EU Court: Public Contract Rules Apply to National Sports Leagues

In a dispute involving Italy’s soccer federation, Europe’s highest court held national sports leagues can be made to follow rules governing public contract bids.

Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo runs with the ball during a soccer match in Turin, Italy, on March 8, 2020. (Marco Alpozzi/LaPresse via AP)

(CN) — Ruling against Italy’s national soccer federation, the European Union’s top court found on Wednesday that national sports bodies may be governed by rules covering public contract awards.

The European Court of Justice decision came in a dispute between two companies over how Italy’s national soccer federation – the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio – awarded a contract for porterage services for other national teams visiting Italy.

National sports bodies overseen by a public authority can be subject to public contract laws when they are pursuing activities of general interest that aren’t strictly industrial or commercial in nature, the court found. Italy’s soccer federation is overseen by the Italian National Olympic Committee, a public body.

The case was brought to the Luxembourg-based court after the dispute wound up in front of the Council of State, Italy’s highest court for administrative matters. The plaintiff, a company called De Vellis Servizi Globali, sued after losing a bid for the porterage contract. It alleged the federation hadn’t followed public contract law, in part by not publishing the details of the award.

The Regional Administrative Court in Lazio, the region that comprises Rome, agreed with the plaintiff and canceled the contract. That decision was appealed by the soccer federation and the porterage company that won the contract, GE.SE.AV., to the Council of State.

Italy’s top administrative court then stayed the proceedings and asked the EU’s highest court for legal guidance about whether the soccer federation should be considered a body governed by public law even though it was set up as a private entity. The Italian court said national sports federations are “subject to the supervisory powers” of Italy’s National Olympic Committee and therefore are required to comply with that committee’s guidelines and controls, including “the principles of impartiality and transparency.”

Still, the Council of State noted the soccer federation also “could be regarded as not being under the dominant influence” of the National Olympic Committee and is different from typical bodies governed by public law. For instance, the National Olympic Committee limits its approval of annual balance sheets to verify the proper use of public contributions, the Italian court said.

The Council of State in Italy will use the EU’s ruling to render its own decision in the matter.


Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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