26 Jun 2024

FIFA v. EU Law: A Revolution in Football Regulations?

The recent case before the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) could shake the world of football governance, urging FIFA to change its regulations.  Defining the player-clubs’ relations was never an easy task.  However, the football industry is continuously growing.  FIFA, the sport’s governing body, implemented multiple rules to regulate the status and transfers of professional football players.  However, specific articles of those regulations could contradict the EU principles of Competition Law and Freedom of Movement.

Advocate General Maciej Szpunar published his opinion on this case, suggesting that specific articles potentially contradict the EU law.  The case revolves around the interpretation of the FIFA regulations that stipulate restrictions on transfers of players in certain cases.  Namely, the article in question is Article 17 of FIFA’s Regulation on Status and Transfers of Players (“RSTP”).  The article stipulates that if a player’s contract is terminated without just cause, any club wishing to employ the player is jointly and severally liable for any compensation due to his former club.  The same article stipulates certain sporting sanctions in case of non-compliance.

In the present case, the player could not move to another club.  Most clubs were uncomfortable recruiting him because of the potential associated risks.

Competition Law and Freedom of movement concerns

The Advocate General’s opinion emphasizes that the mentioned articles restrict players as workers from finding new employment.  He suggests that these restrictions should only apply where new clubs are involved in unjustified termination of the player’s contract.  This way, the regulations could accomplish the envisaged goal without illegitimate restrictions.

However, the regulations are still incompatible with Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”) as they hinder the competition between clubs.  With clubs facing certain sanctions for recruiting new players, these regulations undoubtedly distort competition among clubs.

The notable Bosman case

It is not the first time the CJEU has intervened with football regulations.  Certain cases have shaped the rules that govern football.  The most known is the Bosman Case C-415/93.  In that case, CJEU ruled that transfer system at the time infringed the freedom of movement for workers stipulated in the Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome (now Article 45 of TFEU).

The status of professional football players was not clear before that case.  They had their own, sui generis legal position.  That is because it has been hard to formulate regulations that effectively balance the interest and integrity of the football competition with that of the players.  The main issue in the Bosman case was that professional players were bound to a club even after their contracts expired.  The former club is entitled to compensation should the player decide to move to another club or football association.

After the Bosman case, professional athletes became workers who had employment agreements with the clubs.  The consequences of this ruling were enormous, and it marked a new era in professional football.  It liberated the football transfer market.  Even football associations changed regulations restricting the number of foreign players in a team.  The players have more power in the negotiations of their contracts.  Soon, the transfer market became what it is today.


It is important to remember that football regulations are still developing daily.  The goal of the RSTP articles may very well not be to restrict the freedom of movement of the players or to restrict the competition between the clubs.  One could argue that these articles aimed to prevent the exploitation of the transfer system to protect the integrity of football competition.  It is important to note that CJEU usually follows the recommendations of the General Advocate.  With the ruling on the present case expected in the following months, we will know if EU law will significantly impact football regulations again.


Authors: Vuk Leković, Marko Jović

*Image generated by MidJourney