EU Sport Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has described as "incredible" some of the recent multimillion euro transfer fees paid for professional football players. In an interview with EURACTIV, she announced that the European Commission will look into the possibility of taking action, including capping fees.
"I am shocked by the recent transfer of Fernando Torres," she told EURACTIV at yesterday's EU Sport Forum in Budapest, Hungary (22 February).
"It would be rather premature to say whether we should put a cap, but I think it is a very bad idea to increase every time the money which is paid for transfers," Vassiliou said.
In January, English Premier League football team Chelsea paid almost €60 million (£50 million) to land Spain international player Torres from Liverpool. The transfer set a new British record in that it is the highest amount that a UK club has ever spent on securing a player's services: an "incredible" sum, said Vassiliou.
Nevertheless, the Torres transfer didn't even come close to setting the European record. Indeed, it came hot on the heels of other exorbitant fees paid to acquire professional players. Spain's Real Madrid heads the ranking of record purchases having paid around €95 million in 2009 to buy Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United and €66 million the year before to secure the services of Brazil's Kakà from AC Milan.
The Lisbon Treaty gives the European Commission a mandate to promote "fairness and openness in sporting competitions". Fairness is definitely brought into question if a few clubs can spend on one footballer the same amount of money that other competing teams spend on the salaries of the entire team.
Moreover, a club's financial stability is often affected by these extraordinary outlays. "This will eventually lead from a smaller debt to a big debt, and then a bigger debt, and finally to a mess," Commissioner Vassiliou told EURACTIV.
UEFA, the European football federation, launched in 2010 new financial regulations which will oblige football clubs to observe strict financial discipline, including a 'break-even' requirement from 2012 in an effort to penalise clubs with financial deficits.
Vassiliou supports this initiative and announced that the Commission is looking into ways to integrate it into the EU. One of the options on the table is to introduce a cap on transfer fees, and the EU executive is currently examining the legal basis for doing so.
Salary caps are also being considered by the EU executive, but its capacity to act in this field is even more restricted.
A study on transfer fees will be launched in 2012 to assess "the extent of the problem and its implications," the commissioner said, after which the EU executive will decide the action to take.
"The Commission considers that the time has come for an overall evaluation of transfer rules in professional sport in Europe," reads a communication on sport adopted by the Commission in January.
"It is difficult to find the legal basis, but there might be a way," a top Commission official told EURACTIV during the EU Sport Forum.
(Update: In comments emailed to EURACTIV after the publication of this interview, Vassiliou's spokesperson, Dennis Abbott, said the Commission had few options to address the issue. "The Commission has no competence to cap transfer fees," he said.)