|Author (Person)||Frost, Laurence|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.19, 10.5.01, p2|
DETAILS of a leaked court ruling could give a boost to a planned legal challenge against the new deal on football transfer rules agreed by the European Commission and the sport's international governing bodies.
The opinion by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the case brought by Hungarian footballer Tibor Balog was withdrawn from the court register at the last minute, after world soccer association FIFA reached a private settlement with the player.
But a copy of the preliminary ruling seen by European Voice reveals that Advocate-General Christine Stix-Hackl was due to declare that national, European and international football associations fall under normal EU competition rules.
Once confirmed in a judgement, the ruling could have had a major impact on the new transfer rules agreed between the Commission, FIFA and European association UEFA in March.
Players' union FIFPRO is now planning a legal challenge against the two bodies, after the Commission dropped its action in exchange for the agreement.
Reacting to the leaked ruling, FIFPRO Secretary-General Theo van Seggelen said: "This shows us that we were right all along. We've been saying for 10 years that the system is against competition law."
Although the unpublished opinion has no legal force, van Seggelen believes it is encouraging. "This means there are more legal options open to us," he said. "Competition law is a very powerful tool - we will do anything we can to change these rules."
FIFA is drawing up transfer rules to fit the framework deal, under which players could be forced to spend up to a year out of the game between giving their notice and waiting for a move during one of the proposed 'transfer windows'. Clubs would also be free to demand compensation for players under 23 who leave after their contracts; FIFPRO believes this breaches the ECJ's 1995 Bosman ruling, which outlawed end-of-contract transfer fees on single-market grounds.
The Stix-Hackl ruling would have extended the Bosman decision to non-EU citizens, as well as applying competition rules. The advocate-general states: "Professional clubs - at least as far as community competition law is concerned - can be considered as companies. FIFA, UEFA and national associations can also be described as companies or associations of companies."
The opinion was withdrawn following a request from the Belgian court endorsing the settlement, just hours before the planned hearing on 29 March. Lawyers for FIFA and Balog also faxed the ECJ stressing that it was "particularly important" that the opinion should not be aired. "We have to ask ourselves why FIFA was so keen that the report should not be published," said an ECJ insider. "Other players who have transfer disputes would have been encouraged to take action."
But Commission sources say the implications could go far beyond transfer fees. "If competition rules are applied then FIFA is basically a cartel," said one official.
The EU competition watchdog is investigating UEFA's TV rights sales and FIFA's restrictive rules on players' agents.
FIFA said it would not comment on a case that had been closed with a private settlement.
EU leaders reached an agreement on transfer fees with FIFA and UEFA at the Stockholm summit on 24 March. The signing of the accord was attended by Commissioners Anna Diamantopoulou, Viviane Reding, Mario Monti, FIFA's Sepp Blatter and UEFA's Lennart Johansson.
Details of a leaked court ruling could give a boost to a planned legal challenge against the new deal on football transfer rules agreed by the European Commission and the sport's international governing bodies.
|Subject Categories||Culture, Education and Research, Internal Markets|