German court kicks out FIFA and CAS rulings on Wilhelmshaven’s forced relegation

By Andrew Warshaw

September 22 – A tiny provincial German club has won a landmark ruling that could have far-reaching consequences for the game as a whole following a nine-year-old legal dispute with FIFA.

SV Wilhelmshaven of the Regionalliga have just won the support of the German Supreme Court which ruled that the club’s forced relegation, ordered by FIFA in 2012, should not have taken place.

The row started back in 2007 when SV Wilhelmshaven refused to pay training compensation to two Argentine clubs, River Plate und Atletico Excursionistas, for Sergio Sagarzazu who had played for both clubs, had an Italian passport and joined SVW on a six-month contract.

Training compensation fees are set out under FIFA’s rules and football’s world governing body ordered to the club to be demoted in 2012. When they were turned down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on appeal, Wilhelmshaven were forced out of the Regionalliga Nord, the fourth tier of German football, at the end of the 2013-14 season.

But then they turned to the civil courts at home. First Wilhelmshaven appealed successfully to the Bremen Court of Appeal which ruled that the relegation was incompatible with European Union law and thus rendered the CAS decision null and void. And now Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has found that the Northern German Football Federation’s (NFV) statutes were not sufficiently clear to allow it to implement the forced relegation.

Specifically, the BGH found that the NFV’s statutes didn’t clarify what penalty a club could face if it refused to pay training compensation fees to a player’s previous club or clubs. The €157,500 involved was a considerable sum for such a tiny club, who argued that as Sagarzazu held Italian citizenship, he enjoyed European Union rights to freedom of movement.

This week’s decision will raise immediate questions about FIFA’s training compensation rules and to what extent they are enforceable as well as fuel the debate over whether national courts should have any jurisdiction in footballing affairs.

SV Wilhelmshaven have since been relegated several times more due to their performances on the pitch and now play in the seventh tier of German football. But now they could seek financial compensation and have already stated their intent to be reinstated into the Regionalliga Nord.

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