of the principle of judicial independence and impartiality.
Platini v. Switzerland
On 5 March 2020, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision in the case of Platini v. Switzerland. The complaint was brought by Michel Platini, former Vice-President of FIFA and President of UEFA. The FIFA Ethics Committee, finding a violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics in connection with the alleged extortion of 2 million Swiss francs, banned Platini from pursuing professional football activities at national and international level and imposed a fine.
Platini appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne (CAS). He unsuccessfully alleged violation by FIFA bodies of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
The next step was to appeal to the Swiss Federal Court, where Platini unsuccessfully brought the petition for annulment of the CAS’s judgment.
In his complaint to the ECtHR, Platini argued that the proceedings before the FIFA Disciplinary Board and the CAS did not meet the requirements of a fair trial protected by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. In addition, he also claimed violation of Article 7 § 1 of the Convention (no punishment without legal basis) and Article 8 of the Convention (right to respect for private and family life). The allegation of violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention was based on the dependence of FIFA Ethics Committee and FIFA Appeal Committee on FIFA executive bodies and financing of the CAS by FIFA.
The ECtHR rejected the complaint, indicating that the case had been examined correctly. It found that there had been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention with regard to the alleged lack of independence and impartiality. The Court found that the decisions issued in the case were justified, pursuing not only a repressive purpose, but also restoring the reputation of football and FIFA.
Ali Rıza and others v. Turkey
Another judgment of the European Court of Human Rights deserving attention is the judgment of 28 January 2020 in case of Ali Rıza and others v. Turkey. The ECtHR ruled in favor of Ali Rıza founding a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case was related to the proceedings before the Arbitration Committee of the Turkish Football Federation, which obliged Ömer Kerim Ali Rız, a former Premier League player, to pay €60,000 to the former club for the wrongful termination of contract. The player brought an unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, and then to the Swiss Federal Court.
The grounds of the complaint to the ECtHR were that that the Arbitration Committee of the Turkish Football Federation could not be regarded as independent and impartial court within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. The applicants stressed that Turkish law did not provide for the possibility of challenging a decision made in arbitration proceedings before a common court.
In the judgment issued in the case, the ECtHR stated that the proceedings before the Arbitration Committee lacked solutions to guarantee the full independence of arbitrators and therefore violated the right to a fair trial. The structural links between the arbitrators and the football federation body were emphasized, as well as the exposure of the arbitrators to external pressures that threaten their independence. The ECtHR also highlighted a systemic problem in resolving sports disputes in Turkey that requires reform.