CC team defends French World Cup committee's ticket policy

Clifford Chance will this Friday find out whether its client, the Paris-based World Cup organising committee, is to be taken to the European Court of Justice for its ticket distribution policy.

A team of 10 lawyers from the firm, led by Paris partner Yves Wehrli, has been advising the committee ever since it was set up four years ago, when France learnt that it would be hosting the tournament.

But despite this advice, the way the committee has distributed tickets for the World Cup 1998 – making only a small proportion available to people outside France – may be considered a breach of the Treaty of Rome.

The firm represented the committee at a hearing of the Paris Civil Court on 20 May to determine whether it had breached articles in the Treaty of Rome relating to abuse of dominant position (86), the free-flow of services (59) and discrimination on the grounds of nationality (6).

The case was brought by 32 MEPs, including 12 from the UK, who are asking the French court to refer the committee to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The court is expected to give judgment on Friday.

One of the 32, English Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, told The Lawyer that the case was in protest at the slow speed of an investigation already being undertaken by the European Commission. It is holding talks with the organising committee to establish if it has breached commission competition law.

In March competition commissioner Karel Van Miert criticised the committee for restricting the access to tickets of European citizens outside France.

If the commission is not satisfied that the committee has acted in accordance with European law, it will issue a statement of objection and refer the case to the ECJ in Luxembourg.

Commenting on Van Miert's objections, Werhli said: “There is little that we don't endorse but where we diverge is on the issue of discrimination.” He denied that discrimination had taken place in the sale of tickets.