Top EU officials gave their backing yesterday to UEFA's "homegrown players rule" in an attempt to scuttle plans by FIFA president Sepp Blatter to set strict limits on the use of foreign players in domestic leagues.
Vladimir Spidla, the EU commissioner in charge of employment issues, said UEFA’s rules were “proportionate and ... comply with the principle of free movement of workers,” allowing soccer players to seek employment wherever they want in the 27-member nation EU bloc.
FIFA is proposing a stricter rule, which would limit clubs to fielding a maximum of five foreign players in their starting lineups — which Spidla and Jan Figel, the EU’s commissioner in charge of sports issues, said goes against EU law.
“The Commission is giving a red card to the ‘six plus five’ rule,” Spidla said. “Professional soccer players are workers, so the principle of nondiscrimination and free movement must be respected.”
A study released by the EU’s executive commission said that the UEFA plan “could be accepted ... if they do not lead to any direct discrimination based on nationality.”
UEFA favors setting a quota of players of any nationality on the roster who have been with the club for at least three years between the ages of 15 and 21.
The EU said it would “closely monitor” UEFA’s implementation of the rules and study its impact on EU labor laws in 2012.
UEFA spokesman William Gaillard welcomed the EU’s backing, saying it was “good for European football and good for national football.”
He said UEFA’s player rules shared the same aims as FIFA’s rival proposal to protect young players, national teams and club academies but without running foul of EU regulators or worker rights.
“We can achieve exactly the spirit of ‘six plus five’ without nationality quotas. They are just not legal within the European Union,” Gaillard said.
He said that talks were planned between Brussels, UEFA, FIFA and national soccer associations on drafting rules to better protect young players.
In 1995, the EU’s highest court decided in the Bosman ruling that the strict limits on foreigners were illegal and forced European leagues to open up. As a result, soccer has changed from a mostly local game and become multinational, with some clubs fielding no national players in big games.