Football revolutionary takes aim at UEFA – again

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Story highlights

Lawyer brands UEFA's Financial Fair Play sanctions "illegal"

Belgian Jean-Louis Dupont is the man who transformed system with "Bosman ruling"

Dupont says FFP contravenes European Union competition law

Belgian lawyer calls on fans to lodge complaints with Brussels

CNN  — 

He revolutionized football once before by transforming its transfer system – now Belgian lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont is gunning to change the face of the game for a second time.

In his sights is UEFA’s shiny new regulatory regime: Financial Fair Play (FFP), which has become the scourge of Europe’s richest football clubs, notably English champion Manchester City and top French side Paris Saint-Germain, which were both heavily sanctioned by Europe’s governing body Friday.

FFP is designed to prevent clubs spending beyond their means and posting unsustainable yearly losses, but Dupont believes the sanctions are “completely illegal” because they restrict competition – a key principle of European Union law.

“The break-even requirement,’ that’s in itself a pure violation of EU competition law. any sanction that aims at enforcing an illegal rule is automatically illegal, ” Dupont told CNN.

In a statement sent to CNN, UEFA said it “completely rejects” the suggestion that the break-even requirement may lead to any restriction of competition in the market for matches played in UEFA club tournaments.

“FFP rules emerged from a wide-reaching consultative process involving all relevant stakeholders in European football,” read a statement from UEFA.

” As such, there is no doubt that the rules have democratic legitimacy since they were the product of an inclusive and democratic process.

“The substantive content of the rules – especially the break-even principle, based on the idea that you ‘don’t spend more than you earn’ – is just economic common sense and a sensible prudential rule.”

But Dupont disagrees.

“FFP sounds good,” added Dupont. “Who wouldn’t support good governance and fairness of the game?

“But when you scratch the surface, the break-even rule is no more than a prohibition to invest.”

Dupont believes FFP raises further competition concerns by entrenching the status quo, by not allowing clubs like City and PSG to challenge the established football order in future.

“UEFA prohibits the owner of a club to spend his own money in the club, at least to buy players, in order to make it grow and to challenge the established top dogs.

“Today, with this rule, Roman Abramovich could not build his Chelsea project and turn it into one of Europe’s top clubs.

“In other words, the rule ossifies the market structure. The few top European clubs will remain the same forever – there will be no new kid in town.”

To back up his argument, Dupont cites an academic article by professor Nicolas Petit on EU competition law and FFP.

“Petit says FFP creates what he calls a ‘Oligopoleague: the break-even rule destroys competitive balance – the big clubs will be bigger; the small clubs, smaller ; and no small club will ever again become a big one,” said Dupont.

Again UEFA rejects the accusations. It says “FFP enhances competition through improving managerial incentives in football”.

It adds that “clubs are encouraged to invest in training and infrastructure rather than ‘payroll-gambling’”.

Threat of expulsion

thomas uefa pkg financial fair play_00000221.jpg
What is UEFA financial fair play?
02:00 - Source: CNN

Last week, City was hit with an $82 million fine and squad restrictions for next season’s Champions League, while PSG also received a heavy financial punishment.

Dupont argues clubs won’t risk taking UEFA on in the courts because it might lead to their expulsion from the Champions League or the Europa League and disrupt their transfer activities.

Additionally, they have the feeling that the political cost would be high, said the Belgian lawyer. It’s a threat that has ensured UEFA has faced little opposition over FFP.

“Pay me €60 million or I will expel you from competitions, which will cause you an even bigger damage,” said Dupont.

UEFA rejects Jean-Louis Dupont argument

UEFA rejects Jean-Louis Dupont argument

  • 1. FFP is similar to financial prudential rules e.g. capital adequacy rules imposed on banks
  • 2. FFP enhances competition through improving managerial incentives in football
  • 3. Clubs are encouraged to invest in training and infrastructure rather than “payroll-gambling”
  • 4. The break-even rule does not prevent clubs competing for the services of players
  • 5. It simply ensures that such competition is not distorted by clubs living beyond their means
  • 6. FFP rules emerged from a wide-reaching consultative process involving all relevant stakeholders in European football. As such, there is no doubt that the rules have democratic legitimacy since they were the product of an inclusive and democratic process.
  • 7. The substantive content of the rules – especially the break-even principle, based on the idea that you “don’t spend more than you earn” – is just economic common sense and a sensible prudential rule
  • 8. The rules have been applied by an independent expert body – UEFA Club Financial Control Body – which follows the model of “separation of powers” i.e. independence of the judiciary to ensure impartiality and objectivity in decision making.