Financial Fair Play: Stop the FFP 'train' immediately, says lawyer in landmark case

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The Independent Online

Lawyers fighting to bring down UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regime, in a case which has potential huge significance for football, today urged a judge to “stop the train” and put an immediate halt to the rules being made more stringent.

The UEFA regime demands that clubs become gradually more frugal, with each side entering the governing body’s competitions allowed aggregate losses of only 30m euro (£21.8m) in the seasons 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 rather than the aggregate 45m (£32.7m) for 2013/2014 and 2014/15. But Jean-Louis Dupont, one of the lawyers who secured the landmark Bosman ruling  and who is now fighting FFP, told a judge in Brussels that the 45m euro figure must remain in place until the court has ruled on his case that FFP is illegal.

After the hearing, Mr DuPont told The Independent: “Since this is a case which is complicated and because UEFA will make it complicated, we have asked the judge – as an interim measure – to suspend the second phase, to freeze the current figure and to stop the UEFA train from speeding up. It is an interim request so we did not ask for the regime to be suspended.”

The challenge to UEFA’s regime – which Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain are keenly awaiting the outcome of, having fallen foul of FFP last year – has been brought at the Court of First Instance in Brussels by football agent Daniel Striani, who is represented by Mr Du Pont.

After UEFA have put their own case tomorrow morning, the court will adjourn while the judge reaches a decision on the interim ruling he is being asked to make. If the judge feels that he has the jurisdiction to rule on this case – not a certainty – it could take 30 days, or possible 60 days, for him to make a decision. A date will then be set for a third hearing – which Mr Du Pont believes may be four months away – in which he will hear the core of the FFP case.

The interim ruling could be significant, Mr DuPont said, “because we will see the way the judge views the case.” But British FFP specialists said last night that securing such a freeze may be challenging.

“It may prove difficult for Mr Striani to argue any interim measure that freezes the current 45m euro losses permitted until the case has been ruled on, because such a mechanism may need to last a couple of years in case of a referral to the European Courts,” said sports lawyer and FFP specialist Daniel Geeyof Field Fisher Waterhouse.

Mr Dupont, who is argue that FFP infringes competition law and should therefore be declared illegal, said that the case to hear the core issue should not be drawn out, as the written submissions have already been put before the court. A group of 30 PSG fans are bringing an identical case in Paris and they, too, hope for an interim decision by July.

The legal argument in the Striano case is that the break-even requirement of FFP is in breach of article 101.2 of the EU Treaty.  This article basically prohibits cartels and other agreements that could disrupt free competition and, therefore, have an impact on consumer protection.

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