Free movement of sportsmen
Red card for FIFA, green light for UEFA
By Eric van Puyvelde | Wednesday 28 May 2008
FIFA’s ‘6+5’ rule – which requires six out of 11 football players on the field to possess the nationality of their club’s country – is clearly contrary to Community law and EU member states applying it will be subject to an infringement procedure from the European Commission. This warning, by European Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, was forcefully given for the first time, on 28 May in Brussels, just before the FIFA Congress which, on 30 May in Australia, will vote on this rule.
On the other hand, he underlined, UEFA’s ‘home-grown players’ system appears to comply with EU rules.
Professional footballers are workers, and therefore the principles of non-discrimination and free movement must be respected, underlined Spidla. “The ‘6+5’ rule is directly discriminatory on the basis of nationality, which is unacceptable to the Commission,” he said.
His opinion on UEFA’s ‘home-grown players’ system
(1) is based on an independent study commissioned by his colleague, Jan Figel, following the White Paper on sport of July 2007. The Commission considers that UEFA has opted for an approach which seems to comply with the principle of free movement of workers. No conditions relating to nationality are, in fact, explicitly contained in the rule.
However, revealed Spidla, there is a risk of indirect discrimination on the basis of nationality because young players attending a training centre at a club in a member state tend to be from that member state rather than from other EU countries. Nevertheless, he said, “the objectives underlying UEFA’s ‘home-grown players’ rule, namely promoting training for young players and consolidating the balance of competitions, seem to be legitimate objectives of general interest”.
It should be noted that the UEFA rule will not be fully implemented until the 2008-2009 season, when eight out of 25 players from the list of players eligible for a match will need to be locally trained. The Commission will therefore undertake a new analysis in 2012.
Moreover, Spidla specified that, for the time being, this only concerns football. But it appears safe to assume that the same principles will apply to other sports, for example rugby, where rules on player participation are also envisaged. n
The study is available at
Professional footballers are workers, so the principles of non-discrimination and free movement must be respected(1) ‘Home-grown players’ are defined as players who, regardless of their nationality or age, have been trained by their club or by another club in the national association for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21.