Nov 29, 2008

Sport - Football;EU not swayed by FIFA 6+5 rule;will discuss UEFA plan

European Union ministers on Friday poured cold water on FIFA president Sepp Blatter's plans to curb the number of foreign players at clubs but opened the door to a ban on transfers involving those aged under 18.

Soccer's top official had hoped to convince the bloc's 27 ministers at a meeting in Biarritz of the merits of his proposal to limit the number of foreign players -- known as the '6+5' rule -- despite opposition from the European Commission.

The EU executive, which oversees EU law, says the FIFA plan breaches the bloc's strict rules on free movement of workers.

"Around three or so ministers were sympathetic to the idea, but everybody realised it would not be legal under the EU treaties," a diplomat involved in Friday's meeting told Reuters.

World governing body FIFA may take some heart from the conclusions of the meeting, which stated ministers should:

"...encourage further discussion on initiatives put forward by international federations to encourage the teams of professional clubs in each country to develop the presence of athletes capable of qualifying for national teams, in compliance with EU law, to strengthen the regional and national roots of professional sport."

A spokesman for EU Commissioner Jan Figel said: "The key phrase is compliance with EU laws. There is no change to the situation. The status quo remains.

"We have already said we will review the home-grown player rule in a few years' time. But that's for then."

He was referring to European soccer governing body UEFA's home-grown player rule, which sets a quota of locally-trained players at clubs but without any discrimination on nationality and was approved by Brussels earlier this year.


UEFA president Michel Platini's proposal to bolster the rule by banning the transfer of players under the age of 18 was met with a lot of sympathy, diplomats said, but required further study into whether it would also breach EU employment laws.

"A proposal banning all transfers of under 18's would, at first sight, appear to constitute indirect discrimination in the field of free movement of workers and disproportionate in light of the objectives pursued," a spokeswoman for EU employment chief Vladimir Spidla said.

"Before taking any final position, we would need to analyse the detail of the proposals... we look forward to sitting down with them soon to consider in more detail their ideas."

Commission officials told Reuters that if UEFA can prove its case in the same way as they did with the home-grown player rule, then Platini may get his wish, much to the annoyance of the English Premier League who oppose such a move.

Platini told the ministers the transfer of players under the age of 18 was "equivalent to child trafficking".

In his speech, seen by Reuters, the Frenchman said he wanted stricter control of players from outside Europe, notably in Africa and South America, and to stop under 18s moving to another EU country after signing their first professional contract at 16.

Under FIFA rules, players under 18 cannot be transferred with the exception of those within the EU or where their parents move for their own employment.

Platini said clubs were exploiting the latter rule and employing the parents of gifted players themselves or organising employment for them.

"Only one in ten make the grade and the rest are left on the scrapheap," Platini said in his speech.

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