Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor told a roomful of lawyers at today’s Global Law Summit: ‘I recognise rather too many of your faces because there is so much – perhaps too much – litigation in the modern game.’
Taylor (pictured) was there to discuss the impact of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, which were phased in over several years and began to come into force during the 2013-14 season. The rules, introduced by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), are intended to improve the financial health of European football by obliging clubs to live within their means.
‘During the 1980s,’ said Taylor, ‘the game was on the verge of dying following a series of stadia disasters, such as those at Bradford, Hillsborough and Heysel. Ensuring that money is spent on safety compliance in stadia makes FFP sound like Aunt Mary’s apple pie – how can anyone argue with it? The FFP also makes sure that players’ salaries and transfer fees are paid, another benefit to the game.’
At the event, presented by the Law Society, Mills & Reeve head of sport Mark Hovell applauded the introduction of the FFP rules. ‘Clubs were buying players without paying for them, and only paying what was due after they were taken to arbitration. They weren’t paying tax, creditors or salaries.
‘Of Spain’s top 40 clubs, only nine have not gone into administration. And even today, players’ salaries at Italy’s Parma football club have not been paid since last summer.’
FFP has encouraged clubs to reorganise how they structure their business, said Hovell. They now face penalties if they do not, ‘give or take 5m euros’, live within their means. Some clubs, notably Manchester City, he said, have improved their training facilities so as to develop the next top striker, rather than go out and buy one.
They have also improved their stadia to attract more ticket-buying spectators and devised ways to monetarise their overseas supporters.
Maurice Watkins, a lawyer at north-west England firm Brabners and, among other roles, chair of Barnsley Football Club, addressed the controversial issue of alleged corruption at the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) when it selected Russia and Qatar to host forthcoming world cups.
He said that so far six members of the FIFA executive committee have been fined and suspended, but that an independent report into the allegations has not been made public.
He added: ‘A November 2014 report cleared both Russia and Qatar, although Russia claimed that it was unable to disclose all the necessary papers because the computers it used were leased and have now gone on to new owners, including schools.’
FIFA remains the ultimate arbitrator for football and wants to keep disputes within the sport. ‘This might be the most practical solution,’ Watkins ended. ‘After all, if you have an Argentinian playing for a Japanese team who is then sold to Australia, where does the jurisdiction lie when a dispute arises? Maybe it really is best to keep disputes in-house.’