What are the potential legal issues surrounding the football transfer window?

European Union Involvement in Football

There have been a number of occasions in which the European Commission has become involved in issues surrounding football, most notably the mid 90’s decision in the Bosman case.

FIFA Regulations for Transfers

Following the Bosman case, again due to European Union involvement in the football transfer system, the FIFA Regulations for Transfers were established. The main focus of the FIFA Regulations for Transfers was in relation to younger players with the outlawing of international transfers for players under 18 and the payment of training compensation to teams losing players under the age of 24.

Another aspect however of the FIFA Regulations for Transfers was the introduction of two transfer windows during one season.

Football Transfer Windows

During a European Football season running from the end of August until May the following year there are only two periods or windows whereby a team can buy and sell players. The first of these windows runs throughout the off season and comes to an end at the end of August. The second of these windows is for the entirety of January.

When did this first come into play?

The rules concerning the two distinct transfer windows were made compulsory in the 2003-02 football season.

What is the reason for the two distinct transfer windows?

The main reason for the transfer windows is to stop certain teams having an unfair advantage as they will have more money than anyone else in order to buy a player at any stage of the football season. For example before the introduction of the transfer windows the so called big clubs were able to splash the cash after only a few poor results. The smaller clubs simply didn’t have the means to do this and so were considered to be at an unfair disadvantage creating a distortion in the competition.

Would stopping a player moving during the transfer window be considered a restraint of trade?

Stopping a player from moving during the period when the window is closed could be regarded as a restraint of trade as that player is restrained by the rules and regulations of his profession from undertaking his profession.

Could this also be viewed as a restriction of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by European Union law?

One of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the European Union is the right to free movement of workers. The rule regarding the transfer window does on the face of it appear to be in contravention of this rule. If we look to the Bosman decision the key fact of that was that a player no longer under contract with his club could not move without a transfer fee – this was seen to be in contravention of the EC Treaty as it restricted the free movement of workers.

If we apply the same analysis we can see that preventing players from being sold during the periods when the window is closed clearly prevents them from moving freely.

If this is the case how can the European Commission be behind this FIFA rule?

The European Commission has stated that in certain cases there can be good sporting reasons to justify some kinds of economic restrictions with the benefits of team stability and regularity of sporting competition being at the top of that list.

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For more information on:

  • Are there valid sporting reasons for the transfer window?
  • Clubs preparing for the transfer window
  • Loss of season defining signings
  • Sale of players protecting clubs from going bust
  • Is there any potential for reform?