By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, United Kingdom
In September 2015, FIFPro, the international union for professional footballers, lodged a complaint with the European Commission, challenging FIFA’s transfer system for not complying with EU competition law.
FIFPro sought to challenge FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) as being in breach of both Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
Article 101 broadly prohibits agreements, decisions or concerted practices that prevent, restrict or distort competition and, in particular, that have the effect of limiting or controlling production, markets, technical development or investment.
Article 102 prohibits an abuse of a dominant position, including any abuse that directly or indirectly imposes unfair trading conditions.
On 19 October 2017, FIFA announced that it had reached a deal that will hopefully lead to FIFPro withdrawing its complaint to the European Commission.
In announcing this deal, Victor Montagliani, FIFA’s Vice-President, stated that a three-party agreement had been reached with the World Leagues Forum, FIFPro and the European Club Association “on the narrow issues” and went on to further state that “We’re looking at broader issues as relates to the transfer system and we’re looking at setting up a sub-committee”.
It is not abundantly clear exactly what FIFA is offering for FIFPro to drop their complaint to the European Commission; however, it appears that FIFA is intending to open an investigation into transfers.
The nature of FIFPro’s complaint has been aggravated by the ever-increasing transfer fees paid this summer, including the €222 million world-record fee paid by Paris Saint-Germain FC to FC Barcelona for Neymar Jr. The Paris Club is owned by Qatar Sports Investment, a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Qatar. This essentially means that the Club is funded by revenues created from Qatar’s exports that are invested in the Qatar Investment Authority. This ownership model exacerbates the exclusiveness and inflationary problems associated with FIFA’s current transfer system, which FIFPro want changing.
FIFPro released its own statement, urging caution against the idea that an agreement had been reached and the complaint will be dropped, stating: “It’s premature to discuss what might happen next regarding our legal complaint against the transfer system, or any prospective deal, until we are satisfied with the proposals put forth”.
It would appear that FIFA ‘has jumped the gun’ and it will be interesting to follow the further developments in this case, and see whether the dropping of FIFPro’s complaint to the European Commission actually materialises.
Jonathan Copping can be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@boltburdon.co.uk’