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John Mehrzad on Suarez CAS verdict

The Court of Arbitration for
Sport has decided that Luis Suarez can now resume football-related activity at
club-level, meaning in practical terms that Suarez can start training with his
new club, FC Barcelona. There is now the
tantalising prospect of Suarez making his debut in El Classico against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu just the day after
his ban ends on 25 October.

However, his 4-month and 9-match
ban from playing official football matches, both international and domestic,
remain in place.

It appears that CAS has found
that FIFA could not impose a worldwide ban “all
football-related activity
”.

Whilst the CAS appeal outcome
will be hotly debated by commentators, and full written reasons are still
awaited, from a legal perspective it is this sports law specialist’s opinion
that the CAS verdict is correct as predicted in more detail here for this blog for LawInSport.com.

In summary, the original FIFA ban
fell into the rare, exceptional category of disciplinary sanctions that was
“irrational” for 2 key reasons:

(i) FIFA acted outside its powers in imposing
a ban from “all football-related activity”.
There had never previously been a worldwide ban for such an on-field
offence. The strong inference from such
a novel approach was that the blanket scope of the ban was not the true
intention of the FIFA Disciplinary Code, especially when FIFA had the specific
power under the FDC to extend the length of a ban but significantly not its
scope; and,

(ii) The ban was disproportionate. Suarez was banned from training, giving
interviews and even fulfilling football-related commercial engagements. That was again unprecedented for an on-field
offence. The practical effect of such a ban was that Suarez was, in effect,
prohibited from being in a position to resume his professional trade fully upon
the expiry of his ban. He would simply not
be sufficiently conditioned or integrated to resume his playing career
straight-away. In short, taking into
account the relatively short career of a professional footballer, the extent of
ban went further than was objectively necessary as either punishment or a deterrent.

There can now, in theory, be a
further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal from the CAS decision. The grounds for such an appeal are, however,
limited to procedural or pure constitutional points such that, in practice, it would
seem very unlikely for any party to seek to take that further step.

John
Mehrzad
is the Head of the Sports Law group at Littleton Chambers and is
regularly instructed on football litigation, including to FIFA and the Court of
Arbitration for Sport. He is the only junior barrister under 13-years’ call
recognised by the legal directories in both sports law and employment law.

 

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