Examining how FIFA’s Regulations for Transfers are compatible with European Union law

Following the Bosman case, which arose as a result of European Union involvement in the football transfer system, the FIFA Regulations for Transfers were subsequently established. The main focus of the FIFA Regulations for Transfers was in relation to younger players with the outlawing of international transfers for players under 18 and the payment of training compensation to teams losing players under the age of 24. However, another aspect of the Regulations was the introduction of the two transfer window system during the season which we all now know and love. But is the current transfer window in direct contravention of european law?

One of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the European Union is Article 45 TFEU (ex 39 and 48) the right to free movement of workers. Every citizen of the European Union has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. Therefore the rule regarding the transfer window does seem to be in direct contravention of this rule by forcing players to only move and ply their trade at certain times of the year. In the Bosman case a player no longer under contract with his club could not move without a transfer fee. This was seen to be in contravention of the EC Treaty as it restricted the free movement of workers. By applying the same analysis to the transfer window it could be argued that preventing players from being sold during the rest of the year clearly prevents them from moving freely under EC law.

If this is the case then how can the European Commission support the current transfer window regulations? Well the European Commission has previously stated that in certain circumstances there can be good sporting reasons to justify certain kinds of economic restrictions. The main reason for the transfer windows’ existence is to stop larger clubs from having an unfair advantage as they have more financial clout than other clubs to buy new players at any stage of the football season. Smaller clubs simply do not have the means to do this and stay afloat. To allow the larger clubs free rein to buy throughout the year was considered to be at an unfair disadvantage and would create a distortion in the competition.

Of course now with the influx of foreign ownership or “sugar-daddy” investment smaller clubs are still at a disadvantage during the transfer window. Potential transfer fees for certain players have been distorted as the larger clubs may be bidding for them as potential squad players rather than starters. It is possible that if the window did not exist those clubs would not be bidding for those particular players at all. Of course the alternative is the thought of clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea or PSG being able to make bids for players with huge wages attached and destabilise other teams around europe. It is of course possible that the introduction of FFP will change the footballing landscape and force all football clubs to be more prudent with their player acquisitions and the contracts that they offer, although that of course remains to be seen.

There are many arguments for and against the football transfer window but on current evidence FIFA seem content with its existence. It is therefore unlikely that there will be a change in the regulations which also seem to meet the approval of the European Commission. So while on the face of it the transfer window should legally be scrapped it appears to be here to stay. I am therefore sure a certain manager will be rolling down his car window and giving interviews to Sky Sports News for many years to come.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.

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