Europe faces up to Bosman threat

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The Independent Online

It looked like a coachload of tourists. There were French and German, Portuguese and Dutch, taking tea in the shadow of Windsor Castle. But they were wearing translating headsets, not cameras, and were not looking at the past, but attempting to see into the future, football's future, post-Bosman.

The vision is blurred but yesterday's meeting, which featured delegates and observers from 10 countries, including Franz Beckenbauer, did clarify one or two matters.

More than anything, however, it signified the growing realisation that Bosman "can no longer be resisted, it must be managed." That comment came from Rick Parry, the chief executive of the Premier League, who emerged as one of the meeting's leading figures.

Parry counselled realism and action, adding: "The time has passed when this will go away. The clock is ticking. The players are organised, the agents are organised, the only people not organised are the clubs. We have to face up to reality."

Significantly, the delegates agreed to ask Uefa to set up a working party, including both clubs and leagues, to deal with the issue. The feeling among the professionals is that Uefa has mis-handled Bosman, that it should have been lobbying the European Union five years ago, when it came to court, not now. Now it is a matter of mitigating the effects.

The request, coming after Uefa bowed to the clubs in Geneva last week, is another indication of the shift in power from administrators to participants. Uefa's poor performance on Bosman is of particular concern as the clubs fear the EU is going to interfere again.

Under threat is the principle of collective bargaining, by leagues for their clubs over such issues as television deals. It is already being investigated in England (by the Office of Fair Trading) and Germany. The prospect of examining state subsidy (as with the Football Trust's grants to grounds) may also be examined by the EU - "which would open a whole new can of worms," Parry said. "We to have a dialogue with the EU. There are other areas which may prove to be even more calamitous than Bosman."

Collective action is thus the watchword. The meeting agreed to formulate a common philosophy, then ask their respective governments to lobby the EU to include a sports clause when the EU's laws are next revised, similar to the existing one on culture.

"I am sceptical about an exemption from the principle of free movement of labour," Parry said. "That is a bed-rock of the EU. But, even in America, the home of anti-trust laws, there are exemptions. It is recognised that leagues are not a cartel, they are operating for the good of the sport."

This will need to be done soon, the next inter-governmental conference is next month. With that in mind there will be another meeting, with Uefa present, at Heathrow on Sunday.

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