Kepa Larumbe, a lawyer specialized in sports law and a professor of the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona, talks about how football is dealing with the pandemic and warns that “one thing is the law and another is jurisprudence”
Lawyers and legal advisors specialized in sports law have had a particularly complicated year. The new regulations that have appeared as a consequence of the Covid pandemic and its evolution, the doubts about contractual issues, furloughs or contract termination clauses, as well as the changes in the competition calendars or the different management of professional and amateur sports have created controversy inside and outside the sector. What used to be the law, is perhaps not so much so now The rights and duties of all those involved have had to be weighed up and finding the right balance is more difficult than ever. To the saying ‘every law has a loophole ‘ lawyers respond with: ‘one thing is the law, another is jurisprudence’. And this past year there have, in matters of litigation, many cases of jurisprudence.
Kepa Larumbe, director of BDO‘s legal department in Spain and a professor of our Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona, provides legal advice to clubs, federations and professional leagues, as well as dealing with disciplinary matters, and proceedings brought before FIFA, UEFA and the Spanish Football Federation. With him, we review a year in which victories and defeats on the pitch have also been shared in the offices.
Complete the saying:
That is a very good question. Every organization or public authority who issues a new law has the best intention, but we have to see what is the jurisprudence about that law and how the governing bodies and the tribunals in courts apply that law and this is more important than the wording of the law itself. One thing is the law and another thing is the jurisprudence.
Is there more litigation in these Covid times?
We have new conflicts, for example the claims of the supporters who have paid for a full-season ticket and the competition was interrupted, and even now that the competition is on but with no fans in the stands of the stadiums. There are also problems with the employment contracts with the players because clubs have the need to negotiate lower salaries of the players, but of course, they have the contracts already signed and are theoretically entitled to receive that amount of money. So, these are the most common conflicts we have now with the Covid-19 situation.
“The period between mid-March to June was the most difficult, because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Now you have protocols and everything in place.”
When was the hardest time for you to deal with the pandemic?
I would say in the beginning, because there was the uncertainty of what was going to happen. We didn’t know if the competitions were going to be restarted. In fact, we had a lot of new regulations from the government for all the economic areas in society, but also, of course, in sport, about when clubs could come back with the normal activities, training and restart the competitions. So, I would say that the period between mid-March to June was the most difficult, because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Now you have protocols and everything in place.
Who can access the CAS and what conditions must be met?
The CAS provides a dispute resolution system based on arbitration and it means that the arbitration has to be previously agreed by the parties. When two parties sign an agreement or a contract, they can establish that any dispute related to that contract could be subject to arbitration, specifically to the arbitration of the sport. Also, all the members of FIFA are bound by the CAS decisions as FIFA recognizes the CAS as an arbitrator in order to solve all the disputes between the different football stakeholders.
The Achilles heel for the CAS in athletics has always been doping. What is football’s Achilles heel?
The biggest challenge in football is in integrity matters and match-fixing, because it’s very difficult for a sports organization or a football governing body to prove that a match has been fixed, because it requires certain investigations that depend on the criminal authorities. The cases most difficult to prove are match-fixing and match manipulation.
You were a member of UEFA’s control, ethics and disciplinary body. Where does the problem of betting and match-fixing in football lie?
The problem is that nowadays we can bet on any match in football, and also in other sports, even in lower categories where amateur players are involved. The problem here is that it’s easier to fix any match in amateur categories because these mafias that organize the match-fixing can corrupt players more easily. With a very small amount of money, they can achieve a match manipulation.
Money corrupts, but does the lack of money?
Yes, of course! That’s exactly the point.
“The biggest challenge in football is in integrity matters and match-fixing. The problem here is that it’s easier to fix any match in amateur categories. With a very small amount of money, mafias can achieve a match manipulation.”
As a lawyer, how do you assess the new ban on betting advertising in Spanish football?
From LaLiga’s point of view, I don’t see a big issue here. It’s more a concept related to ethics in football. But the reality in our country and in most of the countries is that betting is legal. So, I don’t see why it should be prohibited for football clubs to have this support from the betting houses, especially when football is coming back from a very big crisis in the last years and these betting companies helped football clubs a lot to to keep their finances at a good level.
“The reality in our country and in most of the countries is that betting is legal. So, I don’t see why it should be prohibited for football clubs to have this support from the betting houses.”
Changes in contractual matters, the rights of players and clubs in situations of force majeure, extensions and changes in competition calendars, are all matters of conflict. How do you think the football industry is dealing with this crisis?
For professional football, both LaLiga and the Spanish Football Federation, are working very hard and very well. They have established important and restrictive protocols in order to play the matches, of course with the support of the government and the health authorities and the proof is that we resumed the First and Second Division competitions in mid-June without any important problems, the Champions League as well. And the Spanish Football Federation was able to manage a new competition system to establish the playoff for the promotion from the Second Division B to the Second Division. So, I think professional football is dealing very well with the pandemic because they have the protocols and the financial support to do that. It’s more difficult in amateur and lower categories because it’s complicated to do PCR tests to all the players like in professional football, and that context is more difficult. But I think professional football is dealing with the pandemic in a very good manner.
“Professional football is dealing very well with the pandemic because they have the protocols and the financial support to do that. It’s more difficult in amateur and lower categories because it’s complicated to do PCR tests to all the players.”
Do you think academic training is important for the professionalization of the football industry?
Yes, very much. When I studied my master’s in law, in 2003, in Spain there was only one master’s in sports law. Now we have many different programs in sport law, sport management, sport marketing… And it’s very important because sports organizations are more and more professional.