Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 16:30 UK

MEPs ask Fifa to scrap quota plan

By Paul Kirby
EU reporter, BBC News

Fifa President Sepp Blatter
Mr Blatter believes EU law on freedom of movement needs to be adapted

The European Parliament has called on world football's governing body, Fifa, to drop its proposals for a foreign player quota to be imposed on clubs.

Fifa President Sepp Blatter will urge his members this month to back a "six plus five" plan to impose a maximum of five foreign players in a team.

Mr Blatter says EU laws on freedom of movement are benefiting rich clubs.

But MEPs have backed a report proposing instead that clubs should have at least eight home-grown players out of 25.

That proposal, initiated by European football's governing body, Uefa, is less likely to fall foul of the EU's laws on discrimination on the grounds of nationality, as home-grown can mean locally-trained.

The parliament's rapporteur on the future of European football, Ivo Belet, told the BBC News website that he agreed with Mr Blatter's sentiment but said he could not ignore the law.

I don't think MEPs should pick a fight on a worldwide basis with the world governing body
Christopher Heaton-Harris
British Conservative MEP
"It's well-intentioned, and the objective we 100% agree with, to force clubs to invest in their own talent," he said.

"But not 'six plus five' as it will be challenged in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and it won't stand."

British Conservative MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris said the EU was wrong to interfere in sporting matters.

"I don't think MEPs should pick a fight on a worldwide basis with the world governing body," he said.

After 28 years as a football referee, he said the rules should be left to the sport's governing bodies to decide, rather than the European Union.

Law change

In a recent BBC interview, Sepp Blatter warned against football being split between rich and poor and believed that a limit on imported players had the support of fans.

Jean-Marc Bosman (FC Liege, 1987)
The Bosman ruling emphasised a player's right to freedom of movement

"The law is one thing but the law can be adapted, amended if there is a general consensus," he said, suggesting there was support for a change among EU countries.

Unlike Mr Blatter, Uefa is more keen to ensure its plans fall within existing EU law.

The governing body has courted the EU, both the parliament and European Commission, and says the report backed by MEPs agrees with its proposals in every way.

"For us it's a great comfort to know we've got the European Parliament behind our approach to football," says Uefa spokesman William Gaillard who is now waiting for the commission to give its approval too.

"Uefa does not oppose 'six plus five'. We think it would be very good because it would stop clubs raiding the academies of Africa and South America," he says.

"At the same time, we are realistic and we understand it is not possible."

Uefa has already imposed a minimum requirement of home-grown players, and that is set to increase later this year to require clubs to field at least eight home-grown players in a squad of 25.

Four of the eight would have to be trained by their own club, and four by other clubs in the same national association.

Bosman ruling

Although it cannot be sure that the measure would not be challenged in the court of justice, Uefa is trying to avoid a repeat of the 1995 Bosman ruling which changed the face of modern football by banning restrictions on the free movement of professional players.

The case was brought by Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman who had been refused permission to leave his club without a transfer fee even though his contract had run out.

His victory brought an end to transfer fees for out-of-contract players but also put an end to quotas, enabling clubs to field as many non-domestic players as they wished.

Mr Heaton-Harris said the court's ruling created "bedlam" in the football transfer market, leading to the gap between rich and poor clubs, and he thought it unlikely that the judges had wanted that to happen.

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