In a case involving FIFA (the International Football Association) and UEFA (the European Football Association), the Brussels Court of Appeal (the "Court of Appeal"), handed down an important judgment on 28 August 2018 in which it refused to refer a dispute to arbitration despite the existence of arbitration clauses providing for the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (the "CAS").
The case at hand (still pending on the merits), concerned a dispute between, on one hand, Belgian football club Seraing ("RFC Seraing") and the investment fund Doyen Sports Investment Limited ("Doyen Sports"), and, on the other hand, FIFA, UEFA and the Belgian football association. RFC Seraing and Doyen Sports contested the validity of sanctions imposed on them by the football associations for violations of FIFA and UEFA rules prohibiting Third-Party Ownership ("TPO") (a practice whereby a physical or legal person, that is usually not a football club, but rather an investment fund or an agent, invests in the economic rights of a professional football player).
RFC Seraing and Doyen Sports had brought their action before a Belgian court arguing that the arbitration clauses contained in the FIFA/UEFA statutes (and which, in principle, compelled them to refer their dispute against FIFA and UEFA to arbitration) did not comply with the requirement, under Belgian law, that such clauses must relate to a "defined legal relationship" and should delimit the scope of the potential dispute arising between the parties (Articles 1681 and 1682, Belgian Code on Civil Procedure). More specifically, RFC Seraing and Doyen Sports contended that - despite the existence, in RFS Seraing's bylaws, of a clause explicitly showing RFC Seraing's commitment to following FIFA and UEFA's statutes - the arbitration clauses at stake were of a general nature and did not relate to "a defined legal relationship" as they merely referred to any kind of dispute, irrespective of its object.
FIFA and UEFA, on the other hand, argued that the arbitration clauses at stake were sufficiently specific since: (i) they only applied to cases arising out of the activities and corporate purpose of FIFA/UEFA; and (ii) they only applied to sports litigation (since the bylaws of the CAS limit the jurisdiction of the latter to sports-related disputes).
The Court of Appeal rejected all of FIFA and UEFA's arguments and refused to refer the case to arbitration.
First, the Court of Appeal recalled that the...