BRUSSELS: FIFPro has today filed legal action against FIFA, in the form of a competition law complaint lodged with the Directorate General Competition of the European Commission in Brussels, challenging the global transfer market system governed by FIFA’s regulations as being anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal.
By targeting FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), FIFPro has asked the European Commission to explore the critical argument that the transfer regulations prevent clubs from fairly competing on the market to acquire sporting talent, harming the interests of players, small and medium sized professional teams and their supporters.
The FIFA RSTP, as the core labour and industry regulation of football, fuels and sustains increasing competitive and financial disparity, invites commercial abuse by third party owners and agents and fails to protect players against abuses of their labour contracts via systematic non-payment.
“The European Commission holds the key to reforming the professional football industry more than any internal governance reform process can, by simply applying the law,” said FIFPro President, Philippe Piat.
“FIFA fails to administer professional football the same way it has failed to govern itself. Commercial interests of a few prevail, while the majority of players and clubs are disadvantaged. It is time the rule of law prevails over the interests of cartels. The ones benefiting from this are few – major clubs, agents and third party owners. The ones undermined are many and we now call for change.”
FIFPro states the transfer system in its current form can no longer be justified or protected by the so-called ‘specificity of sport’. Today, the restrictive effects of the FIFA RSTP have been justified by the pursuit of allegedly legitimate objectives that are meant to serve the interest of football and the public. The objectives of the RSTP, agreed to by the European Commission in 2001, include contractual stability, financial solidarity (redistribution of revenue), competitive balance, integrity and stability of competitions, as well as the training of young players. FIFPro has submitted strong data to the European Commission that the transfer system fails to attain these objectives and in many regards works to the opposite of what was intended.
According to world-renowned football finance expert, Stefan Szymanski, who has been commissioned by FIFPro to analyse the transfer market in support of today’s legal action, it is apparent that the transfer regulations have significantly impacted the economic and social well-being of players, while having done little to promote competitive balance between clubs, financial solidarity (redistribution of revenue) or club stability.
The harmful practice of clubs asking highly-inflated transfer fees is also set to face a great deal of scrutiny in this complaint. FIFPro argues this represents an extreme barrier for clubs to compete fairly for playing talent as the cost of fielding a competitive team is ever increasing.
Redistributive effects of the system are limited as recent reports convey that large parts of transfer fees circulate between the biggest clubs and leagues, but hardly trickle down.
Szymanski states, “A significant fraction of the transfer market is controlled by elite clubs who circulate top players among themselves. From a sporting perspective, it is well known that the elite group of clubs dominate competition and that this dominance has been increasing since the advent of the (UEFA) Champions League.
From an economic perspective the transfer market is used by the elite clubs to maintaining high barriers to entry through the escalation of transfer fees.”
If the transfer system fails to achieve its stated objectives, as FIFPro insists, its anti-competitive effects and far-reaching restrictions on players’ free movement and fundamental rights under the current system can no longer be justified. While the grounds on which FIFPro has asked the European Commission to intervene focus on competition law, other important arguments raised in the complaint include: freedom of movement, or the transfer system restricting the mobility of workers; and fundamental rights of players, who work in a market in which their labour is traded as a commodity.
A strategy which has been more than two years in the making, FIFPro’s legal action against FIFA is designed to stabilize a football industry in order to:
Create the highest possible number of quality jobs for players based on a sustainable and resilient industry that embraces integrity, greater levels of financial solidarity, competition and enhanced individual and collective labour relations.
Ensure that the right of any worker to receive his salary is honored, a basic right so often abused in world football.
Ensures reciprocity of rights and obligations by both clubs and players, for the breach or termination of a contract
Not since the famous Jean-Marc Bosman ruling of 1995 has the transfer system been challenged to such a degree. The ability to move freely from one employer to another after a contract had expired was the primary focus of that landmark case. Twenty years on, FIFPro has broadened its scope to expose a recreated and equally restrictive transfer market established via a severe imbalance in the regulations, namely Article 17 of RSTP, which allows clubs to exploit players who are under contract.
“We need not fear a football world without the transfer system,” stated FIFPro Secretary-General Theo van Seggelen.
“Through collective bargaining, better labour market rules can be established. Balanced fairly against the needs of clubs, together with an improved model of revenue distribution, we will safeguard football’s future. Players have the sustainability of this game and industry at heart and will act responsibly.”
“We have a duty to ensure jobs are secure, contracts respected, and clubs financially viable to compete rather than just making up the numbers. This action is designed for the benefit of all, including the hundreds of millions of football fans who’ve been betrayed by the irresponsible administration of the transfer market.”
“For years we have tried to negotiate a fair reform with the other stakeholders and failed. Failed at the first hurdle – ensuring players are paid what is owed in their contracts.”
“Thousands of our members, who go month after month without being paid are desperate. More and more people are feeding off of this transfer market for their personal gain.”
“While the industry overall is growing, we see ever greater disparity and financial struggle on behalf of players and clubs. This situation leaves us with no other choice. FIFPro will not turn a blind eye when the damage being caused by the transfer market system is this severe. It is time for change.”
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