Sport: Report Says EU Should Pull Back From Policy Involvement

In the decade since the European Union's Court of Justice issued its Bosman ruling on football transfers, EU involvement in sport has become more complex, from doping rules to a reference in the EU Constitution. However, a report unveiled at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on September 28 has called on the EU to take a step back from sport. The report, initiated by Dutch Liberal MEP Toine Manders, says the main responsibility for running sport should lie with sports bodies themselves, and that the EU is not yet constitutionally competent to develop a sports policy. (LC)

The 97-page report on 'Professional Sport in the Internal Market' was drafted by the Asser Instituut in The Hague and Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. It focuses mainly on football but raises general principles of EU law such as media rights, licence systems, state aid, transfer arrangements and rules on merchandising. It warns that some, but not all, of the rules governing the world of sport may constitute a breach of EU rules on fair competition and non-discrimination.
The report looks at areas where the rules clash and notes that there have been some calls for sport to be exempt from EU law, while others have sought to use the EU to scrap market restrictions. "One's perspective depends on whether sport is defined in purely sporting terms or whether sport is considered an economic activity", it says.
The report says there is strong pressure for greater legal certainty to ensure similar cases are decided on a similar and not arbitrary basis by the EU, but it advises against such a move. It says sports bodies are best placed to run their own affairs, having acquired the necessary skills to regulate sport. It thus concludes that the EU "should confine its role to supervising the choices made by the sporting bodies to ensure they are consistent with EU law". However, the report does suggest the EU can offer legal certainty through one (or a combination) of the following policy options: case-by-case analysis; social dialogue, soft law; treaty revision; and block exemption.

The Bosman ruling issued by the European Court of Justice in December 1995 led to an upheaval in European club football, with foreign players flooding into domestic leagues. It said:
  • the system whereby clubs could ask for a transfer fee from the sale of a player to another club once the player's contract expired was a breach of Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome,
  • the UEFA rule preventing clubs from fielding more than three 'foreigners' (non-nationals of the club's home country) plus two 'assimilated' foreigners in European competitions was equally incompatible with the Treaty.
Source: European Information Service 28/09/2005