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World Sports Law Report

Current Issue (October 2014)

Volume: 12 Issue: 10


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About World Sports Law Report

The monthly law journal providing guidance on all aspects of sports law, including licensing and sports data, anti-doping and doping sanctions, TV and broadcasting rights, sport technology, players agents, disciplinary measures, sports integrity, sports betting, player contracts, intellectual property, transfer regulations, sports sponsorship and marketing, and governance, as well as coverage of key legal cases, sporting regulations and governing bodies including the IOC, UEFA and FIFA and sporting events such as London 2012. / read more

Image: © Jon Nix.

Player contracts: the turning point

As recent news has illustrated, player contracts in football have never been higher on the political agenda. Both FIFA and UEFA have announced their intention to ban third party ownership (TPO) of players, an issue recently discussed at an informal meeting of EU sports ministers. The same meeting also discussed challenges to UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations as an infringement of EU law, as our news highlights.

Both issues present serious challenges to the way in which player contracts operate in football. While UEFA President Michel Platini has made his feelings clear on TPO, implementing a worldwide ban could damage Latin American football, as we explain here. In Latin America, TPO is common and allows clubs to secure the services of talented players while maintaining their value, protecting all but the very best from purchase by European clubs keen on a bargain. Implementing a worldwide TPO ban would financially damage the existing structure of Latin American football, which is built around TPO.

Also, it is not clear whether the removal of such a ban would be in the best interest of Latin American footballers. A removal of TPO could make such players cheaper, which may result in more European clubs taking a chance on unproven talent. This could result in more players who do not make the grade being abandoned in Europe - a problem that we have already seen with African footballers.

If FIFA decides against a ban and UEFA proceeds with one, this could also damage Latin American football. Currently, countries such as Portugal and Spain act as 'gateway' countries for Latin American players, as they allow TPO and there is no language barrier. If European clubs are forced to buy out the full contract of a Latin American player, then this could result in less Latin American players coming to Europe.

The concept of limiting immigration seems to have caught on. As we examine in this issue, the FA England Commission plans to attempt to boost the number of English players playing in England's top leagues by placing onerous restrictions on non-EU players. Whether such rules will have an effect - or will simply result in clubs signing more players from EU countries - remains to be seen.

Add to this the various challenges currently in play against UEFA's FFP regulations. As we report in this issue, the European Commission has signed a partnership Agreement with UEFA, which underlines that it supports the FFP concept of financial prudence in football. However, it will soon make a decision on whether the regulations - which (conditionally) prevent a club owner from spending more than the club earns - are a restraint of trade under EU law.

It is an exiting time to be involved in sports law, and perhaps we have once again reached a turning point in the regulations affecting player contracts. If the Commission rules that UEFA's FFP regulations are an infringement of EU law, then what happens next? If FIFA or UEFA ban TPO, will a challenge materialise from any of those who could be mortally affected? Will the FA proceed with a ban that appears so discriminatory when it is likely it will not achieve their stated aims?

There is a reason that this year's Player Contracts conference is a two-day event. I look forward to seeing you there!

Andy Brown

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