Football, according to the European Union

So, gentle reader, let me entertain you. I’m Aapo and I’ll be guest posting here while Egan is enjoying his vacation in the land of hasapiko. I’ll kick off with a little bit of European Union, for our men and women in Brussels are preparing something that may well change a thing or two in European football.

The Commission is currently drafting a white paper on sports, due in July, and one of the main challenges is about drawing a line between sports and business. Everyone agrees that it is something badly needed – if you accept that a football club should be allowed to function like a private enterprise it must be treated as one as well, and if you’re to argue that it should be not then you obviously must elaborate what makes such a difference, given that contemporary sports clubs can involve so damn much money – but it’s also worthy of remembering that it derives mainly from the malaises of European football, in particular. Corruption, money laundering, match fixing, illegal betting, racism, doping and perceived over-commercialisation aren’t issues of small importance.

Last year’s Independent European Sport Review (PDF warning) summed up the main dilemmas quite nicely, and this article sheds some light on how things look at present – for the full interview of Michel Platini check here.

The source of many worries is rather simple:

The Commission is opposed to exempting sports clubs from competition rules, and says an overhaul of the current regime would require the unanimous support of 27 EU governments.

Sports bodies enjoy autonomy in setting the rules of their games, but they are subject to competition rules and all other EU legislation when it comes to their commercial activities.

The much-awaited paper also coincides with the decisive court case between Charleroi and FIFA:

Mr Platini told the FT national associations feared that without a change in the rules rich club owners would continue to use employment tribunals and court cases to keep their top players out of national squads.

The European Court of Justice is hearing a case brought by the Belgian club Charleroi and other elite clubs over whether players have the right to refuse to play for their national teams.

“It’s sport, it is not a product. It is part of our life,” Mr Platini said. “If they say it is a product, it is the end of our sport.”

Both FIFA and UEFA now acknowledge that any kind of quotas and restrictions on foreign players can’t be negotiated, so instead they are focusing their efforts on protecting youngsters – or rather the teams who bring them up:

Mr Platini says he agrees with Fifa’s attempt to limit the number of foreign players in clubs, but such an outcome in Europe was “impossible” because of EU rules on freedom of labour.

Instead, he wants to strengthen football academies by enforcing rules that require teenagers to start their careers with the clubs that train them. “If you can buy the best youth, you never offer the chance for another team to win,” he said.

This is also what I found interesting; continental Europeans are afraid that foreign takeovers in Premier League will jeopardise the national heritage of the English – and, of course, give their teams a dead-sharp cutting edge in the future. From the full interview:

: Is the takeover of football clubs in the UK a good thing?

MP: It’s the liberalisme of the UK. If your laws allow a US or Saudi to buy a club he can do, but I’m not in favour of that.

RB: Why not?

MP: Because Chelsea, Arsenal or West Ham, they are part of the patrimonie of England. They are part of the English heritage. It is not just a problem of football, it is a problem of society, of the government and the minister of sport. I like the identity.

Sounds problematic? That’s because it is. The EU is built upon its four freedoms (which, to be honest, tend to be compromised, here and there and now and then; European services or Romanian builders, for instance, don’t move freely) and football is an area where they collide quite visibly with matters like tradition and national loyalties.

Before finishing, there’s one more dilemma I’d like you to ponder, concerning national teams. It’s slightly off-topic but has bugged me, nonetheless. You may have heard stories of certain oil-rich Gulf states recruiting, say, Brazilian adolescents to play for them in the future – snatching their starlets young enough, they can avoid the eligibility issue. So if, say, Qatar makes it to the World Cup semi-final one day, thanks to their wise investments, will that be right or wrong?

The French and the Dutch national teams have been full of foreign-born players, and that’s largely thanks to their colonialist pasts. Now, in the scheme of things, what makes their own recruitment process more acceptable than any oil-powered talent shopping that may occur today? Why is a dirty history better than clean money?


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