The Financial Fair Play Challenge to UEFA

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When competition law mixes with football strange things happen. Football pundits become EU law experts and EU law experts become minor radio celebrities. This is all because Jean Louis-Dupont who successfully represented Jean-Marc Bosman in his free movement case back in 1995 is on the war path. His new client is Belgian football agent Daniel Striani, who has complained to the European Commission (EC) that, among other things, the UEFA Financial Fair Play Rules (FFP) are anti-competitive.

In short, FFP’s aim is to ensure clubs balance their books or face tough sanctions. The substantive complaint is that it restricts the amount of money owners of clubs can spend on player transfers and wages. Agents fear reduced commissions because of fewer lucrative transfers due to FFP’s deflationary effect.

The EC complaints notice sets out the relevant procedural framework that will now be followed. It ensures that the complaint must have a community dimension and a legitimate interest (i.e. the individual must stand to suffer injury or harm). The adoption of any interim measures to suspend the FFP regulations are also discussed. Commitment procedures (which are shorter and stop the need for a formal, more drawn out process) to amend the UEFA rules could be initiated by the EC too.

It is however unlikely that a quick resolution will be found. Whilst an initial EC Decision to reject a complaint or open formal proceedings may occur within a year, the subsequent appeal steps will take much longer. If the EC believes there are anti-competitive features inherent in the FFP rules (and the Commitment route is not used), formal proceedings may be opened. Alternatively, a EC rejection of Striani’s complaint will likely be appealed to the General Court which may mean 3-5 years before a definitive conclusion.

They think it’s all over; it won’t be for a while.

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