UEFA to review homegrown player rules after ECJ says they could be discriminatory

March 10 – UEFA could be forced into tweaking its homegrown player rule after a senior lawyer at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said it was partially incompatible with the European Union’s free movement laws.

Introduced in 2008, the homegrown rule requires teams to include a minimum number of players who have either come through their academy or the academies of other teams in the same country.

But ECJ Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said the policy is “likely to create indirect discrimination” against players from other EU countries.

Advocate generals’ opinions aren’t binding on the Luxembourg-based court, but are followed in most cases.

The current case was referred to the ECJ after a judge in Belgium asked for UEFA’s rules to be examined.  The case was started by Antwerp which argued in 2021 that UEFA’s rules limited players’ freedom of movement within the European Union.

In his legal advice Szpunar commented: “It is a fact of life that the younger a player is, the more likely it is that that player resides in his place of origin. It is therefore necessarily players from other member states who will be adversely affected by the contested rules. Though neutral in wording, the contested provisions place local players at an advantage over players from other member states.”

But Szpunar also noted, crucially, that such potential discrimination might also be justified.

“The contested provisions are, by definition, suitable to attain the objective of training and recruiting young players,” the court said.

“The Advocate General recalls that the Court has, since the seminal Bosman case, already held that, in view of the considerable social importance of sporting activities and in particular football in the European Union, the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players must be accepted as legitimate.”

UEFA defines locally-trained or ‘home-grown’ players as those who, regardless of their nationality, have been trained by their club or by another club in the same national association for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21.

Up to half of the locally-trained players must be from the club itself, with the others being either from the club itself or from other clubs in the same association.

But the advocate general warned that “homegrown” should not include players developed by other clubs.

“If a club in a major national league can ‘buy’ up to half of homegrown players, the objective of encouraging that club to train young players would be frustrated,” the court said.

UEFA said it took note of Szpunar’s recommendation to “improve the effectiveness of the existing rules in place.”

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