EU rejects criticism of Bosman ruling

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The Independent Online
The European Commission has rejected accusations by Uefa, European football's governing body, that the Bosman ruling scrapping its transfer system and limits on foreign player had plunged the game into disarray.

"The judgment did not provide for a fair transitional period, it disregards sporting traditions... destroys national structures of sport and endangers the future of national football associations and national teams," the Uefa secretary general, Gerhard Aigner, said.

The European competition commissioner, Karel Van Miert, countered: "This is absolutely unfair, unjust and incorrect."

The European Court of Justice ruled last December that Uefa's transfer system and limits on the number of non-EU players appearing in EU teams was illegal. Uefa accepted the ruling earlier this month after it was threatened with substantial fines.

"It leaves the football authorities defenceless against abuses and distortion of competitions. Big industrial [groups] and private TV stations have already taken control over a number of clubs. The agents are the kings today," Aigner told a public hearing on the Bosman judgment in the European Parliament.

"It causes a two-class society in football on the European continent and causes discrimination against football players from non-EU countries," he said.

"As if the Bosman ruling is some kind of catastrophe," scoffed Van Miert, adding that football federations could have anticipated many of the problems which recently surfaced.

"The European Union is what it is... inside the Union people can move freely," Van Miert said. "That's what the Union is about. Are you going to destroy this?"

However, he added that the Commission was ready to further discuss the consequences of the ruling with Uefa. Van Miert said the Commission would help work out a transitional period for such domestic transfers, an issue not ruled on by the Court of Justice.

"Since the court did not abolish the national system as such the Commission has some leeway for accepting a transitional period."

But a transitional period would be acceptable only if national leagues respected the judgment and were firmly committed to phasing out the transfer system, said Van Miert, who noted that national transfer systems could also be challenged by players before their national courts.

He also advocated a system of solidarity between big and smaller clubs, using part of the lucrative revenue from television broadcasting rights of matches so that clubs could still afford youth teams.

"It is necessary to act swiftly to be sure that through these broadcasting rights a system based on solidarity can be developed," Van Miert said, adding that the Commission had been receiving complaints about Uefa's system of broadcasting rights for several years.

He said the Commission was still examining a number of problems arising from the Bosman ruling.