ECHR says Turkish Football Federation rulings violate human rights – Litigation, mediation and arbitration

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Turkey: ECHR says Turkish Football Federation rulings violate human rights

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On May 18, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (“Search“) ruled under three separate but related judgments that Turkey will pay compensation due to the Turkish Football Association (“TFF“) disciplinary decisions. The Court continued to apply its previous decisions concluding that the structural deficiencies of the organs of the TFF as well as the insufficient reasoning of the disciplinary decisions lead to a violation of the right to a fair trial1 and freedom of expression2. The Court therefore asserted that any disciplinary decision by the TFF could violate the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR“) unless and until Turkey resolves the issues underlying the violations.

Facts

In the judgments delivered on the applications of Sedat Dogan, Deniz Naki and Amed Sportif Faaliyetler Klubü Dernegi, and Ibrahim Tokmak3, the Court found that the applicants’ rights to a fair trial and to freedom of expression had been violated under Articles 6 and 10 of the ECHR, respectively. In all three cases, the TFF Arbitration Commission (the “Arbitration committee“) dismissed the applicants’ claims against the sanctions imposed by the TFF Professional Footballers Disciplinary Commission (the”PFDC“).

Violation of freedom of expression

In particular in Ibrahim Tokmak, the Court held that the restriction of freedom of expression by disciplinary sanctions affirmed by the Arbitration Committee violates Article 10 of the ECHR. According to the Court’s case-law, when a sanction is as serious as the end of the applicant’s career as an arbitrator, the justification for the sanction must contain the level of detail which such seriousness deserves. Whereas in Ibrahim Tokmak, the organs of the TFF failed to establish the link between the applicant’s expressions and the acts of violence which would have been encouraged by these expressions.

Violation of the right to a fair trial

The Court recalled that the Board of Directors, the administrative body of the TFF, exercises significant influence over the Arbitration Commission, which exercises judicial missions on behalf of the TFF. Indeed, the Board of Directors appoints the members of the Arbitration Committee, and their mandate is limited to that of the Board of Directors. The Court also highlighted the absence of a challenge mechanism to challenge the independence and impartiality of the members of the arbitration committee. In short, according to the Court, each disciplinary sanction imposed by the organs of the TFF could constitute a violation of the right to a fair trial because of these structural deficiencies per se (i.e. regardless of the underlying facts).

Recommended remedies

Turkey’s human rights action plan, announced in April 2021, contains the first concrete statement towards improving the structure of TFF in light of the court’s precedents. Standard Rules4 of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Council provide a useful reference on the organization and functions of sports arbitration committees. The Model Regulations provide for equal participation of athletes and clubs in refereeing committees, the minimization of the influence of the Board of Directors on these committees and mechanisms for challenging referees.

To address the court’s concerns about freedom of expression, the PFDC and the Dispute Resolution Board should make their decisions publicly available after drafting the confidential information. The fact that the arbitration board started publishing its decisions in May 2021 promises improvement on the free speech front. The transparency offered by such a publication should improve the justifications on which the TFF sanctions are based.

Footnotes

1 Ali Riza and others v. Turkey, n °: 30226/10, 17880/11, and 5506/16, 28.01.2020, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-200548

2 Mart and others v. Turkey, n °: 57031/10, 19.03.2019, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/tur?i=001-191750

3 Sedat Dogan v. Turkey, No .: 48909/14, 05.18.2021, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-209956; Naki and Amed Sportif Faaliyetler Klubü Dernegi c. Turkey, No. 48924/16, 18.05.2021, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-209957; Ibrahim Tokmak v. Turkey, n °: 54540/16, 18.05.2021, http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-209958

4 https://www.fifa.com/who-we-are/legal/professional-football-department/ndrc/

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