Standing of a third party to appeal a FIFA decision before the CAS
4A_486/2019 (SFT 146 III 358), Trabzonspor Sportif A.S. (Trabzonspor) et al. v. Turkish Football Federation (TFF), Fenerbahçe Futbol A.S. (Fenerbahçe) and FIFA, judgment of 17 August 2020
This SFT judgment ended the Turkish football club Trabzonspor’s legal battle to initiate disciplinary proceedings against another Turkish club before the tribunals of national and international football governing bodies, and subsequently before CAS and the SFT. The SFT judgment itself addresses several interesting legal questions for sports arbitration practitioners. The questions include the right of a party to request a public hearing before the CAS under Article 6 para. 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the conditions for the standing to appeal a decision by a third party indirectly affected by such decision, and the right of the CAS to bifurcate the proceedings without violating the parties’ right to be heard.
In its judgment, the SFT reminded the parties that even though some procedural guarantees of the ECHR may coincide with the principles of public policy, it is not admissible to directly invoke a violation of public policy under Article 6 para. 1 of the ECHR due to the panel’s refusal to hold a public hearing. Even though the SFT considered that Trabzonspor did not fall within the personal scope of Article 6 para. 1 ECHR, it still examined the plea and justified the refusal of the Panel to hold a public hearing in the present case. It thus showed that the case fell within the exceptions of the rule of a public hearing (also incorporated in Article R57 of the CAS Code) and distinguished the case from the famous Pechstein case before the ECtHR (at 4.3).
The SFT equally touched upon the bifurcation of the proceedings before the CAS, thereby confirming the Panel’s decision to limit the procedure to the issues of admissibility, jurisdiction and standing for reasons of procedural economy. Such decision was considered to fall within the discretion of the hearing authority similarly to the proceedings before civil courts.
The decision of the Panel to limit the procedure to the issues of admissibility, jurisdiction and standing for reasons of procedural economy falls within the discretion of the hearing authority, similarly to the proceedings before civil courts
Overall, the arbitral tribunal is not obliged to address all the arguments raised by the parties and could ignore the ones that have been rendered moot following its analysis on other issues. In other words, the right to be heard does not confer a right to an obiter dictum (at 8.3).
The SFT avoided reviewing the well-founded principles of the CAS case law regarding the Club’s standing to appeal the FIFA decision before the CAS (based on the applicable FIFA rules). It only reiterated that the review of a party’s standing is not a jurisdictional question—which can then be freely reviewed by the SFT—but rather one that falls within the appreciation of the arbitral tribunal, which is not reviewable in annulment proceedings before the SFT. Therefore, the SFT endorsed the view of the Panel that third parties (i.e., parties that are not direct addressees of the decision) may file an appeal only if they are “directly” affected by such decision. Accordingly, the status of a mere whistle-blower cannot be equated to an athlete who has a direct interest in the outcome of the case, even more if the disqualification of another person or entity following such decision does not automatically lead to the change of status of the appellant.
Note: the full Judgment is available in French at the website of the Swiss Federal Tribunal www.bger.ch. The English translations of important international arbitration decisions rendered by the Swiss Federal Tribunal (from French, German and Italian) are available on the website www.swissarbitrationdecisions.com , operated jointly by Dr. Despina Mavromati and Dr. Charles Poncet as a service to the international arbitration community.