Magazine article European Social Policy

Football/freedom of Movement : Olivier Bernard, the French Bosman'?

Magazine article European Social Policy

Football/freedom of Movement : Olivier Bernard, the French Bosman'?

Article excerpt

Will Olivier Bernard's name become as famous in Court of Justice case law as that of a fellow football player, Belgian Jean-Marc Bosman? On 5 May, the EU Court of Justice held a hearing of the parties to a dispute pitting the French football player against his former club, Olympique Lyonnais, for breach of contract.

The Lyon club is seeking compensation for the training it provided to the promising young French defender (a so-called espoir') in 1997 and 1998. After completing his training, Bernard chose to continue his career with Newcastle United without seeking authorisation from his club. Lyon bases its claim on the French football charter, which states that the training club is "entitled to require the player to sign a professional contract" upon completing training. In 2003, the French labour tribunal ruled in favour of Olympique Lyonnais, ordering Bernard to pay compensation of 22,867.35. However, the player went on to win an appeal in 2007 before the Lyon Court of Appeal, which held that the charter's obligation on young football players constitutes a breach of free movement of workers guaranteed by the EC Treaty. The French Court of Cassation, to which the case was referred, applied to the Court of Justice for a ruling on whether the principle of free movement of workers precludes a court order for the payment of compensation by a promising young player who signs a professional contract after his training with a club from another member state. In the affirmative, the Court of Cassation asks whether the necessity of encouraging the recruitment and training of young professional players constitutes a legitimate objective or an overriding reason of general interest that justifies such a restriction.

FINANCIAL COMPENSATION

Olympique Lyonnais argues that the French football charter does not run counter to Community law because if the player pays financial compensation for his training he is free to leave the club that trained him. Furthermore, the fact that compensation is paid by the player and not a club means that the player has control over the situation. Lastly, such compensation is paid only once, after a player's training period.

On the other hand, Newcastle, the European Commission, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom maintain that French legislation on the training of football players constitutes a restriction on freedom of movement of workers.

NEED TO ENCOURAGE TRAINING?

On the second question, Olympique Lyonnais considers that the necessity of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players fully justifies the payment of compensation to cover training costs. Newcastle maintains that the training provided by a football club concerns both the promising young player and professionals, who according to Court of Justice case law are free to sign a contract with another club at the end of the season. …

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