Social Dialogue in European Professional Football

By Colucci, Michele; Geeraert, Arnout | The International Sports Law Journal, July-October 2011 | Go to article overview

Social Dialogue in European Professional Football


Colucci, Michele, Geeraert, Arnout, The International Sports Law Journal


Introduction

'Autonomy' and 'specificity' are the two key words in the regulation of sport. (1) Sports organisations adopt their own rules and regulations which take into account the peculiarities of the games, the nature and structure of the associations at international, national and local levels. (2) Nevertheless, as professional sports increasingly became more commercialised, governments have been trying to intervene in the sports world and stakeholders have started to question the legitimacy of sports organisations in an attempt to have a greater input in their activities and regulations. As a result, the increasing litigation within the sports sector often arises out of (labour-related) disputes involving athletes, clubs and sports associations and usually reveals a dissatisfaction of the stakeholders regarding their lack of representativeness in the governance of their respective sports.

In this context, the so-called 'social dialogue' is considered as a means to conclude agreements and to foster co-operation between employers and employees, sometimes with the assistance of a third party (often the government). (3)

At the EU-level, European social dialogue is defined as 'discussions, consultations, negotiations and joint actions involving organisations representing the two sides of industry (employers and workers). It takes two main forms - a tripartite dialogue involving the public authorities, and a bipartite dialogue between the European employers and trade union organisations'. (4)

Social dialogue can take different forms. First, the EU institutions, namely the European Commission, can simply consult the relevant social partners; second, social partners can conclude sectoral and cross-sectoral joint actions and negotiations; and third, social partners and EU institutions can conduct tripartite deliberations. (5) European tripartite social dialogue takes place within the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment, established in March 2003, as well as the dialogues on macroeconomics, employment, social protection and education and training. European bipartite social dialogue takes place within the cross-industry social dialogue committee and sectoral social dialogue committees. (6)

In this article, the authors make an assessment of the composition, work and functioning of the sectoral social dialogue committee in professional football. It is their aim to evaluate the recent (August 2011) compromise agreement on the implementation of the European Professional Football Player Contract Minimum Requirements, taking into account its genesis, the parties' interests and difficulties linked to their implementation.

1. The Genesis of Social Dialogue in Sport

1.1. The European Sports Forum

In an attempt to deal with the above described issues, the European Union (EU) started encouraging dialogue within the sports sector as early as 1991, when the European Sports Forum initiated by the European Commission met for the first time. This Forum, which continued to meet until 2003, brought together representatives of the sports movement and of Member States' governments in order to discuss and promote sport policies. In 2008, the Commission decided to reinstate the Forum to follow up on the initiatives presented in the White Paper on sport. (7)

1.2. The Declarations on Sport

Since 1991, several initiatives have been taken by the EU to encourage dialogue within the sports sector. The Amsterdam Declaration, by the Heads of State and Government in 1997, encouraged the dialogue between sports associations and EU institutions. (8)

In the 1999 Helsinki Report, issued by the European Commission, it was recognised that at each level a greater consultation between the sport movement, the Member States and the European Union was needed to stimulate the promotion of sport in Europe. (9)

In the 'Declaration on the specific characteristics of sport and its social function in Europe, of which account should be taken in implementing Common policies', issued at the Nice European Council of December 2000, the European Council stressed that the sporting organisations had to fulfil their task to promote their particular sports on the basis of a democratic method of operation. …

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