PtG Article 23.04.2009

Clash between FIFA and the EU

Sepp Blatter remains on a collision course with the European Union over its attempts to restrict overseas players after an influential UK parliamentary committee threw its weight behind the FIFA supremo’s controversial 6+5 rule.

The All Parliamentary Football Group (APFG) published a review on the governance of English football with seven recommendations, including support for Blatter’s proposal that each team starts a match with a minimum six players eligible for that league’s national team.

Allan Keen MP, the group’s chair, said: “If we wish for the fortunes of our national team to improve, we must ensure that young domestic talent is given the opportunity to get experience at the top level. It is because of this that we recommend that a measure is brought in to ensure that a minimum number of domestic players are to be included in a club’s starting line-up.”

The recommendations are not binding but the group is one of the largest all-party single-interest groups in parliament with more than 150 members of parliament from various different parties, and adds to a groundswell of opinion supporting Blatter’s idea.

The Premier League immediately rebuffed the APFG’s claims, saying: “This report comes at a time when the quality of the English game, both on and off the pitch, has arguably never been higher and we are committed to ensuring this remains the case going forward.

“It is also worth noting that we are currently engaged in discussions with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, Andy Burnham, as to how to maintain and enhance the already high standards of governance in the Premier League.”

The Premier League met on April 23 to discuss the report before issuing further comment but insiders at the competition are frustrated that the all-parliamentary group only interviewed people for the report whose views – mainly supportive of 6+5 – were already know.

At a congress in Sydney in May 2008, FIFA passed a resolution approved by 155 members to try and implement the 6+5 rule by the 2013/14 season but the European Union (EU) dismissed the idea as “illegal”.

The EU insisting that the proposal endangers a key tenet of the EU - the free movement of labour – but in February the Institute of European Affairs (INEA) cast doubt on this.

“There is no conflict with European law,” said Professor Jurgen Gramke, who led an INEA report commissioned by FIFA and unveiled in February that found the 6+5 idea was simply another ‘rule of the game.’

The All Parliamentary Group’s focus was on England and the Premier League but in neighbouring Scotland, a recent survey by the SPL found that 58 per cent of the average match day squad were Scottish and another 20 per cent from the rest of the UK and Republic of Ireland.

The same survey also found that 48 per cent of players in the starting XI during the snapshot were developed outside Scotland but SPL marketing & communications manager Greig Mailer said: “We currently have a rule in place where each club has to name three outfield U21 players [of any nationality] in each match day squad.

“The clubs are currently reviewing this rule as part of the broader review of the transition between youth and first team football. In any case, our clubs would meet the requirement, with seven Scots starting in the average first XI of each club in our league.

The SPL insists that Scots clubs support the proposal but a recent BBC Scotland survey found that only half of the 12-team SPL were definitely willing to endorse the 6+5 idea.