EU urged to blow whistle on professional football
The European Parliament wants a formal framework agreement between the EU and football governing bodies (UEFA, FIFA) to bring more legal certainty to European professional football and to tackle issues such as fraudulent practices, hooliganism and money laundering.
Parliament adopted a report on the future of professional football in Europe, prepared by the Parliament's Committee on culture and education on 29 March 2007.
This own-initiative report, drafted by Belgian MEP Ivo Belet (EPP-ED), builds on the Independent European Football Review and aims to resolve the legal uncertainty surrounding football, tackle fraudulent practices and problems such as money- laundering, obscure investments, hooliganism and gambling as well as encourage more balanced competition.
The report refers to the existence of a 'European Football Model', which is characterised by a "symbiotic relationship between amateur and professional football" and states that the economic aspects of professional sport fall within the scope of the EC Treaty "taking into account the specificity of sport as set out in the Nice Declaration".
The Commission is asked to develop guidance and to specify under which conditions legitimate and adequate self-regulation is supported. The Commission is also asked to start a consultation process with European football authorities with the aim of setting up a formal framework agreement between the EU and football governing bodies.
Among other measures suggested by MEPs are the establishment of a collective insurance system for players (developed in co-operation with UEFA, FIFA and the European clubs and leagues) and collective selling of TV-rights.
With the report, the MEPs also want to stimulate professional football teams to invest more in their own talent instead of buying in foreign players.
The Independent European Football Review, initiated by the UK EU Presidency in 2005 and drafted with support from legal, economic and political experts and stakeholders, EU sports ministers, UEFA and FIFA, was published in May 2006.
It recommended the Commission provide clear guidance on the type of 'sport rules' compatible with Community law.
The Commission is expected to address the issue in the White Paper on sports, set to be published in July 2007.
MEP Ivo Belet (EPP-ED), the rapporteur on the dossier said: "The report is an outcome of intense consultation between four parliamentary committees. This was deliberate. We did not just seek opinions, but wanted to have the broadest possible foundation for this report for its message to have the broadest possible scope. Thanks to the very large majority in favour of this report, we can put regulatory pressure on the governing bodies of the sport."
"I have never been lobbied as heavily as I was over this report. This is a good sign, as it proves that Parliament is considered to have great influence on the issue. No stakeholder in professional sport can ignore what has been voted here today," Belet added.
The French Socialist Group in the Parliament, lead by Guy Bono, the shadow rapporteur on the report, voted against it because of there being no mention on the establishment of an independent agency to control large football clubs. Bono had propsed the setting up of "Europesport, an independent organisation that would work like Eurostat", but the EPP-ED did not support this idea.
"This report is a serious, historical piece of work and I hope it will implemented soon," said William Gaillard, communications director at UEFA.
"Sport leaders can't always find the solutions to their problems themselves. Now we have a dialgue and partnership with politicians and this is good," said Michel D'hooghe, member of the FIFA executive committee.
- The proposals set out in the report are not legally binding, but are expected to be taken into account by the Commission as it prepares the EU White Paper on Sports.
- The White Paper is expected to be published in July 2007.