Jump to content

Kelly: Soccer club vs. country case in spotlight


Recommended Posts

Kelly: Soccer club vs. country case in spotlight

Ruling could have far reaching ramifications

Mar. 23, 2006. 06:13 AM


For the second time in a decade, the future of international soccer is being decided in a Belgian courtroom. But unlike the 1996 Bosman decision, this case could substantially undermine smaller national associations like Canada's.

The trial — pitting club side Charleroi against the sport's governing body FIFA — centres on Charleroi and Morocco player Abdelmajid Oulmers. In 2004, Oulmers was sidelined for eight months after injuring himself playing for his country.

After losing Oulmers, Charleroi fell to fifth in the Belgian league and out of the running for the lucrative European competition the next season. They believe their poor play was substantially due to Oulmers' absense. Since he was playing for Morocco at the time he was hurt, Charleroi is demanding compensation from FIFA.

Like the Bosman case, which redefined the relationship between clubs and players, the implications here are far greater than any cash settlement. The real battle here is between clubs and the bureaucracy that controls the game.

"It has very significant long-term implications if the case goes against FIFA," Canadian Soccer Association chief executive officer Kevan Pipe said. That's an understatement. The case is so pivotal that soccer's G-14 — a group of the game's largest clubs including Man United, Real Madrid and Milan — are picking up Charleroi's legal bill.

The big clubs know that if Charleroi prevails, the balance of power could tip decisively in their favour. Depending on your viewpoint, that change is either overdue or a disaster in the making.

Under current rules, FIFA may compel clubs to surrender their players for international duty. The clubs are not recompensed in any way.

The G-14 wants two significant changes. First, that FIFA establishes an insurance pool to reimburse clubs if their players are injured while on national duty. Second, that countries pay clubs to use their players.

Currently, the insurance policies for Canadian players are paid for by their club sides. Only a couple of years ago, the CSA stopped supplementing this insurance because the cost had risen to "hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars," according to Pipe. If the case goes against FIFA, the CSA may have to shoulder the whole insurance tab, plus compensate clubs if their stars are injured while playing for Canada.

"This would have a chilling impact for all 205 national associations," Pipe said.

Second, nobody has the foggiest idea how much clubs might charge for use of their players. "That could be all over the map," Pipe said.

Essentially, the top footballing nations of the future might be the ones who can afford to rent their best players.

"Just try to imagine African countries that have limited resources, but many of the world's top players," Pipe said. "It could have disastrous results for them."

Talks aimed at ending the Oulmers case before it started broke down last weekend. Even if the suit ends in FIFA's favour, there's a similar case involving club side Lyon currently brewing in the French courts.

Few would argue that the present arrangement is unfair to clubs, who invest so much in return for so little say in how their players are used. For the good of the sport, FIFA should cede a little of its enormous power and broker a deal that shelters football's have-not nations.

But let's not turf the baby out with the bath water. The profit-first mentality of top clubs has brought many teams and leagues to their knees in recent years. These aren't the right people to dictate the terms of international football. Though the fat cats who operate FIFA — a nominally not-for-profit organization — may act errantly at times, they are still primarily motivated by sporting considerations, not business ones.

A compromise that leaves FIFA's control intact should be reached quickly, before a European court is forced to tear a wound in the game that takes years to heal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...