Limits on Foreign Professional Players Competing in the Russian Federation: Problems and Prospects

By Prokopets, Mikhail | The International Sports Law Journal, July-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Limits on Foreign Professional Players Competing in the Russian Federation: Problems and Prospects


Prokopets, Mikhail, The International Sports Law Journal


1. Introduction

The topic of limiting the number of foreign players (1) in Russian sport gains ever greater popularity each sporting season. Unfortunately, this is to a large degree in response to scandals. Football lovers still have fresh memories of a situation, surrounding the scandal that flared up when Zenit FC violated the foreign-player limit in a 2009 Russian Football Championship match against FC Lokomotiv. Another hot debate, about the value of introducing a Russian Hockey Federation limit on foreign goal-minders, only recently died down.

Supporters and opponents of foreign-player limits are well represented, and both sides can list solid and well-founded arguments, both in favour of their own viewpoints and to counter the opposing views. The arguments of those in favour of a limit on foreign players appeal to the patriotism of football supporters, who want to see and empathize with a "a guy from the next street", and not a foreigner, who "doesn't even know any Russian", even on condition of the latter's outstanding sporting ability. Globalization has penetrated many sectors of the economies of the world, covering almost all fields of human endeavour, and the opponents of limits counter: why should sport-a mirror of life-be any exception?

We will refrain from judging who is right, or whose arguments are better grounded. However, considering the fact that the arguments of supporters of a limit are reflected in the regulations of the Russian Football Union (RFU), and in the regulations of the Continental Hockey League (CHL), it appears that this group can now celebrate victory.

The idea of a limit is not a Russian invention. As regards football, limits were in place in many European countries until they started to contravene European legislation. For example, after rulings on lawsuits by Bosman and Simutenkov, which will be discussed below, European sporting federations lost the right to independently establish limits. The reality is now such that migration, labour and social policy with respect to foreign citizens is the exclusive prerogative of the state, and not of social organizations-a category which includes sporting federations.

Nevertheless, despite the non-conformance with European legislation, the topic of limits is becoming ever more popular in European football, too. Senior football officials have recently made statements ever more frequently about the need to introduce a limit, thanks to the evident advantages for the sport.

In 2008, the FIFA congress approved of a proposal by its president, Sepp Blatter, to introduce a mandatory limit on foreign players in clubs, known as the "6+5" system. The following new rule is to be introduced from 2012: at least six players who have the right to play for the national team of the country where the given club is based must come on to the field. Thus, there can be a maximum of five foreign players on the field at any one time. (2)

The position of FIFA and its president was supported by Michel Platini, head of UEFA. "I support the idea of reducing the number of foreigners on the field. On the one hand, reducing the limit allows clubs to have more home-bred players, which encourages the development of football in the country, and on the other hand creates a barrier for those foreign players, whose level is fairly low," noted the UEFA president. (3)

It is worth noting that confidence in the introduction of such a limit on the part of European football officials is very obviously out of tune with European labour legislation, which fact is confirmed by the rulings of courts on similar cases, including the court ruling on the Bosman affair. Frankly, it is not entirely clear what arguments the FIFA and UEFA leaderships can use to convince European bureaucrats of the need to create exceptions, specifically for sport.

The specific advantages and disadvantages of introducing a limit-economic, social and for the sport-were not taken into account during the writing of this article. …

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