Abolishing transfer fees in soccer: Sports lawyer Dr. Johan-Michel Menke considers FIFPro request to be unreasonable

It was among others the high transfer fee for Kevin de Bruyne who joined Manchester City from VfL Wolfsburg in the summer that triggered discussions about the legality of player transfers. The international soccer players’ trade union FIFPro wants to fundamentally change the current transfer system of world soccer governing body FIFA and filed a complaint with the European Commission in Brussels. Therewith the FIFPro broke off the dialog with EPFL (European Professional Football Leagues) and ECA (European Club Association). According to FIFPro, transfer fees should be abolished and players’ rights strengthened.

In an interview with pay TV channel SKY’s show “INSIDE REPORT: SPORTBUSINESS” of October 5, 2015, in which EPFL-secretary general Georg Pangl and FIFPro-Director Jonas Baer-Hoffmann had a discussion, Dr. Johan-Michel Menke, LL.M., Certified Sports and Employment Lawyer at Heuking Kühn Lüer Wojtek, sees no grounds for a complaint: "If FIFPro tries to challenge the FIFA transfer system, this is legally presumptuous. I expect that the European Commission will establish that as well."

Menke especially referred to the well-known 1995 Bosman ruling: "At the time, the European Court of Justice had generally held the FIFA transfer system to be permissible, in particular the option to "buy out" players of a contract. Ever since, however, a player may transfer to another team free of charge after his contract runs out. Accordingly, the current transfer system was adopted in coordination with the European Commission in 2001."

FIFPro now requests the players’ option to leave their teams during ongoing contracts without transfer fees. "That is completely absurd in terms of labor law. Nurses or bus drivers with fixed-term contracts cannot simply break their contracts, either. In these cases, companies may request compensation as well. The same applies to soccer teams that need to be compensated with the transfer fees for developing and improving players. Consequently, you can charge more for Kevin de Bruyne than for other players. Figuratively speaking: A Maserati will be more expensive than a VW Golf. This is the free market economy. The FIFA transfer system moreover provides for a solidarity mechanism that allows also former clubs to financially participate in a player’s transfer," Menke added. "Ultimately, FIFPro wants to enforce collective agreements in soccer across Europe, even though it is neither authorized nor able to do so. The German players’ union VDV, which is not entitled to conclude collective agreements, either, is not even a member of FIFPro."

It remains to be seen whether FIFPro will maintain its complaint or if discussions will be held between FIFA, EPFL, ECA and FIFPro in the days and weeks to come to arrive at an out-of-court settlement.

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