News 1st April 2015

UEFA & FIFPro launch complaint against TPO

UEFA and FIFPro Division Europe have launched a complaint with the European Commission, questioning whether third-party ownership (TPO) of football players complies with European law. The complaint alleges that the practice is harmful to the interests of players, clubs and fans, and undermines the integrity of football. FIFPro is the international body that represents the interests of national player associations.

FIFA implemented a ban on TPO on 22 December last year, which will come into force on 1 May this year. However, the ban was challenged by the Spanish and Portuguese football leagues in February, and through a recent filing by player investment company Doyen Sports in a Paris court, reports Bloomberg.

“We take this initiative now because the FIFA ban has been challenged legally, both before the European Commission and in a national court (Paris), arguing that the FIFA ban is against European law”, a UEFA spokesperson told the Sports Integrity Initiative. “Consequently, we make the case that it is not the FIFA ban that is against European law, but rather TPO itself”.

The complaint by the Spanish and Portuguese leagues alleges that the TPO ban violates rules of competition set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), as well as the fundamental freedoms of establishment, services, labour and capital movements. More specifically, it argues that the ban infringes Article 101 of the TFEU concerning the prohibition of anti-competitive agreements, and Article 102, which prevents abuse of a dominant position – it claims that FIFA is abusing its dominant position by introducing such a ban.

In contrast, the UEFA/FIFPro complaint argues that TPO is ‘directly contrary to the principles articulated and accepted by the European Commission itself back in 2001, when it previously conducted and concluded a far-reaching investigation of the player transfer rules in Europe’. The investigation that UEFA/FIFPro are referring to began in 1998, when a statement of objections was sent by the Commission to FIFA about the international transfer system. However, following the introduction of a new set of regulations governing international transfers by FIFA in 2001, the Commission found that: ‘The new rules find a balance between the players’ fundamental right to free movement and stability of contracts together with the legitimate objective of integrity of the sport and the stability of championships’. The UEFA/FIFPro complaint is alleging that TPO undermines this.

“Third- party player ownership is a kind of modern slavery, where you see players belonging to investment funds, or other, generally unidentified, corporate entities”, said UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino. “Clearly, this is not something that can be accepted by European law and this is precisely why we have now, together with FIFPro, asked the European Commission to investigate and to declare third-party ownership illegal”.

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