News 18th September 2015

FIFPro complaint argues football transfer system is illegal

The international federation of football player associations, FIFPro, today filed a complaint with the European Commission arguing that the global football transfer system is illegal. Specifically, FIFPro filed a competition law complaint with the European Commission’s Directorate General of Competition, challenging football’s global transfer market system and the FIFA regulations that underpin it as anti-competitive, unjustified and illegal.

The complaint (Executive Summary below) will target FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), and asks the European Commission to explore the argument that they prevent clubs from fairly competing in the transfer market, harming the interest of players, small and medium-sized professional clubs and their supporters. ‘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’, read a FIFPro statement issued this morning. ‘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’.

“The transfer system fuels and sustains increasing professional and financial competitive imbalance”, FIFPro Secretary General Theo van Seggelen (pictured) at a press conference this morning (see below). “It invites commercial abuse by third parties, owners and agents, and it fails to protect players against abuses of their labour contracts via systematic non-payment”.

Seggelen said that the “harmful practice” of clubs asking for large transfer fees for players under contract would also be examined by the complaint. FIFPro alleges that this presents a barrier to clubs seeking to compete fairly to secure the services of players, as the cost of fielding a competitive team is “ever increasing”.

“We need not to fear football without the transfer system”, said Seggelen. “We think that through collective bargaining, better labour market rules can be established, balanced fairly against the needs of clubs together with an approved model of revenue distribution […] This action is designed for the benefit of all. Not only for the players, but also for the clubs, including the hundreds of millions of football fans being tricked by the irresponsible administration of the transfer market.”

FIFPro said that the current system doesn’t promote financial solidarity, and argues that elite clubs use the transfer market to maintain high fees as a barrier to other clubs to prevent entry into the market. As an example of this, FIFPro cited economic studies which show that 67% of the transfer fees paid by clubs in the ‘big five’ football leagues is paid to other clubs in the big five leagues.

In the press conference, FIFPro argued that player contracts have become a ‘financial tool’, where players are considered a commodity rather than a human being. Philippe Piat, FIFPro President, said that in smaller countries and in smaller clubs, this system is akin to “slavery”. FIFPro argues that the creation of an established market where every player is an asset to be traded has resulted in “side markets” such as third party ownership. At the top level, it argues that this has created a situation where every player in the Argentinean and Uruguayan U21 or U17 national teams plays for a European club, however at a lower level has resulted in child trafficking.

“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 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 said that it had decided to launch its action today after being continually frustrated in its attempts to reform the system in partnership with football and its governing bodies. “We tried to find a solution within the football family”, said Seggelen. “We are open to dialogue with stakeholders, but it seems to be that they are not interested”.

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