By Tony Attwood
Suddenly people are talking about FFP rules not being legal – all over again. Just after we’ve had two peaceful years of thinking that was all settled, Neymar comes along and some people get all excited thinking that FFP will be torn up by the European Court of Justice.
So first the latest on Neymar and then below, the latest on what the ECJ thinks of FFP.
This morning officials at La Liga refused PSG’s cheque which was meant to buy out Neymar from Barcelona. It seems that PSG had missed the small print that said the buy out clause only applied to Spanish teams. And there was the lawyer with a cheque for €222m feeling a bit of a turnip.
It’s a bit like going to a car park in England and finding a space only to realise that the machine still doesn’t accept the new £1 coins.
Anyway, for good measure Javier Tebas, president of LL, said anyway the deal would breach FFP rules and he could not make La Liga party to such an event.
But this still seemingly leaves Neymar free to turn up with a personal cheque for the money, although if he did and it was found that the money came from PSG, that would count as wages and he’d have to pay tax on it, so he might not be inclined to do that even if PSG say they would pay his tax – which would then take their FFP calculations into a new realm.
Marca one of the jolly newspapers we often find running funny stories has said that Neymar is turning to Fifa for help. (Please stop laughing, this is a serious matter). Uefa meanwhile told Reuters that no complaint had been received.
Meanwhile lots of people have suddenly started saying that FFP is illegal anyway and it was thrown out by the European courts two years ago. I’m sorry to say I don’t think that is so, although I know one or two Manchester City supporters (and maybe even the club itself) still hold to the belief that it has been found to be illegal and that they, like PSG, can do anything they want.
I can’t affect what anyone believes, but I can report the FFP rules as I understand them, and of course invite you to tell me where I am wrong. I would add I wasn’t wrong last time and Man City did pay its fine and play with a reduced team in Europe – but that doesn’t mean I’m not wrong this time. So here we go…
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At the end of June 2015 those people who were against FFP claimed a victory (this is the one that they now report as definitive) after a court in Brussels imposed an interim measure blocking Uefa from activating phase two of its rules to cut the deficit clubs were permitted from €45m to 30m.
The claimants at that time included supporters of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain and a Belgian agent Daniel Striani. Uefa was reported by the media in Manchester and Paris (and other places too) to be making amendments to make the FFP rules fall into line with the court’s interim ruling.
Jean-Louis Dupont, the lawyer for the claimants said, “As counsels for the claimants, we believe this Belgian judgement is the right answer to the FFP issue. Let’s have the highest EU court examining peacefully its EU legality. We also are convinced this breakthrough is one more reason for Uefa to adopt the amendments to FFP it has announced.”
However what he didn’t return to say was that the case was then indeed referred to the European Court of Justice – which had already given approval for FFP.
Now the EU’s competition policy documents state that “While the application of EU competition law to economic activities in the sport sector is of great importance, the Commission and the Courts of the EU have recognized the important social and cultural role of sport when considering cases related to sport,” showing that the EU has been minded to treat sport as a special case. The fundamental ruling in this regard was laid down in a statement in March 2012 which says
“The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the European Commission are concerned that clubs in the short term pay inflated wages for players, even when their true financial position should not allow them to do so. Such a policy seems particularly unjustified in the context of the current economic downturn where austerity measures are being introduced in all Member States. The central objective of Financial Fair Play (FFP, namely to “live within your means” or “break even”) ensures prudent economic management that will serve to protect both the interests of individual clubs and players as well as the football sector in Europe as a whole. This principle is also consistent with the aims and objectives of European Union policy in the field of State aid.”
In short the EU’s policy in regards to sport was laid down in a way that supported FFP.
And so it was no surprise to those of us following the case closely when in July 2015 the European Court of Justice refused to rule on whether the FFP rules ought to be deemed illegal, ruling the referral from the previous month mentioned above, obviously inadmissible.
Uefa said at the time “Uefa notes with satisfaction the ruling of the ECJ dated 16 July 2015 in which it has declared “manifestly inadmissible” the recent request for a preliminary ruling on the legality of FFP made by the Brussels Court of First Instance (BCFI).
“The ECJ declared that request as pointless because the court making it (the BCFI) had already – in June 2015 – declared itself incompetent to rule on the merits of the so-called Striani case. The ECJ also observed that the national court had failed to provide any of the necessary information to enable the ECJ to address issues of European competition law.
“The ECJ has therefore had for the first time the opportunity to consider the Financial Fair Play system, and has taken the view that the Striani case orchestrated in Belgium has no merits whatsoever.”
Striani’s lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, countered by saying “This order has a purely procedural scope and does not prejudge the debate on the substantive questions concerning the legality of FFP.”
Fine words indeed, but (and this is the crucial bit) he took matters no further. Neither he nor anyone else has raised a subsequent case, and my understanding from others more qualified in Euro law than I, is that this is because the 16 July 2015 statement is an absolute. There’s nowhere else to go.
As I said when we covered this before, please don’t just tell me I am wrong, and that the case is ongoing or has been overturned. Please state which court on which date, and if possible cite the page on the ECJ’s website that shows the case, or quote the exact text from the court, as I have done.
I mean, each time this has come up I’ve quoted chapter and verse, and that is all I am asking in return. Fine if you want to call me an idiot – people do all the time – but do it by quoting proper legal cases.
So I repeat I am not claiming I am 100% right. I am saying, I have followed this case through all the way, and that is where I found the trail ends. If you have more, please do give us the references, so we can all follow the story properly. You know that the media won’t do the job, because they rarely do, so it is just up to us.
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