Perfect Pitch: How U.S. Sports Financing and Recruiting Models Can Restore Harmony between FIFA and the EU

By Snyder, Christine | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Perfect Pitch: How U.S. Sports Financing and Recruiting Models Can Restore Harmony between FIFA and the EU


Snyder, Christine, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


When the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the worm governing body for football, announced its plan to implement a new rule restricting the number of foreign players eligible to play for club teams the worm over, the European Union took notice. Prior court rulings on a similar rule found that such a rule conflicts with the protection for the free movement of workers under the EC Treaty. Despite this conflict, the President of FIFA pressed forward, citing three main justifications for implementation of the new rule. This Note examines each of those justifications and proposes alternative solutions based on US. financing and recruiting models which will not conflict with the essential protections of the EC Treaty.

I. INTRODUCTION

"Sports is like war without the killing." (1) These words ring true today as a battle brews over the state of European football. (2) The epicenter of this battle is the top league pitches in Europe. (3) There is a good reason why the European football leagues are the focus of so much attention; that is where the money is. Clubs in the English Premier League (EPL), the top level football league in England, are among the biggest earning clubs in the world, (4) and English football accounts for one-fourth of the total revenue for football in Europe. (5) Italian League Serie A is not far behind England, and France's Ligue 1, Spain's La Liga, and Germany's Bundesliga round out the "big five" leagues that dominate the football world. (6)

This financial dominance is the reason Europe recently became a battleground between the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the European Commission (EC). (7) The battle began when FIFA proposed measures that would limit the number of foreign players who can be on a pitch to five. (8) Currently, there is no limit to the number of foreign players permitted to start for a club. The other six spots on the pitch must go to players who are eligible for the national team of the country in which the team is located. (9)

FIFA's new "6+5 Rule" is reminiscent of a similar rule that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held violated the Treaty Establishing the European Community (EC Treaty). (10) Despite this conflict, FIFA President Sepp Blatter plans to forge ahead with the plan to implement the 6+5 Rule, believing that the problems facing football today justify the Rule and that it is only a matter of time and effort to convince the EC of the error of its ways. (11) In the face of Blatter's determination, the EC has pushed back stressing its strict adherence to the principles of the EC Treaty and threatening action against any club that tests its resolve. (12) Caught in the middle is the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) which, as a member of FIFA, must implement FIFA mandates, but as an organization operating in Europe, must also adhere to European Union (EU) law. (13) The battle is coming to a head as the first phase of FIFA's plan is scheduled for the 2010-2011 season. (14)

This Note will evaluate Blatter's justifications for the 6+5 Rule, demonstrate how the 6+5 Rule will do little to solve the problems Blatter argues are facing football today, and propose solutions based on successful practices in the U.S. Part II discusses the background leading up to the current conflict by examining the applicable provisions of the EC Treaty, the relevant cases applying those provisions to sports, and the significant details of the current stand-off between the EU and FIFA. Part III scrutinizes the three concerns FIFA uses as justification for the proposed 6+5 Rule and argues that one of these concerns is invalid, and the other two, while valid, do not find relief under the 6+5 Rule. Part III also explains how FIFA's argument that sports should be exempt from the EU's principles of free movement of workers and anti-discrimination is unsupportable. Part IV outlines solutions proposed by others that fail to adequately solve the problems facing European football today. …

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